animals and impending disasters....maybe they DO know

dirtgirl(So. Illinois)November 18, 2005

Monday afternoon ended up being yet another bad day for storms around here, with several tornadoes in our county. I took advantage of the lull in the action that occurred after the first round of storms to go for a quick bicycle ride, knowing that it might be a long time before the weather was nice enough to be out in shorts. I had looked at the radar right before I left and figured I had about an hour and a half tops before the nasty stuff returned and I timed it pretty close. I was just wiping down my frame in the garage when the winds came up and the lightning got really bad. I had heard we could possibly experience straight line winds up to 80 MPH and this had me concerned since our house is totally surrounded by trees. Our old collie was napping about ten feet away on the floor of the garage, totally relaxed, and I wasn't really paying him much attention since he is not afraid of storms, even very bad ones, as long as he has someplace dry to hunker down in.

I suddenly became aware that the lightning and thunder was incredibly intense yet the winds had gotten really quiet and right about this time Casey did the weirdest thing. He quickly got up, not an easy thing for him since he has relly bad hips, and crept up to me like he'd been caught doing something bad and then tried to get onto my lap, which completely knocked me over. He's never been a lap dog, and he has been trained not to "paw" at people, even when excited. I tried to get him to calm down but he acted like a gun-shy dog who just heard a cannon go off. This lasted a minute or so, and then he reluctantly returned to his sleeping pad. Within 5 minutes he was back asleep as if nothing had happened.

The storms passed and I made my way to the house, wondering how many trees would be down. No trees down but gobs of branches. I was inside maybe 5 minutes and at about 3:20 the phone was my dad and he sounded scared; he wanted to know if I was ok, if we had any damage from the tornado. He had been watching the storm tracks on the Weather Channel and a neighbor had called saying they had announced a funnel cloud and mentioned my small town as being in the immediate strike zone, and that it would be in the area by 300pm, which was right about the time the dog went nuts.

I have heard that animals know things are coming. I understand that lots of animals headed inland just before the tsunami hit Indonesia, and that they can feel earthquakes before they actually hit, but this was the first time I actually saw it happen, and with a pet of my own. I bet it has to do with their range of hearing....the change in pitch of the wind with an approaching tornado. But how do they know to be scared?? Casey's never been through a twister, which is lucky for hime since his 'momma' would love to be a storm chaser!

Anybody else ever have things like this happen?

And I hope you are all ok after the crazy times we had Monday!

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jillmcm(z6 PA)

My dog Pepper can tell when a thunderstorm is coming, sometimes hours in advance. She creeps into her hiding spot and acts embarrassed. The other dog doesn't change behavior at all (what I find amazing is that Pepper lets me vacuum her, and Laddie will leap a gate to escape it - you'd think he'd be the one with a storm problem). I think that perhaps Pepper is responding to ultrasound, which travels much further than regular sound, and which people cannot hear. It's as good a guess as any!

Glad you're safe and weathered the storm OK.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2005 at 11:04AM
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catherinet(5 IN)

Wow Dirtgirl.....that was too close.
Did you get to see the PBS special on animals reacting to things like that? That was amazing that animals went to higher ground, hours before the tsunami hit.
I haven't seen it firsthand though. My dog isn't even afraid of thunder.....which I think is really weird.
I can't help but wonder if primitive man was much more sensitive to those things than modern man.
Did anyone around you have any damage?

    Bookmark   November 18, 2005 at 5:00PM
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garden4wildlife(z8 GA)

What dogs are often responding to is barometric pressure changes (this is how people with arthritis can "feel it in their bones" when a storm is coming), and possibly to subtle olfactory changes in the atmosphere when storms form or move through. That's how they're able to predict thunderstorms are coming before they're even fully formed (and before there's actual thunder for the dogs to hear). My lab mix and then later, my golden retriever mix always let us know when a thunderstorm was forming or headed our way. The lab would pant and she'd climb the fence if she was outside and the golden would whine, pace, and pant. Some of the dogs I take care of at the humane society pace, salivate, tremble, and stick right on top of me when they sense a storm is coming, but sometimes when they do that, the storm doesn't even fully occur or come through our area. They can apparently sense the atmospheric changes from miles away.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2005 at 6:19PM
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I find this topic very fascinating, particularly after spending the last nine months working on a research project on the ability of the brain to integrate sensations. When you consider that we humans are programmed to respond through only the seven sense organs (yes, there are two that aren't commonly considered because they are so innate), you realize that perception is limited by what we can take in through our sense organs. So, we are limited not only by the tools that we have, but also by the sensitivity of those tools. When you look at it that way, who is to say how many other things out there are beyond our ability to perceive them? Perhaps animals have the ability to detect sensations that we do not, or perhaps they are more sensitive and so detect smaller intensities of sensation such as pressure, vibration etc. I've seen studies done based on the idea that many pet lost and found reports appear in the papers around the time of big quakes. The other thing that is along these same lines is that someone discovered that animals can detect seizures in humans before they occur. They also use dogs now to detect cancer. Now, I believe the cancer detection is through smell, but they believe that the detection of seizures is due to the ability to detect changes in electrical fields. Interesting to say the least.

