Skepticism

Dog Day Afternoon Inquisition 11.10

Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that about a month ago, my parents had to put down my sister’s dog, Mia. It was especially heartbreaking since my sister, as most of you know, passed away in 2002, when Mia was in her prime.

And if you follow me on Twitter, you probably also know that my parents got a new dog this weekend. They adopted a 5-year-old standard poodle from the Midwest Poodle Rescue.  Let me tell you, that dog is exactly what this family needed. He’s fun, playful, affectionate and he and Moose became BFFs almost instantly, adding a whole new level of awesome to grandma and grandpa’s house.

My family and I have always insisted that a person doesn’t pick their dog, their dog picks them. It seems silly, but I believe all the dogs I’ve had saw me coming and suckered me in… and the bond was there from the beginning. When we met the poodle, he ran out to us as and everything about him said Hi, new family! I’m so happy to finally see you! Let’s go home now! When we met Mia, she curled up in my sister’s arms and fell asleep while the other dogs didn’t seem interested in her at all.  And when my husband and I went to get his first dog, I told him the rule – let the dog pick you – and little Dino ran up to him every time my husband walked past the kennel as if to say You’re finally here! They (and all the others) picked us, see?

Which finally brings me to today’s Inquisition:


Is there something about your pets that made you believe something that without them, you would have otherwise brushed off as “irrational”? Is it rational or is it just more fun to believe something irrational? What is it about our pets that makes us believe silly things?

ETA: I removed the new dog’s name. I sometimes worry about old owners popping up out of the blue… and he’s a great dog. I could see his old family wanting him back.

Elyse

Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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29 Comments

  1. @Elyse: Thank you and your family for adopting a rescue dog. :-D You all get gold stars for the day!

    I was very unconvinced that animals have anything even remotely like human intelligence or self-awareness. After working in rescue and immersing myself in animal behavior observation and study, I think that the only difference between humans and other animals is in degree, not kind. Books like Temple Grandin’s Animals in Translation have helped people see that there is something inside those furry skulls that is not entirely dissimilar to us at times. This, of course, raises all kinds of issues for me.

    I think our pets allow us “permission” to be silly and playful. Adults are too uptight in our world. We are all too wrapped up in appearances and too self-concious about what others might think of us. Pets couldn’t care less about all that. They just love us for what we are.

  2. Cats have rules they follow because they know it bothers you. They exploit that, and enjoy doing so.

    1. If they’re getting sick on the linoleum, they will run to the Turkish rug.

    2. Just as you’re about to fall asleep, they will sit up and stare intently at the bedroom door. “What was that? It sounded like a burgler! Yes, that’s definitely a silencer being screwed on. And is that aether I smell being poured into a handkerchief? Ah, well. Never mind. Back to sleep. Sleep well, owner. Probably nothing.”

  3. My lizard likes to watch television and eat potato chips. He prefers cartoons and dill pickle-flavored Pringles over other sorts. Lately, he’s taken to displaying his annoyance if someone gets in the way of his watching, which he does by inflating his neck-sack and turning it black.

    He’ll watch just about anything, prompting my partner to coin the phrase “cage potato” to describe his behavior. Even after his heat lamp and lights go out for the night, he’ll stay awake and watch television all night long if it is left on for him, then sleep all day following.

    I don’t know if any of this is irrational, but before this, I had never suspected that reptiles would care for television (let alone pickle-flavored potato chips). I’ve owned other reptiles, but none has ever seemed to care about TV before, let alone have favorite shows.

    Tycho’s (the lizard) favorites are “Chowder” and “Dexter’s Laboratory,” by the way. CNN generally doesn’t hold his interest, but he does seem to perk up when Chris Matthews’ “Hardball” comes on. Go figure.

  4. When it comes to the “irrational” and pets I think of my friends who have spent thousands of dollars on sick and ailing cats and in one instance tens of thousands on getting a dog knee replacements.

