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2006-05-31 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets...

by Joanne Anderson

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 offbeat 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".

Tomb Dog 2200 BC Tomb Dog 2200 BC This recent "Canine Reactions to Mona Lisa" study is by the same team

Bona Lisa 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 eight month period, each dog was exposed repeatedly to photos of the "Mona Lisa" under 2 experimental conditions(A) in a welllighted 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".

Canaan Dog mix, 2006 AD Canaan Dog mix, 2006 AD 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, "Miriam", our Babylon Shelter (643-9270 at Lamar St. W. Babylon) poster pet is a unique dog for several reasons. She arrived as a neglected stray in March and delivered 9 healthy puppies a few weeks later. Amazingly, all survived and were adopted. "Miriam", now in Cage 85, looks just like a Canaan Dogan ancient and rare breed with a colorful history. Only 7 were registered by the AKC in the US last year (as compared to over 4,600 German shepherds).

We knew the chances were slim that "Miriam" would be a purebred, but a lady from the Canaan Dog Club came to look at her anyway and found subtle differences. Canaans are derived from the collie-style Pariah dogs of Israel which explains why a mixed breed can resemble one.

Drawings (like the one shown) of forefathers of the present day Canaan appear on tombs in BeniHassan, dating back to 2200 BC. The Pariah Dog guarded the Israelites' flocks and camps until they were dispersed into the desert when the Romans conquered 2,000 years ago. Many survived as feral dogs, and some were tamed to guard the flocks of the Bedouins.

In 1934, Dr. Menzel, an expert in training service dogs, emigrated to what was then called Palestine. The Jewish Defense Forces asked her to create a dog that would protect the Israeli settlements and serve in their War for Independence. She used specific stock of the local Pariah dogs because they had tolerated the harsh landscape for centuries. Her Canaan Dogs proved to be so rugged and intelligent that many became sentry, messenger and land mine detector dogs during World War II. The AKC recognized Canaan Dogs as a member of the Herding Group in 1997.

Our "Miriam" posing in her postmaternity show stance, may not be a purebred, but she has led a hard, young life so far too. She is friendly and outgoing, despite her pariah ordeal. She loves to be brushed and has a temperament much sweeter than the one described in the Canaan Dog standard.

Other Babylon Shelter adoptables. Many have photos on the Petfinder site:

Cats: The "Smudge sisters" in the Cat Colony. They look as if DaVinci cleaned his brush on their

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