Scientists now think that unlike birds, which have some kind of built-in navigation system, homing pets come in on a beam of love

FRANK CROFT November 19 1960


Scientists now think that unlike birds, which have some kind of built-in navigation system, homing pets come in on a beam of love

FRANK CROFT November 19 1960


Scientists now think that unlike birds, which have some kind of built-in navigation system, homing pets come in on a beam of love


SUNDAY-SUPPLEMENT readers are regularly regaled with the Lassie-come-home story, with only names and details changed.

Recently there was the saga of Smokey, a German shepherd born and raised in Campbellford, Ontario. He was driven at night to a farm at Maple, a hundred miles away. In less than a week, tired but happy, Smokey was scratching at the back door of his old home.

Then there was Bobbie, a collie, who was taken on a motor trip trom Oregon and disappeared during a stop in Indiana. Six months later Bobbie was back home, having traveled three thousand miles through several cities and towns, across a desert and over the Rockies.

Cat lovers cherish the story of Clementine. She was given to a neighbor in Dunkirk, New York, when her owners moved to Denver. Clementine waited only long enough to bear and wean a litter of kittens, then set out to find her owners. Five months — and heaven knows how many adventures — laterr Clementine caught up with them in Colorado.

But for every pet whose faithfulness, plus an uncanny sense of direction, wins space in the newspapers, a dozen owners have to pay their way into the lost-and-found ads because their dumb mutts can’t find their way home from the corner store.

Not long ago the owner of Gin, a hound, advertised in the Toronto papers and haunted the Humane Society’s kennels for a week without picking up a trace of Gin. Two days later the traditionally keen-nosed hound was found three blocks from home, dirty, hungry, and just plain lost.

The mistaken belief that all dogs have an uncanny homing instinct nearly cost the life of Emiu, an Eskimo hunter. Emiu, who usually did his own navigating and used his dogs only to drag a sled, was assured by members of a Canadian government expedition that dogs were superior pathfinders. The next time Emiu was caught in a blizzard he gave his dogs their heads. He was found far off the trail — just in time to be saved from freezing to death.

Why do some animals rate headlines for sagacity and enterprise while others can't be trusted beyond their own front gates? The owners of the hapless ones would heatedly deny that their pets were less loyal and devoted than heroes like Smokey. Cecil Hyndman, who makes a hobby of studying the intelligence of birds and animals at his wildlife farm near Victoria, B.C., believes there is a dual explanation: some animals are smarter than others, and, more important, some people have a greater ability to communicate with animals than others.

This theory of communication is one of two serious scientific studies of animal behavior now being carried out at universities in Britain and the United States. At Duke University, in North Carolina, where extra-sensory perception (mental telepathy to the layman) has long been a major study project, Dr. J. G. Pratt and his associates are working on the theory that the "travel instinct” demonstrated by dogs like Smokey and Bobbie may be based on telepathy. In over-simplified form. Dr. Pratt suggests that a dog’s ability to make long journeys to destinations previously unfamiliar to him may be due to a combination: an animal with especially well-attuned ability to receive telepathic thought, and a master with an unusual ability to project his feelings of concern over his pet’s absence.

Also at Duke, Karlis Osis, who works on a


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When cats were tested in a maze, most went in the direction the experimenter “willed” them to take

Rockefeller Foundation research grant, has carried out a series of experiments with cats in which he “willed” them to eat from one of two cups containing food. Both cups could be reached by the cats only if they threaded their way through an arrangement of obstacles and baffles. In a significant majority of cases, the cats chose the cup of food that Osis chose for them in his mind and to which he guided them by thinking of that cup as they approached the maze.

Dr. R. J. Cadoret, a colleague of Osis’, obtained interesting results from ESP experiments on a dog. The dog chosen was one that had a reputation for being able to count and had been trained to answer simple problems in addition by pawing the correct number of times on the arm of the person who asked the question. This time the dog's master was instructed in ESP procedure and put the problems mentally and silently. The dog came through with a high score.

