Friday, July 24, 2009

Poodle Bitch Has But One Message for Human Babies

Poodle Bitch's eye was caught yet again this week by something in the news. This time, it was a headline declaring that "Babies Can Comprehend 'Canine' Language".

Naturally, Poodle Bitch was intrigued. For that reason, she took a few moments to come out from under the bed to read the article accompanying the eye-catching headline.

Poodle Bitch was disappointed by what she saw. Oh, it started promisingly enough:

What's in a bark? A new study suggests that 6-month-old babies know the answer.

A study, Poodle Bitch thought. A study that suggests that 6-month-old (human) babies can tell what dog barks mean. It sounds so scientific. It sounds as if new frontiers in human-canine communication are opening before Poodle Bitch's very eyes.

Then came the second paragraph:

Researchers found that most infants who were tested could figure out that an aggressive bark goes with an angry-looking dog. They also seemed to know that friendly-looking pooches voice their feelings in a different way.

Ah, Poodle Bitch began to note the subtle shift in the language employed by the author of the article. "[M]ost infants." "They also seemed to know."

Suddenly, Poodle Bitch was wondering why she bothered to come out from under the bed. Her gaze became much more harsh. And just a few paragraphs later, she was feeling downright misled by that eye-catching headline:

The researchers showed the (128) babies video stills of aggressive and non-aggressive dogs, and watched what they did when they heard sounds of barking.
The researchers believe that they can glean whether a baby is making a connection between two things by monitoring how long they look at a picture. In this case, 6-month-old babies were more likely to look longer at the picture of a canine expression that matched the bark.

Only about 15 percent of the babies spent more time looking at the wrong dog picture or looked equally at both, Flom said.

Just so Poodle Bitch is absolutely clear on this: The article's headline declares that (human) babies can understand the language of dogs. The reason for this bold declaration is that "about" 85% of the 128 babies in the study let their infantile gaze linger for a few seconds longer on one picture than another.

Poodle Bitch would like to see the pictures. Did these small, newly-formed human specimens have a choice between a picture of a poodle and, say, well- any other breed? Because, frankly, Poodle Bitch believes that would unfair.

Poodle Bitch would like to hear the sounds to which these tiny volunteers were subjected. Did they hear the dulcet tones of the poodle's announcement of her desire for food, or to be let out for her walk? Or did they have to suffer through the harsh and bothersome bark of the- well, any other breed?

If only these researchers had bothered to consult with Poodle Bitch, she would have been only too glad to reveal to them the only message that truly sophisticated canines have for human babies:

"Stay away from me."

This ridiculous non-story with its misleading headline about a half-hearted "study" earns nothing but a raspberry from Poodle Bitch.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Poodle Bitch Has to Wonder About the New York Times

Poodle Bitch will not come out from under the bed until she's had her free range grilled chicken.

Poodle Bitch has a fairly high tolerance for the absurd. But even she was rather surprised to discover this column in the New York Times.

"The Puppy Diaries" is one woman's story of the death of her beloved West Highland terrier called Buddy, and the adoption of a new English standard golden retriever named Scout. It is also one woman's precious story of how wonderful and affluent she is.

My two children, who grew up with him but flew the nest years before his demise, joked that Buddy was my one perfect relationship in life. I spoiled him, terribly. Houseguests often awoke to the aroma of my grilling free-range chicken for Buddy.

Poodle Bitch would like to note first of all just how lucky are the author's children. She would then like to consider the New York Times' audience. Poodle Bitch was given to understand that humans were going through a recession. These are tough times, she has been told, and it's necessary to make sacrifices. She has even heard on NPR that some humans are giving up their dogs, because they haven't enough money to keep them.

Is the average reader of the New York Times so immune from the vagaries of everyday existence that he can nod his head in knowing approval at the image of someone grilling free-range chicken for her dog? Or does the New York Times believe it is providing a service to its less affluent readers, allowing them a peek inside the life of someone grilling free-range chicken for her dog?

Poodle Bitch has to wonder why it is that the author did not mention the name of the company that manufactured the grill. She is certain it must be one of those free range grilling companies.

The author details how she waited two years following the death of the free-range chicken eating Buddy before deciding to adopt another canine companion. Her epiphany is described thus:

But this spring I was overcome by puppy lust, looking at all the cute, companionable dogs on the sidewalks of Lower Manhattan.

Poodle Bitch wonders if perhaps the author is one of the more than 9.3% unemployed in New York City, that she has so much free time as to stand around lusting after puppy dogs on the sidewalks of Lower Manhattan. Poodle Bitch would also like to note that she considers herself attractive, but is made to feel uncomfortable when older humans stand around "lusting" after her.

But after all that lusting, the author is not put on any type of dog predator list. Instead, she wonders what puppy she should adopt:

If we adopted a dog from a shelter, as my sister has done twice, we would be taking the more virtuous, good-for-animals (and society) route. Saving a dog that needs a home or had been mistreated by a previous owner is an unselfish act. But we were leaning selfish.

Poodle Bitch is shocked. Any woman who grills for her dog free-range chicken is in no way selfish. As far as Poodle Bitch is concerned, that is the action of someone who is "attentive." And the author would agree with that assessment, as she herself helpfully provides examples of just how attentive she is to her new family member:

It’s not only the made-up games, the hide-and-seek and stuffed animals. There is the special puppy smell, much like the distinctive scent, better than perfume, of a new baby’s head. There is the reflexive urge to smother with kisses. There is the getting up in the middle of the night. There is the singing of lullabies to sleep, lying next to Scout’s crate as if it were a cradle. There is the arrangement of play dates for socialization. (My husband, who is doing the lion’s share of the work these first weeks, jokes that the high point of his day is the 4 p.m. play date with Cyon, our friends’ older golden.) There are the books written by experts (our puppy manual is by the Monks of New Skete). There is the feeling of total relief in seeing tired eyes close for a nap.

Yes, Poodle Bitch fondly remembers her own puppyhood, when her human companion sang her lullabies (actually, it was Death Cab for Cutie songs) and anxiously fretted over her as she fell asleep in bed (Poodle Bitch's own human companion never forced her to sleep in a crate). Unfortunately, Poodle Bitch missed out on the no-doubt wonderful puppy manual written by the Monks of New Skete. (Poodle Bitch would like to observe that "dog" is merely "god" spelled backwards, so who better to offer guidance than a "contemplative monastic community of men and women dedicated to living the monastic life together within the tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church.") Perhaps she would be better behaved if her human companion had used that particular book.

But Poodle Bitch has to wonder about the author's husband. He "jokes" that the high point of his day is when he gets away from her and takes their new puppy to his "play dates" with another friends' dog. Could there be trouble in the idyllic free-range chicken grilling paradise described in the column?

The column's punchline is actually contained in its first sentence:

This is the first article in a weekly series about the challenges and satisfactions of raising a puppy through its first year of life.

Poodle Bitch truly feels nothing but envy for the readers of the New York Times. This is going to be an exciting and absolutely adorable 52 weeks for them!