An Irishman's Diary
REVELATIONS that Erwin Schrödinger had a dog during his Dublin years (Letters, Wednesday), and that it was a “nasty mongrel”, terrifying neighbours while offering no compensatory insights about quantum physics, has set me researching some of history’s other lesser-known animals. Here are a few you probably hadn’t heard of either.
The great Russian physiologist is best known for his work on conditioned reflexes: causing dogs to salivate by ringing a bell they had come to associate with food. But his famous experiments took a toll at home, especially on Mrs Pavlov. A fastidious housekeeper, she complained constantly about “slobbering brutes, everywhere”, ruining her carpets.
So it was partly to appease her that, one day, Pavlov brought home a Persian kitten he had found wandering the streets of St Petersburg. In time, however, he himself grew very fond of the animal. He named it “Anastasia”, after the Tsar’s daughter, bought it a pink collar, and sometimes even dressed it up in pretty ribbons.
It was a double blow, therefore, when a year later, the cat’s owner turned up and, in the process of claiming his pet, revealed that its real name was “Boris”. Although he joked about it with colleagues – “How can you tell with a cat?” – the incident is said to have damaged Pavlov’s self-confidence for a period. He only fully recovered when winning the Nobel Prize (1904) for his work on dogs.
Holly the Sheep
Ever since 1996, rumours have persisted in Edinburgh that the ground-breaking clone, Dolly, had a troubled sister whose existence was covered up by the laboratory. Details of the story vary widely. But most suggest that “Holly” was unusually intelligent, for a sheep, and even more unusually violent.
According to some accounts, she escaped the Roslin Institute in 1998 by cutting through a wire fence with her teeth, and then embarked on a reign of terror against Border Collies in the area. The Roslin Institute has ridiculed all such suggestions.
Yet there continue to be reported sightings in Scotland of a rogue sheep, most recently in the hills around Loch Ness.
The Badger-keeper of Alcatraz
The fame of Robert Stroud, a convicted murderer who raised birds in his prison cell and eventually became a respected ornithologist, has tended to obscure the equally fascinating story of Jimmy Falcone, a recovering psychopath who was serving a life sentence in the same wing of the jail.
According to other inmates, Falcone’s love of badgers began one day in the prison yard, when he found an injured baby of the species and nursed it back to health. He later prevailed upon prison authorities to allow him buy a mate for the animal, after which he embarked on a breeding programme.
The authorities co-operated with his activities, partly because of the educational and rehabilitative effects: Falcone gave regular lectures to inmates and even involved them in his experiments. He also completed a PhD in prison – on the badger’s unique excavation powers – and later turned it into a book: Nature’s Greatest Digger (1941).