Nine years later… animal intelligence debate still rages

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Earlier this week, my mother handed me an interesting edition of National Geographic — from March 2008.

The cover featured a picture of an adorable black and white border collie and the headline, “Inside Animal Minds: Birds, Apes, Dolphins, and a Dog With a World-Class Vocabulary.”

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

The inside headline was just as intriguing. It said: “Minds of their Own: Animals are smarter than you think.”

According to the article, Uek, a New Caledonian crow, “solves problems and creates and uses tools — once thought the domain solely of primates.” Then there’s Azy, an Orangutan who “shows cognitive complexity and flexibility rivaling that of chimps,” and Shanthi, an Asian elephant who is capable of retaining long memories and “has a sense of self.” Even an unnamed African Cichlid can determine “social rank according to observation,” which is a “step on the way to logical reasoning,” according to the article.

The list goes on.

Edward, a Black Leicester Longwool sheep belongs to a species that can “recognize individual faces and remember them longterm.” JB, a Giant Pacific octopus, and the rest of his kind, have distinct personalities, use tools and recognize individuals.

But according to the article, few wild or domesticated animals can top Betsy. Betsy the Border Collie, who was six at the time, had a staggering vocabulary that totaled 340 words “and counting…”

The debate goes on…

Nine years later, the debate about animal intelligence goes on. And if anything, it has intensified as more and more people view companion animals as family members.

Ask anyone who has a pet about its intelligence you will no doubt be regaled with dozens of anecdotes. After all, people love to brag about their dogs, cats, horses, gerbils, ferrets, birds, rats….

But then again, there are those people who don’t like animals, don’t have pets and scoff at the mere mention of “animal intelligence.” Of course, these people also think that they’re the “smartest people in the room.” To them, there is simply no comparison to human intelligence… or human superiority for that matter.

That’s their opinion — and of course, they’re entitled to it.

Personally, I disagree. And as far as I’m concerned, there’s no end to human stupidity…

Eli says: take a breath, America

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Eli hates it when I’m angry.

He doesn’t even like it when I raise my voice.

There’s no doubt about it.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

He makes his feelings on the subject perfectly clear.

If I raise my voice for any reason, but especially in anger, he bites me. Repeatedly.

I don’t know why he does that, but I think it probably has a lot to do with the abuse he took before I adopted him. Or perhaps it was the violence that he witnessed…

At any rate, he has very sharp teeth, so it gets my attention. Believe me.

So perhaps I should turn him loose on the rest of the country. He could just go around biting anyone who’s yelling about something, or yelling at someone else, for that matter.

It would get their attention. Believe me.

On second thought…

But then again, that’s a huge responsibility for huge responsibility for one cat.

I mean, let’s be honest. It seems like everyone in America is angry about something these days. It seems like everyone is yelling. People are yelling on TV. People are yelling on radio talk shows. People are yelling on social media. People are yelling about politics, politicians, and anything remotely political.

And there’s only so much Eli could do. It would take him a long time to bite everyone.

So maybe it’s time to take a collective breath, America. And maybe it’s time to take a take a good, hard look at ourselves, our behavior and the way we treat others. Maybe it’s time to take responsibility for our actions, and our words. Because that old line about “sticks and stones” is a myth.

Words are incredibly powerful. Especially when everyone is screaming invective at the top of their lungs.

Some unsolicited advice…

For what it’s worth, here’s how I keep my temper in check online and elsewhere.

  1. If I’ve got to vent I do it in private.
  2. I repeat the following until I am calm enough to have a rational, civilized discussion: I am an adult. I am in charge of my feelings. No one has the power to make me feel anything. Only I can decide how I react.
  3. If I see an offensive comment online, I count to 10 before I decide whether to engage, and how to engage with the person who made the offensive comment.
  4. l remind myself to respect everyone’s right to their opinions, even if I don’t agree.
  5. If all else fails, I take a deep breath and count to 10, and remember what my mother taught me at a very young age: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all…

Connecticut gets it right with animal advocacy law

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I don’t care if people are leaving Connecticut in droves. I love it here.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

I mean honestly, what’s not to love? I’ve got Long Island Sound as a summertime playground. The greatest city in the world is just a short train ride away. If I want to go to the world’s coolest flea markets, they’re just a short car ride away. The possibilities are endless…

Having said all of that, I can’t honestly say I’m always proud of living here. The state economy is a disaster. State leadership under Gov. Dannel Malloy is a joke. The cost of living is obscene. The traffic is a nightmare. The infrastructure is crumbling.

