In fiction, oftentimes the protagonists have pets. Smaller (or not so small), less intelligent (or maybe smarter) companions of a different species than the heroes. Sometimes the pet will come along on an adventure and help out. Wait, those heroes are the humans, aren't they?
This trope is where it turns out that the humans aren't as in charge as they think. As far as their supposed pet is concerned, the human is the real pet. The pet may know how the human thinks of the relationship and keep a masquerade going, or it may not care what the hairless ape thinks of things as long as it knows it's the real master.note In rarer cases, the human may even find out that their relationship with their pet isn't quite what they thought.
Related to Dog Walks You, where the pet isn't just being rambunctious. Or maybe they just think they're taking their human out for a walk. Compare Loyal Animal Companion and Humans Are Not the Dominant Species (for when this is literally true). See also Mistook the Dominant Lifeform, which often manifests as aliens thinking this trope is in effect.
- Dragon Ball Super: In the presence of other deities from the other universes, this is how Beerus feels about any mortal from his own universe. Needless to say, he has to chastise and berate Goku often for approaching Zeno without permission. It doesn't help said actions often cause him embarrassment.
- In K, we have Shiro's Cute Kitten (who can transform into a human), Neko.
Neko: Neko is Shiro's cat and Shiro is Neko's Shiro!
- Komi Can't Communicate: Chocolate, the black cat in the cat café, usually doesn't like other humans to approach her. She makes an exception for Komi, whom ironically the rest of the cats are scared of.
- In Natsume's Book of Friends, Madara gets incensed and uses this excuse whenever other youkai try to possess or take Natsume away from him.
- In Naruto, Kurama reveals this is the reason it tried to prevent Naruto from learning Sage Mode and was so outraged that he accepted help from Bee and Gyuki.
- My Roommate is a Cat: The parts of the story told from the titular cat's perspective have her take that attitude in regards to her owner, due to her belief that he isn't capable of taking care of himself. She's not exactly wrong, either. When he Forgets to Eat, she pushes her own bowl of food to a place where he can find it more easily, which is pretty much the only reason he didn't starve.
- Subverted in one issue of The Sandman (1989). A cat states that she thought she was the owner of her humans, until she mated with a stray and her master threw the kittens in a river, due to her being a pure-bred Siamese and her half-breed offspring being worthless to him. The story actually revolves around the idea that humans really were the pets of cats, but they retroactively changed history through collective dreaming. Once the change took place, the world ruled by cats was suddenly never real. The cat is trying to reverse the change, but cats are not exactly social.
- In Gold Digger, alien dog Alfred Peachbody owned a pet human named Benji (a Shout-Out / Captain Ersatz of Mr. Peabody and Sherman, in the Western Animation section below). But in their case, it's because they're from a potential Bad Future where dogs became intelligent and rule tyrannically over humans.
- Some X-Men stories imply that Lockheed regards Kitty Pryde this way. In Whedon's run on Astonishing X-Men, it is revealed that Lockheed is very intelligent, and was working for SWORD to spy on the X-Men. Presumably he was doing so in part to protect "his girl".
- The Coming of Atlas and other stories make obvious Krypto the Superdog considers Superman its human, and whoever hurts him will be mauled.
- In Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade, Streaky the Supercat runs into Supergirl and adopts her as its pet. Throughout the story he proves to be quite fond and proud of its human.
Streaky's Log: "The giver of these powers, a simple biped by the name of Supergirl, interests me. I have decided to adopt her as my pet."
- The first strip of Garfield has Jon introducing himself, and declaring Garfield to be his cat. Garfield then introduces himself, declaring Jon to be his cartoonist.
