Now, working dogs are a thing and have been pretty much as long as dogs have been domesticated. However, the jobs humans give animals are generally jobs they are capable of doing. Herding sheep, for example. Emotional support—we have a cat who will come sit on anyone in the house who’s crying. There are animals who can sense seizures, even. However, it seems as though the jobs Pluto’s being expected to do in this cartoon are ones that would be a whole lot easier if he had, oh, opposable thumbs, say.
Mickey (still Walt Disney) is lounging in bed; Pluto (Lee Millar’s last turn as the character, it seems) comes to bring him breakfast in bed. Mickey then sends the dog downtown with a dime to get him the Sunday paper. Not from a newsstand or a paper boy, mind, but from a machine. Pluto loses the dime along the way and manages to retrieve it again. He then gets so proud of himself that he loses control of the paper and has to deal with issues with that.
Dogs fetching the paper are not unusual, of course; the issue is that they are usually bringing them in from where the paper has been left in the yard after being delivered. Honestly, the short presents us the reason you shouldn’t send a dog to do what Pluto’s doing. Pluto falls into the weird “sentient but not talking” gap in Disney cartoons that makes an animal a pet or wild or what have you, so he’s capable of the job. But he still has problems picking up the dime when he drops it, and he can’t tuck the paper under his arm as he picks up the rest of it.
Being a pet owner in Disney has all kinds of weird implications, of course. After all, one of Mickey’s friends is also a dog. And of course, you can’t say that sending Goofy for the paper would have a better result. However, Mickey is here amusing himself with the idea of dog as valet. He even jokingly calls Pluto “James.” Somehow, to me, that puts the implications on a whole other level. We see in this cartoon that Pluto is capable of following a comic strip, and if I thought my pet could do that, it would change how I saw my pet.
There is also, sigh, comedic blackface in this cartoon, where an incident with a mud puddle makes Pluto look like a racial stereotype. This is probably why the cartoon doesn’t get more play than it does; it can be very frustrating that such an innocuous short relies on a gag like that at all. It doesn’t help the thoughts the cartoon leaves me with that I’m pretty sure it’s not intending to, I can tell you that. After all, I think we can be pretty sure that Mickey isn’t paying Pluto, who we also know to have a concept of money.