    And while everyone at our house really likes the cat there is no way I’d spend that kind of money if Giovanni were sick. I will be getting the next cat (there’s always a next cat) at the pound or a cat rescue shelter same as the previous ones.

    Not sure if I have any irrational beliefs attached to said kitty. I do have few expectations of cats and they seem to like it that way. They do need to purr when scratched behind the ears, sit on my lap when I’m reading or watching TV and not scratch friends who visit.

  5. Used to have a ginger tom-cat (Whiskey) that I got from the animal shelter. It chose me in the sense it climbed up the inside of the cage, along the roof (think of a large chickenwire shed here) and then dropped on to my head and meowed as me. I swear he was telling me to get the hell out of there while the getting was good.
    How could I not help him out with his great escape?

    It’s fun to believe that he chose me as his co-conspirator, but I acknowledge that at that point, he was desperate enough to team up with Cruella de Ville if he thought he could get out of there.

  6. I think that my cats love me. I think they are unhappy when they don’t see me or my husband for a few days. I know a few people that have said they just like the food and attention, and it’s nothing to do with us. For a couple of my cats, the little sluts, it’s probably true that they would be equally happy with other owners who spoiled them. But the other two are too finicky. I think they only love us.

  7. It’s funny you mention the feeling that pets can see a sucker coming from a mile away. Parrots can be that way too. At our last visit to the parrot store, I warned parrot-newbie Stacey that Cockatoos are the whores of the parrot world – that is, they will do anything to immediately demand your undivided attention and keep it – even with total strangers. I offer the following:

    Exhibit A (after the Cockatoo shameless hurls itself onto the floor to get her attention …): http://www.flickr.com/photos/srodberg/2960193148/ (“Hey, I’m more snuggly than a dog or cat! …”)

    Exhibit B: http://www.flickr.com/photos/srodberg/2959353123/ (“… She’s all mine now.”)

    … And the whole time, the Cockatoo never made a sound either (deceptive little bastard).

  8. I’ve always believed that pets know when their new ownee is coming. Our dog Chicco came to us that way. I’m terrified of dogs, but my husband really, really wanted one. When we walked past his kennel in the animal shelter, he ignored hubs completely and ran up to me, tail wagging. Thank goodness he was a rat terrier – that would have finished me off.

    On the other hand, cats and I get on really well. Our first cat as a couple would come when she heard her name, or when I’d come home from work. She took care of me when I was sick. No, really – she’d plant herself on me and refuse to allow me to move until I was better. Not irrational at all – she knew. Siouxsie’s been gone for many years now, but I still miss her.

  9. @Kaylia_Marie: You’re welcome to come to our house anytime and pet, scratch and love ours up to your heart’s content. :-D (They are all so love starved, don’t you know? ;-) )

    I love the story about Whiskey! I’m sure animals can sense a friend, because stranger’s pets always come to me right away when they see me. It happens on the street, in pet stores, etc. Other rescue people report the same thing. It’s like they know that we are in rescue, somehow…

    Hmm..a dill pickle chip eating reptile that likes to watch TV. That’s a new one on me. You sure it’s not an alien, secretly sizing us up for an invasion a la “V?” LOL

  10. I’m mom to an elderly Beagle Harrier named Copper and three tabby cats named Trixie, Gus and Dita. (Yes, I am that crazy lady.)
    I truly believe that Gus is saying “Mom” when he roams the house.
    I know Trixie is really telling my husband that I’m simply on loan to him when she gets between us on the couch. Dita tells me the same when she curls up with him and gives me that look.
    Copper just really likes hamburgers and having his face washed with a warm cloth. Both of which he receives in abundance since he graciously allowed the cats to take over.

  11. I am a complete sucker when it comes to my dogs. I believe my husky, who died a year and a half ago, was a good judge of character. He was freakishly friendly to almost anyone. He only growled and barked at one person during the time we owned him and that person turned out to be a fraud and a criminal who is now in jail.