- Dilbert: Dogbert is definitely the master of their relationship. Although Dogbert doesn't seem to care about Dilbert. However, you feel that if Dilbert were actually in danger of dying, Dogbert would probably help him out. In one instance, Catbert was going to have Dilbert executed as a disciplinary action, and Dogbert promptly had Bob the Dinosaur force Catbert to pardon his human. And never taking credit for his good deed, either. Dogbert has also rescued Dilbert from being lowered into a pit of lava by the trolls (as in actual monsters) from the Accounting department, and has sicced Bob and Dawn on a burglar who took all of Dilbert's possessions. Word of God is that Dogbert does care for Dilbert, it just only shows when Dilbert is in genuine danger. In an early strip (before office humor became the norm), Dogbert tried to trick Dilbert into signing a contract that would legally name Dilbert the "pet" in the relationship. After the first few years they started being referred to as "roommates", and Dogbert not being human has been almost completely ignored in-universe since the late 90s.
- Peanuts: Snoopy is better than most. As long as Charlie Brown brings him supper and keeps his water bowl full, he's more than happy to help, if only for the adventure. But he never quite remembers his name, only ever referring to him as "that round-headed kid". He also doesn't seem to grasp that Charlie Brown actually owns him, instead treating him like a mutual friend when talking about him with others.
- Satchel and Bucky in Get Fuzzy will refer to Rob as "our guy".
- Boldores And Boomsticks: Team RWBY's starters all join the team of their own volition, without being asked. Absol also tags along with Qrow without any input from him.
- During the first season of Lost, an untitled fanfic from Vincent the dog's POV circulated around the web. In it, Vincent refers to his owner as "my pet Walt" (and to his owner's older companion as "the guy who thinks he's Walt's dad"). It's probably a homage to The Hundred and One Dalmatians, as detailed in Literature below.
- Property Of features a variation of this in the Transformers Film Series; after finding Earth, a group of Decepticons have created a system where humans are traded back to Cybertron and sold as pets to other Autobots and Decepticons, with the vast majority of Cybertronians unaware that humans are sentient in the first place. This results in Sam and Mikaela being purchased by Bumblebee while Ironhide rescues Annabelle from a harsher previous owner, but a chain of events lead to Bumblebee, Ironhide, Ratchett and Optimus realising that the humans are sentient and start taking steps to investigate the Decepticons' motives for such a deception.
- In Hiccups, this is how Toothless sees the Vikings.
Toothless didn't get language, but he did get Hiccup. Hiccup was sensible and liked to fly nearly as much as Toothless did. He was brave, kind, and the dragon suspected extremely intelligent for his kind. How else could he begin to understand the incredibly complex mind of a dragon? Yes, Toothless's rider was the smartest of the humans.
- This is how Sunny the dog sees Taylor in Constellations. Of course, given that Sunny is the goddess Amaterasu in disguise and Taylor is her first priestess, this is entirely correct. Moreover, much of Brockton Bay's Asian community know enough to view the relationship the same way, and give Taylor the appropriate respect.
- In Ginny Weasley: Double Life, Ginny is hypnotised to consider the talking snake Milikan her Mistress, freely affirming that she is Milikan's servant (although only she is aware that Milikan even exists, with Milikan in turn content to let Ginny maintain her existing life and relationship with Harry and her children).
- The spin-off series The Tales of Milikan features various other examples of this, as Milikan or other snakes hypnotise Ginny or other characters under different circumstances so that the humans see the snakes as their master/mistress.
- Wallace & Gromit: Gromit, the dog, is pretty much actually the master and much more intelligent than Wallace, but we never find out whether he sees it that way.
- In 101 Dalmatians, the dogs see humans as their pets. The opening of the film uses it as part of a Bait-and-Switch gag. We're initially thinking that the man monologuing about living with his pet was the man at the piano. The narrator then clarifies that said man is his pet Roger and the narrator is indeed the dalmatian Pongo.
- In Felidae the feline protagonist also refers to the man he's living with as "my human." Amusingly, in one scene the man comments how the cats are lucky in how they can just eat and sleep all day — even though that seems to be exactly what he's doing, while Francis goes around solving cat murders in the neighbourhood, risking life and limb.
- Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey is told from the perspective of a bulldog named Chance who travels with his fellow pets Sassy and Shadow, trying to get back to their owners Jamie, Hope and Peter respectively. At the beginning of the film, when Chance is describing Shadow's owner he says "Peter belonged to Shadow." There's also a dialogue in which the elder Shadow explains to Chance why dogs took it upon themselves to protect humans.
