Do animals really possess senses that we don’t? Birds seem to be able to find their way home and migrate to lands thousands of miles away with the help of a mysterious internal navigation system. It is well documented fact that animals seem to sense impending disasters such as earthquakes. The horror genre has made use of this sixth sense of animals as plot devices for centuries, where dogs bark at unseen specters and cats hiss at something in the shadows, something that the human eyes cannot detect. So do our pets really have a sixth sense, or is it a figment of the overactive human imagination? Just our need to find the spiritual in perfectly ordinary things?
Or maybe the basis of all those stories actually lies in fact, just not in the way we hope it would be, with a perfectly sound logical reason behind behaviour such as this from our pets. Whether the reason be science or the supernatural, there have been several pets with special abilities, some of which have been explained using reason, and some whose explanation has never managed to be anything more than speculative.
Starting out with a fairly well known pet, well, pet in the sense that he was kept and cared for by humans, Paul the Octopus. Pal first became famous in 2008 when he made a series of correct predictions regarding his adoptive country, Germany’s fate in the UEFA Euro 2008 tournament. He would be presented with two boxes, one containing mussels and the other oysters, and both would have a flag on them. Paul would then choose one and open the lid (yes, they can do that!) to pick a team.
Some people claimed that he was responding to the colour of the flag but his species is almost certainly colour blind, so that could have not been it. It was theorized that he was probably responding to the design of the flag or the orientation of lines on it. It had a preference to horizontal lines, which was why he was picking Germany’s flag the most often. None of these theories were ever actually proved. Paul achieved celebrity status during the 2010 FIFA World cup, when he correctly predicted four out six matches played by Germany. A part of the global frenzy that is the World Cup, Paul very quickly caught the fancy of the football crazy, and fascinated even those not so mad about the game. It wasn’t all a joyride though, he received death threats when he predicted Germany’s defeat from fans of the team. His impact on the already very superstitious patrons of the game was revealed when the Argentinian coach was so incensed when Paul predicted his team’s defeat that he posted a recipe for octopus online.
No list about strange occurrences in the world is complete without a cat being involved somehow, somewhere, so next is Oscar the therapy cat. Oscar currently resides in a Rhode Island rehabilitation centre in the United States. Oscar is said to possess the ability to predict when a patient is about to die, and goes and lies down with them on their bed till they have passed away. A doctor of the facility documented and wrote about Oscar in 2007 which was when he became famous in the media and the general public, and also the scientific community, which was trying to explain the occurrence. The book published by the doctor was criticized for having only anecdotal evidence, and by the author’s own admission, a few fictional accounts as well, which crumbled the credibility of Oscar’s abilities. Nevertheless, the doctor still maintains that Oscar’s morbid abilities are real. Fake or not, Oscar’s presence does seem to relax the dying patient and comforts them in their last moments.
Some people have attempted to explain the abilities as being a result of the sensitive nature of cats, responding to very subtle cues, such as more activity in a dying patients room from nurses and doctors, or in response to the patient being more still than usual.
Interestingly, it seems that although a calming presence towards those about to depart, Oscar is less than warm towards the living and is wont to hiss at random nurses. Quite the crank.
Clever Hans the counting horse
Clever Hans and his master, William van Osten put up a display in 1891, claiming Hans could count, spell, read and even tell the time.It turned out to be true and the display drew crowds from all over, but especially attracted the sceptics. What Hans would do was respond to questions from the audience by tapping his front paw. So suppose if he were asked to count two plus two, he would tap four times.
Now, despite several tests to prove van Orsten a fraud, nothing came up and the display was declared genuine. Finally it was discovered that Hans was responding to very subtle subconscious cues from his master. Orsten was present fro questioning every time and Hans kept a close eye on him. If, say, when asked the above question, Orsten would lean slightly forward when Hans tapped four times, subconsciously acknowledging the right answer. In response to this, Hans would stop, and it would look like he actually knew the answer. Giving treats to him every time he did this only reinforced this behaviour. Mathematically aware or not, Hans was definitely a clever horse for being able to detect such subtle cues.