A story no pet lover can ignore

A story no pet lover can ignore

Animals are smart.

In my teenage years I had a dog, who could say his own name – Ruff. After a shot from my air rifle, he would spring forward but halt if he heard me re-cock the rifle.

There are around 20,000 wild dogs in Moscow. They are homeless but not feral. They simply attend to their own needs. They have been observed getting on to the underground trains and getting off at their chosen destination.

Our civilisation has proliferated based on the domestication of animals for meat and milk, fur and feathers and for transport. In Jared Diamond’s 1997 book Guns, Germs and Steel he observes the shortcomings of the Americas, the Western Hemisphere. There were no pack animals.

Good luck with a bison.

We are travelling from LA to Seattle to Chicago to Ann Arbor to Salt Lake City to San Francisco pause for theatrical effect – by train.

The WHY of domestication answers itself at every meal. The HOW is not so clear.

Despite the distractions of travel, observation will, hopefully, explain the tale.

The hotel in Beverly Hills is inadvertently preserved. Black and white photos of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Marilyn Monroe adorn the walls, simply unrenewed.

Every hotel has a pool, a puddle to pose and influence around. This is the only one big enough to actually swim. It may well be kidney shaped since kidneys come in many embattled variations in this culture.

How are animals domesticated? In 1952, Russian scientists decided to test a hypothesis.

I enquire as to the length of the pool and the attendant answers truthfully, “I don’t know”. An older attendant answers truthfully, “We tell people it’s Olympic sized”.

It is not.

We embark on the train from LA to Seattle. Back to the task…

How are animals domesticated?

In 1952 Russian scientists decided to test a hypothesis.

They bred a collection of foxes and from each litter of pups they collected the most docile. They measured the pups acceptance of food and their positive reactions to handling and stroking from the keepers.

On the left side of the train, passengers crowd to see the Pacific Ocean. We track along the shore.

A day later we are still in California. On the right hand side of the train, I notice some sheep – rarely seen or on the menu here.

The Russian scientists took each docile pup and paired it with the most docile pup of its neighbouring litter. They then mated them to continue the process.

In Seattle I see my namesake bus and the Vietnamese restaurant apologizes for not having Boa La Lot. It feels like home.

Red bus big

On the two day train from Seattle to Chicago, there is as much to see inside as outside.

A toothless old woman wears a sweatshirt ‘Sassy but Classy’. Men wear caps declaring ‘Marine’ and t-shirts with football allegiances.

Chickens “come home to roost” in the cage we provide for them.

Montana looks like NSW on a grey day. There are wind farms. Please excuse the derailment of my train of thought.

The Russian scientists continued the process of distilling an agreeable docility into the foxes for more than 50 years and 30 generations.

Why do we domesticate animals?

Chickens “come home to roost” in the cage we provide for them to protect them from predators, other than ourselves. The lower levels are more vulnerable. Their “pecking order” is reflected in how high in the cage they sleep at night. Those above “rule the roost”.

We have a sleeping compartment with further facilities for personal matters. Those more vulnerable are on the lower coach level. They simply have a seat and share a bar.

The foxes that the Russian scientists eventually steered to creation were adorable and adoring. When you approached they wagged their tales. If you held them they would lick your face as a pet might.

In Chicago I spot a dog wearing Crocs. His owner, by his side, has provided four baby-sized plastic clogs.

Curiously, they also had a tendency for floppy ears and piebald fur, perhaps an indicator of domestication as also seen in dogs and cows.

En route to Salt Lake City, some Amish board the train liveried in beards and bonnets.

Domestication is merely the process by which you make animals agreeable. To you.

I am reading the Sherlock Holmes story that I read 60 years ago. It was the first time in my non-religious upbringing that I had heard of Mormons and Salt Lake City.

After a brief and uncluttered conversation with an Amish couple over lunch, I notice them disembarking at one of the many stops along the way. I shake their hands and wish them “Fare thee well”, unconsciously channelling a nineteenth century Sherlock Holmes.

Unlike dogs and sheep and cows, the bison were never domesticated. They were simply hunted for food and their hides. Whilst horses can be ‘broken in’ by the rider stubbornly refusing to dismount, the rodeo has shown that bulls and, no doubt bison, cannot.

Women with bison big

On Antelope Island in the Salt Lake, those few bison recovered and not exterminated, are surrounded by warning signs attesting to their belligerence.

The Russian scientists, curious about cause and effect, conducted a parallel investigation with the most hostile of the fox pups.

Once again, the distillation process of encouraging certain traits proved the case. The resulting foxes were hostile psychopaths snarling and spitting, from inside the cage at all who approached.

Just as we were warned about the train by people who had never used it, we were warned about San Francisco.

It is, however, no more dishevelled and disruptive than it was 50 years ago.

Domestication is merely the process by which you make animals agreeable. To you.

A milking cow. A barking dog.

It includes the elimination of those with undesirable traits. A hungry wolf. A biting dog.

San Francisco’s domestication process continues.

In our wanderings through the iconic landmarks of the hipoisie of the 60’s and 70’s – “The City Lights Bookshop” – haunt of Burroughs, Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg – we came across Jack Kerouac’s “Beat Museum”.

There amongst the detritus of a passing age, I found a vinyl record that I had been instrumental in the making of.

Montage image big

Our band did not domesticate the culture of the United States but it was nice to find a thread of DNA in the genome.

Be nice to your pets. Their domestication was punishing.

Please login to favourite this article.