While the ESP theory requires some rapport between human and animal mentalities, the other project referred to deals with animals on their own. At Cambridge University Dr. G. V. T. Matthews, studying the mass migration of birds, is working on the theory that birds possess builtin instruments that enable them to navigate by sun and stars. The ESP advocates point out that if celestial navigation guides creatures to and from areas with which they are familiar, something more is needed to draw an animal like Bobbie or Clementine to an unknown destination. The implication is that the pet’s owner, though not consciously attempting to influence it, may by the recurring thoughts he has of the distant animal be doing all that is necessary to guide it home.

Many an owner of an ordinary untalented dog is convinced that his pet possesses what amounts to extra-sensory perception. “Towser knows that I’m coming home when my car is still blocks away and goes to the front door, whining in excitement,” is a typical comment. Scoff ers may claim that a dog can detect the sound of his master’s car beyond the range of the human ear, or become accustomed to a regular homecoming time. But how can they explain the case of Oogie, the husky?

Oogie, an expert tracker, is owned by Mrs. Lorna Jackson, of Mount Albert, Ont. He was conscripted by Toronto police, after Hurricane Hazel had devastated the Humber valley in the fall of 1954, to locate bodies in the debris. While on the job Oogie boarded at a nearby kennel. Several times Mrs. Jackson drove over to see how he was getting along and each time, when she arrived at the kennel, the proprietor had a cup of tea ready for her. He explained that he knew she was coming because Oogie had been straining at his chain for several minutes and peering intently down the road anticipating her arrival. He did this only when she was coming, and her visits were unannounced. Mrs. Jackson feels sure that people who relate similar stories of mysterious perceptive qualities in their pets have been unjustly scorned.

One of the oldest misconceptions about animal intelligence, though, is what scientists call anthropomorphism, which means attributing to animals the motives and behavior of human beings. Folk tales from Aesop to Walt Kelly’s delightful Pogo have depicted animals as wise, stupid, kindly and villainous in the manner of men. To anthropologists this is a cardinal sin, since the highest animal intelli-

gence is always far short of the most obtuse human intellect.

On the other hand some scientists believe that animals have an emotional capacity that runs the same gamut as a human being’s.

Dr. Hans Bauer, a German zoologist, sums up years of study in these words: "Animals, like human beings, can fear, hate, feel affection and disgust and homesickness, love their native environment, experience anger and terror, possess the social and imitative instincts and feel pleasure, sorrow, joy and depression.” Dr. Bauer explains that terror, for instance, produces exactly the same chemical action in man and beast, the excretion of adrenalin into the blood by the suprarenal glands.

This may give cause for thought to people who maintain that animals, while they feel simple pain, do not react to man’s inhumanities with feelings similar to those aroused in human beings. That a hunted deer, for example, flees only because of an instinct of self-preservation; or that a bear caught in a trap would be quite satisfied with his lot if it weren't for that pain in his leg.

None of this answers the question raised by skeptics: whether a pet's attachment to home and master springs from true emotion or a selfish awareness of the source of his meals and shelter. No one really knows the answer, because no scientific research has been done into the question. But it is a reasonable estimate that for every pet that would starve to death on an indifferent master's doorstep rather than desert him. a hundred would seek other lodgings, or. given to a new owner, would readily adjust to the new environment. It's the few that refuse to adjust, and go to any lengths to return to their original homes, that become the nine-day wonders.

The lingering mystery of migration

Yet no one exclaims over the twiceyearly continent-to-continent flights of millions of migratory birds, or their lifelong allegiance to the few square inches of the nesting site. Men have been curious about the annual migrations of birds since Pliny’s time and they are still looking for the answers. Two hundred years ago the Bishop of Hereford thought that the birds flew to the moon in the wintertime. It was almost another hundred years before the riddle was approached on a scientific basis. For the past century millions of birds have been banded by thousands of amateur ornithologists. These devotees have crouched for hours in spring and autumn storms, on windy heights and in tidal swamps, to observe and record the great phenomenon. Attempts have even been made to follow the birds in aircraft, to trace the courses they take and to find how they navigate. Theories have been knocked down almost as fast as they have been presented.

