Saturday, February 28, 2009

Alex's Legacy

An article in the latest issue of Discover Magazine describes the last days of Alex, the African gray parrot that taught researchers so much about non-human life.

There are several remarkable debunkings of "common knowledge" in the article. For example, the notion that intelligence derives from the physical structure of the brain--quote:
Animal minds are a great deal more like human minds than the vast majority of behavioral scientists believed--or, more importantly, were even prepared to concede might be remotely possible.
Note the use of the word "minds". Not "brains".

Even more remarkable is that Irene Pepperberg, the author of the article, takes for granted that we can communicate with animals--she sets out to learn about Alex's perceptions based on the simple fact that she could ask him questions and get reasonable answers.

Concerning Alex's use of language, she says,
This new channel of communication opened a window onto Alex’s mind, revealing to me and to all of us the sophisticated information processing—thinking—going on inside that little grey-and-white feathered head.
And in regards to debunking established thought, she says,
We faced a flurry of goalpost moving, too. Birds can’t learn to label objects, they said.
Alex did.
OK then, birds can’t learn to generalize.
Alex did.
All right then, but they can’t learn concepts.
Alex did.
Well then, they certainly can’t understand "same" versus "different".
Alex did.
And on and on.

Alex was teaching these skeptics about the extent of animal minds, but they [the scientists] were slow, reluctant learners.

Alex taught us that our vanity had blinded us to the true nature of minds, animal and human; that so much more is to be learned about animal minds than received doctrine allowed.
No wonder Alex and I faced so much flak!
An important article. Please read it.

Friday, February 27, 2009

A Lion Reunion, or, I Will Always Love You

Many years ago, I put up the first page on the internet about Christian the Lion, which summarizes his story and includes the famous "reunion" video that snowballed into a worldwide sensation.

It was my hope that people would be moved by the obvious love Christian showed toward the people he hadn't seen for a year. And they were. Christian's story has done wonders for getting people aware of the emotional life of animals, even animals people normally regard as only vicious.

I have discovered another lion reunion story; oddly, it's from almost the same time as Christian's story--around the time Ace and John first got Christian.

At the present time, I only have the sound portion of this film. The film itself is languishing out there somewhere; I can find no references to it other than old TV program listings. This audio player here will let you hear this clip: 

The story behind what you hear is this: a woman in Africa had a preserve where she raised lions, specifically, a couple of lions that appeared in the movie "Born Free" and their offspring. She had a close relationship with her lions, but there got to be too many of them and she had to find new homes for three of them.

TV personality Jack Paar, who said he had a "thing" for lions, heard about this and arranged to bring the three lions to a game park in Florida. About a year after the lions were introduced and acclimated to their new home, he brought the woman over from Africa to see how the lions were faring.

The big difference between this reunion and Christian's reunion is that the men accompanying the former lion owner are quite skittish about the whole thing. I suppose it's because in Florida they have things they don't have in Africa, like lawsuits.

The sound clip begins with her calling to the lions, naming two of the three, Sonja and Lisa. Then you hear Jack Paar frantically telling her to get back into the car--he was on the same microphone cable as her and had to follow wherever she went.

The next voice is one of the people from the park, describing the situation, as the lions happily and lovingly greet the woman they knew so well for so long.

The skittish folk cut the reunion short, and the sad farewell she says to the lions is heartbreaking. You can hear the tears in her voice.

It is heartbreaking to me, too, that people are afraid to let love like this exist.

If anyone out there has a full copy of this film, "Jack Paar and His Lions", please let me know.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

It's Thursday already

It's Thursday, and that means a video to lighten up your day...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How much evidence do we need?

Having just slogged through a bunch of papers by and about Stephen Budiansky, my mind is in a spin, because he seems to go in two directions at once, making some good points about trying to understand animals while also making some ridiculous claims like, only humans are conscious.

Fortunately, progress is being made on disproving that last statement. Studies now prove that not just humans but such diverse animals as apes, dolphins, magpies, and elephants are self-aware. Not Exactly Rocket Science has a brief article on the subject.

