The animals are all around us. They stare back at us from our coinage. They supply us with milk, meat, and honey. We hunt, fish, trap, and photograph them. In avian form, they rid us of mosquitoes; masked like bandits, they raid our trash cans. As pets, they enliven our leisure, often organizing the only exercise we get. They test-drive our cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. We jump fences with them, and use them to round up other animals. At our behest they retrieve, search, herd, point, guide, watch, and prize-fight, or sniff for bombs or dope. We name our cities, sports teams, and automobiles after them; they are, in fact, a never-drying, ever-flowing source of similes, metaphors, and sobriquets. One may imagine where animals would be without us, but where would we be without them?
Yet, given their omnipresence, it is odd that though innumerable books, handbooks, and cookbooks have been published about animals, little has been written about the psychozoology of everyday life. One finds nary a mention of animals, for example, in Talk to Me
, which might readily have been subtitled Opening Up Your Silent Clam
. Equally disappointing is the Report on Avoiding Delay and Multiple Proceedings in the Adjudication of Workplace Disputes
, which should have been informed by the beaver and woodpecker experience. The two thousand reviews in Don't Go Shopping for Hair Care Products
yield only one tabular list of cosmetics companies which do or do not use animal testing (Proctor & Gamble tortures 'em, Amway doesn't). Despite its promising title, and its cover photographs of the Rev. James Reynard and Bishop Edward Cridge resembling, respectively, a hoary marmot and a muskrat, Catalysts and Watchdogs
also yields paltry returns: only the part of the story concerning a notable Hudson's Bay Company chaplain, the Rev. Herbert Beaver.
Although The Farmer's Almanac
understandably emphasizes weather, an article reporting research results does ask an important question, "Who's Smarter: Cats or Dogs or Human Beings?" We're told that minks, ferrets, and even skunks outperformed cats at choosing one of two different-looking objects in order to receive a reward. Even more significantly, in a maze experiment pitting twenty-seven white rats against thirty-eight college students, the rats learned the maze three times faster than the students. One recalls that pigs are said to be smarter than dogs, though it's difficult to imagine your average Vietnamese pot-bellied pig retrieving a downed mallard or leading the blind. These are side issues compared to the article's central question, but it is a question any householder can answer. Cats are stupid enough not to be able to distinguish outside from inside, but smart enough to compel human beings to constantly let them in and out. Outclassing cats, dogs have not only forced their co-vivants to exercise them but figured out a way to sleep the rest of the time. Ergo, dogs are smarter than cats and cats are smarter than people. Q.E.D.
Would You Lend Your Toothbrush?
, reporting facts about everything that happens in Canada on an average day, lends support both to those claiming superior intelligence for rats and to those prejudiced against Alberta. According to Heather Brazier, in Alberta a rat "is seen only once every 33 days." This can only mean that rats are especially gifted at avoiding Albertans, or that Albertans are unable to recognize rats when they see them. Brazier does full justice to the animal kingdom. A 45.5-kilogram Canadian dog eats 1,605 to 2,290 calories a day. Premiums for Pet Plan, the only pet health insurance plan in Canada, range from 33 cents to 83 cents a day. It also costs $50 to $150 to spay a dog or cat, whereas a woman can expect to pay $1,000 to $2,000 for a tubal ligation. We export a lot of horse-meat, some 20,000 kilograms of it going to France. Some 215,000 ducks temporarily reside at the King Cole Duck Farm in Stouffville, Ontario; some 3,000 pigeons participate in the Upper Canada National 400 Miler, the Columbidae equivalent of the Kentucky Derby; there are 400 ostrich ranchers in Canada. Some 1.2 million Canadians claim to be "serious birders"-more than that, one would think.
