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Date of Issue: November 24, 2005

Sandscript

What do dogs, cats think? And why can't we figure it out?

We humans are supposed to be the brightest light on this planet we call Earth. Such as it is.

As the late-great Douglas Adams put it, "Out in the uncharted backwater of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly 98 million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primative that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea."

Gotta love that "Hitchhikers Guide To the Galaxy" guy, even though the movie was awful.

Anyway, humans are supposed to be the Top Dog around here. Numero Uno. Biggest with the Bestest with the Mostest.

So if we're so smart, why can't we figure out how dogs and cats think?

Hey, we've got them around us all the time. They're our friends. They look at us with those big, deep eyes and seem to say …

"I'm an alien life form. I will soon eat your brain. Resistance is futile."

Aw, no, not Fluffy or Spot!

I'll admit I'm not too bright when it comes to knowing much about our feline friends. I've had friends who had friends who were cats. Sometimes we got along. I remember a fun weekend where I was barely able to overcome sneezing a lot while a cat decided he would be my friend and tried to sleep on my chest while I tried to behave in a sharing way to get my sweetie to … well, never mind.

Dogs are cool, mostly.

Dogs drool, bark, bite, do usual dog things. Maybe it's a guy thing, but dogs make more sense to me, probably because that's what I know. Lots of scratching and stuff.

Or what I don't know, because after all these years I still don't know what dogs think.

I've had huge dogs that were classed by many as being the most vicious beasts known to man. Dobermans. Huge, bright-eared, white-teethed, awful dogs. They were mostly wussies.

I've known small, cuddly, "oh, so cute" dogs that even the Wicked Witch of the West would want to snuggle with that turned ferocious and tried to bite out my sternum.

Even now I've got a sweet, kind, gentle little dog, loves to climb in your lap, gives little kisses, prances around the house and, after he bites you, will be your new best friend. Oh, and his bark is about the same frequency and volume of a tugboat siren, which he seems to do whenever the air moves. (Call me if you'd like to adopt this special little friend … there's money in it for you. This advertisement has been paid for and approved by the publisher.)

But back to why dogs are especially weird. They're meat eaters. Supposed to be, anyway. Descended from long lines of meat-eating critters that go back to the dinosaurs. So why is it that my little dog, with no change in his diet, no human food, no special anything, suddenly decides that he wants to eat all the grass from the yard?

Common wisdom is that dogs eat grass so they can throw up something that didn't agree with them. My little guy doesn't even puke after eating the grass. Why?

Well, apparently it's in his nature, according to the journal Nature. 

Apparently the biggest carnivours ever to have roamed the planet ate grass, too. Researchers have discovered that dinosaurs ate grass. This insight came from studying fossilized dino droppings - perhaps a new career path for some of us?

Anyway, what has surprised the scientists more than the fact that the dinos ate grass is the fact that grass was around 275 to 65 million years ago. Researchers thought that grass only dated back about 55 million years past.

"It was very unexpected," said one researchers, adding that the finding "shake up what was known about grass. We will have to rewrite our understanding of its evolution. We may have to add grass to the dioramas of dinosaurs we see in museums."

Grass, it seems, was thought to have evolved along with what we now know of horses and camels. Now, that's not the case - the first grass grazers were probably dinos.

New beach book

David McRee has just published a new book about beaches, including Anna Maria Island. "Florida Beaches, Finding Your Paradise on the Lower Gulf Coast." It's a pretty nice guide to all things found on the beach, both good and bad: Good sunning spots, nice amenities, sting rays and rip tides.

McRee offers some personal tips that can only come from actually going to most of the beaches, too, always a nice touch in what is sometimes not a touchy-feely vein of reporting these days. It's not surprising he knows of what he writes, though, as he's a third-generation native of Bradenton.

Consider these thoughts about the Manatee Public Beach:

"A concrete pier built for erosion control extends for 150 feet or so into the Gulf. When I was a teenager, we carried our surfboards out to the end of the pier, threw them into the water and then leaped in and climbed on. It saved us the arduous paddle through the surf. Fishermen could always be found trying their lock or skill from the pier, day and night. Times change, though. The pier has been rebuilt after storm damage. Now it has railing and warning signs. Jumping off the pier is no longer tolerated. Progress."

So true.

The book includes maps, pictures and lots of helpful tips for beaches from Dunedin south to Marco Island. Cost is $19.95, and it's available online at BeachHunter.net.

Another bright spot to our north

There's a new light on the horizon just across Tampa Bay from Anna Maria Island - a new, 70-foot-tall lighthouse on Tierra Verde near Fort Desoto.

The lighthouse is part of the Tampa Bay Watch Marine and Education Center, a part of the very effective Tampa Bay Watch. The light was switched on last week, with an official dedication ceremony set for Dec. 3.

Gotta love those lighthouses.

Oops

Got a nice note from John Moerk of Anna Maria about last week's little history piece on hurricanes and Spaniards. Seems I bungled the tale a little bit: Juan Ortiz (the correct spelling is like that, not my jumbled "Ortez") was indeed rescued by Hernando de Soto in 1539, but died during the expedition and never made it back to Spain, as I stated. Sorry about that, John, but thanks for the heads-up.

Sandscript factoid

The Tampa Bay Watch lighthouse is the first such structure to be built in Florida in 75 years.

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