There appears to be no consensus among scientists about what pets do for people emotionally and how that affects our health. Some say pets have a calming effect and tend to stabilize the blood pressure of people who interact with them. Others say there is no evidence to support those assertions, and that having pets as we understand the practice today in western culture is a social interaction between people, with the pets considered as something like accessories. The truth most likely can be found within each person, and not universally for everyone.
It’s somewhat simpler for scientists to understand how people have changed animals as they domesticated them, eventually turning some of them into pets. Physical and emotional changes worked together to bring about the domesticated creatures we share our lives with today, with people intervening in their reproduction to secure preferred traits. Genetic predisposition of particular animals also played a part, as we see with the enormous variability in physical and temperamental characteristics of domesticated dogs. Compared to cats, the genetic malleability of dogs is enormous. It has made the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show a spectacle of great popular interest.
Cats watching a dog through a window. Photo by Thierry Wagner.
Since scientists can’t agree on what pets do for us, however, it’s best to rely on personal experience, unscientific as that may be. Different people will have different feelings toward their pets, and that affects how the pet reacts to them and colors the entire relationship. For some people a pet is not a full-fledged part of the family, but an outlier who is expected to make do with accommodations outside in the yard. This type of relationship was the norm 100 years ago, and much less so now. People keep hunting dogs outside in kennels of varying degrees of comfort, and those people do not consider their dogs as pets. Much more the norm now is for people who consider their animals as pets to give them access to the house and treat them more or less as part of the family.
Cats and a dog in sunshine by a door. Photo by Orlovic.
The main thing to understand about a relationship with a pet is that you get out of it what you put into it, and in that respect it is no different than any other relationship. The person who keeps a dog confined to a kennel outdoors in all kinds of weather merely to let the animal loose several times a year for hunting is not engaged in a loving relationship, and the very idea would strike that person as preposterous. For such a person, the dog is perhaps a step up in their regard from their pickup truck, but at bottom it remains a utilitarian relationship. A farmer who keeps fodder and corn to keep livestock looks upon barn cats the same way, since the cats are kept around mainly for dispatching rodents, and there is little if any affectionate interaction between the farmer and the cats.
For a depressed elderly person in a nursing home, a visit from a friendly dog or cat can be every bit as uplifting as a visit from a beloved grandchild. Whether some scientific studies say there’s nothing to that interaction is besides the point; what matters is how that person feels about it, and of course what they feel about the interaction is influenced by what they brought to it. Just about any animal is a good reflector of the behavior and attitude they get from people, a better and more honest reflection than what people can muster, because animals lack guile and the human talent for obfuscation. What you see is what you get. Not always, because mistakes in communication can happen, but most of the time, an animal, and especially a pet animal, knows your mood better than you do, and will care for you emotionally in equal measure to the care you give, and sometimes more than you deserve.
In the opening sequence from the 1958 French comedyMon Oncle (My Uncle), by Jacques Tati, a pack of pampered pet dogs make their scavenging rounds of the neighborhood before returning to their separate homes.
Grass mowing time is here and many folks like to save themselves time and trouble by cutting their lawn very short. They give their lawn a “two week cut”, reasoning that it won’t be much different than an extra short haircut which will look good in two weeks and stay that way for a while before it needs cutting again. Some people cut their lawn short frequently because that’s the way they prefer it. Those are the ones who are outside on the job at least once a week, all season long, mowing the grass to within an inch of its life. Others are elderly and want the lawn kept short because it feels safer to them that way, long grass being difficult for them to maneuver through since they tend to shuffle their feet along rather than lifting them up, and they are ever fearful of falling and breaking a hip.
Tim Corcio, member of the U.S. Naval Academy’s incoming Class of 2019, gets his first military haircut on Induction Day, July 1, 2015. Induction Day marks the beginning of Plebe Summer, the six week indoctrination that transitions civilian students to military life; U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Nathan Wilkes.
Roger Cook from This Old House talks about seasonal mower height settings.
Personal preferences aside, the cool season grasses which predominate in lawns in the northern two thirds of the country really should be mowed at a height of two to three inches at least for the health of the grass and the appearance and lushness of the lawn. The warm season grasses which predominate in the South can be mowed shorter, at about one to two inches, though St. Augustine grass should be mowed higher than that. Regardless of North or South, a good rule to follow is to start with a short mowing height at the beginning of the season, increase the height as temperatures increase, and then lower the height again going into autumn. The worst mistake people inflict on their lawns is to keep the mower at a short height throughout the year, and the worst damage occurs then at the hottest part of summer, when grass that is too short burns up in the heat, allowing weeds to proliferate in the gaps.
