Dog with remote: Terr loves Lassie

Q. If dogs got their paws on the channel selector, what programs would they watch? ­W. Wegman

 A. When well-known magician and skeptic James "Amazing" Randi got wind of a claim that a poodle named Terr was a big TV watcher, he decided to investigate.

First he exposed the dog to neutral non-canine videos, then to ones where Lassie came in after the initial three minutes or so. As Randi observed, Terr lost interest quickly when people were depicted, but when Lassie appeared Terr immediately perked up and began barking.

"Terr would never bite at the image of a person, but only the dog," reported fellow-skeptic Al Seckel in Laser magazine. "Terr would also follow the dog's image across the screen. Terr was able to distinguish a running Lassie when the image was only an inch across. And Terr went positively berserk when a cat appeared on the screen!"

Terr, it turned out, wasn't fond of cartoons but loved nature shows, especially those featuring fellow four-leggers, and would watch for up to an hour.

Said an amused Randi: "I wouldn't have believed it! This dog actually watches TV!"

Q. Third month into the pregnancy and all the classic symptoms were appearing: nausea, fatigue, mood swings, food cravings, weight gain. But these weren't supposed to be happening to him, were they? ­Dr. Spock

 A. Couvade syndrome– from the French couver, "to hatch"–affects anywhere from 10 percent to 65 percent of expectant Dads, especially during the third month and again at delivery, with mimicking of Mom's bodily changes.

Originally, couvade described the rare practice by males in isolated societies of simulating the maternal condition during childbirth, says the website Canadian Parents Online. "The men would grunt, groan, and puff in nearby huts as their wives gave birth. Today's version has changed somewhat with the introduction of men into the delivery room and their full involvement from start to end."

Close and sympathetic partners are most likely to be affected. Fear of fatherhood can be a factor, especially a sense of imminent emotional or financial responsibility.


Q. A person snatched up into the jaws of a lion and shaken about would have to be in agonizing pain, wouldn't you say? ­G. G. Williams

 A. That's not the way Scottish explorer David Livingstone tells it in his 1857 Missionary Travels, where he recounts being attacked by a big cat:

"Growling horribly close to my ear, he shook me as a terrier does a rat. The shock produced a stupor similar to that which seems to be felt by a mouse after the first shake of the cat. It caused a sort of dreaminess, in which there was no sense of pain nor feeling of terror, though [I was] quite conscious of all that was happening."

Then a friend fired a gun and scared the lion off, saving the badly injured Livingstone.

In The Medusa and the Snail, noted author Lewis Thomas describes witnessing a jeep accident during World War II where two young MPs were trapped inside the crushed steel, both mortally injured. "We had a conversation while people with the right tools were prying them free. 'Sorry about the accident,' they said. 'No,' they said, they felt fine. 'Is everyone else okay?' one of them said. 'Well,' the other one said, 'no hurry now. And then they died.'"

Such stories are common where people encounter violent life-threatening circumstances. In many grave situations where pain would seem to serve no biological purpose, the brain apparently shuts it off with natural stress chemicals called endorphins (for "endogenous morphine").

Q. In 1816, when Dr. R. T. H. Laennec was examining a young obese woman with symptoms of heart disease, he balked at feeling her chest with his hand or placing an ear there (the standard methods of the day), believing these to be "indelicate and impracticable" under the circumstances.

What device did he invent on the spot? ­J.D. Aller

 A. He rolled up sheets of paper into a tube, put one end to the woman's chest above her heart and listened at the other, the precursor to the stethoscope, say John Cameron et al. in Physics of the Body. The device today is used also for checking the lungs, bone joints and arterial blood flow.

Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at