“How much is two times three?” I ask. The little dog sitting on the cane-back chair outside Sarasota News and Books taps her right paw six times. Meet Maggie the Wonder Dog, a seven year old Jack Russell Terrier who is so smart that she’s appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, as well as news features too numerous to mention. But I am not yet convinced.
“Maggie, how much is four and four?” Maggie taps her paw six times, then looks up questioningly at her owner, Jesse. “No Maggie, that’s not right, two more please,” Jesse says. Maggie obliges, tapping her paw two more times. “She’s getting tired, says Jesse. “She’s been at it for a couple of hours.” Indeed, for most of the afternoon Maggie and Jesse have been posing for videographers who are taping her for a half hour special to be broadcast on the Discovery channel’s popular show, Animal Planet. Maggie has created a buzz around the bookstore/cafe, and people are stopping by to see if it’s really true – can this dog really add, subtract, multiply and divide?
Squatting down, I offer Maggie the back of my hand – a good way to let an animal know you are not a threat – and she eagerly licks it, so I lean down toward her and she plants a couple of wet ones on my nose. “She likes you,” Jesse says. All animals love me. Well, almost all. There was that one watchdog in Bangkok that tried to take out chunk of my thigh. As I scratch her ears, Maggie sticks her rear up in the air and rests her chin on the chair. “Oh look, she’s doing a Yoga pose; I think that’s called downward facing dog, isn’t it?” Jesse says. “Yeah, I do Yoga,” I add. Hmmm. Does this dog sense that I am a Yogini?
I retreat to my table inside the cafe to watch the action. Maggie may be tired but she’s a trooper, answering dozens of math questions thrown at her by passersby, and getting most all of them right. I try to figure out how she does it. Is it a trick? Does Jesse cue her in some way? If she does, I can’t see it. Maggie does all the standard doggie tricks: rolling over, lying down, sitting up, and bowing, as well as some creative tricks like fetching a tissue when someone sneezes. But her apparent ability to do math is her most intriguing talent. Perhaps, after all, this dog is Albert Einstein, reincarnated.
Convinced that this is really one smart dog, I step back outside and ask Jesse if I can swipe a couple of photos of Maggie from her website so that I can write about her on my blog. “Of course, help yourself,” she agrees. When Jesse inquires how she will know when I write about Maggie, I dig in my backpack for a business card so she will have my blog address. She hands me hers, in exchange. It’s a simple black and white card, displaying an adorable photo of the pooch as well as two phone numbers and her name, “Maggie, the dog. As for the owner? The card simply says: Jesse, the person. Because, after all, Maggie is the celebrity here.