Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, during my prime job interview years, I was coached to prepare for the question: “If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be?” Now, no interviewer ever pursued this rather quirky line of inquiry. However, I’m a “be prepared” guy, and was always ready with an answer.
A few years ago, Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz starred in a movie called The Lobster. The Lobster was one of those Indie productions showing at a tiny theater with ten rows of seats. The previews included a lot of foreign language and low budget films labeled “artsy.” The plot of The Lobster revolved around a future dystopian existence where single people were given forty-five days to find a suitable partner. If the quest was unsuccessful, the unattached individuals would be turned into the animal of their choice. Seeing the movie inspired a reconsideration of the old job interview question.
Being a lover of lists, I wrote down about fifty animals I thought warranted consideration. The first culling of the list was easy. For example, when I considered animals in the livestock category, the prospect of daily milking and/or getting slaughtered to supply someone’s Memorial Day picnic was uninviting. The small mammals like mice, chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, etc. were also a non-starter. There’s too much potential to be eaten, poisoned by a homeowner, or hit by a car. All insects and reptiles were summarily dismissed due to a long-standing personal prejudice. Waterfowl are cute and get free bread from toddlers, but there’s a real downside in getting shot at by hunters for most of the winter. The same hunting exception ruled out anything in the deer or elk categories.
In the end, I narrowed my original fifty down to five options. I’ve listed them below, ranked in order of preference.
#5 Largemouth Bass: Being a lover of aquatic animals, I considered something in the fish category. I chose largemouth bass because of their position, once they reach adulthood, as a prime predator. They are also a resilient fish and survive in a wide range of habitats. Largemouth bass roam freely across a large body of water, hunting food and establishing territory. This I’m-not-tied-down-to-anything lifestyle is appealing. Plus, largemouth bass are a revered gamefish. They are pictured on countless magazine covers, t-shirts, mugs, and even license plates. Sportsmen contribute time and money to preserve largemouth bass habitat and insure robust populations. Here, though, is the rub. In a shining example of irony, sportsmen preserve the largemouth bass so they can catch them while fishing. There’s too much chance a largemouth bass, while sucking in some unsuspecting minnow, discovers he’s eating a fish-hook laden, man-made imitation. In the best scenario, the bass shakes free but still has a sore lip for a few days. In the worst scenario, the bass is hauled out of the water and, within hours, his gutted carcass is sizzling away in a frying pan. Oh, and there’s one other thing. Fledgling largemouth bass, shortly after being born, are routinely eaten by a larger member of their own species. Conceivably, the predatory fish could be the baby bass’s own mother. I think I’ll pass.
#4 Bald Eagle: I’m confident bald eagles don’t suffer from self-esteem issues. They are majestic creatures and the national symbol for our country. Their public image is a publicist’s dream. People go out of their way to get a brief glimpse of a bald eagle. If they’re lucky and get a picture, humans prominently display the framed photo in their homes. As an added bonus, the extensive federal laws protecting bald eagles ensure an extremely low probability of being unceremoniously blasted from the sky while they go about their daily business. I do, however, see two drawbacks. First, while bald eagles eat primarily fish, which I love, they also eat carrion and/or steal from other animals. I don’t like the idea of eating spoiling meat or being known as a thief. Secondly, I’m not a big fan of heights. I wouldn’t enjoy floating three hundred feet in the air, being blown around by the wind, only to return to my nest perched either at the top of a tree or on some ledge.
#3: Horse: Let me start with a disclaimer. Most of my perceptions of the horse lifestyle come from TV shows and movies. From what I can tell, horses get daily rubdowns with those cool brushes and there are always plenty of oats available. I see those perks as a good start. In addition, everyone’s always swooning over horses, stopping the car and taking pictures or petting his/her nose while chanting “good boy” or “good girl.” Horses get offered sugar cubes, carrots, or apples. When horses are active, their exercise consists of scenic walks through the woods or along the beach as their owners talk about life. For horses with a job, the assignment is pretty cool. Race horses run as fast as they can, police horses help keep crime down, and horses on ranches round up cattle. However, three factors tamper my enthusiasm for becoming a horse. First, the whole relationship is too subservient for my taste. I don’t like the concept of being “broken” before I can be useful. Secondly, if you break a leg, they put a bullet in your brain. Third, there’s the remote but horrifying possibility a gangster is going to cut off your head and leave it in another guy’s bed. Ah, no.
#2 Housecat: Housecats have the greatest life in the universe. Their owners feed them, clean their bathrooms, provide toys, and offer affection. For his/her part, the housecat sleeps for eighteen hours a day, usually in the most comfortable spot available. Housecats can be aloof whenever the mood hits, for as long as they want, and then climb onto a lap for a massage. As an added bonus, housecats can run around like crazy at any time, day or night, knocking things over, jumping on the furniture, and creating momentary havoc. Your average eight-year-old boy, upon demonstrating the same behavior, gets a “time out.” If the conduct persists, mom or dad hauls the kid to the doctor for some twenty-first century medical diagnosis, followed by either therapy, a daily pill, or both. With a housecat, though, their daily wildings are cute and “fun to watch.” The downside of being a housecat is the overall lifestyle. I don’t enjoy being consistently sedentary. An extended period basking in the sun, sleeping, or vacantly looking across the room would drive me crazy. Then there’s the whole take a bath with your tongue thing. Cats clean everywhere using their tongue, and I mean EVERYWHERE. While I’m sure other animals do this, I’ve watched our cat clean herself and, frankly, it’s a deal breaker for me.
And the winner is…#1 Sheepdog: I appreciate dogs for both their loyalty and the sheer joy they demonstrate, regardless of what they’re doing. I also love being busy and contributing to the success of a task or enterprise. Based on these factors, I’d happily choose to become a dog with a job. I briefly considered some type of retriever or beagle. I’d find satisfaction assisting with hunting either birds or small mammals. However, I’d rather be engaged in a “real” job, not one helping with a leisure activity. I thought about the drug or bomb sniffing dogs the police/military use but there didn’t seem to be enough constant action. Being a therapy dog would require a level of patience I’m not sure I could consistently deliver. After doing some internet research on various dog careers, I settled on being a sheepdog. Sheepdogs have real responsibility. They keep the sheep either in the correct location or moving in the right direction. Sheepdogs have to protect their herd from predators. My protective gene would appreciate this responsibility. Also, they’re outdoors all the time and, I imagine, work regardless of the weather. This is a plus—I hate when we stay inside, avoiding the impacts of rain, cold, or snow. Most importantly, if sheepdogs do their job well, they make a sincere and valued contribution to the family economy. They earn their daily kibble. Finally, I’ve been to several competitions where I’ve watched sheepdogs work. Without exception, they appear genuinely happy as they go about their business. I swear they’re smiling while they nudge those sheep through the open gate.
I’m reasonably confident I know what you’re thinking right now. This guy has way too much time on his hands. Maybe he should find a more productive endeavor. True. I got you thinking though, didn’t I? Have you started your list yet?