Wednesday 07 Dec 2016

Serving Dogs and Cats
Sjef Frenken

Do you think animals have intelligence? asked Jack.

I said I thought they had some intelligence, certain animals more than others. Much like people in that regard. I think most folk think of animal intelligence as instinct.

No, said Jack, I mean something more than instinct, a level of actual thinking.

I don't know about that, I said. I had a crow when I was young and it would fly over to my school when the church bell rang at lunch time, as if to come and get me. Same thing when school let out in the afternoon.

But then it could have heard both bell and all the

noise us kids made as we were let out, and having once flown to check out the noise, saw me and established a pattern. But dogs do seem to have some kind of awareness about whats going on warning people about a fire, or keeping babies from falling into the swimming pool. That kind of thing.

No, I mean something more than that. Sometimes I think cats and dogs seem to have it made. Think about it: they can lie around all day doing nothing. The freeloaders get fed at regular hours. Cats get let out to decorate their neighbours gardens and dogs get taken for a walk twice a day for a little exercise. What more would anyone want? We think we own them; in fact, they own us! They don't have to work; we have to work so that we can bring them their food.

I said You have a point there. I remember reading once about what an alien would think when he saw a man walking his dog for the first time. Surely it was the dog who was master! With a servant behind him on a leash, reluctantly being dragged wherever the dog wanted to go. A servant moreover who had to wait around while the dog did his thing, and then stoop and scoop the animals poop and put it in a bag and carry it home. The alien would also notice that dogs can pee and poo wherever they want to, while their servants aren't allowed.

I feel disadvantaged, said Jack.

Then again, I said, the alien might even conclude that the dog is a member of a much higher species, since by using only a very limited vocabulary, it can indicated its anger or delight to its slave, while the slave has to use a much larger vocabulary to make itself understood to the dog. Dogs, the alien would conclude moreover, at least pretend they are loyal; cats are so high up the scale of intelligence they don't even bother. But then again, I'm not an alien.

Dogs are suck-ups, said Jack, we call them loyal, but they're nothing but brown-nosers. Ever wonder why the first things dogs to when they meet one another is to sniff under the others tail? Cats are a lot smarter; they don't respond to commands, they don't come to you -- no matter how much you coax them -- unless they damn well feel like it.

Jack, I said, I think you've got it all sorted out.

Another thing, said Jack, Do you know that dogs speak in different languages?

I said How do you mean?

Jack said A French dog says ouap, ouap! a German dog says woof, woof, an English-Canadian dog says arf, arf and an British dog says ralph, ralph. Russian Communist dogs probably used to say Marx, Marx!

How about French-Canadian dogs? I asked.

They probably go ouai, ouai! said Jack with a smile.

I said About your original question, I guess we just don't know.

Do you think well ever know for sure? asked Jack.

I don't know, I answered. Probably not in my lifetime. And after.? Who knows.

Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.

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