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May 10, 2013

STAWAR: Creature discomfort

In the April 15 edition of Time Magazine, senior science editor Jeffrey Kluger has an article titled the “Mystery of Animal Grief” in which he explores the latest evidence that animals grieve. 

He describes a remarkable ritual wherein a multitude of crows gather around a deceased peer and bring tokens of twigs or grass to lay beside or upon the corpse. Personally, I was surprised that crows could express anything approaching sympathy, given their reputation and especially after seeing the miniseries of Stephen King’s apocalyptic novel “The Stand.”

My wife Diane and I often noticed how certain trees would suddenly fill up with hundreds of cawing crows over at Edwardsville Park. It was like a scene out of Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” Diane would call it a “Crow Convention” like C.S. Lewis’ “Parliament of Owls.”

Humans have always been tempted to attribute human feelings, thoughts and motives to the animals about them. In science, this is the “sin” of anthropomorphizing. 

When I look at our cat, Claus, I often wonder what is going through his furry little head. Is his meowing a statement of affection or is he just saying, “That wet cat food can won’t open itself.” 

Sure he can look like an adorable little stuffed animal, but he’s an inveterate killer. I’ve seen him leave a mouse head jammed into our outdoor coffee table with a grill top, like a raptor in “Jurassic Park.” Only recently, he presented me with another dead mouse. Again, I wondered whether this was a tribute or message intended to intimidate me into feeding him every time he comes into the house. This poor mouse didn’t have a mark on him, which in some ways is even more frightening. What did Claus do, chloroform it? I’m keeping our bedroom door shut tighter at night.

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