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May 26, 2012


My old Beagle was a master escape artist. He got quite adept at manipulating things with his snout, including nudging open the latch on the wrought iron gate in our yard to get out and popping the louvers off our ground floor windows to break into the house. He also figured out how to open our sliding glass door if we didn't lock it. We observed him doing each of those multiple times.

Once, he not only broke into the house, he also opened the freezer and pulled out a carton of ice cream, which we discovered him eating under the bed when we got home.

And then, when we later got a second dog, a black Lab, he'd break out and take the Lab with him, then intentionally get the Lab lost and run back home. Somehow, the poor Lab never figured this out or ever managed to learn his own way back home.

I've had working dogs, hunting breeds, most of my life. Several were pretty smart. But none were as smart as our standard poodle. We never really trained him; he more or less trained himself by divining what we wanted somehow and then doing it.

I've also seen several amazing hospital therapy dogs at work. One in particular can climb into the bed of a sick child and just know what is bothering the child. She licks the body part involved without any guidance, for example. She's the most empathetic creature I've ever seen.

I've also had quite a few horses over the years, mostly quarter horses, plus one Arabian. I've not noticed much difference in breeds, but the individual variability is high. One horse was a living stereotype. He was an Arabian/appaloosa cross. He was hopeless -- dumb like appaloosas are reputed to be and crazily flighty like Arabians are supposed to be. He was a joke horse, worthless for anything except standing in the pasture.

My wife and I used to dogsit an Australian Shepherd. AFAICT, that was the smartest dog I'd ever been around. And mules are smarter than horses, or so I've heard.

"And mules are smarter than horses, or so I've heard."

My experience with mules is that, compared with horses, they are inscrutable. A horse generally gives some sign of being annoyed before doing anything. Mules stand there impassively until they flip out. They also can kick nearly sideways, something to keep in mind when doing something next to them. But mules are amazing in their agility, durability, and willingness to go places horses won't. I agree that, in general, they're smarter than horses. But to me they're just not as likable. And those ears. Good Lord.

I used to have a cat I named Skykomish. ( I was new to Washington state and infatuated with the place names.)

One day Sky asked me to let him out, so I opened the frot door and wout he went.

I went about my business and a few minutes later there was Sky, asking to go out again.

So I opened the door and out he went. I went about my business and a few minutes later there was Sky, asking to go out agin.

Okay. This is nuts. What are you up to, you damn cat? YThis time whe I let him out I peeked out the window and watched where he went.

Turns out my roommate had left a ladder up againsther open wikdow (she had been removing weather stripping). Sky just climbed the ladder and re-entered the house.

Little bastard. I turned around and wated for him. And when he came trottig into the living room to ask to be let out again I was there standing arms akimbo and glaring.

He ran and hid under the bed.

Thanks Doc, for covering the open thread. Had some special events this weekend and simply forgot it was Friday.

As for smart pet stories, when we had a cat, my dad would take it and basically stuff it next to him in the easy chair, not letting her up until she finally bowed to the logic of the situation and made herself comfortable. However, one evening, something had happened and the cat really didn't want to sit there and my dad was insistent, and it got to the point where the cat was making those low pitched half meow half growl sounds and my mother said the cat was really pissed, you better be careful and my dad scoffed at her. The next morning, we were awoken to a stream of curses from my dad, and we found that the cat had shat, very precisely, in every pair of my dad's dress shoes that he normally wore to work. This is not to say that this cat (or cats in general) are smarter, but just to wonder if the various animals were malicious on a regular basis how crappy our lives would be.

Laura, that seems to be quite a common game for cats (I also clearly remember a Garfield strip about this). :-)

I have heard that mooses are a nightmare for zookeepers because they have have an uncanny lockpicking talent.

I had a spooky black cat years ago who, twice that I remember, killed and ate mice and left their two kidneys and tail in the proper anatomical arrangement at the back door for me to find.

She tried to read Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past" too in her spare time, but could only make it through to page 241 of "Swann's Way".

Our Jack Russel, Sam, was a wonderful dog, but there were times by the fireplace that we'd prefer he be someplace else, or at least find something to do that didn't involve us. He had one of those remarkably tough plastic bones for teeth cleaning, and loved it, so my wife would say to Sam, "Same, go find your bone!" Usually he'd run off and get it.

But sometimes he had no interest. On these occasions she'd say, "Sam. The cat!. The cat has your bone!"

And off he'd run every time.

He also learned quick enough that if he showed undue interest in the nests of the redwing blackbirds, they'd dive bomb him. Given his remarkable leaping skill, he'd do this whenever he wanted a snack...

I have two cats, one of them being the smartest cat I have ever encountered. Our hall closet has three doors. Two open to a very high shelf above the pole for hanging hangers on. The third opens to some shelves. The cat, Arthas, wants to be on the top shelf in the hanger part. He can't jump that high. He opens the door to the shelves, climbe them to the top of the closet, and realises he can't open the double doors from up there. So he's figured out that in order to get to that shelf, he needs to first open the double doors, then open the side door, then climb the shelves to the top so he can slither down to the shelf he wants to be on. In other words, he's capable of reasoning several steps ahead to get what he wants.

That's way smarter than any cat has the right to be.

But mules are amazing in their agility, durability, and willingness to go places horses won't. I agree that, in general, they're smarter than horses. But to me they're just not as likable.