    Of course, Vandal was an idiot in every other respect, but I’d like to believe he was trying to warn us back then.

    I also believe cats inherently know when someone is (a) allergic to (b) afraid of or (c) annoyed by cats. That’s when they come and rub up against you the most.

  12. Short version… No.

    Dogs knowing when their owner is getting home well before? No. They get anxious, perhaps hungry, and start to expect them home. Our dogs sometimes start waiting as soon as my wife leaves. Even if she isn’t coming home for hours. So of course they are waiting for her when she does finally get home.

    Certainly they don’t show any other signs of some extraordinary behaviors, either.

    JBS

  13. @QuestionAuthority: Thanks! I’m a big fan of rescues and shelters.

    My pit, Zoe, was actually rescued as 1 of 2 survivors from her litter… they were thrown into a dumpster just hours after being born. She’s a great dog. There are too many dogs and cats like Zoe who are in shelters and need homes… and too many that won’t get homes.

    @Detroitus:

    Zoe started P.A.V. – Pitbulls Against Vacuums.

    Right now, the site is down… but it was good stuff.

  14. @John Sandlin:

    Nothing? There’s not a single thing that they do that lets you suspend your rigid skepticism for even a moment? Or even made you think something was possible that you didn’t previously think was possible?

    Dino, my husband’s dog, figured out that I was pregnant. He used to listen to Moose in my belly, falling asleep with his head on my lap, ear on my bump. Before that, I would have told you that there was no way a dog could know such a thing… but he did.

    I worked with dogs for a living before I started staying home, and there’s no doubt the dogs started acting differently towards women once they got pregnant. It’s certainly not extraordinary – preggos probably smell different and they change their mannerisms and behaviors in ways the dogs are sure to pick up on – but it’s pretty damn cool and it’s something I had previously been skeptical of.

  15. Sorry, I just answered the AI as asked. Perhaps I’m odd. After having exercised the woo from my brain, I do not want to do that again. And so I don’t see supernatural powers or extraordinary gifts in the personality traits and abilities of our animals.

    I find the Universe a wonder and awe inspiring enough place just knowing there is a decent explanation for things. And I guess I take comfort in knowing there aren’t any capricious spirits or deities out there waiting to make life miserable if I don’t genuflect in the correct manner.

    So, no, nothing that defies understanding in the abilities and personalities (or is that animalities) of our animal friends. That does’t stop them from interesting.

    jbs

  16. My dog is a lot like me — lazy and prone to routine. The only thing she has ever barked at was a U-Haul backing into the alley near my apartment windows. So if Chicago is ever attacked by moving trucks in reverse I will be the first to know.
    She gives no cause for belief in the supernatural. Though I frequently wonder how any reasonable human could have put out such a perfect dog. Unless they were counting on her to be barky or un-lazy.

  17. I suspect a big part of it is the habit of people to anthropomorphise pets. People treat them as ‘human’ even though they can never be.

    I hate cats ( I have probably uttered skepchick blashphemy here :) ), so I’ll stick with dogs for my idle speculation.

    Dogs are descended from pack animals (wolves), so they have an inbuilt ‘desire’ to fit in with the family social group. Same with people – humans form tight social groupings so two social species would easily integrate. Humans see the dog as ‘family’, while the dog sees the humans as its pack. Incidentally this is one of the most important things with dog training – the dog _must_ perceive the humans as the ‘pack alphas’ or you will have an uncontrollable dog.

    But since the humans see the dog as ‘family’ and treat it as such they assign human traits to it – a dog submitting to the ‘alphas’ by playing is nothing strange in the ‘dog world’, but we see it as humanlike playing. It would also be why dogs share some personality traits to their owners – the human alphas set the pace of the pack, and the dog follows suit.

    Dogs have remarkable noses and can pick up all sorts of ‘scent’ cues which humans assign to ‘mystic powers’ as we just see the dog as human, the same with a dogs better hearing. People mainly use their eyes for sensory data, where as dogs have fairly poor eyesight – so humans assume that it was ‘magic’ because the dog didn’t see it.

