The Challenge

 
Ah, there the two of you are:

The cat and dog lovers.

I can hear you two arguing from here.  Cats are smarter than dogs.  Dogs are smarter than cats.  Cats are smarter.  Dogs are smarter.

Cats.  Dogs.  Cats.  Dogs.

And now some guy's claiming his PIG is smarter!

Pretty boring, really.

At least, after you've owned the kind of pet I've owned.
 

Although the following story is fictional, what my pet does in this 'contest' is based entirely upon a true event as witnessed more than once.
 


 
The "World's Smartest Pet" contest is coming to a climax.  Tension mounts as the contestants enter the ring.  The world's smartest cat is there.  The world's smartest dog is there.  The world's smartest pig is there.  What a showdown!  The owners are beaming with pride.

Also, almost unnoticed, is a fourth owner.

Me.

Sitting on the floor at my feet is a standard animal travel case.  It's a mystery what's inside.

The task before the animals looks like a simple one, but, this being an intelligence test for the world's smartest pet, it's obviously a bit trickier than that.

At one end of a 5' x 12' pen is a wire cage with a water bowl and food bowl inside.  This, the animals identify as home.

The opening to the cage is exactly 12" square.

At the other end of the pen sits a cardboard box.  It has some large round holes cut in the sides for the animals to crawl through (or at least poke their noses or snouts through) and a few edible treats inside to make them associate it with home and thereby want to drag it back to their cage where, given animal logic, more edible treats will eventually appear.

The box is 1" wider and taller than the cage opening.

The test here isn't just to see if they'll drag the box over to the cage, or how long they'll fight to get the box through the door, but how soon they realize that it's too big to fit, and how they'll react if they reach this vital conclusion.  Remember that line from the movie "WarGames", about global thermonuclear war?

The only winning move is not to play.

Same thing.  Perseverance shows one side of the brain, but knowing when to give up — to understand the concept of futility — shows another important side.  The animal's intelligence is measured by where it draws the line between these two.

The cat is given the first opportunity.  She pushes and pulls the box halfway toward the opening, gets distracted by a small moth circling nearby and starts jumping and swatting at it, shaming her owner before the jeering crowd.  The cat catches the moth, eats it, then climbs into the box and, in typical cat fashion, curls up and goes to sleep.  She's taken from the pen in disgrace.

The dog grabs the box with his teeth and swings it over to the doorway.  He crawls inside the cage and tries to drag the box in after him.  He snarls himself into a frenzy, drool flying everywhere, but it resists going through the opening.  From all anyone could tell, it looked like he was going to keep on mauling it until Hell froze over and Doomsday arrived.  The snarling, half-rabid dog is finally calmed down, the drool mopped up and he's led from the pen by his humiliated owner.

The pig snuffles and snorts and nudges the box toward the cage.  It doesn't fit through the door so he pushes and pushes at it some more, crinkling it somewhat but not getting it through the opening.  He starts squealing and stomping on it in anger until it's rescued by the frantic judges.  While everyone's rushing around the pen, he turns his attention to the food bowl and plunges his snout deep into the swill.  Grunting noisily, he, too, is led from the pen by his mortified owner.

All eyes turn toward me and my mystery guest.

I gently set the travel case down inside the pen.  I open the door.

Silence fills the arena.  Not a sound is uttered as fifty thousand people watch with the highest expectation.

A little nose pokes out.

It twitches.

It's followed by some whiskers, and some great big beautiful almond-shaped eyes.

And some great big ears.

His name is Buzz.

Buzz hops out of the case and thumps his way across the pen to the cage.  The crowd sits in stunned silence.

Buzz looks around his new home, has a drink of water and a quick bite to eat and obviously approves of his new surroundings.  He hops out to explore the pen.

He comes across the box.  He hops in and out of the holes, eats a munchie and is delighted at his new toy.

His first thought is to bring it home.

He drags it a few feet toward the cage.  He then sits outside the box and raises his nose to the top of the box, then lowers it to the ground, then sideways, from one side to the other.  He does this a few times, then lumbers over to the cage.

He does the same thing with his nose to the door of the cage.

He trudges back over to the box and drags it closer to the cage, about two feet away.  Again, he raises his nose to the top of the box and then lowers it to the ground, then moves from one side to the other, slowly, back and forth, back and forth.

He turns around to the cage door and again does the same thing. 

He decides the box won't fit and never actually tries to drag it through the opening.

He is the first animal in the 85-year history of the event to solve the puzzle.

The only winning move is not to play.