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Pets Large & Small

What if we could teach our pets logic and reason?

Jennifer Vanderau
Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter

(9/2013) Oh my word, how often do you wish we could teach animals not only words, but also logic and reason?

A few days ago my oldest cat decided the pieces of string hanging from the carpet would constitute a delicacy. I heard him gnawing away on something and he wasn't anywhere near the food bowl. I knew right away this had to be bad.

I found him with a long strand of carpet fiber string (still attached to the carpet, mind you) halfway down his throat. He looks up at me during his rigorous chewing as though preparing to ask for the steak sauce -- that's how much he seemed to be enjoying this "treat."

I raced over to him, hollering, "Sweetheart, what are you doing? That's not food!"

Before I could yank the material out of his mouth, he walked away leaving the strand (now quite soggy) still attached to the carpet (thankfully not swallowing any of it). Moments later I heard him throwing up. Big surprise, the strand down his throat had kicked in his gag reflex.

He gave me a helpless look and I said, "If you could understand words and logic, I could explain what just happened and what you did. But since you don't, I don't know what I can do for you."

Needless to say, I tried to ease him through his issues and definitely cut off the string on the carpet. I'm hoping that he has learned his lesson, but the lack of understanding and reason has me a bit worried. He's a dear soul, but alas, not terribly bright.

I mean, he still thinks there's a package of treats kept on the kitchen counter and there hasn't been one there for literally years. Granted, it used to be the spot where the treats were kept, so in a way, he's displaying some above-average intelligence for a feline, but still, no matter how many times he hollers and reaches up, he doesn't get a treat -- because they're not there!!

I try to explain this to him every time he stretches up on his hind legs and meows at me while I'm at the sink, but with the lack of understanding of the English language, it's to no avail.

It's amazing to me how smart some animals can be and at the same time, it's equally astonishing how others are quite clueless.

I've seen dogs at the shelter who know all kinds of commands and are sometimes smarter than we are, I must admit. We had a German Shepherd here years ago who knew how to get out of his kennel to meet us at the front door every morning. We honestly got to the point where we couldn't figure out how he was doing it, so we sort of threw up our hands, made sure the shelter was safe for him and declared him smarter than the humans who ran the place.

On the other hand, I've taken dogs from the shelter to places throughout the county and they can't figure out which end of the door opens -- even when I hold it open for them! They'll stand with their nose in the hinges, sniffing and thoroughly confused, seemingly unable to figure out why they can't leave or enter the building.

Oh for them to be able to understand language at those moments!

Although, if my feline group of nine is anything to go by, an understanding of language with the additional gift of opposable thumbs would likely make them the evil overlords of the human race and animal kingdom. Well, my two youngest, Dee Dee and Shredder would be anyway. Those two are seriously conniving.

Do you know Dee Dee is so attuned to any minor difference in the house, she actually knew when I had hung a picture? I kid you not, my sister got me this adorable painting of a pup on a bed for Christmas and dad helped me put it above my bed. It was days later that her majesty, Dee Dee decided to visit me and immediately -- I'm talking the second she entered the room -- walked right up to the bed, hopped to the headboard and started smacking the painting.

How did she know?

It creeped me out a little, I don't mind telling you.

If they ran the world, we'd all have to answer to them and oh mylanta, that would be a rough existence. Although, I just realized I kind of already do answer to them pretty much every day, anyway, so I suppose I'm halfway there. Man, that's a humbling epiphany.

So, a question for you to ponder: if the world was actually ruled by our animal friends, would they be able to make it a better place?

Would the terriers take over because the labs were too fun-loving? Would the Rottweilers rule on high because of their fierce might? Or would the Poodles use their alleged supreme intelligence to figure out a way to get the system to work for them?

I probably shouldn't throw cats into the mix because their penchant towards evil kind of messes up the scheme I'm laying out here.

Or, let me take my ponderings a step further and ask, would we all be able to get along with one another because our animal rulers would show us how?

At any rate, from time to time, I sure wish I could speak to my four-legged friends so that they could understand the message. At the very least it would save me from cutting up soggy carpet fibers.

Jennifer Vanderau is the Director of Communications for the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter in Chambersburg, Pa., and can be reached at The shelter accepts both monetary and pet supply donations. For more information, call the shelter at (717) 263-5791 or visit the website

Read other articles by Jennifer Vanderau