I'd add that, while horses don't exactly smell good, mules are downright funky. We did a 4-day horseback trip in the Canadian Rockies (going on 12 years ago - how time flies) and they used mules to carry everyone's gear. The mules would take the most direct route to our next camp, while we would take the scenic route. But when we started off in the morning, the mules were always just ahead of us until they diverged. Being downwind of them was not pleasant. They have a unique aroma.

. . . "while horses don't exactly smell good . . ."

Me, I love the smell of horses. If they sold the scent in a bottle I'd buy it.

I agree with Chris. I used to co-own a horse, and not only do I love horse-smell (I would bury my face in the mane and hide of any horse who'd let me near them and inhale deeply), I consider equine road apples the least offensive excretory substance there is.

Open Threadily: A work project is now at the HAIR ON FIRE stage, so I won't be around much for the next few days. If anyone else can do a Memorial Day post, I could thank you kindly.

Mules may be smarter than horses, but if I get any thing smarter than the our Arabians I'm in trouble. Einstein (Guess what we think of his intelligence) is our resident champ. Only horse I ever heard of that figured out how to open a combination pad lock.
One thing I take as a sign of intelligence is how well Cleo, a mare, understands the personality of the other horses. Einstein is a great trail horse, nothing spooks him.
Tom on the other hand is a firm beleiver that there are old horses and bold horses but no old bold horse. A leaf rustles and he's gone. Cleo knows this. If Tom takes off running, Cleo will calmly raise her head and look around to see what's going on. If Einstein bolts, Cleo takes off without hesitation. She knows if Einstein's worried, its serious.

Three of our four show a sense of humor. Einstein loves it when I work in the pasture. If I'm wearing a cap he will sneak up behind me, grab it off my head with his mouth and run away. If I'm too alert for that to work, he contents himself with stealing tools from my tool box and hiding them.

My sister has four cats. One of them, a certain Papaya, knows how to open the kitchen pantry. She'll open the pantry and spill food on the floor. When the other cats gather in the pantry, she closes the door and gets the house to herself for a while.

I've almost certainly mentioned this before, but my father had an extraordinarily clever miniature schnauzer named Otto. I haven't been all that impressed with the brainpower of schnauzers in general, but Otto was something special. He could and would, without being trained to do so, herd sheep. He also herded the geese, which is a tough thing for any dog to do. On command, he would separate the geese and tackle the one my father told him to get, straddling its body and holding down its neck with his head so that it couldn't pinch him. All without training. Mornings he would get up and run around the perimeter of my dad's fenced-in property to make sure that no intruders had...intruded.

Otto had a close call in life, and then he died too young. One day he staggered into the house and collapsed. Dad brought him to the vet posthaste, and it turned out that Otto had been bitten by a rattlesnake. Otto survived that round, but a carelessly discarded pan of automobile coolant did him in a year or two later. Dad didn't dream at the time that that was a hazard for dogs. It was a hard lesson for him to learn.

one of our cats, Tricksey, has learned to wait for me to head for the bathroom for my morning shower, and runs in ahead of me. if i'm slow getting to it, she'll try to lure me out of my chair and towards the bathroom. see, she knows i'll close the bathroom door behind me and that the door keeps the other cat, Pepper, out. so, Tricksey gets me all to herself while the shower water warms up, and then she gets to sit in peace while i shower. she hates Pepper.

Pepper, however, has recently caught on to what's going on and has begun to wait in the bathroom ahead of me and Tricksey. Pepper just wants to drink from the sink faucet (it's her favorite thing in the world, i think); she doesn't care if Tricksey is in there with her. but when Tricksey sees Pepper is already in the bathroom, she immediately turns and walks away.

cat politics.


So, did anyone catch the Hatfields & McCoys? I liked it for the most part, but it started to go a little Hollywood-ish toward the end. Anyway, they sure was a-feudin'.

I had a kitty named Benjamin.

He was a pound kitty. On his first day home fromthe pound he ate until his belly as round and hard as rock. fell asleep (farting and belching gently) and slept until the next day. Then he woke up and turned into a small determined demon.

Benny liked to lurk under furniture, leap out and grab people by the ankles.

He liked to lurk on high pieces of fruniture and raeach out and grab people by the hair.

He like to sit in the bathtub and pull the plastic mat up so that the little suction cups on the bottom would go po pop pop. He could do that for an hour straigt.

He liked to sleep in the Waterford cyrstal fruit bowl on the sideboard.

We couldn't have Christmas trees until after Benny passed away.

Benny was only five when he died. He had felie luekemia, probably from birth. He was a great cat.

My late, lamented Keeshond-Lab mix Buster was a scarily intelligent dog. One weekend, he joined us on a camping trip with me, my wife, and my sister-in-law. The sister-in-law didn't want to stay in a tent all by herself, so Buster stayed with her. In the morning, I was up and about setting up breakfast and coffee when I heard a scream from my sister-in-law's tent. I turned and saw Buster trotting over to me. Apparently, he had figured out, after watching only once, how to unzip the tent door.
Another time, I left him and our other dog, a wheaten terrier named Zoe, to go to work. My wife had left a chicken defrosting in the back of the sink. When we returned, the chicken was gone without a trace. We never did figure out how they got to it. Our best guess is that Zoe climbed up Buster's back and dragged the chicken out of the sink.

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