Without going into too much detail, locally things aren’t much better.

Giving credit where it’s due

But I’ve got to give Connecticut lawmakers credit for one thing… and only one thing. They definitely got it right when they came up with a bill that allows advocates with an interest and/or expertise in animal law to provide courtroom assistance in animal cruelty and neglect cases. I also applaud for Malloy for having the courage to sign it into law.

As those of you who follow this blog faithfully know, I’ve been following developments and blogging about this particular law for some time. But because it is the first of its kind in the United States, “Desmond’s Law” is now attracting national attention.

Here’s where you can learn more:

Silencing the critics

Of course there are more than a few people who don’t like or don’t care about animals. And they probably don’t think this is a good idea. I am sure they think that, at a time when criminal courts are already overburdened, humans should come first.

Well’s here’s what I have to say about that. There is clear evidence that people who are prone to hurting animals are also prone towards engaging in violence against people. So anything that can be done to stop people from hurting animals, and ensuring that they’re punished to the fullest extent of the law when they do is fine with me.

Just saying…

Sad stories become happy tails at Adopt-a-Dog

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When it comes to the stuff that makes me mad, I’ve learned to choose my battles. At this point, there’s little I can do about the state of my country or the state of its leadership. I can’t put an end to terrorism or injustice. And I certainly can’t do anything about human stupidity.

As much as I would love to, there’s no way that I can save all of the companion animals who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected. As much as I would love to, there’s no way that I can find and punish the people who mistreat or discard their pets without a second thought.

Puppy dog eyes…. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

But for three years, I did what I little I could to help find “forever homes” for unwanted or abandoned pets by volunteering in the office at a local shelter. Although I had to stop doing so after I started In Brief Legal Writing Services, I’m still a volunteer photographer for Adopt-a-Dog in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Last weekend, I finally had a chance to visit the shelter and catch up with some old friends. I also had a chance to get the shots of the dogs that I’m sharing in this post. Hopefully these pups will soon be adopted, if they weren’t already.

In the meantime, you can learn more about Adopt-a-Dog by visiting their website. In the meantime, please feel free to let me know about shelters or rescue groups in your area that are doing great work. I’d be happy to do posts about them, too!

Hi there! Want to play? Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic


This pup’s bib says it all! Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic




Memorial Day tributes… honoring the fallen

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They say a picture says a thousand words.

With that in mind, I’m taking a break from writing about animals and legal issues to share some of my favorite photographs from the last two Memorial Day parades I attended as a resident of Warrenton,  Virginia.

I hope you enjoy these images and that, as we all return to work after the long holiday weekend, they serve as an ongoing reminder of what is truly important…

Wreath. Shot at Memorial Day Service in Warrenton, Virginia in 2011. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic
Memorial Day Wreath. Warrenton, Va., 2011. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic
Old Glory. American Flag. Photo taken at Memorial Day Ceremony by Alexandra Bogdanovic
American Flag. As seen at Memorial Day ceremony in Warrenton, Virginia. May 2011. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic
Red, White and Blue Umbrella. Pictured on Memorial Day, 2011. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic
Patriotic Colors. Memorial Day Ceremony in Warrenton, Va., May 2011. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic
Second and Main. Warrenton, Va. Memorial Day, 2012.
Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic
Main Street America. Memorial Day Parade, 2012. Warrenton, Va.
Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic
Old Glory. Memorial Day, 2012. Warrenton, Va.
Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic
Memorial Day, 2012. Warrenton, Va.
Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic
Follow the Leader. Memorial Day Parade, 2012. Warrenton, Va.
Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

Yes, I’m still alive (and here’s what I’ve been reading…)

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Hi, everyone. Yes, I’m alive…

Sorry I’ve been away so long. But living and working in a renovation zone has been keeping me pretty busy. In other words, I have not had much free time.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

In the spare time that I have had, I’ve been struggling to find activities that allow me to escape from all of the stress and horrors  of, well…  living and working in a renovation zone. So I’ve been binge-watching a few TV shows, borrowing movies from my local library, and reading whenever I can.

Yes, I love to read. In fact, it’s something that I’ve loved to do since I was just a little kid. And for as long as I can remember, I’ve loved books about animals. I’ve also been known to enjoy a good mystery or two.