- Robert A. Heinlein:
- The Star Beast has the hero keeping an alien pet passed down through the generations. The titular Star Beast turns out to actually be a highly intelligent alien whose hobby is raising humans, namely the generations of the hero's family.
- The same thing happens in Red Planet with Willis the Bouncer, a volleyball-sized Martian lifeform kept by the protagonist Jim. Towards the end of the novel Jim forms a Mind Meld and finds that Willis is actually an early stage of the sentient Martian species, and sees Jim as an awkward yet lovable pet.
- Alan Dean Foster's Cat-A-Lyst has the human hero adopting a small cat early on. In reality, the cat is an extra-dimensional entity that fights off the real villain while the humans fight off his minions. In the end the cat decides to stay on Earth and watch over her pets.
- The Chronicles of Narnia book The Horse and His Boy has this right in the title. (It's a talking horse). However, by the end of the book Shasta the boy has been through significant adventures, while Bree the horse has been knocked down a peg or two, making it more A Boy and His X
- Also explicit in the text, when Bree tells Aravis (who calls another talking horse, Hwin, her mare), that it's just as true that she is Hwin's human.
- Firekeeper Saga: Firekeeper is more Blind Seer's pet than the other way around, but she was Raised by Wolves, after all, and the other humans do a poor job of civilizing both of them.
- Avi's horror story Cats has ghost cats wanting to bring their "pet" along to the next world with them.
- Occurs in both the novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians and the Disney film version 101 Dalmatians. The original novel really plays this up, as Pongo and Missus (Perdita in the film) honestly believe that the human characters are their pets — an attitude common to all dogs. The sequel to the book, The Starlight Barking, has Sirius point out to the dogs that they aren't the masters; at the end of the day, the humans are the ones in charge.
- In Robert Asprin's novel series Myth Adventures, the dragon Gleep feels this way about Skeeve. It's implied that all dragons in the series feel this way about humans. Skeeve actually knows that when they're mature, dragons are much smarter than humans. What he doesn't realize due to Gleep's inability to speak and generally goofy behavior is that Gleep is already much smarter than he is.
- In both the book and film, A Boy and His Dog, the well-read and wise-cracking telepathic dog named Blood is pretty much in charge of the relationship. (This is NOT a kids movie!)
- In the same way that blind people have seeing-eye dogs, the crazy beggar Foul Old Ron has a thinking-brain dog in the form of Gaspode (who can speak, but doesn't let most people know it). As the most sensible, intelligent and above all sane member of the bunch, Gaspode could claim to be The Leader of the Canting Crew.
- Maurice in The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents is a cat who hasn't even realized that the "stupid-looking kid" he uses in his plans has a name.
- Temeraire proves in Victory of Eagles that, contrary to prior belief, dragons are perfectly capable of defending their country without human handlers to direct them. That being said, most dragons in service with a captain and crew tend to be extremely possessive of them: Temeraire in particular gets jealous and grumpy when a crewman leaves him to serve with another dragon or when Laurence spends more time with Levitas.
- In Crucible of Gold it is revealed that the Incan dragons hoard humans are though they are treasure, and actively seek to 'manage' them as one would a herd of live stock. They're hugely protective of their 'ayllu' and consider human theft to be a great crime. Living in an ayllu is actually a pretty good life for the people involved — unless they get stolen by other dragons and are separated from their family for the rest of their lives, of course...
- The Xhosa believe dragons are reincarnated humans. As such, each dragon has their own 'descendants' to look after, and they do so zealously. It's not uncommon for a human to refer to a great hulking dragon as 'grandfather', for example. It's reinforced by the relatives of the deceased telling stories of the person the dragon is supposedly the reincarnation of while they are still in the shell. Needless to say, the dragons are more than willing to go to war to reclaim their lost families from slavery.
