15 June 2004

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re "Finally, an Old Dog That Can Learn New Tricks" (news article, June 11):

The only surprising thing about the news that Rico, a 9-year-old border collie, can understand human language is the attention paid to it by the news media.

On the day I read about this "Albert Einstein" of the dog world, Bailey, my 3-year-old golden retriever, came to me with my daughter Leah's stuffed toy in her mouth. After reminding Bailey that it was Leah's toy, not hers, I told her sternly, "Go ask Leah" if she could have the toy.

Bailey disappeared. Five minutes later, my daughter yelled from downstairs: "Mom! Bailey's following me around and won't leave me alone!"

Of course dogs can understand language. It shouldn't take a scientist and a controlled experiment to discover this.

Albuquerque, June 11, 2004

To the Editor:

Rico, the 9-year-old border collie from Germany who learns by fast mapping, is impressive, as is Jack, my 8-year-old Australian shepherd. Jack knows, in advance, when a dog will appear on TV.

He will be in an adjacent room where he can hear, but not see, the TV. He'll hear the music of a familiar commercial and run into the living room to the TV. Why? Because he knows that a few seconds after the music starts, a dog will appear that he can bark at.

It's happened dozens of times, with different music, ads and dogs, so it can't be a coincidence. He's learned to identify certain music with the imminent arrival on the screen of another dog in his territory. If there's no animal in the ads, Jack ignores the TV.

Williamstown, Mass., June 12, 2004

To the Editor:

The ability of Rico, a border collie, to learn by inference is seemingly impressive, but I suspect that it's so only because of the assumptions we make about the members of other species.

My cat talks from time to time, yet I have no idea what he's saying, so he compensates for my poor learning skills by using body language that he somehow deduces I'll understand.

There are thousands of stories showing an innate ability of animals to reason. Perhaps we ought to rethink our own reasoning ability when we use it to denigrate the integrity and dignity of members of other species by confining them, exploiting them and knowingly causing them pain and stress in order to dine on their flesh, wear their fur, probe their bodies and force them to perform.

New York, June 11, 2004

No comments: