The Old Vet’nary – Do animals have a sense of humour?

The Old Vet’nary – Do animals have a sense of humour?

Do you think animals have a sense of humour?  I do, so long as you liken it to the impish behaviour of children, especially if it is combined with a lot of rough and tumble.

They certainly express joy.  You only have to watch cows or sheep let into a new field to see that, when even mature matrons will give a display of legs and udders flying in all directions.  I had a Border Terrier whose whole life centred around playing ball.  This phenomenon can be seen in sniffer dogs who give their valuable services just to be rewarded with a few minutes play with their ball.  My Border would devise ball games for herself.  She would drop her ball at the top of a flight of steps and then chase it as it rolled down.  Then she caught it and took it to the top of the steps again and again.  But her favourite was to come beside me as I knelt weeding and drop the ball just midway between us and then sit there nonchalantly looking around as if she was totally unaware, but if I even so much as twitched a muscle to grab the ball, she was on it in a flash.  Then she would rush around in circles of joy at having outwitted me.  Even so, sometimes I would beat her to it, and then she would crouch in shivering concentration for the throw and chase which followed.

My favourite dog of all time was a Harlequin Great Dane called Chloe.  For the first 18 months of her life she was brought up on a Naval Estate in Plymouth until the Navy decreed she was not suitable for a small flat.  She was due to be put down and I was called in, but instead I decided to take her into my own family, a decision which I never regretted.  We hit it off straight away and my children loved her.  I would take her with me when I lectured at schools and she would wander round the class shaking hands with everyone.  Now she certainly had a sense of humour.  Her party trick was to stand up with her feet on your shoulders and pretend to bite your nose with a great snap of her jaw, but she was so accurate that she would miss by less than an inch.  This unerring accuracy was shown in catching a ball thrown high in the air when she would track it’s fall and catch it clean every time.  We always called her Dodger.

I knew a Siamese cat who devised a game for herself.  She needed a small ball of silver paper which she would drop at the feet of any human who looked likely.  She would then retreat two or three feet and you had to throw the ball so that it reached her at a height of about 3 inches, when she would bat it with her front paw into the far corner of the room.  Then she would retrieve it in her mouth and drop it at your feet again.  But woe betide you if your throwing did not come up to her rigorous standards.  She would give a look of contempt and drop it at the foot of someone else.

I know another Siamese who lived in a house which had a grand staircase with wide bannisters.  Her party trick was to climb this by gripping round to the underside with a front paw to give her traction.  But she would only perform if she had an audience.  So she sat on the bottom newel post and set up a caterwaul as only a Siamese can until she had gathered a group of admirers, then, to cries of encouragement she would set off up the slippery slope to the top, whence she jumped down and strolled down the stairs to receive her applause.

But what about parrots when it comes to humour.  I witnessed the following whilst waiting for my client to appear.   Before me were French windows with curtains either side.  A black cat sat looking out of the window at ground level and his tail draped over the edge of the step.  To the right a parrot sat upon his perch.  He looked at the tail and then at me and he stealthily climbed down the curtain and gave the tail a hearty bite.  The cat cried out in pain and the parrot hastily clambered back up to the safety of his perch, and once there he laughed.  Well it was a good imitation of a laugh.  Is that a sense of humour or is it not?

Ken Watson

The featured image was taken by Nigel during his walk around Escot.

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