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2010-07-21 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Sponge Bob and Punxsutawney Phil, make room for Paul the Psychic Octopus. Better than seeing his shadow, the tentacled tipster chose eight out of eight winning soccer teams in the recent World Cup, including Spain’s victory over the Netherlands. How? Before each game, he correctly selected his mussel menu from a glass tank decorated with the flags of the countries about to play each other. That’s one successful pick for each suction cupped arm.

“Eight is enough!” declared ESPN. Paul’s perfect record brought him both worldwide fame and death threats. I just became his 205,594th fan on Facebook, despite Argentine sore losers warning they would turn Paul into fried calmari. As soon as the octopus predicted that Spain would win the Cup, the Spanish prime minister offered to send “Paulo the Pulpo” security guards. At two and a half, Paul is already old for an octopus, so after his triumphant World Cup prophecies, the Sea Life Centre in Oberhausen, Germany retired their precocious Paul as a prognosticator. Alas- the average life expectancy for octopus vulgaris, his speciesthe common octopus, is only about two years.

Is Paul’s common octopus “cousin” clairvoyant too?” Is Paul’s common octopus “cousin” clairvoyant too?” Paul’s spokesperson at Sea Life said their oracle would “get back to his former job of making children laugh.” His keep-ers also declined invitations on Paul’s behalf. A Spanish village wants him to visit during their Octopus Festival next month to share the glory in what would be the equivalent of an aquatic ticker tape parade. (Or would they stage a running of the octopi?) Rather than risk his safety in a region where he is considered a delicacy, the sixth sense cephalopod celebrated at home in Germany, noshing on mussels nestled inside a tiny World Cup replica.

Paul has his critics. Not just gamblers; mostly academics. Supposedly the food choice was the same in each test. Octopuses taste food and smell the water with their tentacles. Hence, varied taste should not be a factor. While octopuses are most likely color blind, some scientists feel Paul could have been attracted to a flag’s brightness, horizontal shapes or left/right placement. The Spanish and German flag (which he had seen several times) are similar. Both have a yellow horizontal stripe.

We will never know what influenced Paul’s decisions. Some biologists believe the flag shape theory is plausible. According to the folks at Weymouth Sea Life Park in England where some claim Paul was hatched, octopuses are the smartest invertebrates and may be able to recognize shapes on flags. Veined octopuses have been seen using discarded coconut shells as tools. Fiona Smith from Weymouth said: “Common octopuses like Paul are very intelligent. We equate their intelligence with that of a dog and they love problem solving and figuring things out.” Lassie the Collie and Charlotte the spider may be insulted by these IQ comparisons.

There was brief psychic tension. Paul had a World Cup challenger. Mani the Parrot, an assistant to a roadside astrologer in Singapore, predicted that Holland would win the finals. Mani, who also has an alleged track record for predicting soccer matches as well as lottery numbers and lucky wedding dates, used his beak to grab the face down playing card that depicted the Dutch flag. No mussels. No Polly-wants-a- cracker pay off, but business sure was booming for his 80-yearold fortune teller/owner as soon as word of Paul’s feathered rival reached the media. In the end, Paul’s precognition prevailed.

It seems American football has its share of animal soothsayers. An announcer on Georgia TV has a cat that predicted six out of eight Super Bowls by deciding between identical treat dishes marked with the names of each team. However, a camel has better odds.

Princess the camel lives at Popcorn Park where the Associated Humane runs this NJ refuge for domestic and exotic animals. Many are abandoned or abused but Princess was once the beloved pet of late heiress Doris Duke. The uncanny camel has a knack for picking NFL wins. The park’s manager writes the names of the opposing teams on his hands and then holds tasty graham crackers. Whichever hand she licks first, will win. By fall of 2009, Princess was right 17 out of 21 times (81% accuracy). Princess has ethical standards too. She refuses to consider predicting any Philadelphia Eagles games ever since the Eagles signed convicted dogfighter Michael Vick as quarterback.

Final lucky picker: Although he wasn’t psychic, Pumkin the late orangutan at Primarily Primates, a sanctuary in Texas used to choose the winning ticket for the annual fundraiser ring raffle. About a dozen years ago, the prize was a lovely sapphire and diamond ring, donated by a benefactor. Pumkin wasn’t in a helpful mood the day of the raffle. The staff coated the tickets with applesauce yet he still refused to cooperate. In desperation, the secretary pulled out the winning soggy ticket- MINE- making me one of a fortunate few indebted to the whims of an orangetan.

For Adoption: Both poster pups this week have connections to Babylon Town Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon. “Rocky” #93109 is a gentleman Pit, a loving companion to the staff. He has been at the shelter since February, and has become the cooperative guy to “dog test” other dogs. “Victoria” was a stray Cocker Spaniel at the shelter but is now a Last Hope foster being boarded at a vet because there is no room at the Last Hope Dog Center. She is a LOVE. Contact me at the paper if you are interested in meeting Victoria. The rest of the pets are at the Babylon Shelter.

Females: “Heather,” “Brownie,” “Star,” “Jinni,” who carries her bowl- all varieties of Pit mixes.

Males: “Albert”- also a Cocker; “Bradley” Beagle; “Garfield” & “Snuggles”-declawed cats.

•Looking for a Pet-Friendly Career? Pet care entrepreneur Charlotte Reed is offering a seminar that can help transform you from pet-owner to pet-professional. Get an overview of the pluses and pitfalls of 12 petfriendly career options ranging from dog walker to vet tech. The class will be held on both August 10 and September 28 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at TRS Inc., 44 East 32nd Street, NYC 10016. Cost is $35. For info or to register for either session, call 1-888-286-6475 ext. 83.

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