Prescient pets

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The Independent Online
This is the story of how I discovered that my guinea pig never loved me. Her name was Bathsheba and she was covered in white and brown angora fleece. I was ten. For six months Bathsheba never came when I called, refused to join in any of those fun games and experiments that I and my brother devised for her, and generally took no interest in me. I was very upset, but for decades I consoled myself with the belief that she behaved this way because that was the way that guinea pigs behaved.

Until this week, when research appeared to show that pets - far from being dumb - are both psychic and telepathic. A conference at Cambridge University's veterinary school - beginning e'en as you read this - will hear of case after case of extraordinary behaviour on the part of animals; behaviour which conventional science is hard-put to explain. There was Bobbie the collie, who travelled three thousand miles across the United States to find his owner; there was Jaytee the terrier, always excited by the imminent arrival of her mistress, no matter how unpredictable that arrival was; there was the Mynah bird who squawked when the son of the family was coming home from boarding school ("the bird had a great rapport with our son, Robert", said the head of the house); there were the telephone answering cats, who only picked up the receiver for certain people; there was Lisa the embassy dog, who warned the ambassador to China of an impending earthquake, thus saving much life; there were the dogs who howled when their masters died on other continents; there was the American Internet subscriber whose llama, Dancer, used to defecate in the wrong place, until one day, "I sent Dancer [mental] pictures of him going in another part of the yard and within one day, he started to go there!"

All this is, of course, pretty persuasive evidence of the extraordinary and unexpected powers of pets. As the Times put it on Thursday, "scientists have proved that dogs can read human minds". It is hardly surprising then, that everyone concerned with this research seems to have concentrated purely on the "upside implications" of their findings.

But consider. If dogs and cats and mynahs and llamas are capable of these wonderful things, how then do we explain all the times that they do not behave psychically or telepathically?

Presumably all those notices tacked to trees lamenting a missing moggy or a lost pup, are completely redundant. The animals concerned are either dead, or simply don't want to come back. The cat that will not answer the phone, even when you're on the loo and it's important, is refusing out of malice, apathy, or an unpleasant feline sense of humour.

What about the dog who does not go for help when you lie broken-legged in a field, but trots home, eats its Pedigree Chum and goes to sleep? It must really hate you. The pooch who craps in front of your front gate is more than aware of your anguish at his actions - but he doesn't give a shit. No matter that you are sending him mental pictures in which he relieves himself on his slimeball of a master's duvet.

Worst of all are those millions of pampered animals who have utterly failed - despite their knowledge of what is about to happen - to give warnings of natural disasters, and whose masters have duly and horribly perished in crashes, floods, volcanic eruptions and fights with aggrieved husbands. If they were human they would be prosecuted for negligence or cruelty.

So the scales have dropped from my eyes. Bathsheba knew all too well that I wanted her to climb the joined-up toilet roll tubes, negotiate the pillow-maze and walk through the Lego house. She also realised that this was an important part of learning development. But she wouldn't do it; she didn't love me. For she was an animal, and - as this research now clearly proves - most animals are selfish bastards.