Animal Doctor: On Animals, Play and Peace | Lifestyles


Dear readers: On a recent Tuesday, as our rescued cat Fanny was playing under a tent of newspapers, fiddling with a wand of Canada goose feathers I had taken from a roadkill bird, I gazed.

Fanny hunted in the shadows, surviving as a predator through a bitter Minnesota winter after being released to fend for herself by the local Humane Society. My wife and I rescued and socialized her. Now Fanny is in love with our rescued dog Kota. She will jump on Kota’s head, sit on it, roll in front of her, and then grab the patient Kota’s face with her front paws and claws. Kota will respond by rubbing Fanny under her chin and licking her face.

Sometimes Fanny gets overexcited and scratches Kota’s face too hard, so the dog turns away, gets up and leaves: the rule of fair play has been broken, so the playful game is over. Fanny leaves to play with her fluffy mice at this point. Kota rarely, if ever, issued a warning to Fanny.

If these two species know how to get along and ritualize aggressive, prey-killing actions into non-harmful and obviously enjoyable play, I wonder why we humans can’t do the same and keep the peace. One day we might learn from these “lower beings”.

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For more information, see the article by one of my former graduate students, Dr. Marc Bekoff, “When Dogs Play, They Follow the Golden Rules of Fairness”, at

From this type of research came the science of cognitive ethology, which is concerned with how consciousness and intention can influence an animal’s behavior. Perhaps governments and corporations could do better in external relations and transactions by applying cognitive ethology – especially when dealing with dictators, autocrats, and morally corrupt people.

Why cats like to snuggle up in boxes

Cats like to snuggle up in boxes because the pressure from the sides is comforting, says Gabriella Smith, a doctoral student in comparative animal cognition at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna. A 2019 study found that cats’ stress levels are higher when they don’t have access to a hiding place. A study by Smith last year found that cats can even sit inside a 2D box stuck to the floor. (Full story: Live Science, Feb. 28)

Hunters beware

According to a study published prior to peer review. (Full story: The Guardian, February 28)

Send all mail to [email protected] or Dr. Michael Fox c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.


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