Animals: Cure-All Or Burden?

How can a human-dependent creature lead to happiness?

While attempting to hit the road for a week-long Boundary Waters trip, I always seem to push off feeding and watering the animal chores at my farm. The nature of last-minute actions always leads to the same question: “What did I forget?” Usually asked only a few minutes into the trip.

The problem is not so much the time it takes to care for the animals, more why did I wait so long to take care of something I purposely adopted? Couldn’t a farm girl fill her life with gardens and plants, things that can be left to their own devices while the care-taker goes away?

Besides the fact that the big furries are a fundamental part of our business, the underlying reason for the multitude of pets is, of course, happiness.

Annie and Jersey Girl hug.
Jersey Girl loves a good neck scratch.

But wait, how can a totally human-dependent creature with an IQ around 10 lead to happiness? 

You might be guessing that the answer has to do with the softness of fur, or the sight of cute faces with scientific evidence to back it up. The thing is, you can fulfill both of these senses with a Walmart teddy bear… My best answer even surprised me.

To get at the very root of the issue we have to consider ourselves as homo sapiens. A short history of human cognitive development goes as follows: 

  1. Upon evolving opposable thumbs, we derived tools from our environment and built fires. 
  2. While gathering around said fires, we learned and developed language. The talking brought about the sharing of ideas and the passing of knowledge.
  3. In an effort to make sense of others, our brains started to get really good at processing elaborate systems. I.e. filing ideas and thoughts into various categories; relating events to prior knowledge to group them in our brain.
  4. We mimicked our thinking in our physical world, creating large systems with many moving parts so we could think harder, fulfilling our desire to learn.
Luna wears her pack and so does Annie in the BWCA.
Luna carries a pack in the BWCA, too!

Fast forward to the present, and although the world looks different, our brains have not evolved all that much. People are forever creating elaborate systems so they could create systems within said systems (video games, anyone?)

Bringing this all back to our beloved animals, it’s more than the happy face that fills my heart. It’s the system I’ve created to keep them alive. Teaching Luna to preserve energy by running along the river banks instead of swimming next to the boat excites me. Halter training a bottle calf so that the grass on the driveway is eaten instead of mowed releases dopamine in my brain. 

Interacting with animals to create healthy systems gives you success when your efforts of the same in the modern world fail to live up to expectations.

How do the systems you’ve created with your pet impact your life?

This post was written by Annie Schmitz, March 2021.

Luna and Annie sitting on a log.
Subscribe poster

Leave a Reply