How The Hen House Turns: Animal Oxymorans (1)

How the Hen House Turns

By CAROLYN (CARY) NEEPER Ph.D.
 
Animal Oxymorans (1)

We humans like to oversimplify things. So it is with animals. Too often we think of them as domestic or not, pets or not, dangerous or not, when in fact they are a little bit of this and a lot of that and a smidgen of something else—just like the rest of us.

Take rats, for instance. It’s not fun to find a  rat in one’s backyard, only to be told that they live in the sidewalk ivy bed. I’ll agree, but it doesn’t mean that all rats are nasty. They have been living in or near human habitats for thousands of years. As a result, they make grand pets, when treated well as infants. They know who we are and that we eat  food that they wouldn’t mind sharing, especially when we provide them with a nice safe box to live in.

Dogs, over the last tens of thousands of years, have learned to read us very well. The first thing I learned at dog school was to issue a command when the dog made eye contact, no matter how fleeting. They are very good at making eye contact, and reading our emotions.

Wolves don’t make eye contact, nor do they give a twit about our emotions. In a test comparing dogs with wolves, the dogs failed at problem-solving. Science News of Oct. 17, 2015 reported that wolves worked and fretted and persisted at trying to figure out how to open a lid to get at food inside a box, while dogs didn’t have a clue, even when encouraged by their humans.

Chinchillas are somewhere in between. We met one who had been raised by humans, and he was very friendly, quite cuddly with us strangers, caring little who we were and happy to be stroked, even eager to dive down our shirt sleeves. When he left, however, we discovered the limits to his friendliness. He had left waste pellets, dry thank goodness, all over the rug, the shirts, and the chairs. A dog would never do that.

Neither would a parrot I know, but she can only try, then act ashamed if she can’t control her bowels in time. Grooming feathers is something else. Her beloved human, the one that raised her soon after she left the egg, was never allowed to groom her head and neck feathers with a gentle finger, until her adopted sibling died. Then the human’s grooming was sought. (To be continued.)

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