Free Range

Image04222013191628As parents or as guardians to our children and our pets, we have many responsibilities. Among many other things, we must keep them safe, we must feed and shelter them, we must allow them to learn.

The report of Curt Schilling’s reaction to the cyber-bullying of his daughter is a good example of a parent defending their child. A news report which followed the Curt Schilling story on this morning’s news involved neglecting to protect children. It involved parents in Maryland who allow their children, ages 6 and 10, to walk to the park and play there unattended. They are accused of neglecting their duty to protect their children.

I am not commenting on the rights or wrongs of the Maryland case, as I am not aware of all the details of this case. I am concerned about the potential for an excessive reaction to this situation. I feel this reaction has already occurred in relation to pets.

In 2014, I lost a dear friend–my Great Pyrenees, Moose. Moose was left at my house when he was a few years old. He hated being inside. It took two people, one pushing and one pulling, to drag him into the veterinarian’s office. During a stay at the vet’s office when he was neutered, he tore out of every pen the vet had, eventually escaping and wandering the countryside for a week before he was found and returned. I was never able to get him inside my house. He would stay in the unheated garage if the garage door was left up a couple of feet. He would also stay in our barn at times, but it has several open doors to allow our cows to move in and out at will. He was an “outside dog.” I live on a farm, from the highway about a mile on a gravel road then an additional half-mile or more down a private lane. Still I worried about him being hit by a car on the gravel road or wandering to the highway.

He did wander some, “courting” the female dogs in the area, until we had him neutered. Then he stayed closer to the farm. Still he took his daily walk around his “territory,” a self-designated path that took him up our lane and along the gravel county road several hundred feet before cutting across the pasture to return home. I tried many times to keep him from the county road, but once his mind was made up, you could do little to change it.

As far as I know, he was never hit on the county road. He lived to a ripe old age, probably around fourteen years. Cancer finally brought him down. He seemed to enjoy his life. I fed him, offered him shelter, took him to the vet when I had to, called the vet out for home visits. I trimmed his hair once a year. I removed burrs and briars from his hair. I medicated him when necessary. I gave him treats. I petted him and hugged him. I treated him like he was an intelligent member of our family.

Perhaps I was naive. Since losing Moose, we have looked at several shelters on the internet and local ones in person, hoping to give a loving home to another extra large dog. We have discovered that we apparently mistreated Moose by not forcing him to be a house dog, and by not forcing him to remain inside a yard fence. He should have been taken to the groomer for regular baths and hair cuts. I’m sure there is more we “should” have done. We have left our name and number at several shelters in case they find a dog that refuses to become a “house dog,” but I honestly don’t expect a call. I saw a report on one shelter’s site about a Pyrenees mix that they had worked with for several months and she was “beginning” to adjust to being indoors. I wonder if that dog felt her life was improved.

I could have limited Moose’s “free range.” I could have (with help) forced him into the house and made him miserable in order to keep him safe. Would this really have improved the quality of his life? In his case, it wouldn’t have improved the quantity (although I realize it could have ended differently.) At what point do we place quantity above quality? At what point is it okay to limit life in order to lengthen it? I don’t have an answer to that.

Now let’s go back to children. (And no, I am not saying that pets and children are to be treated the same.) As I said earlier, I don’t know all the facts in the Maryland case. I have concerns based on what I have heard regarding the safety of these children, especially their safety from predators. But I also have concern that people will overreact to this story. If we don’t allow our children to explore, they won’t learn. A child’s curiosity is one of the most important parts of his or her development. If we smother it, they won’t grow. Every parent, grandparent, guardian, etc., struggles to balance this. You want your child safe. You want your child to grow and learn. You want your child to enjoy their life.

I have been told in the past not to complain unless I have an answer to the problem. I am not following that advice. I don’t have an answer about who is right or wrong. I don’t have an answer about where to draw the line. All I am saying is this. Let’s not, as a society, allow our lives to become so regimented, so restricted, so “safe” that we stifle the freedom to learn and to live a quality life for our children, our pets, and ourselves.