I especially like one of the comments posted after the article, which says in part,
We sometimes fail to take into consideration the culture of the species when we administer "concrete" tests to prove or disprove ability in an animal or a bird. Animals and birds are far more sophisticated in their culture, communication and awareness than current methods of testing.
Which ties in with the already-recognized problem of culturally-biased IQ tests for humans. (Here is an example of such a test, deliberately extreme to make the point.)

I always say that the physical differences between various species create differences in how intelligence is expressed. It requires a lot of paying attention to get around this barrier.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Intelligent Life. Out There.

Ya gotta love the news media. Give them a slow news day, and they'll jump all over the most ridiculous things...

Some researcher in Scotland was playing around with "computer models" and decided he could determine how many "intelligent civilizations" there are in the Milky Way galaxy. Depending on how he tweaked things, he came up with numbers as low as 361 and as high as 37,964.

And this is all over the news. No one has actually observed anything, no one has actually measured anything, and yet because some glorified video game came up with a number (actually several very different numbers), we're supposed to believe it means something.

I wish I could get a job like that.

But I'll provide a number for you, for free. My number is: 2,000,000+ . That's right, I say there are over 2 million intelligent societies. But not "out there". Right here on Earth. I arrived at that number because that's how many species have been defined right here on Earth. Scientists like to guess that the number of species may be as high as 100 million, but I'll stay conservative and stick to 2,000,000+. It should be enough to keep us busy.

That's two million societies, right here, right now, observable by anyone who is willing to pay attention. We don't have to imagine there are 361 or even 37,964 somewhere out there that we will never see or hear. All we have to do is open our eyes and our minds.

Monday, February 23, 2009

You've Got Personality

Today's post is based on the article, "They’ve Got Personality", in the current issue of National Wildlife magazine.

People who pay close attention to animals know that animals have individual personalities. Scientists traditionally deny that, and many still do. (What can we infer, then, about the quality of knowledge of animals that science has presented us with?)

The first time someone dared to use the word "personality" in reference to a nonhuman in a scientific journal was pretty recent: 1993. This was in relation to octopuses. (See also my blog post "And now... Octopuses".) Roland Anderson, a biologist at the Seattle Aquarium, noticed that keepers had vivid nicknames for the facility’s Giant Pacific octopuses. "Lucretia McEvil" tore up the fittings in her tank every night. "Emily Dickinson" was cripplingly shy.

Scientists being who they are, they needed to quantify personalities. So Anderson and psychologist Jennifer Mather devised an experiment. They tested how individual octopuses responded when gently poked, startled, or offered food. They determined that each octopus had a unique and consistent set of responses--in other words, a personality.

Still, when Samuel Gosling, a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley, proposed studying animal personality in the mid-1990s, his advisor told him the idea was "goofy". Gosling did it anyway, assessing Berkeley's colony of hyenas using techniques from human personality evaluation. He asked the animals' caretakers to rank them on such behaviors as assertiveness, excitability, "human-directed agreeableness", sociability, and curiosity. Though they kept from comparing notes, the four keepers gave very similar assessments of each hyena’s personality. What’s more, the results could not be explained as a consequence of traditional behaviorism ideas such as dominance hierarchy or the animals' age or sex.

Luckily for animal science, Gosling now heads up the Animal Personality Institute at the University of Texas in Austin.

Scientists are finally "discovering" that all living creatures, even insects, have personality. More examples are in the National Wildlife Magazine article linked above. Still, some researchers will not use the word "personality", substituting the sterile term "behavior syndrome".

If you have an inclination to birdwatching, you can help collect scientific data that will further "prove" that individual birds have individual personalities. Find out how at NestWatch.org.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Why Kimba?

As you probably know, this blog is an extension of the site www.kimba.us. There may seem to be a disconnect there, because while this blog is concerned with the facts about animals, Kimba The White Lion is a cartoon.

So what's the connection?

The idea that animals are less alive in all aspects than humans is not reality. Therefore it must have an emotional basis to persist so strongly. I don't know how else to put it; it's not logical, so it must appeal to some other aspect of the human psyche.

Good fiction, like Kimba The White Lion, appeals to the emotions while having a basis in reality. So, it can approach the problem of emotional misconceptions where they lie, so to speak.