    Not that there is anything wrong with seeing a dog as ‘human’ and part of the ‘family’, but one should never forget it’s a dog – and when all is said and done – is not human.

    What would be interesting is to get the dogs ‘view’ of things. Does a dog see humans as funny dogs that are deaf and have poor scent skills? Or does it simply stop at ‘this is my alpha’.

  18. A long one, but illustrative of my supernatural powers with pets:

    I scoff at people who tell me, “It was MEANT to BE!” However, that said, one afternoon, I picked up the kids from school and as we were driving down the not-yet-paved road away from school, a black dog ran right in front of the van. I honestly thought I had hit the poor thing. I screeched to a halt, got out, and ran around the front of the van to look – nothing. I went around the passenger side – nothing. I went to the back – nothing. I could hear the kids shrieking, but thought it was because my fear had rubbed off on them. I finally shook my head and went to get back into the van. Guess who was in the driver’s seat?

    There was absolutely no way we could have another pet. We already had four cats, two geckos, an aquarium, and another dog at home, and were preparing to move overseas for two years!

    But we all fell in love with Zippy after we had gotten him back up to speed healthwise – he had been living out on the mesa, eating rabbits, and had worms and every other parasitical disgusting disorder possible. He was a loveable dork, with separation anxiety, nervous tail-biting, and a penchant for throwing up in the car.

    Soon, though, the day came when I was going to have to find Zippy a new home. We had already prevailed on our families to keep two of the cats for us until we returned home, had found a new home for the geckos and the entire aquarium. One cat had died, and we were taking one cat and our other dog with us. Nobody wanted to keep Zippy. I called a friend who worked for one of those no-kill, all-volunteer, adoptathon places. She said there was little hope, since they had so many dogs who needed good homes, but to bring Zippy to their next adoptathon and fill out paperwork.

    The morning of the adoptathon, I had a horrible cold, and almost decided not to go. But I got up and dragged my sorry butt and Zippy’s nervous and excited butt down to the place. I started filling out the paperwork, while Zippy stuck like glue to my leg.

    Before I even finished, a man and his two kids came up with their dog and asked about Zippy. He and their dog sniffed each other and began to play. He twisted the kids up in his leash and licked them everywhere he could reach. The man said, “Well, that was easy. We want HIM.” I explained all about his nervousness and barfage, but they insisted Zippy was the one. So, within an hour, we had finished the paperwork, driven one of the volunteers to the family’s house to make sure it was appropriate for Zippy, gotten the volunteer’s approval, and sent Zippy off to his new home. It was so fast I didn’t even have time to get verklempt until I was driving home afterwards.

    The family has sent me updates and photos and have reported that Zippy gets along famously with their other dog and cat (cats he did NOT tolerate at our house!), and had stopped biting his tail and never threw up in their car! He is much happier there than he was with us. The three kids fight over who gets to have Zippy sleep with them. The timing was perfect.

    So, part of me says it was meant to happen exactly the way it did or it wouldn’t have happened so smoothly. The other part of me says, “Oh, come ON, ya’ freak!”

    We also have a ginger cat, Tang, who is with us now, who I had known as a kitten when he was put up for adoption at the vet clinic where I worked. He was the last kitten left and I had almost talked DH into bringing him home, but we had a very old cat and didn’t want to torment her in her old age. After hours, I would let him out and he would follow me around while I cleaned up before leaving, chasing the dust mop, climbing up onto my shoulders, etc.

    One day, he was gone. A friend of one of my co-workers had taken him home.

    Six months later, this friend came in with him. He was horrible, she was allergic, they couldn’t keep him out in the garage anymore because he was peeing all over everything, etc. They had never vaccinated him, had no litter box (no wonder he was peeing all over the garage!), never neutered him. Basically, the poor guy was alone in a garage 24 hours a day. So I brought him home – after getting his vax done and having him neutered. He’s been perfect and is the best cat I have ever had in my life. When we decided to come overseas, and were looking for babysitters for our other cats, every single family member we asked said, “Oooh! I’ll take Tang!”