Here’s what I’ve been reading

So with all of that being stated, here’s what I’ve been reading.

Right now, I’m about three-quarters of the way through Live and Let Growl by Laurien Berenson. And so far, I really like it. I don’t love it. But I really like it.

It’s part of the “Melanie Travis Canine Mystery” series. As such, it’s what would usually be classified as a “cozy” mystery, which basically means that it’s a “who-done-it” without all of the mayhem and gore. And right now, that’s fine with me. I’ve got enough chaos in my life as it its.

But back to the point.

One of the reasons I like it so much is because the protagonist is from Connecticut. So I can relate. The other reason I like it is because of the setting. It’s set at a dog show in Kentucky horse country. Dogs…horses…mystery…intrigue… what’s not to love?

And now for some recommendations…

Don’t worry. I haven’t forgotten about all of my feline-loving friends out there. In fact, I’ve got some great recommendations for anyone who shares my passion for cats and books, or more specifically, cats and mysteries.

You simply must check out the Cat Who… series by the late Lillian Jackson Braun. This set of 20-plus books by Braun features an intrepid reporter (Jim Qwilleran) as the protagonist and his trusty Siamese sidekicks, Yum Yum and KoKo. Together they get in and out of their share of trouble while solving perplexing crimes.

Like Berenson’s books, these are “cozy” mysteries, so they’re suitable for readers of all ages.

Give them a try, and let me know what you think. Or you can share your thoughts about your favorite books in the comments section below. I’d love to hear about what you enjoy and the books on your summer reading list.

Declawing cats could soon be banned in New York

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If this bill passes, it will be the best law ever. Or one of them, at any rate

According to published reports, the New York lawmakers are currently mulling proposed rules that would make it illegal to declaw cats there. If it passes, New York would be the first state to ban the activity.

It’s not a slam dunk…

Unfortunately, passage of the bill is not guaranteed. For some reason that defies belief state legislators haven’t supported the measure in the past.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

And now, a group classified as New York’s “largest veterinary association” is opposing it. This group reportedly claims that declawing should still be made available as a last resort when cats “won’t stop scratching furniture or people.”

With all due respect, I think that’s a bunch of (expletive deleted). There are plenty of ways to teach cats not to scratch without removing their claws.

And quite frankly, there are worse things a cat can do than scratching.

Trust me, I had two cats before Eli. They were both females, and they both were known to scratch from time to time. Eli bites when he’s mad. And it hurts. So it’s a good thing I love him unconditionally.

But there is hope

But back to the issue at hand. Declawing is cruel. Those who oppose the practice say it requires painful surgery that can do permanent damage. It also deprives a cat of the tools it needs in order to hunt, climb and defend itself.

The good news is that the New York measure is finally gaining some traction. Veterinarians in favor of the ban reportedly lobbied for it in Albany. The bill’s sponsor also says “more lawmakers are signing on.”

Although there is no precedence for a statewide ban, the practice is prohibited in some California cities. It has also been disallowed in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe.

What do you think. Should declawing be banned? Share your opinion in the comment section below.

For tenants with pets, fear of eviction is real

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As a little kid, I always wanted a pet. But I couldn’t have one. For one thing, I was horribly allergic to just about everything. If I patted or got licked by a dog, I had an asthma attack or broke out in hives. If I got scratched by a cat, I got an antihistamine reaction.

When I was 10, everything changed. We got a cat. Her name was Tiger. We got her from some friends that were moving to Saudi Arabia. She was supposed to live in our attic.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

And she was only supposed to stay with us long enough to eradicate the mice that were running rampant in our apartment. She never caught a mouse. And I had her for 17 years.

It’s a good thing our landlord was cool with it. That’s not always the case.

The case of the selective ‘no pets policy’

In an article I came across the other day, the author answered an interesting question about an allegedly selective “no pets policy.” Specifically, the reader who submitted the question to The New York Times “Ask Real Estate” page, wanted to know if his (or her) new landlord could make good on a threat to evict him (or her). The alleged threat to do so  is based on a claim that the reader has a pet and is therefore in violation of his (or her) lease.

In this case, the reader lives in a “rent-stabilized apartment” in Brooklyn. His (or her) chihuahua has also lived there for the past 10 years.

Based on the information provided the short answer is “no.” You can read a more detailed explanation here.

