August 17, 2007


In case you hadn't noticed, a guiding thread in this week's Goat Rope has been the American obsession with pets and its economic impact. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier entries.

While it's kinda hard to dispute the fact that lots of people go overboard on their lover for our furry, feathered, and/or scaly friends, evidently we get something out of it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, pets can help reduce blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and feelings of loneliness. They can also increase opportunities for socialization, exercise and outdoor activities.

(El Cabrero assumes that all the above does not apply to cases of goat infestation.)

In 1987, the National Institutes of Health looked in to the topic and found promising signs of health benefits. They also noted the long use of pets in therapeutic settings:

The use of horseback riding for people with serious disabilities has been reported for centuries. In 1792, animals were incorporated into the treatment for mental patients at the York Retreat, England, as part of an enlightened approach attempting to reduce the use of harsh drugs and restraints. The first suggested use of animals in a therapeutic setting in the United States was in 1919 at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D. C., when Superintendent Dr. W.A. White received a letter from Secretary of the Interior F.K. Lane suggesting the use of dogs as companions for the psychiatric hospital's resident patients. Following this, the earliest extensive use of companion animals in the United States occurred from 1944 to 1945 at an Army Air Corps Convalescent Hospital at Pawling, New York. Patients recovering from war experiences were encouraged to work at the hospital's farm with hogs, cattle, horses, and poultry. After the war, modest efforts began in using animals in outpatient psychotherapy. During the 1970s, numerous case studies of animals facilitating therapy with children and senior citizens were reported.

There's been plenty more of that since that report came out.

Business Week notes that dogs in particular seem to have nailed the art of charming people and shares some of the reasons why they are so successful:

Ever since humans domesticated dogs centuries ago, scientists have been trying to explain the intense love people feel for their animals. Some believe our pets experience the same emotions we do, so we bond with them as though they were humans. At the other extreme are those who say that animals trained us to become attached to them. But there's one point everyone agrees on: The more disconnected we become from each other because of e-mail, iPods, and work-at-home lifestyles, the deeper the bonds we form with our pets.

At the root of the human-animal love connection is the childlike charm of pets. Take dogs. Judging from various behaviors, such as their ability to understand 160 or so words and gestures, scientists have determined that an adult dog is roughly equivalent mentally to a 2-year-old toddler. Because humans are hardwired to nurture children, we automatically feel an affinity for dogs. But canines never grow up, nor do they bring the hassles or heartbreaks children do. "There's no deception, no subterfuge, no criticism," says James A. Serpell, section chief of behavior and human-animal interactions at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. "Animals don't do that stuff."

Humans find such loyalty irresistible. Dogs are descended from wolves. Even when removed from the wild, they retain an instinctive need to travel in packs. So we have become their new pack, some experts say. That's why dogs whine when we leave for work, making us feel guilty, then wag their tails and slobber all over us when we walk in the door. "You've left the pack, and when you return, they're saying: Thank God you're back,'" says Jeffrey M. Masson, author of several books on animal behavior.

As is the case with cats, it's not clear exactly who domesticated (or is conning) whom...

SAD NEWS. From the AP:

Army soldiers committed suicide last year at the highest rate in 26 years, and more than a quarter did so while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, a military report shows.

The report, obtained by the Associated Press before its scheduled release today, found that there were 99 confirmed suicides among active-duty soldiers in 2006, up from 88 the previous year and the highest since the 102 suicides in 1991.

"Iraq was the most common deployment location for both (suicides) and attempts," the Army report said.

MORE SAD NEWS. Three rescue workers in Utah were killed yesterday and six were injured in another seismic jolt.

WHAT THEY SAID. This editoral from the NY Times works for me:

It is beyond belief that in this Information Age, when new technologies can eavesdrop on any conversation and track people around the globe, rescue teams have no way to communicate with the six miners trapped underground in the Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah. Instead they are drilling holes in the ground to where they guess the miners might be.

It needn’t be so. For too long, the Bush administration and the Republican-controlled Congress allowed mine operators to put off making needed investments to ensure their workers’ safety. And last year when a string of coal-mining disasters — that killed 48 miners — forced Congress to enact new safety legislation, it still gave companies far too much time to install communications systems that might have helped find the Utah miners.

WORST OF BOTH WORLDS. James Surowiecki of the New Yorker recently wrote a good piece about the student loan crisis that pokes holes in the privatization as panacea theory. He writes that

Outsourcing tasks to private companies is supposed to let government reap the benefits of the free market. But sometimes it just ends up uniting the worst of government and the worst of the private sector into one expensive mess.



Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

In the case of me and Alex, the cat who owns me, I have no delusion regarding who is in control.

El Cabrero said...

They've got us right where they want us, don't they?