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Jack Smith

The phenomenon of animals that view television may explain the nature of wildlife programming

December 17, 1985|Jack Smith

Quoting a veterinarian who said that dogs and cats aren't imaginative enough to recognize other animals or human beings in still pictures or on television has brought me more mail than that sentence I wrote about "a man chasing a cat with a broom in his underwear."

I am as innocent in this case as in the other. After all, a man was chasing a cat with a broom in his underwear.

I merely noted that my new dog, Suzie, had actually watched TV for a moment--a phenomenon I had never seen before; at the same time I quoted the following from Dr. James E. Wilson, a doctor of veterinary medicine for more than 50 years:

"During that time, never have I observed any dog or cat showing evidence of recognizing another animal or human either in a still picture or on television."

He added: "Perhaps animals are surrounded by an aura that only the more primitive mind of other animals can be aware of; naturally, a picture could not give off this aura, and would not be recognizable by a lower animal."

I don't suppose it is the kind of evidence that would count in a scientific study, but I have received a mass of it.

"In the late 1950s," writes Betty Mann Doutt of Montecito, "I would watch the wildlife shows on my black-and-white TV with my cat, Nipper, a macho, fighting, scrapping Tom and an expert hunter, much to my dismay.

"He was fascinated by the bird shows and would jump at the TV screen attempting to catch the birds. Failing at this, he would run around behind the TV, meowing and scratching at the set, trying to get at them. . . ."

"Our dog Cosmos, a loving and adorable German shepherd," writes Berna Miller Kastenberg of Westlake Village, "has been known to study posters (our son's room is covered with them). On one occasion Cosmos walked into our son's room, stopped suddenly, bared his fangs (they're awesome), made his fur stand vertically (this requires incredible tension), crouched low, readying his entire body for an attack. The object of his aggressiveness . . . Farrah Fawcett . . . also on all fours, long blond hair falling over her shoulders. . . ."

Well, heck, Farrah Fawcett on all fours, long blond hair falling over her shoulders, might make me bare my fangs.

"The enclosed photo is of my cat Kitty," writes Verna Galeotti of Arcadia, "watching the National Geographic Tiger Special on KCET. We have seen him search the room when birds fly off the screen and look under the TV for a squirrel that ran off the lower margin, so to speak. His attention span has lasted up to 30 minutes with animals, and he also likes to watch fish. . . ."

Pauline Esch of Westlake Village had a remarkable cat indeed: "Charlie was a perfectly normal cat with one exception: he used to watch the Sunday afternoon golf games. He would sit in front of the TV set for minutes at a time and try to catch the ball as it rolled across the screen into the cup. . . ."

"Ludwig is not normally a barker," writes Vera McCarty of Newport Beach, "but he can be asleep (or seeming so) and the minute he hears horses running or any other animal sound, he's up there jumping at the TV and barking. . . ."

Clarence E. Ross of Beverly Hills writes that his Doberman, Shana, is a great baseball fan. "Her game reactions are most responsive to the movements of the pitchers and the batters. She has learned that the pitcher's windup and resultant pitch appears to be some form of missile attack. She responds with sharp barks, and a lunge at and contact with the screen. . . ."

"Ever since he was 6 months old," writes Janet Devanney, "our standard poodle, Duffy, has watched TV . . . but only when the scenes included animals such as dogs, cats or horses. Scenes with humans only put him to sleep. . . ."

"We had a wonderful kitten," writes Gloria Cuadra, "who would climb up close to the screen and try to catch the picture in her paws. Her favorite was the roller games."

"Our beagle Heather watched only animal shows," writes Eleanore Rich of Glendora, "especially 'Wild Kingdom.' She would bark excitedly during stampede scenes. If the animals on the screen moved to the right or the left of the screen, Heather would go to that side of the set waiting for them to come out. . . ."

"I once had a cat," writes Ken Grimwood of West Hollywood, "who was, albeit briefly, a baseball fan. On five or six occasions this precocious animal would approach the TV set while a game was in progress, and sit patiently staring at the screen until a player made a hit. When this happened, and as the camera switched to a high angle showing the entire diamond, the cat would furiously bat his paws at the image of the runner, and occasionally go after the ball itself. I saw him catch many a pop fly. . . ."

Well, here we have testimony that cats can watch golf, the roller games and baseball; maybe our Suzie will learn to watch football with me, a companion for my old age.

Patricia L. Johnson, of Palos Verdes Estates, gives me hope:

"Animals, 'being of a lower order of intelligence,' " she writes, quoting me, "and 'perhaps surrounded by an aura that only the more primitive mind of other animals can be aware of,' " she adds, quoting Dr. Wilson," should be perfect candidates for viewing football games on television."

We'll find out next Monday night.

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