Commentaries

Call of the Wild or Wrong Number?

YouTube has become a goldmine of data for those who study animal and human behavior. Even someone like me whose access to it is highly limited because of a dial-up connection can explore its offerings on occasion. Such was the case when I babysat one of my grandkids and could take advantage of her parents’ fiber-optic connection. Armed with that, I then could access a video clip my son had sent me about an incident involving a captive wild animal, a child, and the child’s parents. Because I’d noticed variations on this same theme when I visited the Boston

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Squeaking for Joy

The title of this commentary serves as a good reminder that when speaking of behavior, context is everything. For example, this title on a commentary about mouse communication would carry a far different connotation than if it appeared on one about human-companion animal communication. If you think mice joyfully squeaking to other mice communicates the same message as humans joyfully squeaking to dogs and cats, this commentary is for you. I’m a big fan of animal communication and probably took more joy than most in the discovery that several animal species laugh and that mice sing. These behaviors fascinate

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Mergers and Acquisitions: Combining Human-Animal Households

Over the years a lot has been written about how to integrate animals into a new household. But as our lifestyles and relationships with our companion animals become more complex, new elements keep getting added to the mix. As that occurs, the likelihood of there being some one-size-fits-all recipe for handling such situations gets smaller—and it wasn’t that great to begin with. It doesn’t surprise me that some animals have more problems making these transitions any more than it surprises me that some people do. Regardless of age or species, establishing and protecting the physical and mental territory remains

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Requiem for Companion Animal Play

Wow! How’s that for a morose title for a dead-of-winter commentary? I could blame it on a fascinating article by Paul Tullis in the November-December 2011 Scientific American Mind entitled “The Death of Pre-School.” But all that article did was cause me to organize my thoughts regarding similar changes in young animal education/training that I’ve been pondering for years. Ironically as the amount of research into the positive physical, mental, and emotional benefits of play for young children and animals of all species has increased, there’s been increased pressure to impose structured training on kids and domestic animals at a younger

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Individual Life and the Bond

There are many sayings and phenomena in human behavior that remind us that connections between fact and fiction, art and life, and perception exist even if we don’t notice them. Sometimes we may go for years and never notice them. Then one day something happens that suddenly catapults the connection into our awareness. At such times I, at least, feel torn between berating myself for missing it for so long and fascinated by the existence of such a process. For decades, I’ve explored the role that the presence of a stable physical or mental space plays in animal health

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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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