- Rhiow and the other feline wizards from the The Book of Night with Moon companion series to Diane Duane's Young Wizards series occasionally take this attitude toward the ehhif in their lives.
- Anne Bishop's Black Jewels universe has this, where you, the human, doesn't choose the kindred, the kindred chooses you. And once they decide, you don't really have much of a choice.
- Snot Stew stars two kittens who are discovered and adopted by a human family.
- In The Dresden Files, the reader learns very early (from a spirit of intellect possessing him) that Harry Dresden's normal cat Mister views Harry as his servant/pet (which is implied to be standard for cats). Somewhat later, we eventually discover that as far as Harry's intelligent dog Mouse is concerned, Harry is his, not the other way around. Whether he battled Mister for ownership rights at some point is unknown. Unlike other examples on this page, though, the latter relationship is not just a reversal of the master-pet one. It's hard to explain how it comes off exactly, but it's a lot more like a proud, loving parent.
- John Scalzi's short story, The Other Large Thing, is set from the viewpoint of a cat named Sanchez who refers to his human owners as "large things". Later, he specifically says that he doesn't even consider them worthy of having actual names or titles.
- British Labour politician Roy Hattersley has written diaries from the perspective of his dog Buster that take this view; Buster refers to Hattersley as "The Man".
- Ralph Von Wau Wau from Spider Robinson's Callahan's Crosstime Saloon stories, qualifies. His "master" brought the dog to Callahan's one night, claiming he could talk. When Ralph proved to be quite eloquent, the regulars figured that his "master" was a gifted ventriloquist. It is later revealed that the "master" was mute and Ralph, a mutant dog possessing human intelligence who happened to be given a human larynx and mouth structure in a lab experiment, was the ventriloquist, who unofficially adopted his "master" and cooked up the "my dog can talk" shtick to make a few bucks.
- In The Call of the Wild, though, Buck thinks of himself as the Judge's "steward", if nothing else, and thinks of the Judge's children as the Judge's property (and thus beneath himself). He realizes the error in his thinking after he's stolen and beaten into submission as a sled dog.
- In Robert Reed's short story To Church with Mr. Multhiford, the titular farmer theorizes that corn domesticated man, rather than the other way around; for a tropical grass with no certain biological parents, it's done pretty well for itself, as humanity provides it with nutrients, water, and propagates its children in exchange for food and wealth. Empires that didn't keep its crops happy, such as the Soviet Union under Stalin, failed.
- There's a spin-off to the How to Train Your Dragon series written from Toothless's perspective and called How to Train Your Viking.
- Appears several times in the Tortall Universe:
- In The Immortals Daine's grey mare Cloud feels this way about her, and basically became her Parental Substitute after her family was killed by bandits. Cloud even stuck around Daine after she joined up with a pack of wolves, and even though Daine made sure none of the wolves hurt her it's still not something an average horse would do.
- In Protector of the Small Kel's bad-tempered and previously-mistreated war horse Peachblossom tells Daine that one reason he stays with Kel is because she needs to be looked after, and the fact that she was the first human to treat him well means he feels he has an obligation to do so.
- In the Garza anthology Rescued, one of the stray protagonists sees himself as manipulating humans into giving him food.
- A few kittypets in Warrior Cats think this way. However, it's mostly subverted as cats do realize they're owned by humans. It's a point of mockery for Clan cats, who look down upon pets for being owned by someone.
- Cats in Tailchaser's Song see humans as their servants. This is a part of their lore. As a part of "Just So" Story on how humans came to be, a demi-god cat deformed a disgraced prince into a human and cursed his descendants so that they'd be forced to serve cats forever.
- Downplayed in The Good Dog. McKinley describes Jack as being his "human pup". He considers his job to protect the three humans who live in the house, while in exchange they feed and shelter him.
- Bazil Broketail: Although outwardly dismissive of their human companions, dragons are actually very protective of them and see them as the closest persons they have to a family (and vice versa).
- One of the aliens in Dani's House tried to keep a postman as a pet in one episode.
