I have read your excellent comments with great interest, thank you all so much for writing. I do agree that in many ways it is far too simplistic to sort the world into two groups as I did in my earlier post. I suspect that it’s easy to oversimplify when you are frustrated, and truth be told, I was feeling a bit frustrated when I wrote last week. Part of that stemmed from recently hearing what I believe has been meant as a compliment to Calling All Pets. Several times I’ve heard people say that Calling All Pets is a good show for Wisconsin Public Radio because “it brings in people who wouldn’t normally listen to pubic radio.” This presupposes that the show’s listeners are different than most listeners of public radio. Does that mean that most people who listen to public radio are not that interested in pets and animal behavior…? I have to say, in fourteen years of doing the show, I’ve heard hundreds and hundreds of people comment on the show, and never once has anyone said “You know, I never listened to public radio before, but now that I’ve listened to your show, I”ll start!” That is what got me thinking about the word ‘pets’ and how ambivalent we are about it (and them) as a society.
Speaking about how we categorize the animals we live with, I love Jeff’s comments about the three perspectives that the dog food company grouped people into: 1) dog as dog, 2) dog as part of the family and 3) dog AS family. Of course, as many of you so appropriately pointed out, there are vast continuums within those 3 categories, but I like the way this grouping gets you thinking about where you place your own animals. (And oh yes, yes, it is so true that “Just a….” can be applied to any group, whether it be cats or rats or gerbils. You can find earlier writings that talk about children as “just children”… sigh.)
One of the continuums that I find especially interesting are people who would be categorized as “dog as dog” people… those who have working animals on farms or ranches. I have spent a lot of time with farmers and ranchers who have working dogs and horses, who ostensibly will tell you that their relationship with their animals is mostly that of utility. And yet, nothing can choke up a cowboy quicker than losing a dog he worked with for ten years, and a great horse who became one of his best friends. Perhaps that’s one of the most interesting part of our complicated relationship with our ‘pets’.. that they can assume so many roles: family members, colleagues, and best friends too. This, of course, includes the knowledge that family members don’t always get along, colleagues can drive you crazy and best friends can betray you… our relationships with dogs and other pets isn’t always smooth, but it sure is interesting.
Speaking of interesting, I just talked to Temple Grandin (author of Animals in Translation) and she has a new book coming out soon, titled Animals Make Us Human. I have a review copy and can’t wait to read it… It’s coming out in January. I’ll keep you posted.
Back on the farm.. here’s some photos from the clearing out the 5 huge elm trees that died a few years ago, and have been threatening to fall on my power lines. A bunch of wonderful folks came out, chain saws a’blazing, and we cut and hauled and ran branches through the rented chipper for 6 hours. Tired, but what a wonderful day to work outside. Poor Will didn’t get much work that day… but if I can get my work done before dark, he will tonight!