SOME people will go to great lengths to satisfy their sense of animal care. With that in mind, everything that follows is a true story. While it isn't directly associated with animal agriculture, it does symbolize some of the sentiment and disconnect among the general public.
To set the stage, some background about my family is useful. My wife and I collectively have two master's degrees and a Ph.D., all in animal science.
Moreover, through the years, we've owned, maintained and cared for livestock on both a full-time and part-time basis. Additionally, my wife has worked for the same livestock nutrition company for nearly 24 years (not to mention her master's thesis dealt with nutrition and body condition scoring).
Finally, we like dogs; we've owned our share over the years and have whelped several litters of blue heeler/border collie puppies.
We currently live in a relatively rural area and have two border collies that we indirectly acquired. They are not house dogs but do sleep in our "shop" at night. (Those of you with border collies know they're very place oriented and, once suited to a routine, don't like to change). Although they don't work (which is how we ended up with them), they are content, well-cared for and very active, with lots of room to run.
Let's also establish that there are differences in commercially available dog food — just like most readers are familiar with disparities in nutritional value among types of livestock feed, which are priced accordingly.
My dogs get approximately two cups per day of relatively high-end, calorie-dense dog food to appropriately meet their nutritional needs. It's also important to note that nearly 55% of all dogs in the U.S. are categorized as being either overweight or obese.
Enter Neighbor No. 1, a retired woman who lives across the road with her son, daughter-in-law and grandson. Recently, we had to travel and asked if she would be willing to look after our dogs while we were away. The dogs are very friendly, so she readily agreed.
Following our return, my wife paid Neighbor No. 1 for her efforts and also asked if she'd watch the dogs again in the upcoming weeks when we had to travel some more.
Her response: "No, you get up too early, and I feel responsible to let the dogs out on your schedule." Fair enough. (As a side note, we noticed that an inordinate amount of dog food was used while we were gone.)
Enter Neighbor No. 2, who lives up the road. Her family members are trusted friends, and she readily agreed to serve as the backup when the other neighbor declined. Her kids especially like to play with our dogs (and our dogs like the kids).
Now, fast forward to our ride home from the airport following the second trip. My wife turns to me and says, "You're not going to believe this." She had received a text message from Neighbor No. 2.
Unbeknownst to her, Neighbor No. 1 had been going to our house each afternoon, entering our "shop" on her own accord and feeding the dogs (remember, she didn't want to take care of our dogs). On the final day, as it turns out, Neighbor No. 1 told Neighbor No. 2 we weren't feeding our dogs "enough" and indirectly voiced her disapproval of how we cared for the dogs. Sure enough, when we returned home, they were out of dog food.
Of course, my wife has since replayed prior conversations in her mind. She had overlooked the telling little tidbit when Neighbor No. 1 said something about being a "strong animal lover." That is where the broader implications of the story lie.
Setting aside any opinions on Neighbor No. 1's arrogance and deception, what matters is that she never assessed the facts; she failed to take into account our experience and knowledge and chose not to acknowledge the objective indicators of proper care on our part.
Misplaced emotion, feelings and perceptions led the way. The only thing of importance to Neighbor No. 1 was satisfying some self-focused, anthropomorphic standard of care. The outcome was that she selfishly (and underhandedly) overfed our dogs, actually doing them more harm than good.
While pet oriented, this represents part of the broader challenge for animal agriculture in dealing with the public — and, unfortunately, it's a challenge that won't ever go away.
*Dr. Nevil Speer serves as a private industry consultant. He is based in Bowling Green, Ky., and can be reached at [email protected]