Sunday, April 04, 2010

What is the Work of Dogs in this Country?

On this Easter morning, I would like to dredge up a post from 2007 which cited an article by Joel Spolsky writing back in 2001.

It is a powerful little vignette:

Last month Sara Corbett told us about the Lost Boys, Sudanese refugees between 8 and 18 years old separated from their families and forced on a thousand mile march from Sudan, to Ethiopia, to Sudan, to Kenya. Half died on that trip, of hunger, thirst, alligators. A few of them were rescued and delivered to places like Fargo, North Dakota, in the middle of winter. "Are there lions in this bush?" one asked, riding in a car to his new home from the airport.

Peter touched my shoulder. He was holding a can of Purina dog food. ''Excuse me, Sara, but can you tell me what this is?'' Behind him, the pet food was stacked practically floor to ceiling. ''Um, that's food for our dogs,'' I answered, cringing at what that must sound like to a man who had spent the last eight years eating porridge. 'Ah, I see,'' Peter said, replacing the can on the shelf and appearing satisfied. He pushed his grocery cart a few more steps and then turned again to face me, looking quizzical. ''Tell me,'' he said, ''what is the work of dogs in this country?'' [New York Times Magazine, April 1, 2001]

Dogs. Yes, Peter. Fargo has enough food, even for dogs.



Anonymous said...

In a post-modern and supposedly post-materialist country, a dog's purpose is to be something that no organism should ever be asked to be. We ask our dogs to live in our artificial cities, which are devoid of most interesting smells, to walk on leashes, which inhibits their strong instincts to explore and travle, and to ignore whatever other instincts they have in order to live with us. It's quite remarkable that any species, let alone a carnivore, would ever be able to do this. But dogs do it. Some don't cope, and then we call in the behaviorists or send them to the pound, where they are executed. But most dogs, by in large cope.

But when you think of the poorest countries in the world, where food and clean water are out of reach for so many people, you have to wonder if our priorities are straight.

Just as humanizing the dog messes up the priorities for that bond, refusing to recognize that such a large percentage of the world's population lives in grinding misery really shows how little we actual think about how privileged and how inflated our standards of living are. The only good thing about this economic crisis is it forces us to take stock about what a decent society should be and to really pay attention to these issues.

Thank you for sharing this story. It really puts it all into perspective.

Connie said...

Reminds me of The Travel Channel program "Meet the Natives" which was beyond wonderful. I laughed, I cried and it opened my eyes. They had pretty much the same scenario as you told with regards to people of other cultures response to being in a pet store in the usa.

scribemjp said...

Powerful, Patrick.