- Doctor Who, "The Doctor's Wife" - The mind of the TARDIS gets shunted into a human body by the villain of the week, and insists that she "stole a Time Lord" as much as the Doctor stole her. They both did it for the same reason (wanting to get out and see the universe).
Idris: My thief.
- After psychically linking with a dog in Warehouse 13, Artie claims their bond is too great and the dog owns him now. He also mentions that Cats are prisoners.
- The punchline of the A Bit of Fry and Laurie sketch set in a vet's waiting room is that the reason Stephen's ghastly character is there is that his dog wants to have him put down.
- A Pyramid magazine article about memetics in Transhuman Space included a list of example memes that are already widespread in the population, and that a new memeplex could play on. One of them was "Owned by Cats".
- There is a clear reference to A Boy and His Dog in each of the three Fallout games, in which the player character wanders a post-nuclear wasteland with an option of having a canine companion called "Dogmeat". "Dogmeat" is what Vic calls Blood at certain points of A Boy and His Dog when they are arguing. It's more likely a reference to the dog from the Mad Max series.
- Cats in Dwarf Fortress adopt dwarves, not the other way around. While this is meant as a joke, it actually ends up contributing to their status as a nuisance, since their apparent mind-control abilities make it much more difficult to keep their population under control. Which is important. Both because dwarves who lose their cats to the inevitable goblin attacks/invading monsters from underground/berserk dwarves/etc have a tendancy to tantrum, and because lots of cats ruin FPS.
- Bob the Cat has a pet human named Unferth. In the "A Tail of Two Cats" quest, Bob even asks the Player Character to look after Unferth while he's away.
- The TzRek-Jad pet feels this way about its owner, in a rather adorable fashion.
"Human pet, scratch my ears now; I command you!"
- In Exit Fate, Klaus von Lichtenheim (a cat) claims to be descended from a long line of feline nobility, and gracefully agrees to join the Elysium Army only because the protagonist seems so insistent on it (recruiting him requires tracking him down several times in different towns). If he's with you when you talk to Griever (a despondent former general with a nihilistic streak and a deep love of cats) he'll tell her that he's mostly following you because it amuses him. He'll also mention that there's nothing strange about him being able to talk, since even humans can master the skill.
- In the Bad Future of Day of the Tentacle where Purple Tentacle conquers the world, humans are kept as the pets of the tentacle race. They are treated by veterinarians, kept in cell-like kennels and there are even dog-show-like competitions where tentacles enter particularly fancy "pet humans".
- Percival the cat in Sinfest has this mentality about his owner, despite said owner never acknowledging a word he says. Pooch the dog is the exact opposite, viewing his master with unflinching adoration.
- Housepets! is all about this, although the animals think of their owners in a parental light, calling them "mom/dad" when talking to/about them.
- In Girl Genius, when Agatha makes an offhand comment about "serving the King of Cats", Krosp replies in all earnestness, "I accept your fealty." He then helps Agatha escape from Castle Wulfenbach because, as his first (and only) subject, he sees Agatha as his responsibility.
- RWBY Recaps depicts this as the reason Cat Girl Blake dislikes Zwei, her friends' puppy.
"Back off, they're my humans!"
- A dating advertisement on Craigslist is written from the perspective of the advertiser's cat. Apparently his human must be distracted from the cat's nefarious plans.
While he does feed me (when I tell him of course) and give me endless enjoyment of cleaning up after my droppings, I do suppose he also requires some fulfillment apart from merely being my human.
- The Peabody's Improbable History segment of the The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show has Mr. Peabody and his boy Sherman. The first episode established that Peabody literally, legally adopted Sherman (and immediately told him to never call him "daddy").
Mr. Peabody: No doubt about it. Every dog ought to have a boy.
- Family Guy: Peter and Brian (a Talking Animal who is more or less treated like a human being) have this relationship. The original pilot for Family Guy was totally based around this, in fact. Brian has bitten Peter a handful of times whenever Peter has angered him enough, though it takes a lot to get to this point, and Peter immediately regresses into a submissive wimp. However, there have also been episodes where Peter shows that he's the boss, such as when he forces Brian to live in the yard after he is sprayed by a skunk.