The line of dialog that made me sit up and take notice came in the 3rd episode of Kimba, spoken by Kimba: "If only I could speak their language, I could make them understand..." Now that speaks right to my heart.

So many people have told me that watching Kimba changed and shaped the way they thought about animals. And since the theme of most episodes is peaceful co-existence and understanding between all species, that's certainly good.

So I continue to approach the subject of understanding animals from the logical and observational standpoint. And it's good we have something like Kimba, that appeals to all ages, to approach the subject from another angle.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Thursday

It's Thursday, and you know what that means: something light for today's post. This ties in with yesterday's post, in a way, except that it comes from Japan...
(Now: New and improved video clip!)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What is Common?

"Common knowledge". I hate that phrase. It means, "don't examine this idea". It wasn't very long ago that it was "common knowledge" that human babies could not feel pain. Think of all the suffering that caused.

As I write each post in this blog, I am railing against the "common knowledge" about animals. Animals are as alive and aware as you and I, but "common knowledge" locks out most of that reality.

The word "common" itself implies restrictions. It's a big, wide, wonderful world out there, but we only experience a little of it. What is common is a small subset of reality.

Things get really scary when the government steps in and not only decides what is "common" but that ONLY "common" things are acceptable.

Consider this story, from the New York Times (You can read more about it here and here):
Ann Edie is blind and when she goes out for an evening walk she goes with Panda, her guide miniature horse.

There are no sidewalks in Edie’s neighborhood, so Panda led her along the street’s edge, maneuvering around drainage ditches, mailboxes and bags of raked leaves. At one point, Panda paused and waited for a car to pass. She led Edie onto a lawn so she wouldn’t hit her head on the side mirror of a parked van, then to a traffic pole at a busy intersection, where she stopped and tapped her hoof. “Find the button,” Edie said. Panda raised her head inches from the pole so Edie could run her hand along Panda’s nose to find and press the “walk” signal button.

Edie isn’t the only blind person who uses a guide horse instead of a dog — there’s actually a Guide Horse Foundation that’s been around nearly a decade. The obvious question is, Why? Edie says there are many reasons: miniature horses are mild-mannered, trainable and less threatening than large dogs. They’re naturally cautious and have exceptional vision, with eyes set far apart for nearly 360-degree range. Plus, they’re herd animals, so they instinctively synchronize their movements with others. But the biggest reason is age: miniature horses can live and work for more than 30 years. In that time, a blind person typically goes through five to seven guide dogs. That can be draining both emotionally and economically, because each one can cost up to $60,000 to breed, train and place in a home. And yes, Panda is house trained.

After the initial shock of seeing a horse walk into a cafe, or ride in a car, watching them work together makes the idea of guide miniature horses seem utterly logical. Even normal. But the United States government is considering a proposal that would force Edie and many others like her to stop using their service animals. The government would outlaw and force people to give up the monkeys for quadriplegia and agoraphobia, guide miniature horses, a goat for muscular dystrophy, a parrot for psychosis and any number of animals for anxiety, including cats, ferrets, pigs, at least one iguana and a duck. Why? They’re all showing up in stores and in restaurants, which is perfectly legal because the Americans With Disabilities Act (A.D.A.) requires that service animals be allowed wherever their owners want to go.

Because some people get upset at seeing these uncommon animals, the Department of Justice is considering limiting the definition of service animals to a “dog or other common domestic animal,” and specifically excludingwild animals (including nonhuman primates born in captivity), reptiles, rabbits, farm animals (including any breed of horse, miniature horse, pony, pig or goat), ferrets, amphibians and rodents.”
What we have here is a set of people with special needs who have discovered a wide variety of viable, working solutions to their needs in the form of a wide variety of animals, who are responsive to their needs. But because some people are uncomfortable with seeing uncommon animals in the role of service animals, the government will lower the boom and restrict everyone's lives to a small subset of animals that are deemed common enough to be acceptable.

And don't even get me started on the nonsense myths behind the phrase "wild animals".


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Using Human Standards, Who Is Smarter?

