Laid-back llamas: Hypnotizing animals not too hard

Q. Can animals be hypnotized? ­G. G. Williams

 A. "Tonic immobility" is the term for this, where you rub the abdomen of a rabbit or hold a chicken on its back and cover its eyes for a minute, and then it will lie still for some time, says Cornell animal behavior veterinarian Katherine Houpt. Or you can swing the chicken back and forth with its head beneath its wing.

Other techniques seem to bring on a trance-like state, such as stroking the tentacles of an octopus or the stomach of an alligator or crocodile– if you have the courage, adds University of Sydney, New South Wales, veterinary anatomist Michael Bryden.

"In each case, the animal might just lie motionless, and permit simple procedures to be done on it." This has also been used by fishermen, who grab the tip of a shark's tail and bend it over, rendering the accidentally netted catch "immediately unresponsive, almost catatonic for 30-90 seconds," reports Diver magazine. The hook can then be removed and the shark let free– and saved.

Is any of this really hypnosis? "Tough to say," answers Ohio State veterinary surgeon David Anderson. Animals can't relate their experiences to us, at least not in a way we can understand. "I've observed alpacas and llamas 'calmed' into a state of relaxation by gently rubbing the upper gum just beneath the cleft in the upper lip. The animals stop resisting being held, and stop vocalizing.

"But I have not observed any results from suggestions I have made to them while they are in this state!"

Q. Can an emotional dream in the dark of night bring two people together for a real daytime marriage? –

 A. Love's fickle enough that a lot less than a psyche's well-crafted dream has made it all work.

In his book Night, Alfred Alvarez tells of a divorced man in London grimly playing the field, but sort of "interested" in one particular American girl. They lived together awhile, fought too much, it was on and off.

"After about two years of this I had a dream." He was seeing another woman now, but it too was rocky, though he imagined he was in love. In the dream, he and the American girl were dancing, just like old times. "I pushed her out at arm's length and looked at her." Her hair was now white and, he realized, so was his. "We're old, I thought in my dream, and we're together– and perfectly happy."

He awoke still happy and couldn't understand it. They had always enjoyed each other's company, but somehow that hadn't seemed enough, "too natural, not sufficiently doomed... But the dream was telling me what I refused to know: that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her."

A few days later they ran into each other on the street, and he told her of the dream. Soon they got back together and six months later were wed. All of this Alvarez recounted 35 years later, and the couple was still married. Just like countless thousands of other "dream" lovers.

Q. Borrowing a secret from the rich and famous, how might you create your own good luck for success? ­A. Leprecaun

 A. Life's a sort of river of events, with some planned, many more just coming along by happenstance, says Max Gunther in How To Get Lucky. To maximize your chances, you must stay in the thick of things, go to parties, join clubs, get on teams, talk to people.

Networking is key, because good breaks come often through friends. Check out the math: If you know 300 people– an average number– and each of them knows 300 other people, you're now friend-of-a-friend to 90,000 people, and friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend to 27 million! (Even with overlaps, the number in practice is truly enormous.)

That's bigger than the biggest cities, and all within a couple of well-placed phone calls reaching out from you.

Q. If the stork brought babies, what month would the bird be busiest? Same month Moms and Dads would choose? ­B. Spock

A. Though most would-be parents aim for spring or early summer, actual births don't peak until August or September, says University of Oklahoma psychologist Joseph Lee Rodgers. Likely reason for the out-of-sync? Couples fail to take into account the two to three months often required for conception to occur. Or another theory: Summer heat wreaks havoc on sperm counts and disrupts ovulatory patterns, shifting many conceptions toward winter.

If this is so, it helps explain another curious phenomenon: The annual peaks-and-valleys birth cycle has been flattening out in recent decades, with baby birth days spread more evenly now throughout the seasons. Is widespread use of air conditioning today the reason?

Then, too, the "eggnog theory" no doubt has some validity, as Yuletide snugglings usher in more than glad tidings for many nine months into the New Year.

Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at