Villains are evil. They kick dogs instead of petting them. What if they started petting one dog in particular, and thereby showed some kindness, sympathy, etc. other qualities not part of their villainous persona? That dog is the villain's morality pet.
These can be used when a villain becomes popular enough that the fandom becomes sympathetic to them. Thus, the author(s) want to use them more often and in more situations. However, meshing them into the main cast can be dangerous and disappointing if it leads to a Redemption Demotion. Some heroes wouldn't be quick to accept them, either. After all, they are villains.
One method of doing this is presenting another character to befriend them. Ideally, this should be an upbeat character who could pose no threat or even be demanding, and depending on how the plot goes, the recovering villain becomes fond of this other character and may draw stability from their presence. The Morality Pet may even be somewhat pathetic (and will be told so), but has often gone through some anguish to which the recovering villain can relate secretly, or reminds the villain of someone they lost long ago. If handled poorly, they might become a Satellite Character for the former villain.
This also makes for a convenient excuse to help the heroes if needed; an ex-villain can simply claim to have their own "selfish reasons" and save face. Anyone messing with the Morality Pet can expect swift retribution from the ex-villain or antihero in question. If relationship with the morality pet is familial in nature, then Mama Bear, Papa Wolf or Big Brother Instinct (as appropriate) is involved. Sometimes Violently Protective Girlfriend or its male inverse if the morality pet is a love interest.
They are a living and recurring incarnation of Pet the Dog, i.e. something to placate the audience regarding the hero's tolerance of the amoral character, while focusing on the true villains. (Unless they Kick the Morality Pet, that is, which leads their character arc in a different direction.)
This isn't just for villains, either. Despite sidekicks being less popular in comic books than they were originally, some writers pair them with Anti Heroes in an effort to humanize them.
Not to be confused with a magic-user's familiar, the creature type of which often reveals the kind of person who owns it, though if the magic-user is fond of the familiar and treats it well, it could very well be a Morality Pet.
If the Morality Pet dies or disappears and this causes the villain/anti-hero to revert back to their old ways, the Morality Pet was acting more like a Morality Chain, a similar trope often confused with this one. The difference between the two is subtle: A Morality Pet is a character who redeems a villain. The villain's affection for the pet starts them down the path of good, and even should the pet get hurt the villain will most likely behave as a hero (or anti-hero) in seeking their revenge or protecting the pet. By contrast, the Morality Chain keeps an otherwise anti-heroic character (such as a Sociopathic Hero) from going full villain. The loss of the chain would spell doom for any involved party, and likely anyone nearby as well. In a nutshell, a Morality Pet turns a bad guy good, a Morality Chain stops a good guy from turning bad. That said, the two tropes can certainly overlap, if the character redeems a villain and then also helps keep them from slipping back to evil, they are both a Morality Pet and a Morality Chain.
Or to put it another way: The Morality Pet is a catalyst for a Heel–Face Turn, while the Morality Chain is an inhibitor of a Face–Heel Turn. In this sense, the two are actually Opposite Tropes despite their close similarities.
Compare Predator Turned Protector, where their "pet" is the thing they're supposed to prey upon, and they act as full-blown protector rather than simply caring for/petting them.
Parent trope of Little Brother Is Watching. Can overlap with Even Evil Has Loved Ones.
- Anime & Manga
- Comic Books
- Fan Works
- Live-Action TV
- Video Games
- Western Animation
- In The Elysium Project, Shay acts as this towards Mirage after their time together at Highmore Academy.
- The Book of Life:
- General Posada really does love his daughter Maria. And was distraught when it looked like she died.
- La Muerte is the sole being in the world that Xibalba respects and shows his soft side to. He is literally putty in her hands. Word of God even stated that La Muerte knows she's the only one who can change him.
- In Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation, Dark Heart manipulates a girl named Christy into helping him, but develops affection for her after she saves him from drowning. After accidentally harming her, his remorse is enough to not only help save her, but also turn him human.
- Despicable Me: Margo, Edith and Agnes for Gru, and trigger his moral improvement. They provide the image page.
- Epic (2013): Mandrake, for his whole Evil Overlord shtick, really does care about his son.
