I’ve interviewed with survival groups who told me I couldn’t join them because I will bring the critters with me.
Along with assorted other detritus, when my children grew up and moved out (or joined the military and got deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan), they left me with their critters: hedgehogs, turtles, rats, hamsters, ferrets, dogs, and cats. I put them all to use, in one way or another. Critters in my house aren't pets, they're partners and responsible for providing their share of the household upkeep. Most of the animals left in my care have died of very old age and all the critters I have now are Itzl and Xoco.
Because all my kids left me their critters, I was responsible for them -and they were responsible for keeping everything running smoothly.
If a disaster happened or an apocalypse came along and smacked us, I’d do my best to provide for any critters residing with me - and that includes training them to be an active and contributing member of the family.
Itzl and Xoco belong to me. They've been trained as service dogs and it’s their job to alert me to sounds I can’t hear. I’m not totally deaf, but there are sounds I can’t hear. Important sounds like sirens, alarms, gun safeties clicking off, pipes whistling, and so on. They've been trained to alert me to these different sounds. They have proven themselves useful in numerous survival situations - brief ones like the forklift in the grocery store, or the SUVs that back out of parking places without checking for pedestrians or obstacles, and longer term ones like hailstorms and tornadoes, and social ones like alerting on screaming children.
My son's dogs were trained hunting dogs, also useful in the event of a disaster or an apocalypse. Mind, Beaners’ dogs weren’t housebroken, and had no indoor manners, but they were excellent hunters. They were more than capable of running down rabbits, possum, squirrels, and can snatch birds right out of the air. They’ve brought me dove, pigeon, duck, geese, mockingbirds, blue jays, a parrot, once, and a cardinal, once. Even if they were to be kept crated indoors, they’d be useful to have. Mighty hunters that they were, they were terribly gun-shy – they’d been taught to hunt with people who use crossbows and bow and arrow and spears or to hunt on their own and bring their kill back. I’d be glad to have dogs like them to help my survive in a widespread disaster situation, and especially in an apocalyptic one.
The cats and the ferrets were outstanding mousers.They can find and kill intruding rodents faster than I can blink, put their kill in a designated place and walk away from it. In the event of a pandemic, particularly one with a flea or tick vector, this is an excellent skill to have around. They were trained to put their kills in a box set in a corner with pennyroyal and peppermint leaves in it. They associated the smell of pennyroyal and peppermint with the stash place for their kills. The pennyroyal stuns the fleas, so they don’t leap off the dead rodent and onto the critters living with me. They would then come tell me they killed something, they got their treat and I disposed of it so the fleas don’t get out, and set a fresh pennyroyal lined box down for the next kill.
Ferrets were once trained (and still are, in some countries) to hunt rabbits and other underground dwelling animals, their long slinky bodies allowing them to fit into incredibly tiny spaces. They can also be trained to run wires and cables through walls.
The rats were useful for cleaning in the small spaces and clearing out dust bunnies. They were also smart enough to carry messages to other parts of the house, and could probably be trained to run messages within a campground or survivalist's compound. They were once used to run cables and wires and could be trained for that again. Rats are also proving useful for sniffing out bombs, land mines, and other such things, which means they can be scent trained for hunting for food like truffles, potatoes, sunflower roots, and other edible roots and shoots, can hunt for people, especially people trapped in the debris of disasters, and to hunt spoor for prey animals. Rats are amazingly useful survivor helpers.
Turtles aren't quite as actively useful, but they are excellent at helping keep insect populations under control, along with mosquito fish, toads, and bats.
If you also have pets you want to keep after a disaster, an apocalypse, or in the event of a depression, start training your pet to be useful now. Not just tricks, but actual work. Then, let them work alongside you. Both of you will benefit - the critter will be happy to be part of your team, and you'll have reliable help. It's a win-win situation.
Dogs were domesticated as helpers for people. They were bred to specialties in helping people and you should tap into that instinct and experience and give your dog a chance to be more than a pampered pet, because you can’t afford free-loaders when there’s no money, no food, and you have to rely on your wits.
Itzl is a good example. People are constantly amazed at his behavior, and he loves being useful. He’s alert and always wanting to please me by letting me know there’s a sound I need to investigate. He’s even started training himself now that he knows what’s expected of him. If he hears a sound and I don’t react to it and he doesn’t know what that sound is, he will agitate and insist that I investigate the sound and teach him about it.
At Halloween, there were teens wandering the neighborhood with those light sabers that make sounds and he didn’t know what they were. He led me to the teens and looked at me to teach him. I asked the teens if they’d help, and told them what to do, since I couldn’t hear the light sabers. So they turned the sounds on and off, and demonstrated them for Itzl. I reinforced the lesson with his code words. By the time we were done, he had a new sound to alert on, and he decided on his own that since it was a toy that made the sound, his signal would be to chuff and point, waving one paw as if he were wielding a saber himself. Now I know when he chuffs and mimics a swordfight, he’s telling me there are light saber noises nearby.
He also trained the cats to fetch for him using the same training techniques I use on him. The cats will now fetch for me as well as him. And they hunt rodents and put them in their kill box.
Dogs and cats can be trained to alert on gaseous smells, smoke alarms, to fetch, hunt, and guard. Dogs can also be trained to dig, pull loads, carry packs, herd children or chickens or sheep or other flocking animals, carry messages, find lost objects, and perform a myriad of other tasks.
Teamwork and Teamwork II and the video are good training resources to teach your animal useful survival skills. Connecting with people who own similar breeds and animals that are interested in training them to do jobs is also useful. One such website, Working Dog Web, has a lot of information on it. While we see dogs as the most useful, cats, ferrets, parrots, falcons, horses, pigs, homing pigeons, and, yes, even rats can be trained to do jobs we need for survival and their trained presence can increase our odds of surviving.
When we make our survival plans, instead of just planning to save our pets, we ought to start preparing them to be partners in our survival.