I will readily admit that the title for today's post is misleading. I chose to word it that way because the pull quote from this article in the Daily Express that I heard being bandied about on the radio is:
She compared the results with standard measurements of the intellectual development of human babies aged nine months. Baby chimps given responsive care scored 110, the average human baby at nine months 100.
I would think that, in a reasonable world, the more actionable quote to make the news should be:
Chimps given only basic care scored 91. [Human] babies in Romanian orphanages performed even worse than chimps given only basic care.
You see, the study in question is actually about the effects of loving care on the mental development of babies, across species. The conclusion drawn by the researchers is:
Early experiences either of warm, responsive care-giving or of extreme deprivation have a dramatic impact on emotional and cognitive outcomes in both chimpanzees and humans.
So, is your dog neurotic? Your cat aloof? You may have to look back in time to find the reason why.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Chimpanzee cares for tiger cubs


When hurricane Hannah struck the T.I.G.E.R.S. sanctuary in South Carolina, two 3-week-old tiger cubs were separated from their mother. Anjana has been acting as a sort of surrogate mother to the cubs. Anjana has been a companion to infant animal caregiver China York and has joined her in caring for baby animals. She has also been involved with raising leopards and lions.

T.I.G.E.R.S. founder Dr Bhagavan Antle says: “The animals are given thousands of hours of training and constant care. People think it is dangerous to get so close to wild animals but the handlers have been with them since they were cubs and have developed a special friendship based on love and respect.”

Full story and lots more pictures at The Sun (UK) web site.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Everybody Knows...

Last week, I referenced a book by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, The Emperor's Embrace. In it, he says the essence of a wolf pack is "the joy of being together" and he refers to a wolf pack as a family unit.

Now, just wait a minute. Everybody knows a wolf pack is ruled by the alpha wolf. Everybody knows the alpha and his mate control all aspects of the pack. Everybody knows that other wolves will fight to become the alpha, who must constantly struggle to retain the role.

But there is a rule I try to live by: The phrase "everybody knows..." always introduces a concept that MUST be examined carefully.

Now, I'm not in a position to study wolves, but fortunately L. David Mech is. And very fortunately he is not afraid to examine his own notions. He says the image of the "alpha wolf" is wrong, and he regrets his contribution to the myth. He has even asked his publisher to discontinue publishing his 39-year-old classic work, The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species, because it is perpetuating the "alpha wolf" myth.

The wolf pack is basically a family unit. The father and mother wolves' relationship to the others is that of parents in a family. In Mech's paper, Alpha Status, Dominance, and Division of Labor in Wolf Packs, he says,
Even the much-touted wolf dominance hierarchy is primarily a natural reflection of the age, sex, and reproductive structure of the group, with the breeding male dominating all others posturally and the breeding female garnering food from the male while she is tending young pups.

The typical wolf pack, then, should be viewed as a family with the adult parents guiding the activities of the group and sharing group leadership in a division-of-labor system in which the female predominates primarily in such activities as pup care and defense and the male primarily during foraging and food-provisioning and the travels associated with them. [emphasis added by me]
The "alpha wolf" myth grew out of observing unrelated wolves in a confined space in captivity. Who knew that such unnatural conditions could not be extrapolated to wolves in a natural environment? (/sarcasm)

So, what everybody knows about wolves and the brutal nature of their lives, is wrong. A natural wolf pack is a family. And this would seem to go a long way toward explaining Masson's observation of the joy the wolves experience by being together.

Here is a video of L. David Mech explaining the current situation of scientists and wolves:



As more is learned and more myths disspelled, the most current, accurate, and objective wolf news can be found on the website of the International Wolf Center.

Thank you, Robin, for alerting me to this news.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Whale Thanks Rescuers

Full story at the San Francisco Chronicle.

A 50-foot female humpback whale was on the humpbacks' usual migratory route when she became entangled in the nylon ropes that link crab pots.

Rescue team members realized the only way to save the endangered leviathan was to dive into the water and cut the ropes. It was a very risky maneuver because the mere flip of a humpback's massive tail can kill a man.

