Animals are our friends

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Our evolutionary path as humans came up through the animal kingdom. Animals are our kin and our friends, and it’s great to have them around. You might not have invited them all over for Thanksgiving dinner (except for the turkey), but that’s OK.

Our evolutionary path as humans came up through the animal kingdom. Animals are our kin and our friends, and it’s great to have them around. You might not have invited them all over for Thanksgiving dinner (except for the turkey), but that’s OK.

As for our best friend, dogs can count, use touchscreen computers and understand between 165 and 250 words. They can figure out the fastest route to a favorite chair and how to locate a hidden treat. They also know how to watch our body language, respond to our gestures, and even to repeat human yawns. Since they’ve evolved alongside humans over thousands of years, they’re especially sensitive to our cues. Dogs have social skills close to those of a 2-year-old — somewhere near that of your uncle Willy on week-ends. In the end, though, make sure you don’t message your dog Fido while driving.

Then there are the bacteria. There are 10 times more in our bodies than human cells—100 trillion of them, in fact. It would make sense, therefore, to say that we are actually bacteria, not humans. Your picture on your driver’s license may even show that to be the case. The bacteria are ostensibly there to assist in digestion and to help in training the immune system. That’s one way to put it. I think it’s the other way around: It’s we who are helping them—they’re the boss.

Now here’s a beast we don’t see much of any more: those veggie-munching dinosaurs called sauropids. Three British scientists say that sauropids could well have caused climate change in their day by their flatulence. Just as cattle produce methane emissions that account for 2 percent of today’s greenhouse gases, naughty dinosaurs passed a lot of gas, too—up to 600 million tons of methane per year. Scientists have not yet said if this is what accounts for human-caused climate change.

Mountain lions or cougars are growing in numbers but, according to researcher Michelle LaRue of the University of Minnesota, they pose little risk for us humans since they tend to run and hide when they see us. I’d love to ask Ms. LaRue if she’d like to sit down with her special lions for tea at some point. Then we’d know if she really believed her own special report.

Millions of bats have died from fungus over the past few years. You may not think of yourself as a bat-lover, but female bats are known to consume their weight in insects every night. I know, you think you’re such a great athlete because you can consume your weight in potato chips every evening but, without the bats’ job on those insects, we may be in big trouble with our food, forests and health. If you see a bat out there, take it home with you and be nice to it. It might be ugly, but it’s our friend.

And flies? Scientists who study them have discovered why they’re so hard to swat: They are good at calculating the angle of your attack, so as to move their body, legs and wings in a fraction of a second, before taking off in the opposite direction. To beat them at their own game, don’t swat the fly’s starting position, but aim a bit forward of that, to anticipate where it’s going to jump when it sees your swatter. That’s good to know. Now you can leave your supper leftovers out all night without having to clean the table. The next morning, regardless, you can kill all the flies in a jiffy.

Finally, there’s the animal that’s the wildest and brutest of them all — the humanoid. Like dogs, they too can count and can figure out the fastest route to a favorite chair and to repeat yawns. Human animals may be wild and woolly, like many of our animal kin, but maybe it’s just that we’re still evolving. Give us some time and we’re bound to catch up.

Kozeny has worked as a teacher, counselor, and in pastoral ministry. He can be reached by e-mail to tko-z@sdc.org.