- In one episode of Johnny Test, Dukey briefly muses on this trope when watching Johnny mess around with some barrels of toxic waste.
Dukey: In a just world, he'd be my pet.
- The Adventure Time pilot has a variant: the Ice King refers to Jake as Pen/Finn's dog during their fight. Pen/Finn punches him and responds "He's not my dog! He's my friend!" When the actual series came out this is taken even further by making them adoptive brothers. It makes sense in hindsight when it's revealed Ice King was born in a time when dogs were non-sapient pets, whereas Finn has never known a world where they weren't an intelligent race.
- Futurama has some rather literal cases of this.
- A cat alien has been shown with a pet human, even winning third place at a pet show.◊
- While he does genuinely love and care for the guy, Bender views his relationship with Fry along these terms to some extent.
Fry: (After Bender offers to let him move in with him) You sure I won't be imposing?
Bender: Nah. I always wanted a pet.
- On Be Cool, Scooby-Doo!, Scooby is insulted that Shaggy referred to him as his dog. When Shaggy apologizes later and says "You're not my dog, you're my buddy", Scooby explains that he meant that Shaggy was his human.
- Used word-for-word in Max Steel (2013) by Steel, a technological alien:
Steel: My name is Steel, and This Is My Human, Max.
- Miraculous Ladybug: The kwamis are unfathomably old beings with immense magical powers, but they can get possessive over the human who holds their Miraculous — provided they like said human.
- In "Desperada", Plagg begins sulking when Adrien decides to temporarily wield the Snake Miraculous, partly because it's a harebrained scheme to woo Ladybug and partly because he doesn't like the idea of his human partner ditching him for another kwami. He's overjoyed when Adrien returns the Snake Miraculous and admits to acting like a fool.
- In "Truth", Daizzi takes a shine to Alya and expresses the wish to have her as his new holder. Trix immediately vetoes it and smugly informs Daizzi that Alya, being the superheroine Rena Rouge and Trixx's holder, is "already taken".
- Nooroo, on the other hand, can barely hide his disappointment when he sees Gabriel/Hawk Moth reclaiming the Butterfly Miraculous (long story) in "The Collector" and "Queen Wasp".
- C. S. Lewis once said of his dog, "He never exactly obeyed you. He sometimes agreed with you."
- Cats were not domesticated the same way most animals were. Humans liked to build big houses full of grain that attracted rodents, and when cats decided to hunt those rodents, the humans were only too happy to reward them with free warmth and shelter. Cat lovers to this day know that it's the cat who adopts the human, not the other way around
- Old saying: Dogs have owners, cats have staff.
- You've probably seen variations of these quotes before on bumper stickers, doormats, wall plagues or signs: "I don't own my dog/cat, my dog/cat owns me." "The dog/cat is in charge of the house, we're just guests who live here," etc.
- There's also the fact some humans don't consider themselves their pet's owners, but rather their caretakers, human companions, or even two-legged furless slaves to their pets.
- There's a meme of pictures of cats or dogs acting like a person's partner is theirs and being jealous. A typical title is "My cat reminding me I'm basically my husband's side chick".
- There is actually some Truth in Television; when your cat or dog rubs up, nudges you or cuddles up against you affectionately, they're also rubbing their scent on you as their way of "claiming you" as their own "pet human." It is also the reason you might see your dog or cat rolling around or playing in your dirty laundry. Not only does it make them feel comforted and safe, but they mark their scent on everything that smells of the human they love and claiming the garments as their own property. This is also why you might see your dog or cat get defensive or protective or even seemingly jealous if you are being more attentive to another dog or cat and might growl or hiss as their way of claiming their walking territory (AKA, you, the human) back. In a way, you are technically your dog or cat's two-legged piece of property who is there to give them free food, exercise, daily check-ups and affection while all they get to do is eat and sleep and live to their heart's content! So who is really the pet? You decide!