Sextiped Valley column: The future of our sextiped community
The question isn’t will our valley towns undergo radical changes in the upcoming decade? It’s how will we adapt to them, to minimize the pain of increasing pressures and constraints?
Dire warnings about the inevitable loss of housing, affordable by the workforce we absolutely depend on, present seemingly insoluble challenges. It’s hard to imagine that teachers, police, bookkeepers and firefighters for Carbondale and Glenwood Springs will be commuting daily from as-yet unbuilt subdivisions west of DeBeque. But who today would dismiss that scenario as impossible?
We are on the verge of another Great Disruption, similar to, in its comprehensiveness, but perhaps greater than, in its impacts, the one that remade the world after World War II. The shocking rapidity of climatic changes, escalating income inequality, and the lack of remaining buildable land presage a period of severe retrenchment, the impacts of which are incalculable.
But my concern here is, where will all the pets live? It certainly seems unlikely that people will simply stop having them. Far from shrinking, the percentage of people keeping dogs, cats, birds and various other pets holds remarkably steady at between 60 and 70 percent. And the trend over the last decade has been a qualitative change in these companions’ status: Today, over 90 percent of pet guardians regard them as full family members.
When push comes to shove, people may give up living space. They may give up leisure time to longer commutes on inadequate public transportation. They may delay or even forego having children. But they are not going to relinquish their pets. So the decision by the developers of some new, dense apartment complexes to be “pet friendly” seems wise. At least it acknowledges reality instead of ignoring the powerful attachment of people to their pets, hoping it will go away.
Here in Glenwood Springs, the multi-family housing complexes being built at the Meadows and the Oasis Creek/Six Canyon project are designed to be affordable to young and mid-level professional singles and couples: the nurses, paralegals and educators to replace the retiring generation.
This lifestyle transformation now upon us will be, for sextiped households, as disruptive as was the last one, during which vast tracts of farmland were converted into spacious suburbs of single family detached houses with yards. For awhile, changes seemed wholly beneficial for the (mostly) moms, kids and pets, while only the chief breadwinner was absent during the workday. But in less than 30 years, this idyllic picture darkened, as various pressures steadily turned suburbs into empty wastelands during the day, with all the adults commuting to jobs, kids busing to distant schools and after-school organized activities, until only the pets were left at home, lonely and bored. Isolation and inactivity are not conducive to good behavior among intelligent, social creatures, and “behavior problems” led to neighborhood conflicts, which municipalities tried to address by increasingly restrictive laws. The “privilege” of having pets came to depend on an acceptance of repressive control over all natural proclivities. Fortunately, pet lovers rejected this mindset.
The necessary adjustments to a more densely populated lifestyle can be hugely beneficial to the human animal bond — if the challenges are recognized and accepted as requiring creative accommodation, rather than ever stricter control and denial of the nature of people and animals involved. In fact, during the years in which pets behaved badly out of unmet needs, we learned a lot because their humans refused to give up on them. Management strategies and positive training, the invention of new canine sports outlets for inherent drives and abilities, the evolution of services like dog day care, professional dog walking and pet sitting have all resulted in growing a cadre of people with the right knowledge and skills to shape the way pets can be harmoniously integrated into the new, less privately spacious but possibly more cooperative lifestyles.
It will take all of that, plus determination, to design integrated communities beneficial to both their human and non-human members. We just need the awareness of opportunity, and the spirit of compassion and adventure to seize it. Let’s make sure that one of our future deprivations is not having to live without our pets’ steadfast and cheerful companionship.
Laurie Raymond owns High Tails Dog & Cat Outfitters in Glenwood Springs.
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