One shouldn't overlook a Chinese contribution that is less statistical but even more revealing. The ancient philosophy and practice of feng shui
, getting your yin and yang in synch, with proper cross-ventilation of ch'i
, or life-giving energy heavily relies on animals. The spirits, for example, that mark the boundaries of a house are a Black Tortoise, a Red Bird, a White Tiger, and a Green Dragon. The Feng Shui Kit
supplies a compass and ruler in order to discover lucky and unlucky directions, forces, and colours in your home and workplace. To use it, you must first determine your animal sign, which depends on your year of birth. (As it happens, I am a Rooster, my wife is a Dog, our son is a Pig.) There is much useful advice: "Extensions or additional floors on the side of the White Tiger make the building unbalanced. As a result, the White Tiger `devours' the Green Dragon, and this could affect the health of the occupants." All things considered, don't leave or stay home without it. The kit also contains a mirror to ward off evil spirits.
But it's with 5,001 Names for Your Pet
-a little confusing for the pet, but animals get used to being called various things-that one hits pay dirt. Anyone who has gone through the trauma of naming a new pet will realize how useful Rita Brockton's book can be. Admittedly, the suggestions that Rita ("Possibly for a parrot. Ritz, as in cracker, as in Polly") makes are sometimes a little desperate ("November" for a pet you get in November). Sometimes, too, the cryptic creeps in: "Zucchini" is good for "snakes, iguanas, geckos"; "King Hussein" suits a Neapolitan mastiff. Her Canadian content is a bit puzzling (she recommends "Nova Scotia" for "your not too salty fish" and "Vancouver" as a pet's name "For someone into dams"). Brockton recognizes that the name a pet is given pertains as much to the owner's tastes, traits, and occupations as to the pet's. She observes that "Insole" is ideal for "a podiatrist's pet" (incidentally, it also has the advantage of being easily corrupted when excoriating the pet). Alert to art and literature ("Van Gogh" for an "Artist's pet, or one that's missing an ear"; "Macbeth" derives from "Out, damn spot!), Brockton is nothing if not precise ("Nenni" is appropriate for a "seal bicolour ragdoll"), though she perhaps leans too heavily on ethnicity: "Absolut" goes with a Swedish elkhound, "Helmut is "great for a doberman," "Monolo" should be attached to a non-allergenic Portuguese water dog. For those blessed with two or more pets, she supplies lists of "Doubles" ("Yankee & Doodle", "Barnum & Bailey") and Triples ("ABC, NBC & CBS", "Superman, Batman & Spiderman", "Feta, Mozzarella & Brie").There are riches here.
In contrast, Rosemary Sexton's Confessions of a Society Columnist
(for five years at the Globe and Mail
), gives a sense of opportunities frittered away. In her acknowledgements, she pays tribute to her deceased cat Beaumont, tragically sandbagged by a couple of foxes in the Rosedale ravine. (If Beaumont had had a running-mate, Rita Brockton would have called him Fletcher.) One avidly awaits more about Beaumont, but only finds the following entries in Sexton's social diary, covering various times on 12 December 1991:
"Cat escapes out door. Chase cat in my pajamas.... Team of men at door to check out layout of house in preparation for party. Cat escapes out into the cold again. This time let them chase the cat.... Eight waiters arrive three hours ahead of party to `set up.' In despair, shut cat in basement and go upstairs to hide."
That's the last we hear of Beaumont, or of any other winged, finned, or four-legged friend. Instead, we get menu cards, reprinted columns, abusive fan mail, bashing of the Globe and Mail
homintern, notes on shopping in Hong Kong with Mila Mulroney, and of course the belles of the Brazilian Ball. This will not do. What Sexton doesn't understand is that there is simply no point in talking about John and Liz Tory, the Trevor Eytons, the Godfreys (John and Paul), Alan Fotheringham and his female companions, or for that matter about William Thorsell or Norman Webster or Ken Thomson, unless extensive account is also taken of the animals they have around them.
Fraser Sutherland has a standard poodle, Darcy, and two Nova Scotian barn cats, Sally and Becky.