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How smart are animals? Do they have a spiritual dimension?

Take crows. Did you know that in Western New York and also Asia scientists have documented how some of them will wait near a busy intersection, swoop down as cars stop during a red light, put nuts that are hard to crack under the tires, then head back up to their perches on power lines to wait for the green light and the crushing effect on the cars? After the cars take off they swoop back down for the bounty.

You can see it here, in Japan, if you don't believe it. They also use sticks to extract insects from logs. Can animals count? Experiments show that some can. Even reptiles may be more cognizant than we imagine. The director of the famous Alligator Farm in Saint Augustine, Florida, tells us these large reptiles will lift their head, responding correctly, at feeding time, when their names are called.

Ever stare into the eyes of a deer?

Check out the intelligence even of fish such as the Oscar (astronotus oscellatus, a type of South American grouper); they recognize their owners. We have an African Gray parrot. Studies at places like the University of Arizona (by a scientist named Dr. Irene Pepperberg, whose book was published by Harvard) have shown they can differentiate colors and have the intelligence of a four-year-old child. We can attest to the fact that our bird can learn entire short sentences on his own, knows us by name, and understands many things he says (specifying when he wants to eat or come out, for example). The veterinarian (a bird expert) confirmed the comparison to a toddler and said they are smarter than chimps. So much for the expression "bird brain."

If you think this is a bit far-fetched, here's another video to watch (on YouTube; you'll be amazed at what this parrot does).

One day, when we actually know the full picture, on the other side, we will be in for surprises.

Until then we can only speculate.

With such a small head: is intelligence then just a matter of brain connections (parrots have many more than the average animal), or is it because there is something beyond the physical brain that actually constitutes "intelligence"?

That's a loaded question. Can animals be spiritual?

There long have been accounts of dogs that howl at the moment of a master's death, and visit the grave; or of a pet coming into an owner's dream and found dead the next morning. People who have near-death experiences occasionally claim they have encountered deceased pets. It's very controversial. It raises emotions in people. Many cultures believe that spirits can inhabit or use animals (indeed, such as crows, or cats). Saints like Francis had phenomenal and seemingly telepathic rapport with animals (at Assisi, doves to this day stay in the folded hands of one of his statues).

Father Carl Schmidt, in his powerful little book, Freedom Through Deliverance ("a systematic pastoral approach to the ministry of deliverance"), offers an intriguing aside concerning animals while discussing the presence of spirits.

"Can animals sense or see spirits?" he asks.

"In Numbers 22:23, Balaam's ass saw an angel of the Lord. Animals can sense and sometimes even see evil spirits. I'll recount two stories. In the case of Matt (before his deliverance), he would come home with an evil spirit. His dog would shake all night and wet the bed (he slept with him). After Matt received the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the dog [reacted] only when Matt had an evil spirit.

"A second story involves a minister who performed deliverances and had a dog which could see spirits. When an infested person would try to pet his dog, the dog would sense the evil and growl. The infested person (who liked dogs) would look perplexed. The minister would smile and say nothing.

"When this minister would do a number of deliverances (usually on Saturday mornings), the evil spirits would become agitated and reveal themselves. The dog would begin to growl and the growling turned into barking as the spirits were forced to leave. The dog would chase each spirit to the window where it would disappear. At that point, the dog stopped barking."

For our discernment.

[Resources: Freedom Through Deliverance and Animals in Heaven? Catholics Want to Know!

[Michael Brown's books] [Retreats:  Los Angeles, Santa Barbara]

[see also: article on Alex the parrot and Archdiocese of D.C. on pets]

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