Animal Intelligence

As I sat on my deck the other day (May 4th), the first hummingbird of the season appeared and hovered directly in front of me for many seconds before zooming off. This is its annual way of announcing that it’s in the area again and awaiting the feeder that I always put up immediately after that first sighting. The bird seems to know that it needs to announce itself, to make this human aware of its need for sustenance, especially if the weather should turn cold. Perhaps somehow God has put it into the bird’s instincts to communicate its needs to the hominid species it relies upon for dietary supplementation. 

I see the same thing in my cats. One will simply sit by the food bowl, calmly waiting for me to notice its patient waiting to be fed. The other one will wait until I’m in the kitchen, and then she follows me there and starts “talking” to me in a certain way that means she’s asking for food, not for attention. In another example, Sidle has two ways of running in the house. She’s very fast and light on her feet—very quiet–but when she wants out through the human door instead of the cat door, she runs to the door noisily, to get my attention. Essentially, she’s stomping her feet on the way to the door, so that I’ll hear her and open it for her to go outside. How did she figure out how to do that?

So do birds and cats reason within themselves, “How can I get across to that human what I want that human to do?” Or are these actions instincts implanted by their divine Creator? To me, their actions seem to be based on deductions they’ve made—a God-given intelligence. Animals and birds may be “dumb,” but not in the sense many assume. A “dumb” animal or human simply means one that cannot speak. It does not mean lacking in intelligence. Remember the healing works of Christ? The deaf heard, the blind saw, and the dumb spoke. 

We will have lots of questions for God when finally we see Him face-to-face. But first, we will be speechless with joy and gratitude and humility. And in heaven, birds and animals that were made afraid of humans after the global Flood (Gen 9:2) will no longer fear us (nor will anyone be killing them for food), so we’ll have amazing interactions with many more kinds of animals than we do now. That will be part of our heavenly joy, planned for us by our Creator.

Biblical Lesson from a Turkey

Today I saw this spring’s first appearance of the turkeys into my front field. (Other people have front lawns; I have a front field.) A large tom led a sextet of sleek females as they casually traversed the entire width of my field, nibbling here and there as turkeys are wont to do. One of them chirped a mild warning as I went outside to sit on my steps in the sun to watch them, but they didn’t change their course. The same one chirped another warning as my cat thought to stalk them. She obviously forgot last year’s hasty retreat when she got too close to mama turkey’s little ones. Mama had charged, and the cat had raced for the safety of the shelter I provide at the halfway point between house and garden, in case aerial predators like owls or eagles attempt to snatch my cats. 

The stalking was a failure. Six against one was not an advantageous ratio to begin with, but the intended prey simply and calmly moved out of range. They and I knew who would win in a confrontation, even if my cat was clueless. However, the drama of the moment wasn’t over. 

Onto the stage of action came another male, this one leading only a trio of females. When I first saw him at the left edge of the field, he was in full pride of puffery. “Look what I’ve got attending me!” he seemed to say with body language—and he was prepared to attract more to himself, as he saw the “ladies” already on the field. But upon spying the first male in the vicinity, and realizing those six were his—twice as many as he’d gathered to himself—he humbled himself, sucked in his vanity and his feathers, and quietly led his small gaggle of groupies across the field and up the fence line to the neighbor’s property.

The Bible tells us to “ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee.” (Job 12:7) I don’t speak turkey language, but I can observe, and this is the biblical principle they verified today: Pride certainly does precede a fall. 

Mouse Rescue

It was at dawn’s first light when I crawled out of bed and made the second bathroom trip of the night. I don’t turn on lights, since I know the way by now, and there was a small amount of light through the window to ease the darkness, anyway. As I sat there, I thought I saw a small shadow flit cross the rug in front of me. However, I dismissed that thought when my cat Sidle briefly rubbed against my legs. She has a dark spot at the end of her tail, and that is what I thought was the dark shadow on the rug. However, I had immediate reason to reconsider, because her attention was not on getting her back scratched, as usual. Instead, she wanted into the closet which is directly opposite the commode. Something was in there that had her full attention—and that could only mean that the shadow had been a mouse with Sidle hot on its tail. She is quite the hunter, and the bathroom is her favorite place to bring her catch.

I opened the closet for her, and as Sidle hurried to the right to start her search there, I looked straight ahead to see that the mouse had headed for the first opening it could squeeze into. Unfortunately, while the opening was the right size, the depth was inadequate and the mouse’s hindquarters and tail were easily in sight. It could go no further in, so it wasn’t out of danger, but it didn’t dare risk coming out again to find something safer, because it would encounter Sidle. A terrible dilemma for the mouse!

