Friday, March 15, 2013

Relative Risk and the Animals in our Lives

I have a pet that's kind of dangerous to be around. He's injured several people, including myself. He bit my fathers face on one occasion, and on another fractured a bone in his wrist. He's caused me multiple bruises and has bitten me on the arms a few times, more than once drawing blood. He is not safe for children to be around without close supervision. I would never allow him off leash outside an enclosure.

Who is this pet, and why do I keep him around? If he were a pit bull, (or really any dog over 10 lbs) people would be asking me why I didn't have him put to sleep. And yet no one has ever asked why he's still alive.

The fact is, despite the risks, I find a lot of value in keeping this particular pet. I'm not alone; his breed is very popular, with millions just like him in North America. And, every year, animals of his breed kill people. Yet most people like him on sight. Children beg to pet him and feed him treats. And I will gladly let them pet him and feed him treats; I just take a few precautions first. Because with very little effort, the risk of children interacting with him is very small.

You've probably already guess what pet I'm talking about. Funny, though, that we have such different expectations of the different animals in our lives. A single, non-injurious nip from a "scary looking" dog is enough to send some people into hysterics, yet millions of horse-owners take being bitten, kicked, stepped on, thrown, and crushed against walls as par for the course of being around equines.

I have more to talk about on the subject of relative risk and how people are so terrible at judging it, but this is all I got for right now.

1 comment:

Lisa Deon said...

At work they've instituted a "No petting" policy, which I'm okay with. Most of the time people who want to pet your horse have no interest in taking a ride. So while I'm involved with helping them pet my 1800# co-worker, a "real" customer thinks I'm busy, and walks to the carriage behind me.

Sometimes when I have to tell them, "Sorry..." I'm graced with a vile look, like it's my goal in life to make their child cry. It's not, but I'm also not responsible for you telling your kid that they could pet my horse without consulting me first. Bad, parent. Bad! Also, get your kid used to being disappointed. Stuff happens.

Besides, since your kid has just finished eating a gooey caramel apple you bought them at the mall across the street, I'm sure you'd like them to keep all of their fingers, which my horsie might mistakenly nip off in an overzealous attempt to get at that delicious appleness.