    Again, it seems like it could have been meant to be! He reappeared just a week after our older cat had died. He seemed to remember me, though I’m sure he really didn’t. Had they just taken him to the pound, he probably wouldn’t have been a good candidate for adoption, since he was no longer a tiny, cute kitten and he had health issues that I was able to have corrected quickly and more affordably, since I worked at the clinic. He fit in immediately with our other cat and our dog. The timing was perfect.

    Similar story applies to our other dog, but not as dramatic. Let’s just say that the timing was perfect.

    So, it appears that I have a supernatural power to arrange the best possible outcome for stray cats and dogs. Or perhaps I exude some ectoplasmic stuff that attracts the needy cases that only I can take care of appropriately. Or some other supernatural power arranged things and they were just meant to be.

    Naah, I just got lucky. But it’s fun to play pretend!

  19. @Masala Skeptic:

    Vandal was also the best lockpick, human or otherwise, I’d ever seen.

    Whenever there was a new person at the vet when we had to leave him for something, we would aalways warn her. She would always scoff and lead Vandal to the back. She would come back two minutes later, with Vandal following her through the door, unbeknownst to her. Then the other vet people who knew Vandal would nod and smile.

    Not that this has anything to do with the original question. I just like talking about my dogs, past and present :)

  20. @phlebas: Oh ! Oh! Also, Arrow once stopped the apartment from burning down. I had put a kettle on to boil and forgot about it and got into the shower. Arrow, who is barky at the best of times, was going NUTS barking and barking. So, cursing, I got out of the shower, wrapped in a towel and went out to the kitchen. There was some paper too near the stove and it had started to smoulder. Arrow had seen it and made the ruckus to get my attention. We still yell at him for barking too much but it did come in handy that one time… :)

  21. Humm,

    Dogs pick us? That sounds cool. Maybe they pick our other pets as well. Let me explain…

    My lab-mix was a stray. I’d chase kids from their game of beating him many times so, he started sleeping (safely) on my porch, when he didn’t want to be bothered.

    Since it was hardly possible to get rid of him, I took him in, (named him Sam) nursed him back to health. He became a great guard dog for me. (Not the “kids”, nor anyone else, think it’s a good idea to pick on him now!)

    My German, (Sasha) was given to me by an ex-girlfriend who simply couldn’t make her obey commands, or stop shredding everything and jumping on people.

    Since her and Sam got along immediately, I took her in and fixed that pesky little discipline problem. Now, I get compliments on both of them for their being so well behaved.

    Also, they are very much a couple. It’s kinda cool. It turns out that, despite her reputation (MUCH more feared, in the neighborhood, than Sam), Sasha is one of the most affectionate dogs I’ve ever had.

    So, in my case, Sam picked me AND he picked Sasha. Good choices.

    rod

  22. @Rodney: Most behavioral issues in dogs are the result of poor (or non-existent) training on behalf of the owner, which you proved with Sasha. Indeed, some of the worst offenders are the smartest dogs because they find something to do when they are bored. Smart dogs need a job to do to occupy them.

  23. My cat has negative intuition — When I take her out front for some air, she picks out wild garlic from the lawn — which is not good for her! (Thankfully, it’s just tiny shoots, this time of year.) When I formerly lived in an apartment, she’d charge pigeons on the windowsill, hitting the glass with a thump.

    She does sit and stare at the wall, but then, I have occasionally-noisy neighbors (and I suspect they also have a cat). It’s completely unsurprising that that she can not only smell, but hear, things I can’t — besides the frequency-range thing, I’m hearing-impaired!

    However, she is quite affectionate, and she’s learned any number of ways to get my attention. While I was writing this, she called me upstairs for some brushing….

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