The Aibo Option

By Kathy Guillermo

It is midnight. The spouse and kids are asleep and the dogs are sacked out, too, stretched out on the family room carpet. A sudden police car siren brings them to their feet. They listen, then sigh and drop back to the floor. Not so the dogs in the neighborhood. Up and down the street, they howl in response to the high-pitched wail. I can hear them clearly because they are outside, locked in runs in their backyards.

It is 33 degrees. A bitter January wind is blowing. The neighbors have covered their delicate plants and turned their thermostats up. But their dogs sit outside, many with just a plastic igloo for protection. Why do people bring dogs into their families and then shut them out in the backyard? They do have fur, but would you be warm in a plastic box with only an overcoat? These dogs are cold, lonely and longing to be with the people they love.

My neighbors should have exercised the Aibo Option. Instead of purchasing a puppy who would eventually grow into a monstrous untrained retriever with a tail the size of a baseball bat, they should have gone to a discount store and fallen in love with Aibo, the amazing electronic dog.

Manufactured by Sony, Aibo is just shy of being real. According to Sony's product information, this robotic dog practically feels: "Aibo's mood changes with its environment, and its mood affects its behavior. Aibo also has instincts to move around, to look for its toys, to satisfy its curiosity, to play and communicate with its owner, to recharge when its battery is low, and to wake up when it's done sleeping." Aibo displays happiness, sadness, fear, dislike and anger, and his personality is shaped by his experiences with his family as he "grows up." Best of all, Aibo can be reset for puppyhood. You never have to give up that adorable stage.

You can do to Aibo what you never should do to a real dog-ignore him completely, shut him outside, go on vacation without hassles. In short, you can turn him off. If he doesn't grow up to be the perfect pet, reset him.

It may sound cold, particularly if you love dogs. But I've seen so many shoppers do what a nice family down the street did. Last Christmas, they gave their kids a darling black Labrador puppy. In the first weeks, they were often out walking him and tossing a ball for him. He grew. They lost interest in wrestling with him. Unskilled in training methods, they shut him in the backyard. Last month, they hired a handyman to build a dog run so that he wouldn't leap on them when they played in the yard. Now, one year later, he is never allowed in the house and rarely goes for a walk. Being shut away makes him even more frantic when he's turned loose, so his family doesn't even try to cope anymore. Instead, he sits and howls at sirens. If he lives a normal lifespan, he faces a dozen years of sitting in a pen.

When I pointed out that they could have gone to a shelter and adopted a small adult dog, past the silliness of puppyhood, housetrained and ready to be a companion, they said, "We didn't think. We didn't know."

Up and down streets in cities across the country, it's the same story. We didn't think; we didn't know. And dogs are locked outside, cold and miserable. Real dogs aren't robots, and should never be treated as though they are.

Kathy Guillermo is senior writer for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

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