A Pet Dilemma for the Modern Family

A sad tale about the fate of one modern, computer-networked family and their forlorn dog.

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She was looking at me so sadly. She leaned forward with her head dropped down, forcing her eyes to roll up towards her forehead to see me. I had only just noticed her staring at me. I had been peering into my computer screen for several hours now. I puzzled over what might be making her so sad and then, it dawned on me.

Photo of Dallas, Tex's dog

Dallas, our family dog, had gone from room to room, visiting each family member. We were each staring into our computer screens. It was only in the past month or so that my youngest daughter had gotten her own computer. Now, each family member had a computer. My daughter was online all the time now, instant messaging her friends. Before this computer arrived, there was always someone without their hands on a keyboard, free to play with the dog, or at least be active in some way, and the dog would follow that person around.

I wondered what the dog must think of us. I had been motionless for quite a bit, just staring at the document displayed on the monitor, lost in thought. When Dallas visited my daughter, she was in another room, banging keys on the keyboard, gossiping with several friends simultaneously via the message service. The computer was continually blaring that odd jingle noise that occurs every time a message comes in. What could the dog possibly make of my daughter's continuous keyboarding and rapt attention to her screen.

The dog had visited my wife as well. She was working in the dining room, preparing the next day's lesson plan on her laptop. All the dog knows is that each of us was sitting, engaged in the computer screen, barely moving except for some minor keyboarding and mouse movements. I don't know whether the dog has the intelligence to realize how computers have changed our lives over the past couple years, as we acquired more of them and one by one we became lost in their presence. Dallas probably remembers she used to get more attention even if she didn't recognize the trend of each new computer's arrival absorbing another family member.

So I understood now why she stared at me. The family which she thought of as her "pack" and her home, have been transformed into some kind of wax museum with slow moving, nearly frozen images of her packmates. Most importantly, wax replicas or not, she was being ignored by us for the better part of each day. Maybe she thought she had done something wrong and was being punished.

I launched into problem solving. How to fix this unhappy dog syndrome? To be honest my first thought was to replace the dog with a virtual pet. No more walking the dog in bad weather and expensive dog food, just a cartoon figure intruding onto my screen from time to time, making me acknowledge it by mousing over it or perhaps typing "biscuit" or some such. Perhaps I could command it to go bother my daughter and it would leave my screen and jump via the internet to hers. That would more or less emulate what I often suggest to Dallas.

As appealing as a computer pet sounded to me, I knew my daughter wouldn't let me get rid of Dallas. I needed an alternative. How else to fix a dog forlorn by its computer-networked family? Of course! Solution #2: I'll get the dog a computer! I imagined there must be some programs that would entertain a dog. Heck, a few occasional virtual squirrels and a virtual postman for real excitement would probably do. I speculated that if Dallas could instant message other dogs, the buddy icons would be pictures of their butts. After all that's how dogs more or less greet each other. I wondered whether Dallas's drool would damage the keyboard.

Meanwhile, Dallas was still staring sadly at me, although now I was absent-mindedly staring back at her. It finally occurred to me that staring at the computer all day and seriously considering either virtual pets or computers for dogs, were reasons enough to take a break. I got up and took Dallas outside for a walk. She was now thrilled, her tail wagging excitedly, as we greeted our neighbors out with their pets. As we walked, I began mentally picturing buddy icons for Dallas's friends....