STRANGEBUTTRUE- 'Frown sad': When a pet loses a pet

Q. Do people's pets ever have their own pets? –F. Walton

A. A famous instance of this was the cat All Ball given to the "talking" gorilla Koko, who had always shown an interest in cats, real or photographed, says Dr. Ann Squire in Why Do Pets Do That. 

The 230-pound female gorilla doted on the kitten, until the little one was hit by a car. Koko was disconsolate, wailing and signing to her trainer, Dr. Penny Patterson, "frown sad" and "cat sleep" whenever anyone brought up the subject of cats. Finally, when Koko picked out a new kitten from a litter born at the research station, "she was so happy, Dr. Patterson said, that she actually danced when her new pet arrived." Which goes to show, concludes Dr. Squire, it isn't just humans who can enjoy a special relationship with a pet.

Q. Long before there was a Bing Crosby, how was the famous 18th-century composer Ludwig van Beethoven given to what today has been called the "White Christmas effect"? –R. Starr

A. When researchers experimented with the popular Crosby song back in the 1960s, they found some test subjects reported hearing it at lower and lower volumes, in some cases even when it was never turned on, says Oliver Sacks in Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. One time, a highly musical friend of Sacks reported enjoying a favorite Mozart record, then discovered when he went to turn it over that he had never put it on. Under proper motivation, it seems, the mind will fill in blank auditory spaces or silent gaps embedded in familiar songs, even detectable by functional MRI scans.

Such deliberate mental imagery is clearly crucial to professional musicians. It arguably saved the creative life and sanity of Beethoven after he had gone deaf and could no longer hear any music except in his mind; perhaps the loss of normal auditory input even intensified his musical imagery, with his auditory cortex becoming hypersensitive. 

"And though voluntary musical imagery may not be easily available to the relatively unmusical," Sacks writes,"virtually everyone has involuntary musical imagery."

Q. Can you describe the dramatic U-turn during the first five minutes of little Baby Amy's life? –B. Spock

A. Hovering between two worlds, still half inside Mom and half out, she's one of life's great miracles, says Mark Sloan in Birth Day. No other time can compare to the human baby's transformation in the first five minutes outside the womb: Abrupt, rapid-fire transitions from dark to light, warm to cold, wet to dry. Then Mom's final push, a gush of fluid and suddenly Amy's all here, gulping in her first breaths of air. 

But she's not quite the picture her parents expected. She's pale blue and slippery, covered in amniotic fluid and blood and a little meconium, or newborn poop. That place on her head where the curl should be is matted and lopsided, the scalp pushed to one side like a bad toupee. She's also bandy-legged and pigeon-toed, squinty-eyed and squalling.

Yet sure enough, in a few short minutes, everything changes: Amy calms down, her initial frantic cries soothed by Mom's touch and familiar voice. Her color shifts from blue to purple to pink. She opens her eyes onto the world, squirming her way to the waiting nipple and taking it into her mouth as though she's been doing this all her life. And just like that, Amy becomes the cherubic pink fluff-bundle of her parents' dreams.

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Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@cs.com 

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