Commentaries

Holiday Cheer

Would it surprise you to learn that I was once an angel? For those considering renouncing your faith if the likes of me can achieve such status, permit to add that this occurred when I was in the second grade. And I’m sure it only happened because I happened to have access to a kick-butt angel costume. It happened like this. My grandmother and Aunt Hilda were seamstresses of haute couture quality who lived in the same house and often collaborated on projects. Skirts, dresses, suits (male or female), gowns: nothing daunted them. I don’t remember who the angel costume

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Shamless Self Promotion (Gulp)

Consider it a(nother) sign of advancing years that  I can remember how we kids used to share secretive sly looks when the minister or Sunday School teacher talked about some Biblical hero girding his loins for battle. We had no idea what it meant, but felt convinced that anything dealing with loins had to be something our parents wouldn’t want us to know. When we later learned that it referred to hitching up one’s robes with a belt so one didn’t trip over them, all the fun went out of those stories. Sad to say, our awareness of any Greater

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The Genius Loci, the Human-Animal Bond, and Following Atticus by Tom Ryan

I don’t recall that anyone ever taught me that some places possess a spirit, a genius loci. If someone did, it must have been when I was very young because I don’t remember ever not noticing how a place felt, its spirit, as well as how it looks. Over the years I’ve encountered some picture-perfect locations that struck me as sterile and others the conventional wisdom would slap a condemned notice on that possessed more spirit than the greatest cathedral. When I first visited New Hampshire as a child, I intuitively recognized that I was as close to being home as

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September Commentary Addendum

Right after the September commentary went up, I read two short pieces about one of my favorite mammals: ground squirrels. The first article was primarily about using ground squirrels, or rather their vacated burrows, to help struggling pygmy owls survive. It pointed me to the second article that further described how female ground squirrels chew on shed rattlesnake skin and then lick themselves and their pups. Because snakes hunt by scent, it’s assumed that this protects them and their young from predators. To me, the ground squirrel’s behavior seemed like a perfect variation on the crested rat theme. Or

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Animal Headlines

I’m one of those people—and I dearly hope I’m not the only one—who sometimes thinks in headlines. Especially when I do stupid things.  Whereas others might think, “Oh, s__t!” or other profane thoughts as such times, the headline “Bureau pins local resident at bottom of stairs” occurred to me when I foolishly thought I could prevent a very heavy piece of furniture from descending a steep staircase much faster that I could prevent it from doing so by holding it from below. Or how about “Local woman picking berries in nightgown gets surprised by bear”? In retrospect, I think this

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Perception and Human-Animal Survival

While I visited my son in Colorado last month, I began reading a book by neurophysiologist Dale Purves entitled Brains: How they seem to work. I did this because the studies of brain function are now so numerous and diversified that I knew I needed to upgrade my knowledge. Luckily for me, Purves is one of those rare and wonderful scientists whose background includes a solid grounding in some other discipline that enables them to think outside the scientific box and view problems with a fresh perspective. By the time I realized that Purves was interested in how the

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Taking Animals Personally

Taking animals personally. That sounds like a really good thing, doesn’t it?  It raises all kinds of images of us really paying attention to animals and what they do and what it means to then as well as us. Sad to say, that’s not the kind of personally that sometimes shows up when our animals develop problems. That kind of personally is quite different and can throw a humongous monkey wrench into the works as we seek to resolve these issues. The kind of personally I’m talking about is the kind that causes us to believe that they deliberately display

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Physically Fit Human-Companion Animal Units

I came up with the title of this commentary after an unsuccessful attempt to describe the concept of companion animals and their owners engaging in mutually rewarding exercise together. This was to differentiate such a relationship from those skewed in one direction or another. You know, the owner who takes the dog for the obligatory excursions whose expression suggests this ranks right up there with watching glaciers move on the list of exciting things to do. Or the dog who’s so stressed that the walks are about as relaxing as a twice daily circuit through a war zone. But

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Why Animals Do What They Do

An ethological approach to normal and problem animal behavior This commentary is a based on material I’ll be presenting at a seminar on June 5th that focuses on canine behavior and aggression in particular. In addition to cordially inviting all interested parties to attend (see contact information at the end of the commentary), I’d like to use this opportunity to once again point out the advantages of adding ethology to the behavioral mix. Given all the different animal training programs available, why bother? The main reason is because sometimes the approaches we normally use to teach stable animals basic obedience,

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The Rest of the Story

Back in the seventies, anyone who cared anything about animals and enjoyed reading was reading a series of books written by British veterinarian James Herriot, a.k.a. Alf Wight. Later, the BBC made the books into a television series that introduced even more people to the life of a trio of veterinarians plying their trade in the 1930s and 40s in the Yorkshire Dales. For a period of several weeks during this past long winter of record-breakers, I’d recover from shoveling snow, chipping ice, hauling wood and other chores by making myself a cup of herbal tea and watching episodes

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