I had only a moment to decide whether to let Sidle have her prey, since she’d caught the mouse in the first place, or to rescue the mouse. However, I have found too many partially-eaten mice in the bathroom. That is the primary drawback of cat doors; felines can and will bring all sorts of things into the house—some living, some not. Anyway, the instant decision was to rescue the mouse. There’s too much suffering in this world, and if I left it up to Sidle, the mouse would suffer before it died. A mousetrap is much more merciful than a cat.

The problem was, the rescue would have to be immediate, since Sidle was already moving from right to left, investigating every possible place the mouse could have gone. So … I realized I finally had a chance to get an answer to a question I’ve had for a while now, thanks to Sidle and previous mouse rescues. The question is: If you catch a mouse by its tail, does it have enough strength to bend its body up in order to bite you?

The mouse had wedged itself nose-first as far as it could go between two boxes, but, as I said, it wasn’t far enough. I quickly grabbed its protruding tail, pulled gently, then lifted the mouse out of Sidle’s reach … and got the answer to my question!

I know you’re reading this eagerly to learn what that answer is, because I’m sure you’ve wondered the same thing, right? It’s probably a common question!

Well, here it is. The little rodent was squirming and its little legs were scrambling, but it did not have the ability to bend up to bite me. So now, when future rescues are called for, I  know I can safely grab a mouse’s tail in order to extricate it from a sure-death situation. A win for me and for the mouse. It’s definitely easier than catching it in a drinking glass and then covering the glass opening with something—anything—till I can get it outside. I keep a  glass in the bathroom for drinking purposes, so that’s the handy method I’ve used in the past—if I’ve had time before Sidle killed it, that is.  (Now don’t be jealous while reading this, if your life isn’t as exciting  as mine!)

The end of the story is that the mouse was taken outside and released to live another day (and probably breed more mice for Sidle to catch). Sidle followed afterward, but she didn’t witness the release and therefore did not know where to start looking. I went back to bed a little wiser, and now you’re wiser, too!    :D

Sidle and the Moth

My cat Sidle is a hunter. She hates being inside with nothing to do—she gets antsy and picks on the other cats. And she doesn’t much care for winter, because there are fewer things to hunt then, though she’s out there lurking and alert for any movement. I am sympathetic to her indoor restlessness, so we have developed a game of sorts. 

Occasionally in the bathroom, there is a very small moth on the wall or ceiling, almost always out of her reach—but it’s prey. In the past, I have lifted her so she could swat at it and knock it down, and she takes it from there. Other times, the moth is more elusive, and I have to move her around in pursuit of the moth till she can finally trap it under her paws and then eat it. 

This morning another moth appeared. Sidle checks the bathroom every day for such things, and today she was staring at it, longing for a chance to get at it. It was in the shower, on the ceiling. I knocked it down from there, and it flew to the window, where Sidle had already gone, as the windowsill is the highest place she could get to to try to reach the moth. There were a few intense moments when she tried to pin the moth to the roller shade, but the moth escaped and flew above the window. Then I became involved.

I lifted Sidle—she knows the routine—and brought her within reach of the moth. Claws out, she went after it vigorously, trying to either pin it down or pierce it as it desperately fluttered hither and yon. Then …

The moth flew directly at my face, and you can probably visualize what followed. Sidle’s hunting instinct impelled her to pursue her winged quarry as it flew past her ears and headed toward my face. Thank the Lord I had my glasses on, but my nose and cheek did not escape—although the moth did. :)

I think both Sidle and I were shocked by how quickly this harmless activity went awry. Sidle’s awareness that she should not be using her claws to trap the moth on her human benefactor’s face came within milliseconds. So did my reaction to pain. Still holding her, I quickly pushed her away before major damage was done. As it was, I ended up with only a very small scratch on the nose and another on one cheek–and wisdom to hold her at arm’s length when we hunt together.

Turkey vs Cat

Today I witnessed another drama in the animal world. A mama turkey was slowly making her way through the unmowed field between the house and the garden, heading toward the path that leads to the garden, and from there, to the shelter of the trees that seem to be where turkeys have roosted at night since I’ve lived here.  She had eight tiny cheeping ones scurrying around her, never far from her, as they searched for seeds and insects. The grass is not so high in places as to hide them completely.

