DEAR DR. FOX: My aunt, who lived in Woodlawn, Illinois, raised Rhodesian ridgebacks for years. She was hit head-on by a drunk driver in Oklahoma. At the time of the accident, her kennel girl was feeding the seven dogs. She said all seven went to the kennel gates and started howling in unison. -- M.L.R., St. Louis
DEAR M.L.R.: Many readers will appreciate your sharing the apparent reaction of your aunt's dogs to her sudden death hundreds of miles away. Skeptics may dismiss this as sheer coincidence and perhaps ask if this was the only time the dogs ever went to the kennel gates and howled together.
I have received many anecdotes that seem to present evidence of some extrasensory or psychic ability in animals. We must exercise some rigor in determining if indeed there is evidence supportive of my "empathosphere" theory, which I first presented in 1996 in my book "The Boundless Circle" and more recently gave several remarkable accounts in my book "Animals & Nature First."
Your account, pending confirmation that such group howling was a rare event and not triggered by some wailing siren or faraway dog, would indeed be what I call a classic example of animals' remote sensing and supports the concept of an empathosphere.
DEAR DR. FOX: I have a 3-year-old Jack Russell terrier who has a social problem regarding other dogs. We have tried personal training, but she still reverts to terrible behavior.
We live in a small community where residents walk their dogs. When my dog sees another dog approaching, she starts a loud guttural yelp that has people coming out of their homes to see if some wild animal is attacking. If I allow her to slowly approach the oncoming animal, she might just sniff, or she may snarl and bare her teeth. Otherwise she is a delightful pet, and gets along well with our Lhasa apso. She loves people.
What do you suggest we do? Would a shock collar work? I have tried having her sit and wait, but the yelp is awful. -- E.A.S., Fort Myers, Florida
DEAR E.A.S.: Sometimes it is best to accommodate an animal's spontaneous behavior because attempting to inhibit may cause complications, such as conditioned fear, anxiety, confusion and aggression.
Your dog's collar, and heaven forbid any choke chain collar you might be tempted to use, could possibly distort your dog's vocalizations. Putting her in a harness may be better.
Our late Indian pariah dog, Batman, used to scream bloody murder whenever we came home after leaving him in the house even for a short time. That was his way of greeting us and relieving his pent-up emotions in a most expressive and loud volley of cries and yelps. We half expected neighbors to call animal protection or the police because it sounded like he was being tortured!
Learning to love what and whom we live with regardless of certain behaviors and potential embarrassment is the kind of live-and-let-live attitude that seems ever more remote in these times.
TENDER LOVING CARE HELPS KEEP SHELTER CATS HEALTHY
Veterinarian Nadine Gourkow, Australia's Queensland University School of Veterinary Medicine and associates have published an elegant study demonstrating the benefits of stroking and talking softly to cats that go into shelters. Such gentling for 10 minutes per day over a 10-day period helped reduce cats' anxiety or frustration and elevated their production of infection-fighting immunoglobulin A. Non-gentled cats showed an increase of potentially harmful bacteria and viruses associated with upper respiratory infection, a common problem in cat shelters, while gentled cats did not.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
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