Paging Warren Eckstein

I’m not sure yet of the advantages of owning goats. (Besides the sheer comedic value of having Aunt B ring you up and make baaah bah noises)  But, here I am, with two recently weaned kids.  They are both female, and I have named them, (over strenuous objections from my children) Thelma and Louise.

I don’t why I’m thinking about this, but I have a question for you egghead academics out there:  Do animals have any sense of relativity?  I ask this for a couple of reasons.  We have many rescue animals here at Coyote Creek.  Three dogs, two cats, and now, two goats.  (Our horses are NOT rescue animals, and are, in fact, descendants of a highly prized bloodline…sniff) Anyway, like many people, we enjoy our pets, and I think we are pretty responsible owners.  (My brother can’t stand the fact that I let my dogs and cats live outside, he thinks its too dangerous for them.  I argue that most animals would trade a shorter lifespan for the freedom to run and be, well, animals, than for a longer life lived indoors.)

So, I’m wondering a little about what animals are capable of processing.  For instance, I read somewhere that dogs possess no sense of time, that is, when you leave them for 1 hour or one day, its all the same to them.  Ok, that could be true.  Cats, of course, are a mystery, partly because most cats act like they could care if you live or die.  My cats, however, behave like dogs, and follow me around the farm, hanging out like the dogs do.

Lets say you rescue a dog, or, a goat, from conditions so bad it would make Michael Vick cry.  Do you think that animals possess the ability to compare their situations?  Do they think, wow!  This is way better than where I was yesterday.  I don’t think they do.  I don’t think there is a yesterday for animals, or, even an hour ago.  I think they totally live in the moment. Aside from the rare parrot that might pine for the fjords, I don’t believe animals remember where they were before you got them.

I know my dogs are as happy to see me return from a trip to the mailbox as they were when I returned from my mission with the Peace Corps.  (ok, I never actually went on a mission with the Peace Corps, but my neighbors ex-wife’s cousin’s fiancee knew someone that did) But my dogs, and weirdly, even my cats act happy to see me every single time i return from anywhere.  This tells me two things:

1.  My pets are lousy judges of character.

2.  They have no clue how long I’ve been gone.

Heres where my “theory” falls apart.  The Dangerous Little Pomeranian is as reliable as a Swiss watch.  He knows, somehow, when it is time to get up, and when the kids should be up, and, when to stand by the door to take the kids to the bus.  He knows when it is 2:45, and time to pick the kids up at school.  That tells me they understand routine.  He isn’t tall enough to see our clock, so…how does he know?  And, if there isn’t a yesterday for him, how does he “get” routine?  See what i mean?  Its all very confusing.   Somehow, this should have been part of my training as an Eagle Scout.  (alright, i wasn’t ever an Eagle Scout, but I sold a car to one once)

I promise I’m not high.



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26 responses to “Paging Warren Eckstein

  1. I think it depends on the animal. Do hamsters have some expectation of you returning? I kind of doubt it.

    But clearly dogs and cats do. In other words, based on what’s happened to them before, they can anticipate what might happen to them again. Shoot, you see this with dogs who’ve been abused. They’ve been kicked around by a man with long hair; no man with long hair can get near them without getting bit.

    Do they have a sense of time? Sure. Like you note, your dog knows when it’s time to get the kids.

    I don’t think that dogs and cats have the same sense of how much time has passed that we do (and honestly, we have that sense because we surround ourselves with tools for helping us mark time). But I know that how my dog reacts when I’ve been gone for the day at work is much different than how she reacts when I’ve been gone travelling for work.

    So, I think they at least have the sense of short-time and long-time. My dog isn’t going to get worked up if I’m gone for a short time, but she will if I’ve been gone for a long time. What a long time constitutes and what a short time constitutes, I’m not sure.

  2. Dogs were limited to battery-operated watches simply because they historically had no opposable thumbs to wind the earlier types of watches with so they are considered late adopters of time, generally speaking. However, since they had all those prior centuries to develop alternate methods of telling time, they hardly ever use human clocks. They have internal, biological clocks which they wind with their tails.

    However, the Pom, because they as a species are by disposition destined to be rulers of the world, (although they also tend to be subservient to the Pekingese, the true rulers of the world) realizes you’re getting older and more forgetful. Thus he likes to remind you of these natural schedule items, when the kids ought to be up, when the schol bus should arrive, when to go pick them up, etc., while he’s not devoted to his world domination planning.

    Beside, he’s fully aware that getting the small people out of the way in the morning, leaves your mind available for his daily mind-control practice.

  3. One of my favorite books is Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer. One of the characters in that book is of Lebanese descent; she raises goats to sell to her relatives in New York for feast days.

  4. My brother can’t stand the fact that I let my dogs and cats live outside, he thinks its too dangerous for them. I argue that most animals would trade a shorter lifespan for the freedom to run and be, well, animals, than for a longer life lived indoors.