Glad to hear you are alright DG.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2005 at 3:48PM
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catherinet(5 IN)

It IS very interesting indeed. Sometimes I really do envy other animal's abilities.
lol! My dog is able to hear the tiniest, quietest bit of food dropped in the kitchen, while she is in the farthest away bedroom. haha
My children and I have discussions around interesting things like this. One of them being our limited range of vision for colors. We drive ourself nuts trying to imagine what a new color might be......and there's no way we can even imagine it!

    Bookmark   November 19, 2005 at 4:21PM
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dirtgirl(So. Illinois)

Completely fascinating, vonyon! I remember reading about those other two senses, one of them had a weird name, almost Japanese sounding....can't think of it. Anyway, I am still convinced--and this is only a rambling notion from a rambling mind--that in my dog's case at least, it was a change within the severity of that storm that triggered his response since simple thunderstorms don't affect him. I am thinking it must be something to do with either his reaction to felt vibrations or hearing a change in pitch that is above or below the range of human hearing. This occurred to me after someone brought up the old comparison of the sound of an approaching tornado to that of a train. We have a track that runs to the west of us about a mile and I always have a 7-10 minute warning that a train is coming because the coyotes start wailing WAY before I ever hear a thing. I started to reason that if coyotes could hear/sense the rumble (sound or vibration?? don't know)of a train that far away, then they would surely have no problem with an approaching tornado/severe storm. Like I said, according to what my dog told me, SOMETHING other than a bad thunderstorm passed my way.
Now all I have to do is teach him to drive a backhoe so we can get started on that storm cellar!!

    Bookmark   November 21, 2005 at 12:52PM
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DG: Not sure it sounds like Japanese, but one of the two is called the vestibular sense. Vestibular sensors are located in the inner ear and help the brain to understand the movemement of the body through space. I guess it is a bit like a gyroscope in rocket, missile and airplane navigation systems. The relationship that we have with gravity and movement is so basic that we are unaware that our brain is processing the information. The thing is that when it is out of whack, our brain pushes it into our conscious mind. An example of that would be when we get dizzy or carsick or if we get an inner ear infection.

The other one is called proprioception. The word is derived from the Latin word proprius or "one's own." The sensors are located in the muscles and joints and help our brain understand where our own body is in space. It provides the body with an inner map. It is the reason that we don't have to look at our foot to know that it is moving.

These two senses (along with tactile) are the ones that a lot of people with autism have extreme difficulty integrating interestingly enough.

I think the idea that we only perceive a portion of the stuff coming out of the world is a fascinating one and has probably been tackled in some sci-fi novel. Since it doesn't happen to be my genre, I'm not entirely sure. I have often wondered if, as humans have evolved some of the innate senses that animals use more naturally have been culled as we are less and less subjected to natural dangers.

Sorry to get off track, but I love to find a use for the mass of info that I got from my research!! :o)

    Bookmark   November 21, 2005 at 5:31PM
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jillmcm(z6 PA)

Oh yeah, SF has been there, done that, vonyon (it IS my genre, LOL). And you don't have to go to SF for some neat examples of other senses - think of sharks and some other fishes with their ability to sense electrical fields (I think the platypus can do this, too); the animals that communicate with ultrasound, like elephants; echolocation in bats and whales; the ability to see in infrared and ultraviolet (too many to mention); and the ability to sense magnetic fields (birds and bugs, at least). Some of those are extensions of senses we share, but others don't overlap with the human sensorium at all.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2005 at 10:38PM
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Jill, It just makes you wonder how much is out there that we just can't perceive. The implications are amazing when you think about it. Not surprised about the sci-fi stuff Jill ;o) . . . I have many friends who read it also.