- Anna in earlier drafts of Frozen was this to a villainous version of Elsa, who was going to freeze the country and Anna's heart on purpose, and at the end Anna changed her mind.
- Tip to Oh in Home (2015). While the alien wasn't evil or even a straight up jerk (or a Jerk with a Heart of Gold), he didn't know how to show any empathy towards other species, besides his own. Spending time with Tip allows Oh to learn.
- In Tangled, Rapunzel becomes this for Flynn Rider. While he's not an evil guy, he still starts off showing very little concern for his cohorts (he abandons his previous two partners in crime to be arrested and, likely, executed). When he ends up dragging Rapunzel into dangerous situations though, he does whatever he can to take care of her, and ends up falling in love and dying to set her free from Mother Gothel.
- In Treasure Planet, Long John Silver has a literal Morality Pet called Morph, a cute bloblike alien that apparently represents his conscience. One could argue that Jim Hawkins himself is another Morality Pet for Silver.
- Aquaman: Although Arthur Curry is able to beat Orm in an armed confrontation, their enmity is only stopped when their mother, Queen Atlanna, appears and urges her children to stop fighting. This is because both men love her, and Orm's hatred towards Arthur is partly fueled by his jealousy that Atlanna supposedly loves her half-human son over him.
- In the 2009 adaptation of Dorian Gray, Emily Wotton appears to serve as one for both Dorian and Dorian's former mentor, Lord Henry Wotton, with Dorian showing a desire to redeem his past acts while Henry refuses to allow his daughter to be with the man he sees Dorian as.
- First Reformed: Mary becomes one of Toller's few remaining tethers to the world as his Crisis of Faith worsens and he spirals into madness. While he initially chooses to kill himself by detonating a suicide vest in his church at a reconsecration service, which could have potentially injured or killed dozens of people, he hesitates upon seeing Mary in the crowd and instead decides to off himself by drinking some drain cleaner. An interpretation of the very Ambiguous Ending is that Toller has achieved a hope salvation through his love for her.
- Minilla, or Minya, is this for the Big G in the Showa series of movies. And especially in Godzilla: Final Wars, when Godzilla ultimately decides to spare the humans simply because Minilla asked him to.
- Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019): Alan Jonah, the movie's resident human Big Bad Wannabe, is a ruthless and utterly genocidal Misanthrope Supreme who is all too happy to engineer millions of global casualties in the name of his Eco-Terrorist cause (and when that comes apart, in the name of himself). However, the movie implies and the official novelization more explicitly confirms that Jonah genuinely cares about his Mook Lieutenant Asher. Jonah cries out in a rare show of raising his voice when Ash is killed in front of him, and the novelization explicitly shows that Ash is just about the only living person whom Jonah genuinely gives a damn about, and his death severs Jonah's last remaining link to humanity. The novel also states that Jonah had a daughter in his backstory, and her part in his life stalled Jonah's descent into darkness until her grizzly murder marked the turning point.
- In Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Peter Quill is this to adoptive father and amoral Space Pirate Yondu Udonta. Several Ravagers note that Yondu immediately becomes "soft" when Peter's involved and even refused to hand Peter over to his birth father, Ego the Living Planet. Yondu's love for Peter is pretty much his only redeeming quality, and the one thing he does selflessly is to sacrifice his life to save Peter from suffocating in space.
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas! has Max be a literal one. Although he participates in his master's evil deeds, he makes the Grinch save Cindy from the machine in the Post Office. He even has his own Christmas party while the Grinch is down in Whoville... until his master interrupts him and throws him out.
- The Hunger Games: Prim, for Katniss and Buttercup; she is one of few people they show any kindness to.
- Harley, the Tennessee boy who helps Iron Man repair and recharge his armour, in Iron Man 3 is this to Tony Stark.
- His brother and mother are this for the protagonist of Little Odessa.
- In Long John Silver, Silver's desire to have young Jim Hawkins believe he is a hero stops him from backsliding into the worst aspects of piracy. For example, when Silver's crew run up the Jolly Roger after stealing Mendoza's ship, Jim is shocked as he believes Silver's story of raising money so he can travel to England and defend himself against false accusations of piracy, and Silver quickly makes them strike it and run up the Union Jack.