    It’s good to find somebody that agrees with me on this. Animals have a wild spirit. They need to be free. I would rather my animals have a shorter life, than to live a long one with a broken heart.

  5. I would say, with my minimal but growing knowledge of animal science, that dogs and cats process time. They may not know exactly how long you have been gone, but they know its longer than usual (if say you went on vacation).

    And I think they do have some ability to compare situations. Generally an animal who has come from a bad situation comes with issues, but once it has had ample time to bond with it’s “forever family”, tends to form the strongest connection.

    That being said, I don’t let my cats outside, but thats because I live in California on a busy street. Somehow, I think your animals are significantly safer at your house.

  6. I argue that most animals would trade a shorter lifespan for the freedom to run and be, well, animals, than for a longer life lived indoors.

    OK, I think that is horseshit. That’s a) assuming an advanced level of cognitive reasoning ability that doesn’t exist in cats and dogs, and b) justifying irresponsible pet ownership through anthropomorphism. You are putting your human-mind druthers on an animal, ignoring the fact that cats and dogs are domesticated animals whose behavior has evolved over thousands of years in tandem with the evolution of human society.

    As you know, dear, I live with 9 cats and 3 dogs, most all of them indoor, and if they wanted to trade the safety and security of our house for a life born free, well, they’d be clawing to escape. They’re not. They follow us from room to room, and when we park ourselves on the sofa at night, we’ll have 3 dogs and 7 or 8 cats in the family room with us. Usually three cats are draped across the sofa or in our laps. They’re pretty happy.

    Now, to answer your other question, I heard a fascinating story on “This American Life” about chimpanzee retirement homes (it was called “Almost Human Resources.”

    I did not know this, but apparently all of the “showbiz” chimps one sees in movies and in the circus and whatnot are actually juveniles. Chimpanzees grow to become very large and aggressive and are no longer useful for starring in Bedtime For Bonzo or in the laboratory. So they created a “retirement home” for showbiz and lab chimps and abandoned pets, since these animals can’t be returned to the wild. What was so fascinating was how much human interaction these animals still needed. You’d think they’d want to swing through trees all day and get to be wild chimps — and they did want some of that. But they also wanted to eat with a fork at a table and other human things.

    So I guess it’s all in what you get used to.

  7. Mychal, if I lived in california, I wouldn’t let you outside.

    Well, on your other point, I have to ask…does The Dangerous Little Pomeranian remember and miss the family that previously owned him? I ask because unlike my other two knuckleheaded dogs, we got him when he was a good bit older.

  8. Beale, some of what you say makes sense, but I can only judge by my animals behavior. My cats, for instance, prefer to be outside. They come in, look around, sometimes catch a nap, but by and large, they stay outside, and hunt, play, sleep and hang out with the dogs, goats, and me. Same with the dogs. They beg to be let in, then after a few minutes, they want back out. They chase things. They hunt. They swim in the creeks. In short, they enjoy their surroundings. I still contend that they could make a choice, they would prefer to live a shorter life filled with adventure, than a longer one just existing. I don’t give my dogs chocolate, though, cause I think it causes them to be painfully sick, and possible die. But I feed them all other kinds of people food, with the same reasoning.

  9. heartbreaktown

    I suppose it’s based on your own comfort level and circumstances. I can’t help but feel that my heart would break in a million pieces if my little scrapper was hit by a car or maimed by a larger animal and was perhaps not killed instantly but injured for life. My Teddy sure loves to hunt and run and swim and roll in smelly things but he seems just as happy to curl up on my laundry or lay at my feet during the night. Keeping him inside when I’m not home and ensuring that he gets lots of exercise and playtime when I come home feels like a good tradeoff for me.

  10. Well, I think, too, that there’s a lot of cultural difference here, with Mack feeling his way between two worlds. Folks in the city who let their dogs run (I think you must decide about cats on a case by case situation. In general, cats are probably better off inside, too.) should be kicked, and hard. That is just asking for bad things to happen to your pets.

    But I’ve been out to Mack’s house a million times and all I see are really happy animals who stick close by the house and are in and out of the garage and barns and out-buildings at will when they’re not following kids around or chasing after something in the tall brush.

    I think that the thing is is that Mack’s animals are actually not “pets” (with the exception of the Pom), but working farm animals with very, very easy lives. They do have jobs–to keep pests down, to leave their smells all over so that the coyotes stay back, to put their muddy paws on my shirts, and to come over and wrestle with Mack when he’s rolling around on the ground for no reason so that he doesn’t look like a fool–and they provide companionship, but, unlike true pets, their job isn’t solely to provide companionship.

    So, they’re fine being outside because that’s where their job is. When they think their job is undoable–when it’s too cold or when the smell of food is too overwhelming–they make their way into the house.

