November 2008

Bowser's little browser

By David Feela

One Thanksgiving Day – after the dinner hour – my wife and I prepared for a stroll, intending to wear off a rather generous stuffing of turkey. The neighbor’s dog watched us from the edge of his driveway as we stepped out the door, anxious to accompany us, as he had almost every time we left the house.

We opened our gate, as usual, and the dog rushed through it. After running a little to get his batteries charged up, he stopped to sniff and lift his leg on a fence post.

Then it dawned on me that in a sort of low-tech but utterly efficient manner the dog was actually out with us to pick up his pee-mail.

Human beings, for the most part, believe they’ve been given dominion over the beasts, partly because of our alleged superior intelligence. Animals, however, have for centuries possessed a means of communicating with each other over long distances without paying a monthly user fee.

The concept is not that difficult to follow. I’m surprised I hadn’t noticed until now.

Initially, the animals need a provider, a server if you will. That’s where human beings enter the picture. Countless dogs and cats subscribe to the notion, choosing households that function as providers, and thus our pets have cleverly equipped themselves with access to their own version of an information infrastructure.

Naturally, animals are born with the necessary hardware and encryption codes to personalize their locations, combined with a browser that we have for centuries mistaken for a nose. With these minimal requirements fulfilled, the loyal beasts we have thought of as simple pets transform themselves into sophisticated surfers of an organic network, all for as little as a scent.

I realize now, only in retrospect, that I had already used what the animals know, several years ago when my wife and I were camping in bear country. Locals warned us that the bears were bold and overly familiar with a human presence. That evening, after setting up our tent in the backcountry, I lingered outside by the campfire while Pam went inside the tent to get ready for bed.

It was a lovely night, bright moonlight and stars plentiful as popcorn in the big bowl of an autumn sky. I’d almost forgotten about the bears until I heard a strange grumble from somewhere off in the dark woods.

Before going to bed, I decided to pee near each of the four corners of the tent, careful of course not to pee on the tent itself. While I stood peeing I concentrated on the bears, as if trying to warn them to stay away from our tent by telepathy.

We woke that night to the sound of some large animal crashing through the undergrowth. We listened tensely, but the animal veered away from our tent and disappeared until all we heard was the static of crickets. Both of us stayed wrapped in our sleeping bags, speechless, but secretly I knew my pee-mail had saved us.

In all likelihood animal pee is on at least one of your vehicle’s tires. While you’re driving along, talking business on your cell phone with a customer or client who lives across town, realize that you are also the means by which some animal is doing its business. You are like a mobile transmitter generating radial waves, wireless communication, a means by which dogs and cats have sent messages across town ever since Henry Ford pushed his first Model A into the street.

Perhaps I’ve said enough — maybe even too much.

Lately the neighbor’s dog has been acting strangely, sticking uncharacteristically close as we take our walks instead of chasing the usual rabbits out of hiding. He also started playing fetch with a surprising amount of vigor that suggests he’s trying to keep me occupied, distracted. I can’t imagine what he’s heard about us.

David Feela writes from rural Montezuma County, Colo.