Functional Animals



There are many times I’ve had to bite my tongue about animals in the home. Growing up on a farm gave me an entirely different view of animals and their place in our lives. I had no idea how different until my daughter posed a question to me. It was following my comment “Dogs belong in the barn.” Which really meant they don’t belong in the house. “If dogs don’t belong in the house, why have them?” She, and most others, see dogs as being a member of the family, which means they also inhabit the same house as their ‘people’.

When you grow up on a farm, all animals reside outside in their own environment – a house, a coop, a barn, a pen, and so forth. I went on to explain that the dog had a role on the farm, depending on what is needed. Dogs were our faithful and loyal companions when we were outside ourselves, which was almost all day. Our dog, Skipper, had his own house and his own jobs. He was to chase away the foxes from the chicken houses, the rabbits and woodchucks from the gardens, alert us when someone was coming, and keep a watchful eye on the us kids. A dog could lead you home when you were lost, warmed your hands when they were cold, cleaned out a cut when you were away from home and water, and sooth your hurt feelings when it all got you down. Dogs listened to you and made it all better just by their attention.

Dogs in the house meant dirt, fleas, and smell in the house, and there was so much of this already on the farm, and tracked in by us, Mother didn’t want any more in the house. When it was exceptionally cold one winter night, Skipper was brought in to sleep. He stood by the door whining and shaking until we let him out again; he ran to his warm snuggly house and disappeared behind the burlap bag on the door. This was his home.

Cats kept the barns free of rodents; geese ate the grass in the garden and were an alarm system; pigs ‘rototilled’ and fertilized the garden in the fall. We loved each and every one of these animals – except the chickens. There were too many of them (3000-4000) and they not only were quite brainless, they ate each other given half a chance. At other farms, animals had different functions depending on the ‘cash crop’. They herded, protected, and guarded. Whatever the job, having them in the home deluted their function and eventually made then much less useful.

I now know that urban animals are mostly pets. Their function seems to be as companions and partners, or children. It’s been proved over and over that this is also a wonderful role for pets…but not in my home! Once you are raised on a farm I guess some things remain outside forever more!

Categories : Family Story

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