- Maleficent has a major one in Princess Aurora, who is wholly responsible for her Heel-Face Turn in the later half of the movie, and a minor one in her servant Diaval, who, for all his undying loyalty to her, is a genuinely kind man(/raven) and has no qualms in calling her out on her cruel behavior.
- Pita for Creasey in Man on Fire. When Pita gets kidnapped, all hell breaks loose.
- Massacre at Central High: Even at his most murderous, David still cares for Theresa. When David sets a Time Bomb to destroy the school and kill everyone inside, Theresa runs in and refuses to leave despite David's warnings. David takes the bomb and runs outside, where it explodes, killing him but saving Theresa (and everyone else, not that he cares about them).
- Non-Stop: Were it not for Becca, a little girl who's on her first flight and rather scared of it, we would hardly see Marks acting like an actual human being as he helps her cope with her fear.
- Mass murderer Riddick managed to find a few morality pets in Pitch Black, Fry, Jack, and Imam. Of course, Fry died at the end of Pitch Black, and Jack (Kyra) and Imam died at the end of The Chronicles of Riddick, leaving Riddick with no more morality pets, and a whole empire of necromongers at his command! Be afraid. Be very afraid.
- Predators: Unlike the rest of the cast, Isabelle is clearly a tough-minded but fundamentally moral person. So the fact that she persistently tags along with Royce — and trusts him despite his erratic loyalties — gives the strong indication to the audience that there may a decent person somewhere under Royce's mercenary exterior, as does his behavior toward her.
- In Repo! The Genetic Opera, Marni acted as this for Nathan. When she died, the role was fortunately taken over by Shilo, who in turn became Nathan's Morality Chain.
- Chewbacca is pretty much Han Solo's Morality Pet. If he weren't so good at guilting his buddy, the Star Wars trilogy would have been over after one movie.
- Ira, who plays The Heart in a Five-Man Band, for Retired Monster Charlie in Suicide Kings.
- Subverted in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Mrs. Lovett seems to have a soft spot for Toby and treats him as a son, but when he confides in her he suspects Sweeney Todd is up to something awful, she locks him in the basement and plans to have Todd kill him later.
- Maybe played straighter with Sweeney and Anthony. He's a non-threatening, innocent young character, whose puppy love for Johanna might reflect the young Sweeney's for Lucy. Subverted by the fact that is hinted at in the movie and openly stated in the musical: Sweeney's plan to get Johanna back involves murdering Anthony. Johanna may be Sweeney's real morality pet, but given that he nearly kills her as well by accident, being Sweeney's morality pet is not the best way to stay alive.
- In The Thebaid, Antigone does her best to keep her brothers from committing fratricide despite their political ambitions. She nearly succeeds in getting Polynices to reconcile with his brother, but the Furies intervene and keep him on the path to damnation.
- Jake "The Snake" Roberts, had Damien, his favorite of the many snakes he owns. Jake was never shown as anything but kind to Damien. In 1991, Earthquake squashed Damien. The feud against Quake was Jake's last as a face (he shortly thereafter had a Face–Heel Turn when he interrupted Randy "Macho Man" Savage and Miss Elizabeth's wedding at SummerSlam 91, and sicced a cobra on him), and in a bit of Fridge Brilliance, one can look to Damien's squashing as his Start of Darkness.
- X-Pac was briefly Kane's morality pet in the late 90s.
- In WWE, long-running Foreign Wrestling Heel William Regal was assigned by Eric Bischoff to baby-sit and team with his "special" nephew Eugene, a mentally-challenged man who was, despite his handicap, a capable wrestler. Regal quickly grew fond of Eugene, to the point where Triple H's cold, cynical manipulation of Eugene served as a catalyst for a rare Heel–Face Turn for Regal.
- Regal had a similar storyline in 2001 as he ruled as WWF Commissioner and took on Tajiri as his assistant. Regal was at first annoyed by Tajiri (Tajiri's inability to speak English didn't help), but after a while Regal had turned face to protect Tajiri against the Invasion's heels and to rally the fight as WWF's Commissioner. After this, the two were shown communicating perfectly despite speaking different languages. This was relatively short lived as Regal later turned on the WWF and joined the Alliance.
