Lots to read about on the animal front recently. In addition to the hype on the hypoallergenic kitties, there are more grrs about the dog whisperer, a pet-related museum exhibit, an opinion piece on animal intelligence, and rampaging elephants in Africa.
The cats bred by Allerca, a San Diego company, carry a mutant gene that prevents the cats' glands from producing the protein that causes allergies in people. The company screens prospective buyers to ensure that they'll give the $4,000 cats a good home, but no reporters have asked yet if the company will take the cats back if the relationship doesn't work out. I'll try to cover that in my column next month: the truth about hypoallergenic cats and dogs.
Whether they're televangelists or trainers, I've always had a problem with people who say that their way is the only way. Unfortunately, that very machismo is what attracts editors and producers, who then give those people a platform to spout their theories, right or wrong or somewhere in between. One of those people who claim to know it all is Cesar Millan, better known as the dog whisperer. His show and book have dog trainers and behaviorists nationwide frothing with rage. In the New York Times, Mark Derr describes him as a charming, one-man wrecking ball. Esquire's Curtis Pesmen talks to canine experts about Millan's methods in the October 2006 issue. Their opinions? Not complimentary. Millan might make for good TV, but he's not necessarily good for dogs and their people. Slate writer Emily Yoffe had good luck with his techniques, but that said, she was dealing with a fairly easygoing Beagle that didn't require too much effort to be directed back onto the straight and narrow.
The University of South Carolina's Pets in America website covers such subjects as the history of pets, veterinary care, pet food, and more. For kids, there are puzzles, coloring pages and games. A traveling exhibit will visit museums in Michigan, Massachusetts, Delaware and Florida. See the website for tour dates.
As a diver, I have a special interest in marine life. Two of my favorite experiences have been watching with delight as a pod of dolphin sped past underwater and jumping into the open ocean to spend time with a dolphin that was riding the wake of the Nauti-Cat on Grand Cayman's East End. Since the time of the Greeks, people have remarked on dolphin intelligence, but apparently that's unnerving to some people. Renowned psychologist Frans de Waal looks at a South African scientist's speculation that the intelligence of dolphins and other cetaceans is overrated. For years, scientists have shied away from any affirmation of animal emotions or intelligence. Why is that, de Waal wonders. Does it really threaten the human ego to admit that other animals--and yes, we are animals--have those attributes? Sadly, the answer is too often yes.
They're not pets, but elephants are among the most intelligent, emotional and long-lived creatures with whom we share the planet. It's distressing, then, that poaching and human encroachment on their territory is leading to the destruction of their society. Elephant aggression toward people and other animals such as rhinos is increasing, and the outlook isn't pretty. Read it and weep.