About 20 crab-pot ropes were wrapped around the animal. Rope was wrapped at least four times around the tail, the back and the left front flipper, and there was a line in the whale's mouth. At least 12 crab traps, weighing 90 pounds each, hung off the whale, the divers said. The combined weight was pulling the whale downward, forcing her to struggle mightily to keep her blow-hole out of the water.

Four divers spent about an hour cutting the ropes with a special curved knife. The whale floated passively in the water the whole time, he said, giving off a strange kind of vibration.

"It felt to me like she was thanking us," James Moskito, one of the rescue divers, said Tuesday.

When the whale realized she was free, she began swimming around in circles, according to the rescuers. Moskito said she swam to each diver, nuzzled him and then swam to the next one.

"She seemed kind of affectionate, like a dog that's happy to see you,'' Moskito said. "I never felt threatened. It was an amazing, unbelievable experience."

The daring rescue was the first successful attempt on the West Coast to free an entangled humpback, said Shelbi Stoudt, stranding manager for the Marine Mammal Center in Marin County.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Do Animals Have Self-Awareness?

I'm almost embarrassed to write a post on this subject. I mean, it seems ridiculous to me to even ask the question, "are animals self-aware?" But the question does not go away. Some people cling desperately to the notion that animals blunder through life with no real consciousness.

Some will go so far as to question whether humans have consciousness. Not current humans of course, but Julian Jaynes made a big splash with his book, "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind". Basically, he says that ancient people (up to only about 3000 years ago) could not think as we do today and were therefore not conscious. Some sort of catastrophe is supposed to have forced mankind to learn consciousness, so therefore consciousness itself is a product of human history and culture, and only originates from the human brain's left side. He says that prior to this breakthrough, humans lived in a hallucinatory state.

And this book is taken seriously. Is it any wonder that the question of animal consciousness persists?

I ask one simple question: If animals are not self-aware, why does a predator hide from, and stalk, his prey?

And the scientific community is not ruled by Jaynesian thought. In the March 2008 issue of National Geographic Magazine, Virginia Morell wrote this on the subject of animals imitating others:
Although imitation was once regarded as a simple-minded skill, in recent years cognitive scientists have revealed that it's extremely difficult, requiring the imitator to form a mental image of the other person's body and pose, then adjust his own body parts into the same position -- actions that imply an awareness of one's self.
Good point.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Parlez-Vous Bunny?

Consequences of people not recognizing animals' intelligence are often seen in domestic animals. Because animals are not merely instinct-driven, but have to learn just like humans do, problems in socialization can occur if their needs aren't respected, both in terms of socialization to humans and socialization to others of their own kind.

Here's an article from The Friends of Rabbits that describes the socialization process between two rabbits when they are introduced to each other.

The article says,
Because we humans isolate rabbits to make them our companions, many have a limited vocabulary for social interaction. They simply do not know what to do when they meet another rabbit, having been removed from all members of their own species at infancy. They have had no one with whom to converse in their native language. I often wonder what an adult rabbit is feeling as he re-encounters another of his kind after such separation and loss. Were a human to experience this, his story would be a most poignant tale. Rabbits who have had, and then lost, a partner -- our widows and widowers -- have a much greater social repertoire at the outset of a new relationship.

Rabbits whose initial instincts drive them to chase and mount eventually learn to interact face to face. Their partner teaches them, using the materials at hand and her own ingenuity.
The article goes on to describe the initial interactions of a male and female rabbit. The male had been confined alone in an outdoor hutch for six years. I don't know what his previous owners could possibly have been thinking... but fortunately there are people like The Friends of Rabbits who pay attention.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Lion Whisperer

Kevin Richardson is an animal expert who has such an intimate bond with lions that he can spend the night curled up with them without the slightest fear of attack. Cheetahs, leopards, and even unpredictable hyenas also hold no threats for him.

He lavishes them with unconditional love, he says, treating each individual differently, speaking to them, caressing them and above all, treating them with respect.

In other words, he's paying attention to each and every animal as an individual. And they do the same to him.