- El Generico/Sami Zayn is Kevin Steen/Kevin Owens' in both Ring of Honor and WWE NXT... until his inevitable Face-Heel Turns in both promotions, of course. Since this is Sami, Kevin is, of course, Easily Forgiven after this happens.
- When WWE wants to put Alberto Del Rio through a Heel–Face Turn, their formula is simple — have a heel assault his loyal manservant, Ricardo Rodriguez, and have Del Rio make with the Roaring Rampage of Revenge against the jerk who did it. Once he went back to being a heel, however, Del Rio began attacking Rodriguez himself.
- The entire Crew act as this to Nights to some degree in AJCO — her genuine love for them is her most redeeming feature and is what sets her apart from A_J, who really couldn't care less about her employees. Within the Crew itself, Blue acts as one to Krauzer.
- Danya, Survival of the Fittest's Big Bad, is occasionally revealed to take time off from his commitments running the Act (including making the announcements) and going home to see his family. The obvious love and affection he has for his wife, young daughter and grown-up son serve to humanise him somewhat. Most members, however, still loathe him. They also fully support his activities, giving him even more motivation to act like a monster.
- Dungeons & Dragons: Guulvorgs are violent, spiteful creatures, cruel hunters, foul-tempered loners, and provided with little empathy for other living beings — but they are also very loyal to their mates and, when they manage to breed, become doting and self-sacrificing parents to their pups.
- In Nomine: The Archangel Dominic is often depicted as an insane Knight Templar. One person's rather popular fanon solution to this was to give him a kitten to soften his image. This more or less worked for a large portion of the fandom.
- Magic: The Gathering: Xantcha serves as Urza's anchor to morality and to sanity.
- Vampire: The Masquerade: Subverted in the Children of the Night supplement. In it is a character profile of Velya the Vivisectionist, who fell in love with a ten-year old girl and made her into a vampire. The source of his infatuation with her was her blatant sociopathy and willingness to manipulate her family into insanity and murder. But that's not the worst part. Even though she was as evil as they came, Elaine Cassidy wasn't mentally equipped to handle vampiric life beside one of the most cold and calculating inhumans in the world, and quickly went batshit insane, ultimately falling to the Beast during the 1950s. Velya's response to his "wife's" degeneration was to graft her body into his torso in order to keep her out of trouble until such time as he could find a cure. Worse still, not only have his efforts been completely in vain, but the connection between the two allows Elaine's Beast to influence Velya, gradually driving him insane.
- Archie, from 13 is actually an aversion of this. Archie uses the fact that he is terminally ill to manipulate everyone around him to get him what he wants.
- The eponymous character in Verdi's opera Rigoletto will simply be a small-minded, vengeful court jester, if not for his daughter Gilda.
- In William Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, the otherwise cosmically evil Aaron goes to great lengths to protect his baby son/morality pet.
- Malyuta Skuratov in The Tsars Bride is cruel and cynical, with the blood of many people on his hands, but he has a soft spot for his honorary goddaughter Lyubasha. It’s enhanced by the fact that he is the only one to be genuinely fond of her.
- Find Us Alive has Dumptruck, Love's pet potato monster. Both Klein and Lancaster observe that she's much calmer and starts fewer fights after creating him.
- Rudyard from Wooden Overcoats is a rude, misanthropic Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist who shows affection to exactly one living creature: Madeline, the mouse who lives in the funeral home. He regularly lets her eat food off the table, and carries her around in his shirt pocket.
- Sesame Street: Local killjoy Oscar the Grouch is normally less grouchy than usual whenever he is around his pet worm Slimey, or his girlfriend Grundgetta. Both are also two examples of the very few residents Oscar is rarely grouchy to.
- In The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss, the Grinch is shown to have some odd ideas about pet ownership (having Max brush him instead of the other way round), but he's also shown to genuinely care about him. When he's actually cruel to Max in "Max the Hero", it's because he thinks he's losing him and doesn't know how to react, and he immediately regrets it (even if it takes him a while to admit it).
- Tsugumi of Ever17 was probably coming off a little too strong on the jerkass and a little weak on the Broken Bird. Plus they needed a way to suddenly make her get along better with Takeshi, so they introduced Chami the Djungarian Hamster. He's named Chami because he's charming.
