Dogonomics

As will surprise nobody who read either He Ain’t Heavy (the most recent Lantham mystery) or Free Will (soon to be retitled: The Vindicators–see tomorrow’s blog post for details), I’m kind of a dog person. And, for the last several weeks, with all the weird shit going on in my world, I’ve started searching high and low for a dog.

(I like cats, too, but I tend to think of them as tribbles with pointy parts, and since the appeal of tribbles is their lack of sharp edges, I consider cats to be a sort of design-flaw-ridden beta-test tribble, and keep hoping for the bug fix release so I can upgrade. But I digress.)

It’s been an epic journey (including a brief attempt to civilize the world’s cutest emotionally-damaged terrier) on the way to trying to find a good beach dog.

When it comes to beach dogs, I have a few basic requirements:

  1. It must like to play fetch or frisbee
  2. It must like the water
  3. It must not freeze in these cruel northern lands
  4. It must heel and respond to commands well

Taken in combination with the fact that my dwellings aren’t exactly palatial, and contain a recording studio, that limits the breed selector down to German Shepherds and the gun dog group (labs, retrievers of various sorts, and spaniels of various sorts). So, for the summer, Kitty and I have been on an epic hunt for a good lab.

What we’ve gotten instead is a fascinating lesson in pet economics.

Dog Hunting in San Francisco
I grew up and lived most of my adult life in the San Francisco Bay Area, the sort of place where 60,000 people constitutes a “small town” and where I could look out the window of my friend’s hillside house and see more people in one glance than populate entire states elsewhere in the country. We had seven area codes within an hour’s drive of my house.

In that kind of environment, finding a good dog is only slightly less difficult than finding good Chinese food. You call up the shelters, tell them what you want, and they tell you when it’s available. If you need something special, you call up a breeder, find out when the next whelping and weaning cycle is, and schedule a 2hr drive out to the country for the availability date. There are always good dogs to be had, because there are plenty of irresponsible people who don’t know the difference between “spade” and “spayed.”

In an urban setting, supply exceeds demand by many orders of magnitude.

The trouble is, I don’t live in the city anymore. And as I’m learning…

There Are No Dogs In Oregon
Well, that’s not quite true. There are dogs in Oregon, but they are mostly terriers (which aren’t good beach dogs), pit bulls (which aren’t allowed in our neighborhood), and chihuahuas (which aren’t really dogs).

But Oregon is really, really different from San Francisco. First, it has about half the people in the whole state that reside in the Bay Area. Fewer people means fewer dogs.

Second, people in Oregon are apparently very responsible with their animals. The levels of sterilization and the community support for and awareness of it are very, very high. I’ve been by turns really impressed by it, and slightly frightened that dogs might die off from over-responsibility.

Third, the state is rural. Even the “big” cities (Portland, Salem, Eugene) are not what I’m used to thinking of as “cities.” They have more in common with a city like Redding or Fresno than a city like Oakland or San Francisco: Lots of open space, very few high rises, moderate population density. That means that the market for gun dogs tends to run to…well, people with guns.

Particularly, people who use them as work dogs for hunting. And, secondarily, families with kids.

So the breeds I’m looking for aren’t so much pets here as they are…professionals. And the market reflects that difference. In the Bay Area, you can find lab breeders who aren’t AKC compliant, who just breed companion animals. Here, you can’t. You can find ultra-high-end, well-trained, premium hunting dogs. The ones from these breeders that aren’t suitable for that work (due to a defect of temperament, for example), still make good family dogs and go for a discount, but are still expensive. And most families never let go of their family dogs if they can at all help it.

Different Worlds
The upshot of this is that, in the Bay Area, where everything is expensive, you can get a very good family pet for $400 or so on about two hours notice, if you’re so inclined. In Oregon, you might have to choose between spending several months searching and paying $3000 for a high-end work animal. Such are the strange economics created when supply, demand, and culture interact in such complex ways.

Kinda cool, huh? Or it would be if it didn’t mean I’m still pooch-less.

Or, to put it another way:
It’s hard to get an advantage and do good at the same time by being a responsible human being, if the people around you aren’t doing their part by being irresponsible in the first place.

So if you happen to be swinging through Oregon with a lab, shepherd, shep/lab, spaniel, pointer, etc. and want it to have a fantastic life on the beach with a pair of nutty artists–and also see it show up in future books–do drop me a line 😉

The Saga Continues in Superdogonomics

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