Her peaceful stroll was interrupted when I left the house to close the greenhouse for the night. She stopped in alarm at my presence and Doodad’s as we both started on the path to the garden. She turned to hurry away, but rather than lose any of her precious brood, she instead chose a behavior I’ve never seen in a turkey before. She crouched down in the grass, her chicks gathering around her. At first I could only see her head swiveling atop her periscope neck, just above the grass height, and then she lowered her head, too—a bit of a risk, because she couldn’t watch my course, but a wise choice, too, in that she was completely out of sight, and even the chicks’ cheeps were silenced.

I closed the greenhouse, closed the gate to the garden, and then picked up Doodad as I returned to the house, lest she at some point notice and molest the chicks. I took a different way back to the house—a long way around—and soon Mama turkey scoped the area, deemed it safe, and stood erect again. She resumed her stroll toward the woods as I watched with binoculars through the kitchen window.

Doodad, on the other hand, headed back to the garden and, just as I feared, noticed the avian activity. She was used to adult turkeys, but she circled back to check out Mama’s active little ones. I watched as Doodad approached the group, not really stalking them, but a little low to the ground, nonetheless. Cats can be quick, and I didn’t know if Doodad would try to take one of the chicks, or was just curious and wanted to watch. I hurried back outside in order to yell “No!” to her, but I needn’t have worried. Mama was having none of this upstart feline. Mama fluffed up her feathers, spread her wings a little—doubling her apparent size—and charged Doodad, neck down and extended as if she intended bodily harm—which I’m sure she could inflict.

Doodad got the message and hurried straight for the run-under shelter I have for the cats in the “no man’s land” between house and garden. They are vulnerable in that distance from aerial predators like eagles and owls, though I never expected they’d seek it against a turkey charge!

Mama turkey, having vanquished the impudent threat, returned to her brood of tiny ones and together, they calmly crossed the driveway toward the trees. Doodad remained under the shelter till they were out of sight. This may not be the last of the fur-n-feather encounters, but I suspect Mama’s vigilance will quench any curiosity in short order.

Kitten

Having embarked upon downsizing, I have entered FaceBook Marketplace again to get rid of unused things, still without knowing quite how to navigate the site. One unexpected outcome in my learning curve has been the so-far inescapable daily posts by people I know and mostly by others that I don’t know, of daily videos and advertisements and whatever. What has caught my attention the most are the videos about animals: animal rescues, cute animal behaviors, and even animals in need. One day there were two in such sharp contrast that I need to write about them.

The first video was about the rescue of a puppy in a foreign country. Its hind legs had been tied together, the same with its front legs, its mouth had been tied shut, and its little body stuffed into a bag and tossed into a lake—in winter—to die in panic and helplessness. I don’t know how the rescue came about, but it was in time. The unspeakable cruelty of the tosser was overridden by the gentle care of the rescuer. One intended to heedlessly end another’s inconvenient life; the other, to preserve and protect it.

The second video was quite different, though also about life. It was too late for the kitten that had wandered too far away from its safe place and too close to a busy road. Dust was caked on its face as it lay lifeless at the side of the road. The video focused on that sad scene until I saw a pair of male hands enter my computer screen to turn the body over and check the kitten for a heartbeat. None. But what happened next, I can never erase from my memory. Those hands picked up the lifeless body and wrapped it in a small towel. To bury it, I assumed, but something intervened.

The next scene was a bowl of water, followed by the unwrapping of the towel and the gentle bathing of the broken little body. Gently those hands bathed its head and torso and legs and belly, till all the dirt was removed. The kitten—not much bigger than those hands—began to look like it was only sleeping soundly. And then those wonderfully tender hands wiped it dry with the towel as much as possible and carried the once-energetic but now limp little one to a square blue cloth laid out on the floor. Those gentle hands laid their motionless burden ever so tenderly in the middle of the cloth and ever so carefully enfolded it in the softness and warmth of the cloth.

And then … and then those hands slowly pushed that precious package into a lovely paper gift bag and closed the bag. So as not to disturb the kitten’s rest, the bag was carried flat as it was taken outdoors and into a field of some sort. Gently the little creature was laid down so those hands would be free to dig a hole. Scavenging birds or animals would not be permitted to tear apart what obviously represented something important to the heart of the man whose hands I was watching. I could no longer see through my tears, so I never saw the burial, but I’m sure it was as reverent as the washing of the kitten’s body and the wrapping of it in the cloth.

What did that man see in a dead kitten’s body? Why was he so tender toward a creature that could never know his kindness? The local shelters are so full right now, few animals are accepted. How significant is the loss of one little kitten when there are so many that need homes?

