2006-06-01 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets...

by Joanne Anderson

Bona Lisa Bona Lisa Bona Lisa

Call it the "Dog Vinci Code". Our canine friends don't buy best sellers or add to box office receipts but some have gotten into the frenzy over the controversial film. A group of researchers from esteemed schools, including Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, published a study called "Canine Reactions to the Mona Lisa" in the March/April issue of an off-beat journal"The Annals of Improbable Research." If nothing else, they have proven that science can be fun.

"Improbable Research" is the brainchild of Marc Abrahams who says, "It's about stuff that makes people laugh, and then makes them think," such as Japanese scientists who trained pigeons to distinguish a Monet from a Picasso or a psychologist who examined how auditory cues help in the perception of crispness or staleness of potato chips. Since 1991, the magazine has honored the best scientific underachievers with their annual "Ig Nobel" Prizes. The 2005 "Medicine" award went to the inventor of Neuticlesthe fake testicles for neutered dogs, a real self-esteem builder, so the pseudo studs don't feel inadequate around the kennel; while the "Peace" prize was given to a British team who monitored the brain activity of locusts as the bugs watched "Star Wars".

This recent "Canine Reactions to Mona Lisa" study is by the same team that a decade ago published the ground breaking work"Feline Reactions to Bearded Men". This time the 5 scientists performed an experiment in which dogs were exposed to photographs of Leonardo DaVinci's "Mona Lisa". The sample of 200 dogs was most peculiarall Rat terriers, mini Dachshunds, Mastiffs, and mixes of the three.

Over an 8 month period, each dog was exposed repeatedly to photos of the "Mona Lisa" under 2 experimental conditions (A) in a well-lighted room and (B) in total darkness. For the dark sessions, the authors claim they were able to infer the dogs' reactions by the condition of the photos after the dogs had examined them.

The findings: all dogs displayed a physical reaction, categorized as licking, chewing or both, to the photos. The results were identical, as far as they could determine, whether the room was lit or pitch black. The scientists' conclusion is that dogs are NOT indifferent to photographs of the "Mona Lisa".

Ah ha...and now I interject... what if these dogs had been exposed to another masterpiece - the "Bona Lisa" (shown here and borrowed from the vast Anderson collection of Afghan hound art)? Would their reaction have been different? Would they have exhibited more self-control and respect for a priceless painting?

Look at "Bona Lisa's" dreamy smile. Presented with her image instead, the pups would not be pawing to decide if DaVinci had drawn a self-portrait, a merchant's wife, or Mary Magdalene. They would instantly recognize kin, and if they gazed at the silky, blonde locks and into the mysterious eyes they'd see the 16th century ancestor of my first Afghan,

Juliet, and they'd know "Bona Lisa" (just like her goofy, great great granddaughter) was grinning because she was laughing at her mistress as the she-devil had just dug up the tulip bulbs or stole laundered frocks off the line and sped around Florence with them. The 200 subjects would be in awe. No dog would dare harm such a masterpiece.

This week, Oyster Bay Shelter (6775784) Miller Pl. Syosset has some lovely pets for adoption. The master, Leonardo Da Vinci himself, once said: "The smallest feline is a masterpiece". Many available kittens at the shelter agree whole heartedly with this quote. "Bucky"a handsome pure white male cat with odd eyesone green and one blueis absolutely gorgeous. You can see him posing in his exercise pen in the lobby. "Chester" #060369 is an apricot miniature Poodle. He's about 8 years old, yet very perky and friendly.

Dogs: "Sheena"#060430a Samoyed/American Eskimo mix. She's housebroken and good with kids; "Cody" #060420male Collie mixalso housebroken.

Cats: "Paws"gray tabby, and everyone's favorite, even though his photo is not on the Oyster Bay Petfinder site.

Last Hope's Fix-A-Feral Program: 631-425-1884.

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