I had an interview with a local magazine last week. We were talking about animals and intelligence.
The reporter asked me which animals were smarter, cats or dogs.
I flustered around for a bit. What a loaded question!
There’s a wide spectrum of wisdom and intelligence in animals. I can’t say that cats are smarter than dogs, or dogs are smarter than cats or anything like that. Nobody has cornered the market on smarts in the animal (or human!) world.
I think that cats have a logic that is less arbitrary but more often wrong than dogs.Cats are the kings of the mixed message. For example, a cat will choose to pee on a visiting person’s suitcase to welcome them into their home.
However, cats are also less likely to succumb to a difficult behavior because of an emotional requirement (e.g., “I ate your shoe because I missed you”).
What is intelligence? How do we measure it? And do we want a pet that’s smart or not smart? And how do we measure what’s cool to our pets?
These are the things I’m thinking of these days as I try to please my chickens.
My chickens are too cool for me.
Chickens, on one hand, are easy to ignore. Feed them. Clean out their coop. They hang out in their enclosure and just sort of do their thing, right?
I thought that was true. And then I struck up a conversation one day. And now I’m a mother to 3 teenage hens who think that I am very lame and uncool.
What my chickens say
They don’t like their food. This is their number one complaint. Number 2 is that they are bored. And yet, they have no ideas about how they want to be entertained. Their enclosure is not super-huge. The chickens I’ve owned before had several acres to roam. I suggest that I get them each some sort of chicken harness and leash thingie, ad we all hang out on the lawn together.
No, no, they don’t like that idea. They don’t want to leave. They don’t want to be touched.
I bring them pineapple one day, because all chickens are originally from Java. I think they might like a retro treat.
“Do you think this is food?” Meg asks. She pecks at it. “This isn’t food! This is weird!”
So I went in to get some day-old challah and a few carrots. When I came out to the coop, the pineapple was all gone, and Meg was wearing a “What of it?” expression.
They liked the challah. They were ambivalent about carrots. They enjoyed the fat end-of-season blackberries I gave them later.
I have a friend who says that her chickens like dry cat food and chicken most. I can’t go there.
If I could draw Meg, the lead chicken, she’d be standing with her wings on her hips, saying, “What have you done for me lately?”
And her two colleagues would chime in with a “mmm-hmmm!”
Here’s a video of them. Notice how Meg says “No” when I ask if I can pet her. It’s classic.
Feel like your pets will just complain at you?
I must say, it’s rare. Most pets have tiny lists of improvement. Especially non-terrier dogs. Some dogs are just, my goodness, so appreciative of everything they get. Some pets can’t even tell me one thing they’d like different.
I’ve only had one dog and a few horses with a lengthy list. And the horses were just getting through the rainy season in Oregon, and everybody’s crabby then!
But chickens…wow…who knew?
P.S.- Want to know what’s on your pet’s list? Check out the consultations link at the top of this page!