  11. SoBeale, I had a different experience with my ex-dog, Princess. She is a black lab/chow mix who lived inside and outside in a fenced in back yard, got lots of love, food, petting, etc., but was never happy being a “pet”…she barked all hours of the night because she wanted to run free and hunt.

    For that reason, we took Princess to the ex-in-law’s farm in KY, and she’s the happiest dog in the world. She runs the land and reports back to the house when she’s hungry or when she hears the cars pull up to greet her owners.

    She has rarely barked since moving to KY (over 5 years ago) because she’s happy.

    She was *much* happier outside and free.

    I think it totally depends upon the pet.

  12. heartbreaktown

    It definitely depends on the pet and the owner – which was my only intented point with my comment. I certainly wasn’t trying to criticize Mack, after all, he is my uncle and I still want Christmas presents. 🙂

  13. Oh, I didn’t think you were criticizing him. I was just trying to have his back. For some reason, he doesn’t like it when we’re out in public and I find some obvious 300-lb 6 foot 5 troublemaker and am all like “Hey, me and my buddy, Mack, are going to kick your butt” and then I run away crying like a girl.

    So, I’m trying to find other ways to reaffirm my friendship with him.

    Obviously, picking fights with his niece is also not going to go over so great.

  14. Er, or nephew. Sorry.

  15. heartbreaktown

    You were right the first time!

    Hey, how come my little avatar isn’t showing up? Anyone know?

  16. I didn’t take the opposing opinions as criticism, y’all, but I appreciate Aunt B saying what she did. She’s right, I am of the opinion that animals can, and should earn their keep. My dogs watch over the entire property. The cats catch mice and moles and what have you, even the inside dog, The Dangerous Little Pomeranian, alerts us when someone is at the door. Or, when the wind blows. Or a horse farts. But you get the idea. The horses are of course for riding, and time spent with them forces me to be calm and deliberate in my movements, which is beneficial to me. The goats will be responsible for clearing out briars and thickets and fencerows. I don’t have fish or birds as they serve no useful purpose here.

    Ginger, yup, I think that dog of yours needed more space. She has it now, and is apparently happy.

    Heartbreak, I’ll send you goat cheese for xmas.

  17. heartbreaktown, if you just signed up onto WordPress, it takes a couple of hours for the new avatar to “hit”.

  18. heartbreaktown

    Thanks Ginger! It looks like I’m all set! 🙂

  19. democommie


    I used to live with a dog who would get up every morning and come over while I was making the coffee and say, “I need a biscuit” (he got two good sized ones for breakfast) which he would take off to his “cave” and maul. Then he’d come back and get the second one. About 4 or 5 times a month he’d come over and say, “I know you’re busy and all, but you forgot to give me my second biscuit”–something that was patently untrue. If I didn’t fall for it, he’d try it on his primary human interface, the woman I lived with. The interesting thing was that his box of biscuits was on a shelf in the pantry that he could walk over and stick his head in and, although he would flip the kitchen wastebasket about once a month for leftovers, he never once put his head in that box.

    I can state categorically that he had no sense of time. I loaned him five bucks once (he had a jones for slim jims, big time) and he promised to pay me back within ten days. I’m still waiting.

  20. Wow! Demo, your dog had good grammar. Mine just say, “me want food.” Biscuit would have been too tough for them.

  21. nm

    Mack, aren’t you going to eat those goats? Or at least turn them into milch-goats? And can I have some tobacco stakes for my tomatoes, please?

  22. democommie


    Calvin, a yellow lab/cocker mixtake was exceedingly bright about anything that could get him into trouble. He once came home with a pound of bacon in his mouth–and he had not bitten into the wrapper. He was so proud of himself. I can only imagine the consternation of the individual who had set down a bag of groceries to fish for their house/car keys.

  23. Indeed. If that cat was a good judge of character, it would have come after me instead of Rose.

  24. woody

    My wonderful dear departed dog earned his keep. He kept unwanted family members in their place with a well timed stare and a growl.

  25. I’m pretty sure both dogs & cats sense the differences between previously awful & now better conditions. The majority of the pets I’ve had as an adult have been rescues, three in particular from bad situations – two cats who were from originally good indoor homes but had been dumped outside in the city and left to fend for themselves, one of which became badly injured and nearly died and the other (who still lives with my mom) had been obviously traumatized and kicked probably often. The third was my Doberman, who I deduced had likely been starved, neglected and abused, but she was only a year or so old when I found her so fortunately she wound up with me early.

    They were all spoiled rotten after settling into new home, but always seemed appreciative and grateful, especially in my Doberman’s case. She always seemed amazed and appreciative that she wasn’t going to get beaten like hell over various and sundry things.

    I dunno, could be just projection on my part, but there was definitely a difference in the three that came from such horrible conditions as opposed to the ones who barely or never knew hardship.

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