Cat Scan“CAT SCAN”

Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are? Every time we read something that says animals can’t do something, another animal proves us wrong.

In the past scientists said that only humans could learn to use tools, but I have seen crows and ravens in Alaska working together to gain access to a cart full of shrimp which was covered with a tarp. When a banana and a stick were dropped outside a chimpanzees cage all he had to do was pick up the stick and drag the banana into the cage. Yet scientists said he couldn’t do it.

We keep hearing that animals don’t grieve, cannot look into the future, or being concerned for the well being of others, but a dog will grieve when his master dies, and cats sometimes lie down next to a person who is on the brink of passing away in hospitals.

Dogs absolutely can tell time and recognize body language. Charlie proves that every day. I have known humans who couldn’t do that! I think the best claims about human exceptionalism to be funny ones, such as Mark Twain’s ‘Man is the only animal that blushes-or needs to.’

It’s hard to prove a negative claim because the evidence keeps changing. and tests vary between species. Often poor performance in the animals had more to do with how they were tested than with their mental powers.

In one experiment researchers conducted a mirror test—to see if an animal recognizes its own reflection. They placed a mirror on the floor outside an elephant cage. They put a body mark on the elephant to see if it would touch it. It failed to touch it, so the verdict was that the animal lacked self awareness.

But Joshua Plotnik modified the test by placing an eight foot mirror inside the enclosure with the elephants. They could feel it, smell it, and walk behind it. The researchers were worried about the elephants curiosity, because the mirror was mounted on a wooden wall not built to hold off a four ton elephant smelling it.

One Asian elephant, named “Happy”, recognized her reflection. Marked with a white cross on her forehead above her left eye, she repeatedly rubbed the mark while standing in front of the mirror. She connected her reflection with her own body. Years later, Josh Plotkin has tested many more animals at Think Animals International, in Thailand, and his conclusion holds; some Asian elephants recognize themselves in the mirror. The challenge is to find tests that fit an animal’s temperament, interests, anatomy, and sensory capacities.

We know that some primates can paint pictures, a local gorilla living in Palo Alto once gave me a nice show at the gallery of his paintings, and and even supplied a movie showing how he accomplished them.

So don’t shortchange the animals, they were probably here first.


mini pin 2 I had known Luca for the better part of nine years. Handsome, dark, sleek and energetic, always with feminine admirers at his beck and call. He was always around somewhere each time we visited Seattle, leading us into unplanned though amusing adventures somewhere in the city.

I remember him accompanying our granddaughter Kate several years ago. She in a charming white dress reminiscent of a warm summer afternoon in Paris, he paying court to her while ignoring the rest of us.

We dined at a small chic French restaurant in downtown Seattle nibbling on an amuse-bouche while waiting for a delightful crab and leek quiche, which held no appeal for Luca. After lunch we strolled around the streets popping into shops along the way. By the time we hit the shoe store Luca had had it, and he and Kate continued on their way.

When Kate graduated from the University Luca appeared at the party afterward, dressed in what he somehow thought appropriate—a black cap and gown on which he had someone put his name! I saw and read it quickly and it translated to “U.C.L.A.” A terrible faux pas when the institution of the day is the University of Washington.

On our visit to Seattle the past weekend, Luca showed up, sexy as ever, but not quite as sleek as in the old days. He may have put on a pound or two, but as ready for a good time as in the past. He was staying with our daughter who, great hostess as she is, catered to his every whim.

The first night of our visit, tired from the flight, we retired early. Dr. Advice quickly fell sound asleep while I drifted in and out for awhile. In my half sleep I heard the bedroom door quietly open, and before I knew what was happening, Luca climbed in beside me. It was a plan stunning in its simplicity. Accustomed as I am to Charlie sharing our bed, it seemed quite natural, so I let him stay. After all, Luca is a tad smaller than our old Dobermann Pinscher Max, who weighed 110#.

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His “mother” Kate, returned from a diving trip in Thailand a few nights later, and rescued Luca from the overweening “grandparents” both great and regular.


“And we shall walk through all our days with love remembered and love renewed.”
Print by Robert Sexton

If we’re lucky we all get to do it–get old I mean. It’s not only a challenging time, but an interesting one. Our bodies are like the computer, made up of video cards, sound cards, drivers which need to be updated occasionally, and of course our browsers which keep the whole shebang going. The “fixer-uppers” give us patches to make things run more smoothly, but when we install a new device now and then, one thing or another no longer works the way it should, and we need a new one.

It’s worth noting that our cars, homes, appliances, etc. all have these same obstacles of age as well. When we analyze the situation, it is plain that the same challenges are caused by one factor: age. Things wear out, people wear out. Nothing to do about it but continue the journey.

Since it’s true that some products last longer than others, so do people. The woman who cuts my hair is from Thailand. Last October she went to visit her mother there for a month. The mother is 94 years old and rides her bicycle everywhere. She lives in a small village with no amenities to speak of. The village is some distance from the airport, and the old woman took a long bus ride to go meet her daughter’s flight. Her best friend who accompanied her is 116. That’s right–one hundred sixteen years old. They go to the movies together, shop and do everything most older retired people do to amuse themselves. Nothing to it.

More and more of us are living longer, though in some cases, not better. The medical profession is doing its best to keep ahead of the game, and for the most part, they are. My aunt, who was a lifelong Christian Scientist, recently passed away at the age of 99, never having seen a medical doctor except for childbirth, in her life. Good genes or good luck possibly. Others meet a variety of doctors as time goes on.


I went to lunch with some high school girl friends at a venerable ladies club in Oakland the other day. You’ll notice I called it a “ladies” club. There is a great difference between a “women’s” club and a “ladies” club. Women in a club usually have an agenda to discuss and it can become rather lively and/or heated on occasion. A ladies club on the other hand caters to a dying breed of women who remember and appreciate a refined and gentile dining experience. There were no younger people in the dining room which tells us something about the aging of the “ladies”. As one of our group said, she was surprised we were not required to wear skirts as once was the case. I guess that went out with the hats and gloves we used to put on automatically. Times change.

One thing that doesn’t change is the attitude needed to adjust to the changes. It’s all good if you make it good. Fight it and the internet goes down irretrievably. Old people are just like the rest of us, it just takes a bit mor work to keep us running.

Black and white print by Robert Sexton. Stippling, one dot at a time.