Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Ghost retrievers

A couple of days ago, I posted some ideas about new "In Search Of" titles, suggesting that a sponsor network pay me large quantities of money and fly me around the world for free to look for cryptids.  The reader response to this concept was overwhelmingly positive, and I now have plenty enough volunteers to staff a film crew, provide artistic direction, and give technical support, with some left over to act as extras, be "key grips" (whatever the hell those are, but they must be important because they're always in the credits), and to wear the gorilla suit and jump up and down in front of the camera on slow days.

So, I thought I was doing pretty well in the creativity department.  But I find that once again, the pre-existing unreality shows have gotten the jump on me, idea-wise.  I just found out that Syfy's Ghost Hunters has hired a new member of the cast: a dog.

Their latest addition is named Maddie, and is a "trained ghost-hunting dog."  Which brings up a question; how do you train a dog to hunt ghosts?  It's not like you could give her a dog cookie for retrieving one, or anything.  Do you reward her for barking like hell at nothing?  Do you praise her for going into "point" when she sees an old bedsheet hanging from a clothesline?

One of the creators of the series, Jason Hawes (who is also a founding member of The Atlantic Paranormal Society, or TAPS), said, "As the newest member of the TAPS Ghost Hunters cast, Maddie has senses that are so much better than humans, and has proved to be a great asset in alerting the team when she feels a ghostly presence around."

To which I say: that makes perfect sense.  After all, look at how useful a dog was to the ghost-hunters in Scooby Doo.  It was Scooby who always ran into the ghost, said "Ruh roh," and then jumped, shivering, into Shaggy's arms.  And it was usually Scooby who discovered that the ghost was just the carnival owner in disguise, and he would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for You Darn Kids And Your Mangy Mutt.

So, inspired by the unequivocal successes every Saturday morning on Scooby Doo, the crew on Ghost Hunters decided to take Maddie to the Alex Johnson Hotel of Rapid City, South Dakota, the site of an alleged haunting.  "The Ghost Hunters team caught images, voices and movements at this hotel that cannot be explained from any other natural source," Hawes said.  "Paranormal activity is alive and well today in many of the locations that our team has visited.  Now with Maddie, the dog, on board, she might be able to lead us in the right direction more quickly than it takes to explore the entire building we are investigating."

You always hear that claim, don't you?  Dogs are "sensitive" to ghosts.  Myself, I think that's just people's way of rationalizing the fact that their dogs act weird and bark a lot.  I know my own dogs, for example, seem to go into spontaneous fits of barking pretty much round the clock.  Sometimes I can figure out what triggered it -- a knock on the door, farm equipment driving past, a car honking its horn, someone in an entirely different zip code sneezing -- but sometimes the impetus seems to be just anomalous activity in their brains ("thoughts") and they have to express their shock over this unfamiliar sensation by running around the room barking and knocking over furniture. 

But then I was thinking; maybe when Doolin and Grendel are yammering like crazy, seemingly at nothing, it's just that they're sensing the presence of spirits.  Perhaps I could work on "training" them in this ability, and they could help me on my cryptid-hunting television series.  I could show the dogs a picture of, say, a Bigfoot.  My dogs are both very earnest, and I'm sure they would both try their hardest, and would stare at the picture with furrowed brows and worried expressions.  Then we would get out the leashes.  Then there would ensue twenty minutes of trying to catch them as they leap about, rebounding off of walls and giving little quivery yips of canine excitement, because Going For Walkies is the high point of their day.  Once we've calmed them down and I'd attached the leashes, we'd open the door, and then there'd be a pause as the Staff Medic was called over to reset my two dislocated shoulders.  Then off I'd go into the woods, being dragged along behind the dogs, as they perform the critical cryptid-hunting skills of sniffing around, being distracted by squirrels, and peeing all over everything.

So, okay, maybe it isn't such a good idea.  But somehow, we need to harness my dogs' Natural Sensitivity to Paranormal Phenomena, so I can bring them along with me when I'm filming.  If the Ghost Hunters team gets to bring Maddie with them, it's only fair that I should be able to bring along Doolin and Grendel.  So, look out, cryptids: Gordon and His Faithful Hounds are on your trail.

Ruh roh.

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