The end of my freshman year, I adopted a dog from a shelter. Liberty is my pride and joy, my roommate, my buddy. So of course I brought her up a lot in talks of home before a class. And I started getting the weirdest question from my classmates: “What’s your dog do?”
Confused, I asked for clarification. “You know, huntin’ dog, guard dog, herdin’ dog…”. My reply, “Well, nothing I guess, she’s just my pet”, usually got a small chuckle and a false look of understanding. At this point, I was beginning to grasp the depth of a farmer’s work ethic. But I had never thought of their non-livestock animals.
Over time, I began to realize that all people and creatures are an important working aspect to farm life. For instance, many farmers in my part of country do not own horses because the farms aren’t big enough to utilize them in cattle work, and therefore they would just be “expensive hobbies”. I was told a 4-wheeler works just as great, never has a bad day, and runs on much less cost.
Just the same, dogs are purchased for such purposes as to guard the sheep from coyotes. These dogs are usually obedient, but are not exactly what I’d classify as tame. I had great difficulty understanding how it was acceptable that a friend’s pack of White Pyrenees dogs had killed a new puppy. The puppy was bought off the farm to introduce new genes into their pack, but the alpha male did not want any part of another male’s offspring.
And yet these animals were mans best friend? In my “previous life”, it wasn’t even acceptable that my cat bit my favorite teddy bear. If he had killed the fish, it would have been an even worser fate. Some people even get rid of a 2nd dog because it got into a fight with the 1st one. And then I learn that there are places of non-abusive animal homes where killing the fluffy new puppy is a disappointment, but by no means harped on for longer than a few minutes. It’s not the absence of emotion, but the acceptance that everything is on this earth for a reason, and the circle of life will continue with or without human interruption. Of course they wished the puppy had lived. But it was crucial for these dogs to maintain their wild, instinctive behavior in order to successfully keep away predators from the flock. If they were really “pets”, they’d try to make peace with the coyotes as well as the puppies. So they couldn’t scold or punish the dogs for carrying out what instincts instructed had them to do. That’s the whole reason the dogs are on the farm in the first place.
It’s sort of a revolutionary thought, in a very old fashioned sort of way. I mean, centuries ago, these standards for animals were worldwide. Horses pulled plows, and acted as cars and freight trains. Dogs protected livestock and families. Cats killed household pests. The only cost of labor was the price of feed, and most of these animals could find it themselves because they all lived outside. Nowadays, we have designer dogs who are genetically bred in a way that is only beneficial to a human’s emotional side (pugs are adorable, but to breed something with a facial structure that causes so many breathing problems is not exactly doing a favor to them). But this agricultural view, it was so…sustainable.
Think about all the resources your pet may use. I’ll use mine as an example. Every day, we use one plastic bag to clean up the lawn, instead of utilizing it as fertilizer and letting nature biodegrade it. I pay $30 for un-exceptional dog food, when most farm dogs receive the leftover food that I put into my garbage disposal, or hunt their own meat. I don’t personally buy clothing for my dog, but if I did that would use many textiles and while that may be great for “Fru Fru Dog Do’s”, its probably not worth the environmental cost of producing cottons, nylons, and other materials for a dog with a built-in fur coat. The list goes on. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have pets. I could never turn my fluffy-tailed pal outside. It just blows my mind how environmentally/resourcefully genius farmers can be.
Farms who do run horses instead of 4-wheelers save fuel, and therefore emissions. They can sell the manure as a natural fertilizer, which keeps the option open for consumers not to need all-chemical fertilizers. It also provides income for the farm. Yes, they may not be able to afford to bond as closely with their furry workers, but their utilization of nature’s laws and bounty is really quite impressive. They really are stewards of the land in ways we don’t even consider daily.
Maybe I will designate a spot on my yard for dog poop. Even if the neighbors scowl, at least I’ll be greening my grass while not wasting plastic.