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Pets need work to give life purpose
This past Labor Day, I was reflecting on the role of "work" in the lives of our domestic animals. I, also, saw "Babe" about a week prior, and some different thoughts came together as though they were pieces of a puzzle. For anyone who has not yet seen it, "Babe" is the story of a talking pig and it's about his life and interactions with the animals that live on a farm. All of these creatures can talk with one another, only the farmers are unaware of their communicative abilities. The anthropomorphizing is taken to an amusing extreme with singing mice and a neurotic duck, but an interesting point is continually re- emphasized. It is that... all animals have a purpose. Domestic animals were kept by man for specific purposes. Dogs for protection and their advanced hunting skills, cats for micing, and sadly pigs for eating, to name a few. Furthermore, these animals were often bred to promote behavioral traits, i.e., specific talents like herding. Let's look more closely at dogs and cats. Originally kept for work functions, they fulfilled their duties and they knew their place. Moreover, they enjoyed their work and took pride in it (an anthropomorphism which I believe to be accurate). Today, however, anybody and everybody has these creatures, and their function (to quote the cat from "Babe") is simply "to be beautiful and an object of the boss's affection." This shift in the function of some of our domestic animals, particularly dogs and cats, has led to significant problems. Take as an example Australian Shepherds. This breed's style of herding involves much running, nipping and aggressive displays. Their work also required them to be mentally and physically tough, warding off intruders like wolves. As such, they tend to be particularly tough-minded and alert. They are quick, smart, fearless and they possess an enormous amount of energy. All these traits are especially well suited to sheep herding, but as a house pet, such traits can often get them into trouble. All that inherent energy has to go somewhere. And I have unfortunately seen it come out numerous times in acts of aggression towards strangers. This dilemma is by no means unique to Aussies. Many working dogs bought and kept for the sole purpose of companion can become bored or depressed and take on roles and functions on their own. Dogs seem to genuinely take pride in their abilities. I recently met a black lab mix who made a game out of flipping his collar up in attempts to catch his tags in his mouth. When he did he would trot over to his owner and lay his head in her lap to enjoy a well deserved "pat on the back." Just like people, when dogs are active and doing something they enjoy and are good at, they are more contented and relaxed. Many dogs that are bored get their energy out by becoming super-protectors. They are asserting a natural tendency that is fitting to their circumstances as house dog, often to the dismay of owners, particularly when their energy is funneled, beyond alertness and vigilance, into excessive barking and aggression. Home life can bring other problems too. The pampering and spoiling that some dogs receive can bring out dominant tendencies in dogs and cats alike. Treat them like kings and you can expect that they will begin to act accordingly. The animals which have dominant personalities can become downright mean when they are suddenly corrected or even disturbed by unsuspecting owners who have all their lives accommodated the whims and wishes of that animal. So pet owners take note: Your pet is much more than an attractive, animated and cuddly creature that was put on earth to serve your need for unconditional love and aesthetic pleasure. It has a history and an evolutionary purpose. It worked to survive and enjoyed its work. And though we often wish it for ourselves, the life of leisure that they possess isn't as wonderful as you might expect.