In discussions with my DIP Buddies I have learned that not everyone grew up with animals the way I did. This lack of experience is a big cause in the lack of understanding what it means, or what it is like, to have an animal as a companion. My task is to try and articulate in a way that any person, no matter how little experience they may have had, can understand what's in an animal companion.
First of all, I do not regard any animal as my "pet". A pet implies ownership and diminishment of value - as if anything described as being a pet is automatically inferior to humans. We all know what happens when humans see something or someone as inferior - and it usually involves cruelty (or at the very least a lack of consideration). Animals are not here to be owned or dominated by humans. In fact, we are responsible for their wellbeing - not only in our own homes, but across the globe by virtue of the position we have taken in the ecosystem of Planet Earth. Our activities influence and have an effect on the environment and other life forms around us, whether we know it or not. The fact that our activities have such profound effects on the lives around us obliges us to act with caution and consideration for those lives.
So then what does it mean to bring an animal into your life and home environment? What is the point?
First of all, we must be realistic about the reality that we have created: we have created a world in which there are many animals that are wholly dependent on humans to take care of them. The primary (current) reason for this is money - people use animals to make money - but this is something that can change. So, that is one point to consider: giving an animal, or animals, the space and support to live comfortably (in consideration of their inherent natures and physical living requirements).
The first point should not exist without respect for the animal(s) - there is no point in providing a home for an animal if one does not respect them. This is sadly a very common occurrence, leading to millions of animals having lonely, painful, hungry and/or neglected lives.
Animals can be companions - not in that they replace relationships with other people - but in the sense that they have personalities, quirks, the ability to communicate (albeit rather different from how we communicate) and so on. Animals provide unconditional support in varying ways, like dogs that will love and accept you no matter what, and will comfort you when you are down. Or cats who will sit on your lap and purr after you've had a long day, or entertain you by playing with a piece of paper. A horse will reflect to you the points that you are working with within yourself, like challenging your position of leadership if you have "authority issues". This is only a very tiny spectrum I am mentioning here, there is so much more that these seemingly superficial things. In other words, animals become like friends or family - you get to know each other and enjoy each other's company. You form connections with animals in the same way you do with people, so that if the animal were to pass you would grieve, or if they were to get ill or hurt you would comfort and support them to recover.
Maybe one of the most important things to consider is that animals do not behave or "think" the same way we do. As we are in the position of having access to learn new things and the ability to consider different perspectives, we hold the honour of investigating the nature of the animal. If you treat a horse the same way you treat a human the horse would not understand your intentions, for example. If you want to live with animals you need to adequately prepare yourself for seeing through their eyes and you must be open to seeing and "thinking" the way they do. Behaving like a human will not get you very far.
Animals place no conditions on you or your relationship with them. They do not declare that they will no longer love or support you if you say something mean to them. They may have different responses to different actions (for example if you do something to frighten them, they may associate you with fear), but these are derived from their basic programming. Animals do not (yet) have the ability to recognise their fear or survival based behaviour as unnecessary - changes to their "natural" responses must be created slowly over time, with great patience and skill.
There is so much more I could say, like that animals do not possess the same cruelty we do, that it is extremely rare for an animal to hurt another animal just for the fun of it. For this reason alone I regard animals far more highly than I regard people. What people have done and still do to animals, who are actually innocent and helpless when faced with the will of humans, is appalling. We have abused our position of power so that we are dictators rather than guardians, where we overpower and dominate rather than support.
Don't get an animal just because you read this post - especially if you don't have any experience. It is completely different to anything else in life and does require some preparation and investigation. Too many animals are neglected or abandoned simply because their "caretakers" didn't actually realise what they were getting themselves into.
Caring for animals is an honour and should be treated as such.