A Barking Dog, A Short Exercise in Writing and Editing Under a Deadline, and A Brief Letter to an Anonymous Neighbor: A Short Version of the Argument that Modern Pet Ownership in the United States has become Emotional Slavery

Dearest Anonymous Neighbor:

Most of us live in this neighborhood for peace, safety, quiet, and the great access to our wonderful Park. It should not surprise you to know that many of us work from home, which, although you likely do not know it, is far more difficult than working outside the home. Working at home requires discipline. We must ignore the infinite distractions that our mind knows exist just a reach away: cooked food, organizing and cleaning items, comfortable chairs and limitless entertainment, books-to-be-read, and other items, among the most powerful obvious temptation: ice cream. 

Moreover, we live here for clean air, and that requires some level of the windows cracked opened, but this has a consequence, as well: increased noise from the outside world. 

Your dog today presented such noise. Worse still for myself, the dog has a particular high pitch which strikes me as mildly reminiscent of my newborn son. Each yelp puts my brain on ‘high alert,’ as if he is screaming out crying that something is wrong, when in reality he is quite content nearby. I suspect there are a dozen other neighbors who experience varying levels of auditory interruptions from your dog, even if subconsciously. This is not the first time we have heard it, but it is the first time we investigated which apartment ‘owned’ the dog, so I have returned and taped this note to your door. 

I have purposely taped the note quite thoroughly to the glass, to be a somewhat annoying — but ultimately harmless — nuisance. Please remember that this is not the fault of the dog. The fault lies with the human! In my case, with the taper, in your case, with the pet owner. 

In essence, pet ownership in the United States has become emotional slavery. I suspect your dog — like most cats and dogs — makes you feel less lonely, more useful as a human, is an occasional source of pleasure, provides an excuse for a regular walk in the part, or fulfills other emotional needs. Slavery of humans — whether in the 1700s in North America, today, or throughout human history — is and was mostly about receiving free physical labor. Today, ownership of pets is emotional slavery: it is a one-sided relationship that exists for the “owner” to receive essentially “free” emotional benefits, while the pets receive little other than food, water, and minimal medical care in return. It is as one-sided a relationship as its counterpart in human slavery. The existence of the modern pet is a sad one. 

At least yours is a dog. Cats, which are natural, carnivorous hunters, are often completely restricted to life inside a tiny home. Poor animals. 
Moreover, if you eat meat, like I do, I shall challenge you further: the lives of most of our pets would be better honored if we instead killed and ate them*. At least in that case we would be more honest. Is this not true? Moreover, are we the owners of our pets, like emotional slaves, or are we their care-takers?

The first bold phrase above is the title of an essay I drafted over a year ago and have wanted to finish writing for some time. Today, I thank you for reminding me of my beliefs, the challenges we face in this country, and more than anything, I thank you for motivating me to write! (Even if this letter itself was yet another distraction from real work masquerading as a useful exercise in writing and editing. At least it fulfilled that purpose quite rapidly.)

Thanks again,

–Jay, your Anonymous Neighbor.



*Rest assured: on first glance, your dog did not appeal to our culinary senses. I did, however look into his eyes and say a heartfelt apology: I am sorry that our species does this sort of thing to his.

P.S. (a note for friends and other readers online): After walking on the property itself to post this note to the door, I noticed two things.

First, another neighbor had already left a short note, surprisingly polite, regarding the dog’s treatment.

Second, this dog was barking on a cold day, about 10C outside (50F, granted, with little wind), and I noticed it looked quite thin, and was shivering. Thinking it did not have access to the inside home through its small doggy ‘door,’ I returned with a can of sardines to feed it. As I ‘broke in’ to place the food inside the cage, the dog calmly stepped inside: it had access to the inside home through its little door. 

This dog preferred to remain outside, barking for help all day, shivering in the cold, than remain alone inside! Must we really debate the idea that the dog would prefer to serve as a physical slave, performing some kind of laborious activity all day, than serve as an emotional slave? Pet ownership — and in few cases even parenting human children! — has become emotional slavery. It is time that we as Americans admit that to ourselves. Then, perhaps, we may decide how to progress forward.

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