I had an electronic pet once. I didn't feed it and it died. Lucky for me though, it had a reset button. For children too irresponsible for the real thing, Hasbro and other toy makers have been releasing battery operated pets for years. In my day, key-chain sized Tamagotchi pets were all the rage. Last Christmas, Zhu Zhu pet hamsters were flying off retailer's shelves. There is even a website where children (and perhaps adults) can own a completely virtual pet if caring for a three-dimensional piece of circuitry is too overwhelming. Check out the Webkinz!
Why do humans have such a compelling desire to own and care for small creatures? I wondered this as I read Dick's novel and saw Deckard's strange obsession and affection for both his electronic sheep and his eventual real goat. They seem to represent a sign of prosperity and status in the novel, much like cars do in our time. Even today when cats, dogs, fish, and birds are abundant, people seek to trap, own, and raise (what should be) wild animals, sometimes spending hundreds to thousands of dollars on their care. And now, children are being groomed for the real thing with technological toy pets (so much for the pet rock). I guess they're are all just practicing for the eventual extinction of our fellow animal species.