Here's a short and touching video. Also check out the pictures of him with lions on this page: http://www.dailymail.co.uk.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

now... wee paws for a commercial

Back in stock at our Kimba Shop is the Kimba Mini Set: 5 DVDs with the first 26 episodes from the Kimba series, with the original soundtracks, all beautifully restored from the original films. We also have the Kimba Ultra Edition DVD set, 11 DVDs with all 52 episodes, all original and restored, with great extras like deleted scenes and the first episode in Japanese with English subtitles.

And don't forget the Lost Kimba Episode: the first version of the first Kimba episode, with the original soundtrack that was later pulled from TV and replaced with a different performance by the same actors.

Myths

In his book, The Emperor's Embrace, Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson paints a beautiful picture of family life among wolves. He tells how a male wolf, returning from the hunt, brings food for his mate and cubs. The male wolf licks the young, cleaning them thoroughly, guards the den and protects the cubs, and when the cubs are old enough, he teaches them what they need to know in life. Wolves have to be taught how to hunt; it is not "instinctive". They need to learn rules, they need to be socialized, and both parents take part in this.

Masson says that if he had to characterize the essence of a wolf pack in just one phrase, it would be "the joy of being together".

Masson arrived at his conclusions through first-hand observation. Because of his reputation in regard to animals, he was offered the opportunity to meet a tame, socialized wolf face-to-face. But when the time actually came to go into the enclosure, he was filled with fear. He knew that there has never been a wolf attack on a human, he knew this wolf was used to people. But he says that the myths about wolves that are ingrained into us by our society took control of him. The subtle, ever-present conditioning of our society still had him in its grip.

That's why I emphasize how important it is to actually pay attention to animals. The myths concerning them are strong; they underlie every aspect of our society.

Descartes created one of the most damaging myths of all time with his concept of "biological machines". Simple observation proves the lie of that myth, but it persists, especially in the sciences, and it provides the basic principles of behaviorism.

Some religions indoctrinate people with the idea that animals are soulless things, provided for whatever use humans want to make of them.

And there are animal-specific myths; some of the worst involve wolves. A lot of truth has been written about wolves, even in popular literature (Farley Mowat comes to mind) and yet those myths persist, and continue to do damage.

That's why it is so important for animals that all people should be able to have contact with animals. First-hand observation is necessary to dispel the lies that we all have heard from the time we were born. The truth is not only out there, it is right in front of our eyes, if we have the opportunity to see it, and the sense to pay attention.

Friday, February 06, 2009

A cat's practical joke, and the dog that laughed.

Where I used to live, we had rowhouses: Small houses, 15 feet wide, connected side by side. The back yards were the same and the fences were all made of wire, so you could stand in your back yard and see everyone else's back yards on that block.

To the right of us, the people had a Doberman Pinscher, Duke, who they kept in the back yard all the time. Fortunately for us, he was very friendly. In fact, he and our cat, Houdini, were best friends. Duke would whine at our back door for Houdini to come outside. Duke gave Houdini big wet kisses and Houdini loved it.

Houdini was a big gray and white tuxedo cat, who loved everybody. All the world was full of friends, from Houdini's point of view.

Two houses to the left, they had a cluster of Chihuahuas. It was hard to tell how many they had, because they were always jumping up and down, yapping and yipping. You could say they hadn't been very well socialized -- and the owner's behavior supported that notion. Any time you were outside, if the Chihuahuas were too, you couldn't hear yourself think for all the noise they made.

One day, when all the animals were outside, Houdini gave Duke a "watch this" kind of look, then Houdini went to the side of the yard closest to the Chihuahuas. He put on quite a show for them, rolling and twisting on his back. The Chihuahuas went wild, creating a yipping yapping ruckus that even outdid their usual standards. In a minute, their owner appeared at the back door, and threw a bucket of water on the Chihuahuas. Immediately, Houdini's head whipped around to look at Duke.

And I will always swear that Duke laughed, just as plain as anyone.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Grief

I just heard from a friend that her big 14-year-old dog died this past weekend. I know he meant a lot to her and she is very distraught over his death. I know what that's like; I lost my big 14-year-old cat, Spike, this past December.