DG: I think he may hear the heightened pitch, but I wonder if he senses the electricity in the air. Even people notice that their arm hairs stand on end just before they are struck by lightning. Another leap into the off-topic realm, but my latest interest has been trying to understand the manifestation of sensory deprivation on the brain. Even though much has been written and studied on it (both human and animal), we are seeing the problems once again in children adopted from orphanages internationally. While each brain and personality seems to manifest the deprivation differently, many seem to have high anxiety. This can also happen to puppies as many of us may have seen. If they are not socialized to sights and sounds, they become anxious. Some brains even engage in self-stim behavior to try to keep their brains alive. By not becoming desensitized through normal development, the brain takes each and every sensation as a threat. Which brings us back full circle. While personality and individuality can have a huge effect, but sensory deprivation seems to result in some kinds of problems. Obviously, your dog has been around and is very calm and comfortable with the world around him. He only appears to become anxious when the sensation gets to a level of intensity that alerts his brain of the threat. I would be interested to hear how he deals with thunderstorms from now on. My guess is that he has learned that they are a threat and that it may end up affecting his behavior.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2005 at 7:09AM
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catherinet(5 IN)

I know this sounds crazy.....and maybe I'm barking up the wrong tree. I have fibromyalgia. Part of my "affliction" is that I hear too much, I see too much, I feel too much, I notice too much. There are alot of theories out there as to what it really is (fibro), but for many of us, it seems to be a sensory system that's too acute. I've often wondered if it had something to do with having an ancient body in a modern world. Perhaps our bodies/brains/neuro systems have kept more of some of those senses than other people have. I know this idea is probably really too out-there, but I've just always wondered about it.
What got me started thinking this way is when I went through a few years of feeling like I might fall over alot of the time. It wasn't severe dizziness.....just a sense, perhaps, that was picking up on the movement of earth through the universe. I know it sounds whacky......but I guess some of us are always searching for answers to make life make sense.
When I worked in the ER, we'd have tons of crazy people come in, and also pregnant women when there was a full moon.
Some people get horrible migraines when a front comes through, or their arthritis flares up. Some people get SAD (seasonal affective disorder)when fall comes. My body definitely reacts to the autumnal equinox. There are many examples of how our bodies react in an instinctual way to things, but we as humans are so disconnected from nature, that we don't even notice......or run to the doctor for a medication to get rid of certain feelings.
I think we probably have lost alot of our abilities with our various senses, out of dis-use. I also think that some of our senses have been messed up by modern life......using alarm clocks, electricity, additives and preservatives in our food, medications, heating, air conditioning, etc.
I wonder how long of living differently, it might take to get them back?
Sorry to ramble.....

    Bookmark   November 22, 2005 at 9:18AM
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dirtgirl(So. Illinois)

DO forgive me....once again I got off on the wrong track there. I was thinking of the senses of TASTE, of which there is one called "umami", in addition to bitter, sweet, salt, and sour. I think I read that the umami one is rather under debate as to whether it really qualifies as a separate sense....
How bizarre the connection is between the "automatic" brain and the one we consciously control!
A friend of mine was ill for a few days, routine thing:sore throat, light fever. Nothing strange. About a week after he completely recovered,and he said it was not a gradual thing but just all of a sudden-like flipping a switch- he totally lost his sense of taste. He was actually quite scared. If he closed his eyes and you handed him a glass of root beer or a glass of water, he could not tell the difference. Oddly enough, he began losing weight because he said his favorite foods weren't worth eating any more because they were no better than the ones he had already learned to dislike. I tried to imagine it, making yourself eat just whatever you thought your body needed, not making selections based on what you liked or what "sounded good". This only lasted about two weeks and then everything returned to normal, thankfully. But it makes you stop and marvel at how it all works and at how many mysteries remain in this age of so much technology.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2005 at 12:09PM
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Catherine: That is a neurologic system out of whack. I really believe that some people are hypersensitive to sensations. Kids with autism will often be hypersensitive to certain sensations and under (hypo) sensitive to others. Many of the kids that I'm talking about from sensory-deprived backgrounds (Eastern European orphanages) actually are hypersensitive, which is why they remain in a heightened state of alertness and, hence, anxiety. They have trouble discriminating among sensations (knowing which one to focus on). I have tried to imagine what it is like to be inside some of these kids' bodies and the only thing I can imagine is being on a Disney ride with a pounding headache or something. I don't think that the field of medicine really has a full understanding of this yet . . . perhaps because everyone's experience is so different from another's, and the person reporting would have nothing to compare it to.

If you want to read an interesting article on perception of sensation, check out Scientific American's Brain magazine. In a recent issue on people that perceive sensations on the wrong channel, it explains that some people perceive tactile sensation as a bad taste. There were other reports of perceiving sounds as colors and such. Now that seems really different. How do they know that their experience is any different from anyone else's since their frame of reference has always been what it is?

    Bookmark   November 22, 2005 at 3:54PM
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catherinet(5 IN)

Hi Vonyon,
Oh darn, and I thought I was just special. ;)
It would be very interesting to perceive sounds as colors, and so on. I suppose the "affliction" would be sort of like having just learn ways to interpret everything. My children and I have talked about if we all see the same colors as the same colors! How could we ever know for sure?
Very interesting stuff!

    Bookmark   November 22, 2005 at 4:33PM
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