I signed up for the Smarter than Jack mailing list, and these are just a few of the great stories I've received:
A cat with a mathematical bent
My husband's parents had a Siamese cat called Josie who loved to help in the vegetable garden.
Her talent shone through at planting time. She would watch the first few seedlings being planted out, and note the distance between each hole and the previous one. Then she would join in at the front of the advancing line, using her paw to make small holes exactly where each new plant would go.
The holes just had to be deepened a little and the plants could go in. Her help meant that whoever was planting could concentrate on the plant itself, rather than worry about alignment and spacing.
Even crows have fun
I woke up early one morning to a scratching sound. The sound went away so I drifted back to sleep.
A few minutes later I woke to the same sound. This time it persisted. I decided I should get up and find out where it was coming from.
My house isn’t very big. Just a modular home on a nicely treed lot in Kitimat, British Columbia. I had seen many animals walk, trot, climb, gallop or waddle across the yard, but I’d never seen what I witnessed that bright spring morning in 2003.
In the kitchen, I heard the noise above me. I looked up to the ceiling, to see a crow step on the upper edge of the high-impact plastic skylight. It did a little sidestepping and then slid down the plastic skylight. To my amazement, there were two other crows doing the same thing.
The first would go down the ‘slide’, walk back up and wait its turn. This went on for about five minutes, until one looked down with a sideways glare. They’d seen me watching. With one caw they were gone.
Sheba took her duties seriously
Sheba was one of four puppies left at the gate of my sister's boarding kennels. She was the runt of the litter and we decided to keep her. She grew up with my children and they couldn’t go anywhere without her following.
My parents had a bach at Tinopai and the kids loved to go swimming whenever they could. As they splashed around with their armbands and kickboards, Sheba would be paddling around and looking after her brood. But once she'd had enough, everyone had to get out of the water.
First she'd take one kickboard to shore, using her mouth. She'd swim out for the next, much to the kids' disgust as by then they knew what was in store. She would swim out, grab hold of an armband and, as it deflated, proceed to tow the disgruntled child ashore. With the child safely on the beach, she would head out to retrieve the other child, who by this time was trying desperately to get ashore before she too had only one armband.
Another time, the kids were playing at the neighbours' house. I called them to come home for their bath and dinner. Just as they were getting into the bath we heard a terrible noise coming from the driveway. We looked out to see Sheba with the handle of a plastic ride-on motorbike in her mouth, pulling the bike home. Once in the gate she dropped it and turned smartly back up the road to get the other bike.
The kids are adults now. They tell me that Sheba should have been named 'Mum'.
Gypsy knows best
It’s a well-known fact that, when horses are travelling in a herd, individual animals do not leave the safety of the group. It takes intelligence to know when it is better to leave this place of safety to seek help elsewhere.
While working around the barn one hot summer afternoon, the owners of the riding stable where we boarded our horses noticed two of the animals moving away from the herd, which was grazing at the far end of the thirty acre field in which they were enclosed. Slowly the horses worked their way towards the barn, and as the people watched, they began to realize that one of their mares, Roxy, was being driven towards the stable by my 3/4 thoroughbred mare, Gypsy.
Roxy was clearly reluctant to leave the herd, constantly turning back, or stopping completely. Gypsy was, by turns, leading Roxy or moving in behind to nip at her rump to keep her heading in direction of the stable. As the horses neared, the owners opened the gate and went into the field to meet them and take Roxy’s halter. Immediately they had hold of Roxy, Gypsy turned and trotted back to the herd. The owners, thoroughly puzzled by now, began checking over the mare, and soon discovered a severed artery in her pastern. Had she stayed with the herd she would quickly have bled to death.
Thanks to an intelligent decision made by another horse, Roxy was cared for and lived for many years after.
Pippi the baby sitter
There is much for us mere humans to learn from the natural world of animals if we are humble enough and open-minded enough to watch. This is a true story about a budgerigar and a family of guinea pigs.
Pippi was a little male budgie and Patch and her four babies were guinea pigs. Normally the guinea pigs lived in the garden in their large grassy enclosure, but the weather turned really wet and cold just when the babies were born and we felt that they needed more protection and brought them into the house. We made an enclosure in the corner of the family room with a shoebox for a house and some space in front for exercising. Pippi also lived in the same room in his cage, but he was allowed to fly freely within the room and so his door was left open during the daytime. To save space, his cage was placed on top of the guinea pigs and we noticed that he spent a lot of time leaning over to watch the antics of the babies racing around in their enclosure below.
One day we went out and left Pippi shut in the family room as usual. When we arrived home, we went to greet him but could not find him anywhere. We looked in all his usual perching places and called him over and over again, and were just beginning to panic when we looked in the guinea pigs' enclosure. We could hardly believe our eyes, for there was Pippi on the floor with his wings outstretched and a slightly smug expression. Under his wings nestled four tiny guinea pigs – two under each wing, all sound asleep. Patch was also enjoying a nice rest in her house.
How was this arranged between two such diverse species? What trust and tolerance was shown!
A canine real estate agent
It is widely recognised that moving house is the next most stressful experience to a marriage break-up or bereavement. One of the most traumatic and disheartening aspects is the process of showing prospective buyers around your house.
This onerous task was lifted from us in an unexpected way.
During the showing round our Ibizan hound/whippet cross Trefle would accompany us, presumably noting how it was done. One day she ‘took over’ the task, preceding the procession and giving a gentle nudge to the prospective buyers if they lingered too long in one room.
She would lead them into each room and up the two flights of stairs in a precise order. We soon left it to her, for the buyers were amazed and intrigued by their unusual guide. I’d hear them say, ‘Look, she wants us to go that way now’ or ‘She is telling us to go up the stairs’. Then she would conduct them around the garden and outbuildings, hustling them round any shabby areas and lingering in the better ones.
Needless to say, the procedure became a pleasure rather than a chore, and before long we started to get offers which they were obliged to give to us rather than Trefle.
Sadly, we lost her when she was 11, so when we next want to move we won’t have this help, as we don’t think any of our present dogs will undertake the role. Trefle was never asked or trained to do it; she seemed to sense that we didn’t like the task and willingly volunteered her services. She was perceptive and seemed to know our inner thoughts.
Valerie and Gillian Rogers
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