Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Phrases We Can Retire: "My Dog Ran Away"

There are quite a lot of different idioms and catch phrases used in the dog world, and some I think we could really do without. The world has moved on, we have a better understanding of learning and how it works, we know that you can indeed teach an old dog new tricks. One particularly outdated phrase irritates me each and every time I hear it: "my dog ran away", also "my cat ran away", and the avian version, "my bird flew away".
"Sweet freedom!"
The reason the term "ran away" bugs me so much is that I feel it implies some sort of agency on the part of the pet. What runs away, other than pets? Angsty teenagers? Cheating spouses? Stating that a dog ran away is essentially stating that the dog is capable of the higher thinking required to make a decision and then pack up and go.

This works if you think of dogs as responsible adults, or even teenagers with enough responsibility to babysit and hold down part-time jobs. The fact is, dogs are approximately as smart as toddlers. Think about that for a minute. Toddlers are people who can't be trusted not to run into the street, who don't understand that the stove is hot, or that electrical outlets contain pain and death. We have a wide variety of containment devices and safety measures intended to prevent toddlers from killing themselves, from strollers to baby gates to cabinet latches. Aside from the fact that they can be left unattended for hours and will never grow up, dogs are essentially two-year-olds. They need to be contained, they need to be taken care of.

This is why it bugs the crap out of me when I hear "I used to have a beagle, but it ran away." Nobody says "My two-year-old ran away" because toddlers don't run away, they get lost. When a two year old shoves a chair up against the front door so they can reach the doorknob, and then wanders down the street or off into the woods, the child is reported as "lost" or "missing", but never as a "run away" because toddlers lack the agency to deliberately leave.

Likewise, pets do not "run away", they get lost. Sometimes they accidentally escape, sometimes careless keepers let them wander the neighborhood and they fail to report home. That beagle did not get tired of his dad's drinking and decide that living on the streets was a better alternative, he followed his nose and when he finally lost the scent he didn't know where he was or how to get home.

I think that the concept of pets "running away" gives people license to not search as hard as they could for their missing animals. Why bother reporting a lost dog to the authorities when you believe, even on a subconscious level, that it might have gotten tired of living there and decided to go somewhere else? Not all lost pets are recovered, some owners spend months searching and publicizing their missing pet with no news, but I feel that we would have fewer strays in the shelter if we could retire the phrase and concept that pets can "run away".

My dogs are like toddlers, they are not allowed to run the neighborhood unsupervised, they aren't even allowed in the yard unless I'm home and listening for trouble. If they went missing, it would be a five-alarm, stop the presses EMERGENCY. I absolutely cannot imagine having the mindset that dogs should be free to roam unattended, or that they sometimes just leave of their own accord. How about you, how do you feel?

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