Generalizations about humanity are probably best avoided, but my experience in animal welfare, as a volunteer, the founder of Petfinder.com, and now Heal House Call Veterinarian, has left me pretty convinced of a few “truths” about humanity.
- Good people outnumber bad people.
- Most people are animal-people. (I suspect there are more self-identified animal-people than people-people.)
- People that claim they aren’t animal-people often just haven’t yet met “the one.”
- Most families deserve a dumb pet.
About the last one: I don’t mean to say that families don’t deserve a great pet; pets who aren’t going to win any IQ Olympics can be great. It is just that for those of us who have chaotic and full-to-the-brim lives, we deserve a simple friend who will fit into our lives rather than demand constant entertainment and individual attention.
Anyone who has had a ridiculously clever pooch knows the pitfalls of making the relationship work in a busy household. I feel chronically guilty that Naughty-Jake, my uber-smart Shepherd mix is, at any given time between 9 and 6 o’clock, most probably bored. His nickname is a public acknowledgment of my failings as a smart-dog owner. The guy needs a job. He needs to think and solve problems. He isn’t a really good fit for our family.
It was my friend and colleague Sue Sternberg who told me first about the brilliance of adopting a dumb pet. She’s got the most dog-sense of anyone I’ve ever met, so of course, I trusted her and even quoted her. Then I met Naughty-Jake, fell in love and inadvertently signed up for life with a dog that may, at any given moment, rival my cleverness. He usually senses that I’ve accidently left a gate unlatched before I can yell, “Honey, quick! The gate! Ugh! Never mind. Jake’s out.” Sigh.
Jake is nonchalant and quiet while I sip my latte at the computer, but as soon as he sees me step into the bathroom, he beelines to my desk, usually leaving no trace until I find my empty coffee cup in the yard. He’s clever and witty and usually a step ahead of me. So now I’m a dumb-pet disciple, and suggest you do as I say, not as I did.
“When asked,” Sue says, “most people say they want a smart dog, but they don’t mean that. What they mean is they want a dog that listens and does what they say.” I really believe this is true and I think it explains why so many smart dogs end up in shelters, where, in a bitter irony, they fare really poorly compared to their less self-actualized peers. I suspect if we were better at knowing cats, we’d find the same truth about them. So choose your pet wisely, according to your lifestyle. (link to how to choose a pet)
The only other human-animal generalization I can make from my observations in animal welfare is a bit of a wild hare. I think rabbit owners are the smartest pet owners: those I know all seem to have PhDs.