Study investigates stress on domesticated animals [this is satire]

Around the holidays we are subjected to a seemingly endless procession of stories about the prevalence of stress. It seems most everything can create stress for an individual, from money woes to traveling anxiety to pining for lost loved ones.

-Boris (not his real name) on the verge of his next breakdown from the stress associated with domestic life.-  Studies have proven repeatedly that people who have domesticated pets suffer less stress than do pet-less people. Blood pressure and heart rate are lower, and it is surmised by researchers that the connection between human owners and their pets serves to salve humans’ besieged psyches. Nursing home elderly are often visited by petting zoos or organizations who traffic in spreading pet love to those in need. It’s a cozy, irresistible image. Puppies and kitties, canaries and tiny turtles, entertaining and obeying and loving their humans, who, of course, benefit from this cross-species interaction.

But what of the pets themselves? Do they suffer less stress than do their counterparts who are not lorded over by people? This was the basic question explored recently by researchers from Indiana College of Pets’ Anthromantipology Department. At a press conference yesterday on their Northside campus, lead researcher Dr. Kiki DuWayne told the assembled crowd (which was comprised of one, lone reporter — me) that his study had taken over five years to reach a conclusive theory. “Hanging out with humans is bad for pets,” DuWayne remarked. “The animals we studied who live with humans suffer from elevated levels of heart rate, blood pressure, liver boil, pancreatic flashpot, that sort of thing.”

Dr. DuWayne included numerous pet species in the experiment: mostly dogs and cats, along with an assortment of hamsters, birds and even one iguana. This reporter doggedly followed up with a question regarding why domesticated pets experience stress. “This is conjecture,” DuWayne admitted, “but I would say that people, while thinking they’re loving their pets, actually end up creating feelings of guilt and shame in their animals. They yell at them, sometimes kick them. Even an askance glance of disdain from a human can ruin a dog’s entire day.”

After taking all this in, it occurred to me to ask Dr. DuWayne what he had used as a control for his experiment. The head of the Anthromantipology Department hesitated before replying, “There are bands of escaped domesticated pets living along White River, as well as inhabiting greenspace within the Indy park system, including Eagle Creek, Broad Ripple and Garfield parks.” These pets, according to DuWayne, “don’t necessary roam in same-species packs. They are mixed up, like a Disney movie. For example, in one pack at Eagle Creek Park we found a guinea pig, a parakeet, three dogs, two cats and a garden snake, all banded together in one cohesive group.”

That group, for example, when studied, scored much lower on the stress scale than did their home-bound counterparts. One reason, DuWayne maintains, is a lack of guilt. “Sure, they’ve got to worry about where their next meal is coming from, and whether they’re going to be eaten by predators, or crushed by falling trees or whatever, but by and large, these in-the-wild animals, so to speak, do seem to be more laid-back.”

Dr. DuWayne was then asked how he was able to study these free-ranging pets without creating stress on them by trapping them in a laboratory setting. “We didn’t use a lab,” he explained. “We, my assistants and I, dressed up as dogs and went into the field with our equipment — which we had also cleverly disguised as pets. We tested the animals while they were sleeping or just hanging out. They never knew what hit them.”

Dr. DuWayne says he would like to see his numbers corroborated by another research institution. After all, he says, with touching candor, “for all I know, I could have dreamed these numbers up, or just imagined them or whatever. When you work as hard as I do, and under such conditions of having to produce compelling, but solid, experimental work, you begin to lose the distinction between reality and illusion. I could be making YOU up.”

I assured Dr. DuWayne that he was not making me up, nor was I making him up. We were both real, albeit in a pathetic, underattended setting, wishing we were somewhere else and not caught up in the vortex of pretending we were actually interested in our respective jobs. “Well, whatever,” Dr. DuWayne replied, obviously irritated with the direction this press conference had taken. “The point is … what was my point? Oh yes, I don’t have a pet, and so my home life is filled with anxiety about bills, appliance breakdown, jungle-like foliage growth in my yard, plus one of my children has been lost for two days, somewhere in the house."

“I found that by studying these roving bands of escaped domesticated pets, my own stress level sank; in fact, I enjoyed myself more than I could have ever imagined. Maybe it was the fun of wearing a dog costume. Maybe it was the carefree way we ran through the park. Maybe it was the way my ears flop around in the wind."

“At one point, I was even moved to sink my teeth into the calf of a teen-aged girl who was reclining on the beach beside her boyfriend. I mean to tell you, that felt good. It was a real stress reliever, biting her, believe me.” I listened to the doctor and it felt good, standing in this atrium located in Indiana College of Pets’ Department of Press Conferencology, seeing DuWayne smile, an expression that seemed to nearly break his face, as if his countenance was normally constructed of ice, but had now melted in the warmth of nostalgia for putting on a dog costume.

As if on cue, or reading my mind, or simply out of pure boredom, Dr. DuWayne, at that moment, held up his dog disguise, a magnificent, full-body pelt from a Doberman, and donned it expertly. When he barked into the microphone, I felt I could understand his every meaning.

Unfortunately, I am unable to convey those thoughts in human language, nor do I feel comfortable sharing DuWayne’s observations in this forum. Besides, he lent me one of the Anthromantipology Department’s costumes — a German Shepherd costume — and, putting the wares of our scholarly lives aside, we left the campus building, running toward the sun. The wind was fierce and my ears slapped around on my head. Look at me run! Look at me go! I’m faster, even faster than the wind! Let’s go! Let’s go even faster! Only later did I realize that I peed on my own car tire.

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