In the same article, you can also learn why the new building owners are well within their rights to extend “pet friendly” leases to some new tenants, but not to others.

If there’s one thing scarier than getting kicked out of your home…

Being homeless is a frightening prospect for anyone. But if there’s one thing scarier for an animal lover, it’s being forced to choose between their home and their pet.

With that in mind, I’m including a list of resources below  that you can consult if you or someone you know is facing eviction. Please keep in mind that this material is provided strictly for informational purposes and is not legal advice.

Oswego food pantry caters to pets when owners can’t

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Now this is a good idea.

Not that’s it’s entirely unique — I have read about programs like this that have been implemented elsewhere before.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

But I’ve got to hand it to the city of Oswego, N.Y., for coming up with a program that promotes responsible pet ownership and gives pet owners — and their charges — help when it’s needed most.

As reported on, the city has opened a food pantry that will “supply food and other necessities for pets when owners fall on difficult financial times.”

What sets this pet pantry apart?

Like other “pet pantries” I’ve read about, Oswego’s will rely on donations in order to help struggling pet owners. What sets it apart, in my opinion, is that it won’t be open to everyone. In order to qualify for assistance, pet owners must meet certain criteria.

To be eligible, the animal’s owner “must license their pet, including spaying or neutering of the animals.” The stipulation”will help better control the population of dogs and cats within the city,” according to Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow.

A ‘win-win situation’ for Oswego residents and their pets

Oswego Animal Control Officer Caroline Anderson, who also spoke to the media, agreed.

“We receive calls every week from people who can no longer keep their pets due to financial hardship,” she said. “If we can help companion animals remain in their homes where they are loved while also battling animal overpopulation, it’s a win-win.”

She added that companion animals that have been spayed or neutered are less likely to be surrendered because they have behavioral issues. They are also less like to stray and tend to be less aggressive than animals who haven’t been spayed or neutered.

The city first came up with programs that encouraged residents to spay, neuter and license their pets in 2016. Prior to creating the initiative, the average number of dog licenses issued by the city was less than 300 per year. In 2016 it issued more than 1,000.

If you live in Oswego…

If you live in Oswego and are struggling to provide for your pet, you can visit the pantry from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursdays, or make an appointment. Be sure to bring proof of need and proof that your pet is licensed, and spayed or neutered. Proof of a current rabies vaccine is also required.

Since the pet pantry will be stocked with donations, residents are also encouraged to drop off supplies,  including donated pet food, kitty litter, treats and flea/tick and heart worm preventives.

For more information, click here.

What you should know before flying with your pet

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OK, so here’s the deal. Eli gets car sick. Big time. So I’m really happy that we no longer have to make 300-plus mile drives from Virginia to Connecticut when we go on vacation. The longest road trips we take these days are the five-minute variety (that’s how long it takes to get from our house to the vet). Of course, he’s never happy about the destination (unless it’s the return trip) but that’s beside the point.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

Returning to the topic at hand, I’m really, really, really happy I’ve never had to fly with him. And I hope I never will — because he hates his cat carrier and I doubt he would be happy in the cabin. I also doubt the passengers would be happy about having him in the cabin — listening babies cry on planes is bad enough — listening to a cat yowl the whole time would be torture.

Having said that, I will sprout wings and fly myself before I ever let anyone put Eli in the cargo hold of any aircraft. I don’t care how safe it supposedly is. I’ve read too many horror stories: pets escape, pets get hurt, and pets die. So to reiterate, no, thank you very much. I am not trusting any airline with my cat. Ever.

All you need to know about flying with Fido or Fluffy

In the interest of full disclosure, recent incidents aboard and following United Airlines flights have renewed, if not prompted, my personal vehemence on this topic. I mean a guy getting dragged off an overbooked flight is bad enough, but a giant rabbit’s death after flying on the airline is beyond words.

If anything good has come out of the latter, it’s that the incident grabbed plenty of headlines and generated public awareness about flying with pets.

You can read a really good story about your rights and options as a pet owner, the precautions you should take, and more here. While researching the topic, I also found a comprehensive and informative story that specifically pertains to the transportation of pets in aircraft cargo holds.

For brevity’s sake, I won’t rehash both articles. But suffice it to say that when it comes to the pets that one writer described as “precious cargo,” there’s no such thing as being overly informed, or being too careful.

How do you feel about flying with your pet? Share your opinion by voting in the following poll.