By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
I am a dog lover. Specifically, chihuahuas. For 27 years, the pitter patter of little feet has been that of doggy feet in the Jumper household. I would never equate the love of a pet to the love of a child. It is a totally different thing and kind of love. But you do get very attached to them, and you do love them-building emotional equity. You invest something in a relationship with your pet. That little life matters to you in a way that folks who don’t have it can’t understand.
Over the course of three decades, we kept three chis in our home – beautiful, little animals that have personalities and minds of their own. My last one died in April, the victim of congestive heart failure. That is the reality people who get attached to dogs endure: the knowledge that they will likely outlive their furry friends by several years. During the active years (my last chi lived to be 14), thoughts of dying are far in the background. At age 9 or 10 (most dogs reach senior citizenship at 7), mine began to slow down. He was my most Cherokee dog in nature as he reached maturity, I always said, because not very much impressed him and when I would try to take his picture, he would always strike a stoic pose.
I have been watching some cable channels that repeatedly play those heart-wrenching commercials for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). If you are an animal lover or if you have a just little compassion in your heart for life in general, those commercials will put a lump in your throat as fast one from St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Suffering of the innocent and helpless should bring an emotional response from any human.
When we chose, as mankind, to domesticate animals, we took on responsibility. Domestic dogs have had the wild, the instinct for self-preservation, tamed out of them. Wild dogs do what they want to do, and what they want to do is, eat, travel, sleep, and procreate. They do this on their timeline, or as conditions permit. In the wild, they hone skills for survival and the natural rule of “survival of the fittest” prevails. Once domesticated, most dogs would not fare well in the wild. You rarely see wolves and coyotes as roadkill, but domestic dogs are a regularly mangled site on our local streets and highways.
It is possible for dogs to breed up to three times in a year, average six puppies per litter. Not to leave the cat lovers out, cats are even more prolific. Cats are capable of reproduction every eight weeks; however, most domestic cats are held to three times per year with an average litter being four kittens.
Feral animals are animals that have been domesticated and somehow escape or are released (dumped) into the wild. Some animals have never been in the wild, but end up having to live without human companionship or leadership. While some instincts will help them survive for a time, ultimately, they will be devoured or killed by predators that are higher on the food chain. A domestically born pet has little or no chance on its own in an environment where higher order and wild predators dominate.
Our beloved (or be-hated, depending on your interactions with them) elk have become a challenge to manage. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, U.S. Park Service, and Tribal Fisheries and Wildlife Management Program have put out public notices and signs, and admonished locals and guests to keep their distance from the amazingly large and potentially dangerous animals. But, because we feel like we must get the perfect elk portrait, we ignore the warnings of the professionals and get dangerously close to this wild animal, sometimes endangering ourselves, our families and anyone in harm’s way when the elk charges. And, the elk are also in endangered by gradually lowering the elk’s inhibitions to humans. One of the big issues to date with the elk is that they have become so familiar with humans that they routinely migrate into populated areas and major roadways in Cherokee. Cherokee’s farmers have had to deal with elk being attracted to their corn fields like squirrels raiding a bird feeder. A small herd of elk is capable of decimating large fields in a short period. Elk have always been wild, so human interaction is dangerous for both human and elk and causes the elk to feel like they have territorial rights to areas populated by humans. I am not sure at what level of intelligence these animals are, but I am saying that, instinctively, they carve out large areas of our mountains and towns as their domain and migrate from one feeding area to another.
On my commute to and from Cherokee daily, it is not unusual to see individual dogs and packs of dogs scavenging around the Boundary. Dogs are naturally “pack” animals, preferring the security that numbers provide instead of going it alone. These are domestic pets that have either escaped from their owners or have been kicked out of a home. Folks don’t always purchase a pet with the pet’s compatibility with children, amount of space sufficient for the health of the pet and family, or how much upkeep there is in a pet in mind. Many of us purchase a pet like we do a video game or toy, we want it if it amuses us. If it fails to do so or breaks, then we want to get rid of it. And, somehow, in our warped mentality, we get the idea that instead of taking the pet to shelter and taking the time to find it a home, it would be better – more humane-to set it free and “give it a chance.” In reality, we likely are sentencing the animal to either a slow death of starvation and disease or the painful death of getting hit by a car, being shot while scavenging someone’s property, or being eaten by a wild predator.
Whether you are purchasing a dog or cat as a family companion or a working assistant, you should think about the responsibility that you purchase along with the animal. Animals are living, breathing things that will have needs and feelings. Animals need constant upkeep, food, water, shelter, bathing, and companionship. They will need routine medical care. Some breeds of dog have the potential to live into their twenties. The older a dog gets; the more medical issues arise. Don’t take the purchase of an animal lightly; they are not toys that you can break or get tired of and sit back in a closet of your home.
Studies have shown that animal cruelty is a good indicator of sociopathic and psychotic behavior. Dr. Mark Griffiths, a Chartered Psychologist at Nottingham University, said in a 2014 paper, “Many notorious serial killers – such as Jeffrey Dahmer – began by torturing and killing animals in their childhood. Dahmer also collected animal roadkill, dissected the remains. Other killers known to have engaged in childhood IATC (intentional animal torture and cruelty) include child murderer Mary Bell, who throttled pigeons, Jamie Bulger’s murderer Robert Thompson, who was cruel to household pets, and Moors murderer Ian Brady, who abused animals.”
Report animal cruelty when you see it. You never know, you might be alerting authorities before these abusers graduate to human cruelty.
Dogs and other animals have the potential to make life easier and more enjoyable. Dogs have been trained to help find people in trouble or need, from searching for wounded people to sniffing out bombs before they detonate, to helping the blind navigate busy streets, to alerting parents or loved ones of an impending seizure. Dogs work for us; herding sheep and protecting property. For as long as we can remember and history can record, they have been our companions.
I highly recommend life with dogs. My wife and I have enjoyed caring for and being cared for by our furry little companions. The only heartache that they give is when they pass on. Adopt a shelter animal. You may be saving a life and enhancing your own. Report when you see stray animals in your area, preferably to a no-kill organization, who will capture, rehabilitate if necessary, and find a good home for them. Do the same if you get a pet and find out that it is not working out between you. It is what a good, sane, compassionate person would do.