In the modern age of alternatives, not all pets are equal. Nor do all pet relationships fit traditional standards. It pays to know thy self. So before taking on the weighty obligations of ownership, you might first consider the commitment-free pet plan developed by a frequently mugged New Yorker named Rainbow.

When big city violence first intruded upon his daily routine, Rainbow reacted in much the same way as any of us would. He floundered for a time and then attempted to recover his life. Did the subsequent discovery that he had been marked as a target change his outlook?

You bet it did.

Survivors develop coping strategies, and Rainbow created an entirely new living strategy based on what can only be described as a commitment-free pet plan.

Rainbow is a blue-gill sunfish in residence at Central Park's Harlem Meer, a pond where fishing is permitted on a catch-and-release basis only. Sure, going for the bait is risky, but like many New Yorkers before him, Rainbow is savvy - and anything but fainthearted.

In fact, unlike most fish who dive deep and dart for cover in the moments immediately following a reprieve from the angler's hook, Rainbow has been known to flummox fisher folk by remaining at the surface to patiently wait for the next cast.

Associative learning, together with the city's catch-and-release ordinance, has allowed Rainbow to turn tribulation into triumph in a manner that may seem unusual, but is not at all unheard of. For the payoff of a bait snack, Rainbow has leaned the behavioral fundamentals of habituation and accommodation that have long been the hallmark of animal-human relations down the ages.

By accustoming himself to the dangers and man-handling indignities of catch-and-release, Rainbow has, in effect, qualified himself for pet ownership in much the same way wild dogs did when they first accepted scraps of food from our human ancestors by the glow of ancient firelight.

The question is, who is pet to whom?

As a former dolphin trainer, I used to marvel at what dolphins had trained me to do on a daily basis: Wake up early, prepare the fish buckets, administer vitamins, provide entertainment, give rubdowns . . .

The list was a long one that always seemed amusingly reminiscent of man's best friend fetching newspaper and slippers for the ease and comfort of the master of the house. We're used to Fido coming when he's called, but - let's face it - aren't we humans often the critters that keep coming back to answer the calls of our most beloved creatures? 

Going out to guard the sheep? Don't forget that shepherd's crook - you might have to fight off wolves. Dinner and a movie? Oh, look at the time. Skip movie. Ask for doggie bag (these rib bones are Spot's favorite). Pay check. Get home for walk.

Truth be told, we wouldn't trade those duties for the world. We love our pets, and rightly so. They are often the cute and cuddly centers of our domestic lives. Equally as precious as home and hearth. Oh, and tomorrow, dear, don't be late to Central Park - and do be a pet, my precious, and take your fishing rod - Rainbow will be hungry.

Copyright © Seth Slater, 2012

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