Missing magazine mystery points to pooch

The March edition of the National Geographic magazine has mysteriously gone missing at our house.

But I'm on the trail of the responsible furry sneak thief.

"Funny but I can't find this month's National Geographic," I announced loudly while looking at Waldo, our mischievous mutt.

He was suddenly intensely interested in sniffing the unruly tufts of fur peeking out between his toes, doubtlessly searching for dog toe-jam.

"The cover story included a dog with a world-class vocabulary," I continued. "On the front is a very intelligent-looking border collie named Betsy. One hairy mongrel I know might even find her fetching, so to speak."

A casual observer would conclude Waldo hadn't a clue what I was talking about. He stretched out, let out a big sigh and appeared to be snoozing.

Contrary to the old maxim, it's best not to let a sleeping dog lie.

Particularly if the duplicitous dog knows where the March issue of my favorite magazine is buried.

Fortunately, a friend at work loaned me a copy so I could try to keep ahead of the beasts. That would be the canines, not necessarily my coworkers.

"Inside Animal Minds," reads the cover headline. "Birds, apes, dolphins and a dog with a world-class vocabulary," adds the subhead.

Ashland-based science writer Virginia Morell wrote the excellent article. Incidentally, the editor-in-chief of the magazine is Chris Johns, a Medford native and a 1969 graduate of Crater High School in Central Point. And the magazine's recently retired illustrations editor Bert Fox was the Mail Tribune photo editor from 1978 through 1982.

Morell informs us that Betsy has a vocabulary of 340 words and can recognize items such as a ball or keys by name. You're right. That does put the pooch on par with many of us journalists.

The story observes that dogs were domesticated about 15,000 years ago. Obviously, Betsy and her furry friends are learning our language. Yet we haven't learned word one of theirs. Kind of makes you wonder just who is the smarter species.

And I take as a warning the headline inside the magazine, "Animals are smarter than you think."

Waldo clearly hid the magazine to keep me in the dark. But I've been dogging him for signs of smarts. Just the other day he used deductive reasoning to solve a problem.

His toys — plastic bones, a rubber bear and other doggy playthings — are kept in a small plastic wagon which can be wheeled conveniently under the stairwell. One recent rainy day I started throwing the bear into the wagon while Waldo was quickly retrieving it and bringing it back to me.

My wife, who wasn't too keen on our little game, observed that Waldo was teaching me to throw rather than me teaching him to fetch.

While concentrating on coming up with a smart rebuttal, I overshot the wagon on my next throw. The bear bounced behind it, lodging between the couch and an end table. When Waldo trotted up, he couldn't see the bear. He stopped for a moment, perplexed.

He walked around the couch to get behind the end table. Still no bruin in sight.

With that, he went back to where he was and studied the situation some more. He then deliberately walked up to the wagon, put his left front paw on it and wheeled the wagon forward about two feet.

The furry Sherlock stepped forward to where the wagon was, picked up the bear behind the end of the couch and trotted proudly back to where I sat with my mouth gaping.

Then there was the day he took our old pickup for a spin.

It happened when I was digging post holes for the garden fence. Since it was a bit chilly, Waldo elected to stay in the cab where he could supervise my work without getting cold. He may weigh 80 pounds but he is a short-haired wuss.

I was halfway down to the two-foot target depth, deeo in dirt-digging thoughts, when something caught the corner of my eye. The pickup was coasting down the driveway, which slopes toward the paved road some 300 feet away.

Waldo, who had apparently taken it out of gear, was sitting in the driver's seat with a roadapple-eating grin on his face. Had he opposing thumbs to turn the keys and steer, I have no doubt he would have soon been racing down Sterling Creek Road.

I barely managed to head him off by scrambling across a deep ditch, opening the driver's door and swinging in to hit the brakes.

At least I know what to do with a vehicle when I catch it, unlike some four-footed creatures. Hrrrumphhh.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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