SuperDogonomics

Last time we learned that the price and availability of dog breeds varies a surprising amount between Oregon and San Francisco. A Labrador retriever (or mix thereof) can be had in the bay area for $400 from any animal shelter, on a few hours notice. In Oregon, even in the big cities, the going rate for a second-hand dog is $100-350, but your chances of actually finding a lab are somewhere between fat, slim, and none. If you want a lab (or any gun dog breed—or hound breed for that matter) in this state, you’re gonna be shelling out $3,000 or more for a precision trained hunting dog.

And let’s not mince words. $3,000 is a hell of a chunk of change, even for the world’s most companionable, cuddly, well-mannered, obedient dog. Those things are all important, too. Especially if you’re the kind of person who, upon hiring a mascot, proceeds to treat the mascot like family, gives the pup a nest at the side your bed, and adjusts your lifestyle so that you can accommodate the fact that you’ve basically acquired an extremely fuzzy, nose-centered, fang-bearing child who’s going to be with you for the balance of a lifetime that can stretch to 15 years or more.

Looking for Options
So, faced with this kind of conundrum, your humble narrator had a few options. The first was to look at neighboring states—California, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, and Eastern Oregon (which isn’t technically another state, but might as well be due to the distance, and the cultural and economic differences).

The markets in these areas are different. Northern Nevada doesn’t have much in the way of dogs, because it doesn’t have much in the way of water, and dogs tend to like water, what with all that panting they do. Idaho is amazingly far away—it’s actually easier to drive to San Francisco than it is to Boise. Eastern Oregon has only a few population centers, but its animal shelters are pretty happening, and their prices are reasonable, too. Washington was a little more expensive, and their pet owners are still depressingly responsible, but because its major population center is urban there’s a lower demand for high-end labs, which means there are more of the family-dog caliber mutts running around. And California, being California, has really gone to the dogs—an advantage in this case.

Each of these markets presented an opportunity for a lonely writer with the economic odds stacked against him. I could drive for a few hours, meet a likely animal, and drive back. I considered this for several days, once the depth of my predicament became apparent to me. I thought about how much the house needed a furry couch lump, about how much I needed someone who would find lost tennis balls, retrieve my Frisbee, and roll over on command. After all, sometimes these things have to be done, and it’s good to have a sidekick who will faithfully assist in these matters.

The problem is, the West is experiencing one of the hottest summers since the last El Niño, and I have a two-seater convertible. Out here on the coast, where 75 is a hot day, it’s the perfect car. But it ain’t the sort of thing you want to use to transport two adults and a hundred-pound animal (which is what larger adult labs run) several hundred miles in triple-digit heat. So I’d have to rent a car, and I might also have to spend several days searching in the area I picked, in case the animal I went to see wasn’t a good match.

It’s Like Dating
Coming from someone as pathologically un-sentimental as I am, it may sound odd, but pets are people, after a fashion. Oh, they’re not human, and not all dog or cats are people, but pets are people by virtue of our relationship with them. It’s a mammal thing. Mammals—all mammals—have bonding hormones, and social impulses, and mirror neurons, and culture. Carnivores moreso than herbivores (on average), and omnivores most of all.

But the situation is special with domestic animals. These are creatures that exist because we created them for our own ends (in the case of horses and cows and other livestock) or for whom we created an ecological niche that allowed them to exist alongside us (such as cats). With dogs, the situation is even more intimate.

The evolutionary history of humans is dependent upon the presence of dogs, just as the evolutionary history of dogs depends upon the presence of humans. Without us, dogs would just be wolves, never selected for tameness or companionability or utility. And without dogs, we would still be primitive humans living in small bands and struggling to eke out a living, never learning to herd animals, never settling into agriculture, never developing a technological civilization.

One of the (many and fascinating) upshots of this tangled history is that we relate to dogs like we relate to people: as individuals. When we bring a dog into a family, we are bringing in a participant in family life. Cats, by contrast, relate at a bit of a distance—personal relationships exist, but most cats have their own agenda and to-do list that put them at one remove from their humans. The old saw “Dogs have a family, cats have a staff,” is accurate in this sense. Because of this, while personality match is important with cats, it’s essential with dogs. A cat that doesn’t fit the family can still work in the household. A dog that doesn’t fit the family will be miserable, and will make its family miserable.

So what happens if you order a dog through the mail, or drive a full day to get an animal, and it’s not a good match? You either lose the time, lose the money, or (in the case of taking the drive) you stick around town and check out others. That means a hotel and travel budget. If you’re not careful, you’ve blown your whole pet budget, including first vet visits and other post-purchase costs, and you haven’t even met a dog that works for you.

The Options Narrow
So that eliminates anything that requires a long drive, except maybe for a return trip to San Francisco, where I can bunk in with friends while I scour the local scene for the perfect pooch to procure from the pound and perch on my porch. And San Francisco still requires a travel budget, and the pups there are more expensive at baseline than around here.

I tried calling around to several humane societies in the area to see if I could put a tickler on any dogs that might come in, but none of them did that kind of thing. The economics of humane societies don’t allow for it. They have other pressures and forces governing their existence that don’t give them that kind of flexibility.

So, at this point, I was left with two choices in the face of harsh economic realities:
1) Wait until I can take a San Francisco trip, which could take a while
2) Find another way out of the conundrum without resorting to dognapping

The Cunning Plan
I realized at this point that I did have one resource at my disposal that most people who search and search and search for a dog might not—or, at least, they might not know they did. Here, my carefully-honed expertise as a citizen of the Internet came into play. The endless years of my life I’ve wasted on websites, the untold amount of time lost checking twitter, refreshing real-time sales reports, obsessing over download numbers, shopping for deals on ebay, they’d all led me to this moment. They’d prepared me for the sublime revelation that might just see me clear to filling that dog-shaped hole in my personal universe. I realized that it had all been leading to this.

And that’s when I hit upon my cunning plan (for “cunning” read “desperate and stupid but might just work”). I got myself a large carafe of tea, hooked up an extra monitor, got a big pile of backlog work that I needed to do anyway, and opened the browser. I brought up every humane society within comfortable driving distance, every craigslist site in the same radius, and started work.

I drank tea, crunched numbers, edited audio, edited ebooks, and hit my magic button. The reload button.
A lot. Gave myself a fresh case of carpal tunnel in my right hand. I mapped the update hours for the humane society websites, the times of most frequent listings of new pets on Craigslist, and I spent the better part of a week, during those hours, hitting “reload” every ten seconds. Just like I used to when I did a lot of Ebay shopping. Think of it as auction sniping in the puppy market.

Every time a new listing came up, I emailed. I called. I texted. I didn’t have to fax, but I would have found a way. Occasionally I wouldn’t be too late, and I’d interview the seller: “Is she good with cats? Is he quiet during the day? Does she get separation anxiety? Does he eat the furniture?” And, one by one, each animal gave the wrong answer, until there were none.

Until I refreshed a certain page, and saw a certain face, and read a certain description, and made a certain phone call…

…but more on that one in HyperDogonomics 😉

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  1. Pingback: Dogonomics | J. Daniel Sawyer

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