- H-Game Gibo — Stepmother's Sin has the main character, Yusuke, doing pretty much everything he can to get into his stepmother's pants. However, he also has a stepsister, Shiina. In order to get the better endings (here defined as ones where you don't turn into a total bastard), you need to treat Shiina well, making her into one of these. Even when he's being a dick, Yusuke still refers to Shiina in kind terms.
- Not that Dr. Irie from Higurashi: When They Cry was a villain, but Satako Houjou was an influence in changing some of his priorities.
- In Monster Prom, Vera Oberlin is a proudly greedy and ruthless crime lord in the making... and has an Odd Friendship with the friendly Dumb Jock Scott Howl. While she does get the odd Pet the Dog moment with most of the cast, she has a tendency to try to show Scott more patience than she does the others, who she isn’t above teasing or exploiting, and in Scott’s holiday route, she repeatedly goes out of her way to protect his feelings in a potentially emotionally-compromising situation, with the game’s narrator noting that it isn’t like her to show empathy. Late in the route, she tells him that “you remind me that life doesn’t need to be hell. That people don’t need to be shit”.
- Maria from Umineko: When They Cry acts as the pet for Beatrice.
- In Your Turn to Die, Kanna acts as this for Shin. Despite him seeming not to care for anyone else much, he cares enough about Kanna to offer to sacrifice himself for her. If you vote for Kanna anyway, he will express that he hates you and wants you dead. Subverted in the case of Real Sou, who talks a lot about how he just loves Shin, and also enjoys seeing him in pain, and has some of his worst traits shown to the audience by that attachment.
- At no point in his rampages has Christian Brutal Sniper ever killed the RED Spy.
- Dreamscape: Dylan, and to a lesser extent Aseir, are the only ones Jenna will show any sort of niceness to, and even then, its more akin to a Tsundere.
- DSBT InsaniT: Killer is slightly nicer to Amber than to other members of the cast.
- Averted with Spoon towards Dave. Even though Dave spilled out his insecurites to Spoon, he has no issues with abusing him.
- Vaggie from Hazbin Hotel appears to dislike just about everyone in the room at any given time with the exception of her girlfriend, Charlie, who she is consistently nice and pleasant too.
- In Hunter: The Parenting, Kevin the Mighty continuing to look after his cat Mr. Smerples is the first indication of his Tragic Monster status compared to the other Licks.
- On the Dream SMP, Technoblade is an anarchistic Blood Knight who believes that Utopia Justifies the Means, but would drop everything on the spot for his Only Friend, Philza. Case in point, when Techno was captured by the Butcher Army, one of his main concerns was Phil being held under house arrest by them rather than his own impending execution.
- Spiro of the Fellowship of The Questport Chronicles pulls a Heel–Face Turn and is banished from the demon homeland after refusing to kill a Demon Bunny.
- SCP Foundation:
- SCP-085, who acts as this for the entire foundation.
- The three-year old girl SCP-053 acts as one for SCP-682, as she is the only being that 682 hasn't killed and actually protected her from the personnel who went in to separate them.
- SCP-590 and SCP-166 for Dr. Bright and Dr. Clef respectively. Though, it’s not immediately obvious with the former.
- ED-E plays this role to The Courier in Courier's Mind: Rise of New Vegas. The Courier can be quite a Jerkass (and who wouldn't be with the kind of life he's leading?), but will typically do the right thing if ED-E bugs him about it.
- Penny and Moist in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog definitely acts as morality pets. Moist manages to invert this in one scene, where his suggestions for evil acts are too overboard for Dr. Horrible.
- In Noob:
- The relationship between Gaea and Golgotha is closer to a perpetual Licked by the Dog situation. Gaea combines Dirty Coward, Manipulative Bastard and The Scrooge, yet she and Gologotha seem to have never stopped being Childhood Friends and Golgotha not only actively seeks her company, but has quite a Big Sister Instinct towards her.
- A straighter but downplayed example so far only revealed in the webseries storyline is Judge Dead in regards to Tenshirock. Tenshirock was an Anti-Villain from the start, but the reveal of the relationship changes Tenshirock from some guy who has nothing better to do with his free time than messing up a MMORPG in an attempt to have people stop playing it to a father trying to win back the affection of a son that had started to hate him for reasons unknown to him.