Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Animals Smarter Than We Think

In a departure from the usual topics of a blog devoted to education, I would like to draw your attention to the fascinating title article in the August 16, 2010 issue of Time magazine, What Animals Think: New science reveals they're smarter than we realized. I feel quite confident that anyone who has ever loved and been loved by a dog, a cat or a horse never doubted the surprising cognitive and emotional intelligence of animals. Time drew a similar conclusion back in 1993.

My childhood dog, an Australian shepherd proud of the beautiful “feathers” festooning his legs and underbelly, hid behind the couch for an entire day in apparent humiliation after I trimmed those feathers. We were about to depart for my summer job at a YMCA camp and I wanted to spare him the discomfort of the inevitable burrs that would permanently lodge in his fur after his first romp through the monkey flowers.

Monkey flower oil is like super glue. I worried that perhaps he had forgotten the lesson of the previous summer. He spent the entire first night trying to pull them out, keeping me and my cabin mates awake with his futile gnashing of teeth. With the dawn, I finally had enough light to cut the burrs out of his fur. He stayed out of the monkey flowers for the rest of that summer. Or maybe he was indignant that I though he forgot his lesson.

The first two weeks of camp were reserved by a program for developmentally delayed adults. Camp staff watched in amazement as that dog recognized, respected and then overcame every single camper's fear of dogs, or at least fear of this particular dog. In the first week of his first summer at camp, with no training whatsoever (in those days no one knew dogs could be trained for this), he became adept at warning me when a camper was about to have a seizure. Eventually he died, gray, arthritic and senile, at the age of seventeen.

Please feel free to share your own stories of intelligent animals you have known by submitting a comment.

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