Many years ago it was thought that birds found their way by landmarks. It was then discovered that in many species the young take off in advance of the parents and reach winter quarters right on the dot, where they wait for the oldsters to catch up. The cuckoo of Europe and the cowbird on this continent lay eggs in other birds’ nests and never see their progeny until they all meet in southern latitudes for their winter sojourn. And landmarks would certainly mean nothing to the Alaska curlew, which flies from the coast of Alaska to the Hawaiian Islands across unbroken ocean.

It was next believed that migratory birds were somehow guided by the electromagnetic flow that envelops the earth from the south magnetic pole to the

north. Minute pieces of magnetized metal were attached to the wings of captured birds, which were then released—the idea being that the birds would be thrown off course. They turned up at their usual wintering grounds quite unperturbed.

While all this was going on. entomologists who had been studying the travel habits of insects came up with a startling discovery. A Dutch entomologist found that nearly all insects can use their compound eyes to filter out diffused light so that they can be guided by polarized light only. Light from the sun is diffused by

moisture particles in the atmosphere. By using polarized filters it is possible to realign the lines of light to the straightness they had on leaving the sun. The compound eyes of insects act like filters, so that the creature knows its position in relation to the ascension or declination of the sun; like a mariner using his sextant, the insects can tell their latitude just by cocking an eye. At first it was thought that only the structure of a compound eye made this possible, but it has now been found that the caterpillar of the pine sawfly, which has simple eyes, follows a

course obviously taken from the sun’s position.

Birds that migrate by day are not active in fog or when there is a heavy overcast. They seem to need the sun. Many birds, such as warblers and starlings, make "intention movements” just before starting their migration; they point in the direction they intend to take and make short flights in that direction and then return to the roost. But they always perch with their heads in the direction in which they will migrate, constantly fluttering their wings.

In Germany, Dr. Gustav Kramer built large cages where starlings were confined during migration time. He found that they would go through the migration intention ritual only when they could sec the sun or a patch of clear sky close to the sun. Kramer found that if he altered the position of the sun with mirrors the birds would promptly turn and resolutely point in the direction given to them by the apparent position of the sun.

From here Dr. Matthews of Cambridge has suggested that birds might use the sun to find their position in strange territory. Matthews thinks that a bird can project the sun in its mind's eye. so to speak, from the sun's observed position to the zenith. The bird then knows whether the sun is higher or lower than it is at home. Consequently the bird knows whether it is north or south of its objective and can set its course accordingly. Even if this is the case there is the problem of eastward and westward drift. This would have to be corrected in flight, and it would have to be done with a timing mechanism. Ships have chronometers; birds haven't, but they might have something else. The English zoologist J. D. Carthy suggests that there arc a number of processes going on in a bird's body.

such as the heartbeat and intestinal contractions. that might act as time reckoners. Even man might have a built-in clock whose tick has been muffled by the inhibitions of centuries of civilized living. has been demonstrated that a man under hypnotic influence, when told to perform certain actions at a certain time, will do so at the exact time even though he not shown a timepiece.

Carthy believes that this system, which he calls bi-co-ordinate navigation, would be sufficiently accurate to guide a migrating bird to the general region of either its summer or winter home.

Birds that migrate at night are thought to maintain a direction taken from the sun just before sunset. But some birds, especially warblers, don't attempt a night flight when there is a heavy overcast or when the moon is bright. Flocks have been seen to fly about in confusion during bright moonlight and fly toward the moon, an occurrence that probably gave the Bishop of Hereford his ideas. They seem to favor moonless nights with a clear sky. The supposition that they, like the mariners and aviators of our proud age of super-science, are navigating by the stars and galaxies is too tempting to resist, ir