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Karen's Letters

Animals and Grief

In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, we were all moved by the TV scenes of lost or abandoned dogs hanging around their flooded homes, some fearfully evading capture, others swimming desperately after the rescue boats. They had lost their familiar lives. They surely missed their familiar people. And what if there had been more than one animal in a house? Do animals miss other animals? Do animals grieve for each other?

A Dog with a Catch

Teaching a dog to catch is a matter of what trainer Margi English calls eye-fang coordination. Some are better at it than others, but most of them can learn—if they want to. Take my poodle Misha. Misha can catch things, but he has to know what it is, first. Hold out a treat, say "catch" and Misha goes "Ew, but what is it? What if you throw me something disgusting?" Never in his whole life have I thrown him something disgusting, but he worries anyway. If I just toss the treat he ducks, and the treat hits him in the face. He will catch…provided he first has a chance to smell and inspect what I'm holding, which kind of spoils that desirable appearance of joyous spontaneity.

Minneapolis and Oprah

The best way to get results is to get the producer of the show who might like the idea, to think it good enough to put on the air and fight for it during meetings on what the content of future shows should be. Check out the credits at the end of the show. Send a letter to the person named the executive producer or creative producer (not the supervising producer or associate producer, as the latter two usually are in charge of handling costs of the various shows rather than selecting content).

Bad Bob

"He's surprised, did you see that?" I said, laughing, to the watching people. It's easy to startle a horse; but this was not alarm: this was just pure amazement. That expression told me two things: first, he thoroughly understood the game we were playing. Second, in his past experience, things usually just went on and on getting worse, not better. What I wanted to do was to pat Bad Bob (which at present he would probably hate) or throw my arms around his neck, or give him a month's supply of alfalfa pellets. What I did was smile, and pay him his treat. Poor thing. Maybe Festina Lente will turn out to be a better place for you.

Hidden Reinforcers: For Things You Don't Want!

Recently I was appointed to the board of the B.F. Skinner Foundation. The annual board meeting is held in Boston, and usually there's a reception afterwards at the Skinner family home in Cambridge, for members of the board and other people who share an interest in the work of the foundation. At the most recent reception, I was talking to a woman I'd met at the same gathering two years earlier, a museum curator with a special interest in scientific instruments—an interest I share. However, on this particular evening she didn't want to talk about her work, she wanted to talk about her cat.