That leads to the next and larger question. That story was about a kitten. How significant is the loss of one human being when there are so many? Do we value our own lives and the lives of others in a way that honors the gift of life? Do we acknowledge the Life Giver, who loves each one of His creation, even in death?

I know one thing. I’d love to get to know the man whose hands those were. He must have a heart as big as the sky—as big as heaven and beyond. I think of those gentle, tender hands as the Creator’s hands, and the heart that motivated those actions as His heart. That kitten was His kitten, His creation, and He loved it. Truly, what I saw in those hands was beyond usual human behavior. It was deep, even reverent, respect for life, whether retained or lost—and a love for even a lower order of creation—an animal, and a dead one, at that.

I would like to meet that man—to spend time in his company, to learn from him. Greater yet, I would like to be like that man.

God Intervened for Christopher

I don’t know if I told you this true story before, but in case I haven’t, it’s too good to not to share.

Colville, the town outside of which I live, has two thrift stores: Goodwill and Habitat for Humanity. I was in Habitat, checking out warm hats, because it was quite cold outside—in the low 20s. I had in hand an ideal one—the kind that covers ears and cheeks and has tassels on either side at the bottom. I prefer vibrant colors, so although the hat in hand was 100% wool—a heavy knit, too—and looked brand new, it was a gray and white knit—not my colors, so I reached out to put it back on the shelf. As I did, I got a strong impression that I should buy that hat for Christopher.

Christopher and his mother are friends of mine. A few months earlier they had moved into a new apartment in town, and I kept in touch with his mother via occasional emails and phone calls. Christopher, in his late 20s, has Asperger’s Syndrome; he’s quite intelligent, but has enough quirks due to autism that he is unemployable. Time sometimes weighs heavily on him, when he doesn’t have something that he feels like doing. At those times, he often goes for long walks. However, being outside for any length of time on this day would have put anyone at risk for frostbite unless one was appropriately dressed for it.

I figured my chances of seeing Christopher, in order to give him that wool hat, were next to zero. I had no idea where their new apartment was and I certainly didn’t expect to see him outside on that frosty day, so despite the impression that I should buy that hat for Christopher, I put it back, paid for my purchase, and went to my car.

As I opened my car door, I got an even stronger impression that I should buy that hat—specifically for Christopher! I stood at my open car door, wondering why I should buy a hat for him when I would never be able to deliver it to him, but still the strong impression persisted.

I knew I could not ignore that impression and have a clear conscience. I tossed my purchase onto the passenger seat and went back into the store and bought the hat, all the while thinking, “This makes no sense. I could have that hat in my car for months before I see Christopher again.” But that impression was too strong and too specific. It was for Christopher!

I got into my car and headed to my next destination. There’s a less-traveled road around the perimeter of the town that enables a driver to avoid the heavier traffic on Main Street, and that is the road I was on, halfway into the curve taking me around the town itself. It has a sidewalk on one side of it, and on that sidewalk, walking toward me, was Christopher, of all people! He and his mother must have moved into the apartments at the south end of town, so he had been walking for about three-fourths of a mile already.

Despite the bitter cold, Christopher wore no hat, no gloves, no scarf around his bare neck—not even a jacket! Even though he had a full head of thick auburn hair and a full beard at that time, it wouldn’t have been enough to protect his ears from frostbite. God knew he was outside, and in His mercy for this young man with damaged mind, God had moved upon me to get a hat—that heavy wool hat, no less—for Christopher. He knew where Christopher was, and He not only knew where I planned my next stop, but also the route I would take to get there.

I passed by Christopher, turned the car around and pulled up beside him. As I rolled down the window, Christopher recognized me and accepted my invitation for a ride. I asked him where he was headed. “To the Dollar Store,” he answered, “to buy gloves and a scarf.” At least another mile and a half—without adequate clothing.

I’m sure Christopher had hat, gloves, scarf and coat at home, but he had money to spend, and that was his goal for the day. I handed him the hat I’d just bought and told him what God had just done for him. He smiled widely, agreed with me that God is so good, put on the hat, and said, “How does it look?” He had it on backward, but once he corrected that, it looked just fine. I offered to take him to Habitat to buy him a warm coat, but he assured me he wasn’t cold—that he had many layers on. But he was grateful for that hat, and I took him that mile and a half further, to the Dollar Store, so he could buy the rest of his warm gear.

God cares for us in the little details of our human lives as well as in eternal matters. When He intervenes as He did that day for Christopher, how can anyone doubt His love and mercy for those He longs to save?