Animal Blues

“Stinky” was the first dog my family owned when I was a child in the 1950s.  I remember him as a black and white mongrel, about the size and shape of an Australian Shepherd; but this is a very distant memory of an association cut short by what used to be thought of as bad dog behavior and would now be referred to as owner irresponsibility.  It seems that Stinky was appropriately named and could not or would not be trained to stop digging up my mother’s rose bushes.  He paid for his sins through banishment to the dog pound, where I can only assume he was an improbable candidate for adoption.  The incident obviously affected me because it’s almost the only thing I can remember from that time in my life.

We went through a long period of birds and cats after Stinky’s departure, although the interval of owning cats and birds at the same time was predictably short.  I think we were generally responsible pet owners who made sure our animals were spayed or neutered and vaccinated.  I was taught to treat other living things with respect, and I even developed a strong case of “Bambi Syndrome” growing up in urban places during my early years.

My father, the product of a farm upbringing, taught me how to shoot and hunt when we moved home to rural Oregon; but I never became an enthusiastic hunter.  I believe I am haunted by the innocent souls of the two squirrels and three porcupines I shot during my hunting days.  Religions generally teach that animals have no souls; so I guess any haunting I’ve experienced is really a guilty conscience at work.  I hate to admit that I feel twinges of regret when I depart from my primarily vegetarian diet.  Irrationally, I’ve convinced myself it’s alright to routinely eat fish, occasionally eat poultry, and almost never consume beef, pork, or more exotic meats.  Obviously, I consider consumption of rabbits to be cannibalism.

My professional association with animals and their issues has consumed an unanticipated amount of time and energy over the past 25 years.  Animal husbandry was not a part of the curriculum at the University of Oregon, where we concentrated on the more trivial subjects of public finance, organizational theory, personnel management, planning, and administrative law, to name a few.  Had I known then what I know now, I would have prepared to become a city manager by attending Oregon State and focusing on veterinary science.  During my career, I have personally handled complaints about dogs, cats, rats, mice, opossums, deer, skunks, raccoons, elk, cougars, coyotes, pigs, goats, horses, cattle, sheep, rabbits, chickens, turkeys (wild), pigeons, squirrels, snakes (we recently learned of a household in Albany with 31 venomous varieties including a king cobra), geese, ducks, bees, and nutria, which of course are cousins to their fellow rodents, beavers.  While the Beavers have been relatively harmless in recent years, their namesakes used to cause problems in Oakridge by building dams in inappropriate places.

The most important lesson I’ve learned about animals, both as a pet-owner and a city manager, is that you cannot rely on people to be reasonable, consistent, or responsible when it comes to this issue.  The city is charged by our citizens with the responsibility to protect the public from the dangers animals sometimes create and the greatest challenge surrounding this responsibility is, most often, the necessity to protect us from ourselves.