December 9, 2012

I Think These Dogs Might Be Smarter Than Me

Recently, on an Orlando television station, Emmy award-winning anchor Cynthia Smoot reported about an incredible dog discovery. I also found the story reported in The Seattle Times and Huffington Post, so I figured it warranted a blog. In New Zealand, the SPCA (otherwise known as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) took rescue dogs and trained them to drive. Yep, you read that correctly. These pups can get behind the wheel and drive around.

The idea stemmed from placement. To make some of the rescued canines more desirable, the Auckland SPCA decided to train them to drive. Brilliant!

The SPCA’s mission is to “encourage the humane treatment of all animals and to prevent cruelty being inflicted upon them.” What does that mean? Well, the SPCA rescues dogs that are neglected, abused, or otherwise maltreated, and places them in loving, friendly homes. The organization also provides education, fundraising, and other tools to help animals. Now, in New Zealand, they are also educating dogs on driving skills.

Three rescue dogs, Monty, Ginny, and Porter, were all trained to drive on an enclosed course. The articles further purport that these dogs were not just trained in how to steer and where to go, but also in shifting gears and braking. Holy Wow. I know humans who cannot shift gears.

How incredibly cool would it be to have a dog drive us around. I hate driving. Truly. The only reason I even took my driver’s test when I was 18 (yep, two years later) was because my parents made me do it. They said that I needed to be able to drive myself if I were in a dangerous situation. I appreciate this now, but I still do not enjoy one minute of driving. So, a rescue dog who could drive me around would definitely attract me. I can’t be the only who feels this way.

Of course, I also see the danger in this move. We do not even have cars with a sort of auto-pilot function yet, but New Zealand has dogs that can drive. Clearly, we all see the potential issues with a canine driver. I mean, the least of which is what if the pup smells something really yummy and drives to that rather than to the doctor’s office or wherever we had directed him. They are still animals after all, with instincts that seriously influence them.

However, I still want to meet one of these driving dogs and watch it in action. Mark Vette, the head trainer who taught the three pups to drive, used specific cues and training tools to direct the dogs. I would really like to see this in action. According to the Huffington Post article, the whole purpose of Vette’s training and the SPCA’s goal behind it is to show that we can teach old dogs new tricks. In other words, rescue dogs may not be cute, fresh puppies, but they can still imprint with us and learn from new families.

This, perhaps, is the best part of the story. I am a member of a number of pet rescue or pet humane organizations. I have not purchased a young puppy or kitten my entire adult life. I have always adopted them from organizations like the SPCA or animal shelters. I believe in the importance of giving older dogs and cats that have had a rough life a happy, safe home. This story shows that organizations want to spread these words to others, to those who don’t know that rescued pets are the best.

I highly suggest watching the video, but, more importantly, I implore you to adopt a rescue pet. They will love and devote to you because you save them.

Image Credit: Lee319 / Shutterstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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