Spike was my buddy. He was always there, close at hand. He was not cuddly; he did not like to be held and did not like to lay on anyone's lap. But for the longest time he had what we called "the 10 o'clock purries": he came downstairs every night purring loudly and wanted lots of petting. And he would lay next to me when I worked on the computer so that I could reach out and touch him. He went to bed with me every night and came in to greet me every morning. He was a friend. I could talk to him. He was mouthy and opinionated. At the same time he respected us and we respected him, and we had a give and take that was a real friendship. I almost never had to yell at him; he knew the rules and when he decided to push the envelope a simple word would be enough to let him know if I disapproved.

Spike wanted to possess everything new that came into the house. It was just a reflection of how connected he was, how interested he was in everything.

I could call out to him whenever he was near, "Right, Spike?" And he would answer "eOW!" It was silly, but we liked it.

Spike was larger than life. I miss him so much.

When one of our animals dies, we hold a viewing for the benefit of the others. They do understand death, they do grieve, and it's important for them to have this last look at their companion. I think it would be cruel if the last thing they saw of Spike were to be him being put into a carrier for a trip to the vet.

And animals have a good outlook on life, too: Do what you can to be happy now. You can miss your old friend and still have fun with your friends that are still with you. For a month after Spike's death, all I wanted to do was hide from life. I'm so grateful to our kittens for prodding me to be happy again.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Kinship With ALL Life

If anyone out there is reading this blog, he or she may have noticed that I have not posted any stories involving monkeys or apes. That's because I want to convey the idea that ALL life is intelligent. The way I see it, the stumbling block is that the expression of that intelligence is not always recognized. It's easy to see human-like actions in monkeys; even the most die-hard of those who say animals have no ability to think can see human-like responses in monkeys. The more an animal resembles us, the easier it is to think of it as being like us. And even that principle applies across species lines, as this video will show (sorry I can't embed it on this page): http://abc.go.com/primetime/afv/index?pn=player&itemId=363758

Among the people I've heard of, the one who went the farthest in establishing a rapport with dissimilar species is J. Allen Boone, author of "Kinship with All Life".

Surprisingly (well, I was surprised to learn this) Mr. Boone was a movie producer and at one time head of RKO Pictures, not a naturalist or other professional studier of animals. His journey into his kinship with all life began when he found himself caretaker of Strongheart, the first major canine star and for a while the biggest-grossing star in Hollywood. Boone started out with the basic assumption that Strongheart was just a well-trained dog. But Boone was a great observer, and realized that Strongheart was not merely the product of training. He came to the conclusion that Strongheart was more than a dog with a quick mind, more than a dog with a human mind--he was not a dog expressing great qualities, but rather great qualities expressing a dog. Now there's a deep thought.

As a result of really paying attention to Strongheart, Boone claimed to have discovered true communication with animals. When he went to Africa for location shooting for a movie, he refused to carry a gun because he believed that all the animals would be friendly because his approach to them was friendly. Boone said, "For those who know it and practice it, there is an inter-relating oneness between man and animal. I have to be right myself, mentally, to experience it."

His book, "Kinship with All Life", ends with his description of his lasting, mutually responsive relationship with a housefly. That is pretty amazing.

That sort of communication is what I hope one day to achieve. It's what I hope one day all humanity will achieve. The process starts with knowing it is possible.

Monday, February 02, 2009

And now...Octopuses!

A couple of days ago I mentioned that if cats are bored, they will withdraw into themselves. Boredom is a sign of intelligence; a mind needs stimulation. Here's a story from the Washington Post that informs us that octupuses --yes, invertebrates-- also get bored in artificial environments.

Experts are willing to allow all sorts of indications of intelligence in octopuses: play, sense of humor, personality. My favorite anecdote in that newspaper story is: "...the octopus who, in a lab in Pennsylvania, was served slightly spoiled shrimp. The octopus refused to finish its dinner, and when the researcher returned to its tank, the octopus made eye contact with her, then meaningfully pushed all the shrimp down the drain." You tell her, octopus!

And it is well known that octopuses can perform tasks even some humans can't: not merely opening bottles, but opening child-proof caps. Here's a video, even though it doesn't involve a child-proof cap...