The late, great philosopher comedian George Carlin riffs on golf courses and cemeteries, two enormous, grassy wastes of real estate in a bit from his 1992 show, Jammin’ in New York. Warning: foul language.
A good thing to consider as you are either out in the heat yourself this summer mowing the grass or paying a service to do it for you, is how much lawn you really need and whether what you have is enough, or too much of a good thing, also known as a maintenance headache. Plenty of time to think out there. There is just about no entity other than a snooty neighborhood association or nosy, indignant neighbor that will blame you for turning over some or all of your lawn to garden bed or some kind of no mow alternative. The critters will love you for it. You yourself may enjoy more free time away from a fume-belching mower or the few extra dollars in your pocket saved by not hiring out the work to a lawn service. Of course, the increased garden bed space will require some more time for weeding. It’s a trade-off, though not necessarily one that doesn’t benefit you in the long run. Whatever grass you keep, let it grow so that you can feel it between your toes.
Few things are more frustrating than dealing with poor or indifferent customer service. Calling a company’s customer service number – if you can track it down – usually involves navigating a phone tree of options that may or may not result in discussing your problem with a human being, and then only after waiting on hold. When you do get to talk to a person, that person may be based at a call center in India, and while they are almost always polite and professional people honestly trying to do a good job, there can be language and cultural barriers getting in the way of resolving your problem. Some companies have reacted to customers’ frustrations by touting that their customer service representatives are based in the United States, and to avoid long hold times they offer to call customers back.
Email is a somewhat better route for dealing with a company’s bureaucracy if you don’t mind delays of a day or two in getting a response. If you have follow up questions, the back and forth can stretch to a week or more and can feel like dancing with an elephant. Even though you might think there is an advantage to having your questions and their answers in writing, it has come to be more of a stumbling block than it used to be as reading comprehension deteriorates in the population. Consider how many times you have written an email to a company’s technical support only to find out after the usual one or two day delay in getting a response that they obviously misunderstood your question. They read the first sentence, and whatever followed made their eyes glaze over, because after years of exposure to television and the internet, they no longer have the attention span to comprehend anything longer than a snippet or a sound bite.
MÁV train reservations call center in Hungary; photo by MÁV Zrt.
Of the three major technological ways of interacting with customer service, that leaves chat, and it turns out to be the most satisfactory in many ways for both customers and companies. Unlike a phone call, chat leaves a customer freer to do other things while waiting for a representative to come online or even while the chat is taking place. Unlike email, chat response times from companies are far quicker, and in many cases quicker than phone call response times. And like a phone call or face to face interaction, chat allows for immediate clarifications of misunderstandings. There is back and forth between the customer and the representative as in a phone call, and at the end the customer can print a transcript. Companies prefer chat, too, because it is cheaper to run than a call center on account of the flexibility the representatives have in handling multiple customers at once, and because the experience leaves customers more satisfied than dilatory email responses.
Hotel owner Basil Fawlty, portrayed by John Cleese, was not one for tact or subtlety.
But what about older folks, who are often not as technologically savvy as the rest of the population, or what about people who simply don’t want to hassle with computers? These people prefer to contact customer service the old-fashioned way, either in person or by phone. They experience even more frustration than the rest of us because companies have mostly moved away from those older methods as being too costly, and even seem to actively discourage their use by making the experience unpleasant and time wasting. That can lead to serious consequences for the elderly especially, as their frustration with modern customer service options leads them to take foolish risks, like trying by themselves to dislodge a fallen branch from the power line service drop to their house after a storm rather than calling the power company to have them remove it, a service power companies perform for free because the hazard is serious and people should not be discouraged by a fee from having the problem resolved safely.
The 120 volt insulated line connecting to a house or apartment building can be every bit as dangerous as the higher voltage lines going from one utility pole to the next, and you have only to make one mistake with it and you’ll never make another. For safety reasons like this, it is vital that companies who deal in dangerous products like electricity and home generators and space heaters not hide their old school customer service contact points as some modern companies have done. We can gripe as much as we like about the cable company’s lousy customer service, but their product can’t kill us if we mess with it (physically, that is; mentally – that’s open to question). A power line is another matter entirely, even when the birds seem to tell us it’s okay.
Three magpies (Pica pica) gathering in the tree tops, United Kingdom; photo by Flickr user Peter Trimming. In a nursery rhyme featuring magpies, three together signifies a human girl will be born. That may be, but for purposes of this post it is important to note that birds can perch safely on a power line because they come into contact with it at only one point, and therefore do not provide a path to ground. An exception can be found in the case of large birds such as raptors, whose extensive wing span can bring them into contact with two lines at once, or with a line and another point, electrocuting them.