Since I was little, I have often felt closer to animals than to others of my own species. This month, in honor of the ninth anniversary of my blog here on Psych Central, I have decided to spend the month featuring some of my first-ever mentors and teachers with a mini-series called “Animals Are Just Like Us! I hope you enjoy it. 🙂
Who can forget Sam the Seagull, who has racked up more than two million views on YouTube for his unapologetic daily pilfering of cheesy Doritos?
Or how about Holly the Labrador, who has saved up more than $90 (and 357,000 YouTube views) over the years by stealing greenbacks out of her people’s wallets and trading them in for treats?
Are Sam and Holly the “problem members” of their respective kind, or are they just like, well, us?
Scientists argue there may be evolutionary advantages (as well as cuteness advantages) to subterfuge. From the looks of it, they’re onto something.
Let’s say it is mating season and you are a young single male Cuttlefish. You look small and skinny next to your strapping three-foot-long masculine rivals and you know the ladies will never go for you. But you’ve got something the big boys don’t – smarts. Before your bigger, stronger male rivals even know what has happened, you’ve tricked them into letting you make eggs with their ladies!
Or maybe you are an Indigo snake who is caught out in the open by a two-legged predator. You could try to slither away. You could strike. Or you could….play dead. Hey, whatever works, right?
I have had my own delightful personal experience of animal cleverness – many experiences, in fact.
When he was still just a puppy, our now three-year-old dachshund, Flash Gordon, taught himself how to climb up into the dishwasher to lick the dirty dishes (ew) and lap up the pooled water (ugh). He has also mastered opening trash can lids to forage their contents – even the supposedly pet-proof ones haven’t escaped his pilfering.
My young redfoot tortoise, Malti, will walk right up to the big, white refrigerator door and bite it when she thinks I’m not catching her many unsubtle treat-time hints (see for yourself!).
If that doesn’t work, she will head over to me, sniff at my fingers and then open her mouth as if she was about to bite me.
If she still doesn’t get a response, she will begin what I call her “reminder rotations,” walking in and out of the kitchen, in and out, in and out, checking back each time to see if I’ve made any progress towards opening the refrigerator door and bringing out the goods already.
Pearl, my 20-year-old cockatiel, is even less subtle, if that is even possible.
He will literally jump right onto the plate if he sees something tasty that he wants. It doesn’t matter whose plate it is, either – me, my parents, friends, dinner guests, strangers – no one is safe if it looks delicious.
His reigning favorite food is waffles. He has learned what a waffle looks like and when he sees me taking a packet of the frozen waffles his Grandma makes for him out of the freezer, he starts screaming and won’t stop until I have defrosted and toasted it and placed it within beak-reach.
But perhaps my all-time favorite personal memory of animal craftiness is from the years when my family and I used to take an annual early-fall vacation on Cape Cod.
We stayed in the more remote town of Truro which has an excellent beaches-to-beachgoers ratio. Often, we were the only ones there – well, us and a certain enterprising young seagull.
I met this seagull one day when it the weather wasn’t too nice and most people were happily tucked away indoors. He (she?) looked really hungry. So my folks and I dug around in our pockets and bags, producing a few saltines and a handful of dog kibble. We made the offering and it was enthusiastically accepted.
The next day, I insisted we return to feed that poor starving bird. We were sure she would be gone, but the moment we pulled into the parking area near the beach, there she was! More treats – more acceptance.
The next day dawned and it was brighter and warmer than the previous two. We adjusted the day’s plans to make a stop at the same beach, this time armed with a wider variety of what we deemed “seagull-friendly” fare. The bird was once again waiting, but seemed pickier than we had remembered, digging around in the nuts and seeds mix we held out and selecting only the choicest morsels.
As we turned to depart, an older gentleman who had been watching us let us in on the secret. “That bird is here every day working the tourists,” he told us. “It’s his racket.”
It sure was – and it worked like a charm.
At a time of year when tourists with treats were increasingly scarce, this young and tourist-savvy bird wasn’t leaving dinner to chance. His sleek, shiny feathers and big bright eyes attested to the success of this strategy.
And frankly, we all were the better for it.
Several years ago, I got the once-in-a-lifetime gift of attending a weeklong conference with mentor and teacher Byron Katie. Terrified yet determined not to let my fear hold me back, I jumped on a plane and went for it.
I will never forget that first night of the conference as we all gathered in the meeting hall and Byron Katie walked in and joined us. Over and over again that night and throughout the next nine days, she kept reminding us “this is a friendly universe.”
This is a friendly universe.
This is a friendly universe.
Her point and her goal was to encourage us to think differently about how easy or hard it might be to get our needs met in a world full of a) uncaring total strangers or b) kind friends we haven’t met yet.
We could hang back, hoping others will “read the signs” so to speak, correctly interpret our needs and give us exactly what we want and need most right when we most need and want it.
Or we could show up for ourselves 100 percent, like my seagull friend and countless other animal mentors I can think of, ask for what we want and need, and thus make sure that when the snacks do come along, we are first in line to eat them!
With great love & respect,