Friday, September 13, 2013

And you thought this job was not to be truffled with!

I bag my own groceries (and think I do a better job than the average grape-crushers). I pump my own gas (but would generally prefer to have someone else do the pumping in the sleet and frigid weather – if only there were enough full-service stations around). And in the last year, I’ve learned how to manage the equipment used for tube feeding through the stomach, and how to take down a portable chemo pump when the portable chemo’s done pumping.

It almost goes without saying that toll takers are an EZ-Pass away from obsolescence.

And somewhere in the “developing world” there’s someone brushing up on his English so he can offer to write blog posts and white papers for my clients for 75 cents an hour. (So what if they’ll be poorly written gibberish. It’s the price that counts!)

Except for maybe the Kardashians and LeBron James, no one’s indispensible, no one’s irreplaceable, no one’s secure. If you can work from home on your computer, someone in Bangalore can work from home on his – for a lot less. And if what you’re doing is so unskilled that anyone can do it, e.g., pumping gas and bagging groceries, “they” will find some way to con you into doing it for yourself in the name of efficiency and cost savings (that somehow never get passed on to you).

Oh, what is the world coming to?

Wasn’t it just a few short generations ago that we managed to claw our toothless and rag-garbed way off the dirt floor, up the gangway, onto the coffin ship, and off to Amerikay and middle class respectability? We were on the pig’s back for a while there, but, ah Jayzus, how long can we keep our grip?

Well, if you’re an actual pig, or a pig in the weight class of a hog, and you’ve been pridefully working as a truffle hog, you may not be able to hang onto that job for much longer.

As I saw in a recent Business Week article, man’s best friend is nosing out Wilbur and Babe in the truffle trade:

For centuries, pigs had a virtual lock as the hired noses of the truffle-hunting industry. The aromatic subterranean mushroom has been a delicacy since the Roman Empire, and pigs have been used to hunt them for that long. Swine have sensitive noses that they like sticking in the earth—and like (some) people, they have a taste for truffles. There’s some speculation that truffles contain compounds found in porcine sex hormones, though experimental evidence casts doubt on that explanation for the affinity.

Despite their prodigious truffle-hunting talents, however, pigs have begun losing out to dogs in the labor market, according to a recent story in Modern Farmer.

There are a number of reasons behind this trend.

Dogs have more stamina. Surprisingly – given that hogs are reputed to be so darned smart – dogs are considered easier to train. And, far better, they don’t like truffles, so they’re not apt to scarf down the product.

“…But the real competitive advantage for canines lies in truffle hunting’s furtive nature. Truffle harvesting grounds are carefully kept secrets, with hunters being wildly protective of their turf. “If you have a pig on a leash, everyone knows what you’re doing,” says [Charles] Lefevre [organizer of the annual Oregon Truffle Festival]. But if you spot someone with a pooch on a leash, they could just be enjoying some fresh country air.”

As with so many other outsourcing initiatives, this one is occurring most frequently in the US, where “a small industry has grown up there to train truffle hounds.”

Well, I don’t want to come across as a looks-ist, buLagottot all I can say is, if this is what the average truffle hound looks like, there’s another compelling reason why it’s out with the pig and in with the dog.

That pup is a Lagotto Romagnolo, and the Lagotto is one of the preferred breeds for truffle hunting. (Also, I’m assuming, a preferred breed for out-and-out doggie cuteness.) But other breeds can apply to become truffle hounds, as well.

They may need to, as it seems that some working dogs are being displaced from their traditional profession, i.e., working as seeing-eye dogs.

If you’re thinking they’re being replaced by robot or monkey, think again. There are now miniature horses on the job – with a cautionary emphasis on miniature. 

The Guide Horse Foundation is against the use of riding size horses indoors because of the risk of injury to the horses, the blind handler and the general public. While our research has indicated that Miniature horses make suitable guide animals,  large guide animals of any species can create a hazard for the public when used in an inappropriate setting for an animal of that size.

And, yes, in answer to your question:

A Guide Horse can be housebroken. When they need relief, the horses are trained to paw at the door or make nickering noises.

But they’re really not suited to city-dwelling. Best where they can have a corral to live and (and another horse for a companion).

Sure, the guide horses are plenty cute.

But whether they become truffle hounds, or are cut out of their job as guide dogs, I don’t think dogs have much to worry about, employment-wise. They’re personably, adorable, cuddly, lovable, and can always fall back on their wonderful profession of pet.

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