CIPC #87: Sandra and Woo No.574, Intelligence in pets

One of the more popular webcomics at the moment – number twenty on this plausible-looking list – is Sandra and Woo, which tells off a girl and the highly anthropomorphised pet raccoon she and her father rescued from an abusive owner. By now, Powree, who does the drawing, and Oliver Knürzer, who does the writing, have together made over a thousand strips, mostly in the typical American newspaper comic style. Of particular interest to us CIPC’ers is the five hundred seventy fourth one, in which we are treated to the rare sight of a specimen of procyon lotor – and a rather nice specimen at that – playing chess.

Let me first confirm that, yes, Chaser is a real dog, indeed a Border Collie who indeed knows more than a thousand words.1 The claim about him being the smartest pet has led me on a chase for some unified definition of animal intelligence but none seems to exist. On top of that, what information there is seems to suggest that raccoons, while smarter than average animals, will not figure in the top ten.

That is, of course, for an average raccoon – not for Woo, who is smart enough to play chess. Almost, that is: he is still struggling with the en passant rule. In the following position:2

he attempts to capture the rook on f4 en passant with his pawn on e4. Sandra rightfully points out that this is not allowed. Woo is extremely taken aback by this; probably his plans relied on being able to re-capture his rook and try to keep the knight versus bishop ending with a pawn down, while he now finds himself a rook down with nothing to show for it.

How did this position come about? Well, I’m guessing the white rook was on f2, some other white piece – probably a pawn – was on f4, and a black rook was somewhere on the f-file, on f8, say. Black, thinking pawns could take any piece en passant, captured the pawn with his rook; a gift which which white gladly accepted.

Realism: 3/5 Probably the least realistic part is that someone managed to survive for this long without knowing that a pawn cannot capture a rook en passant. Besides that a raccoon is playing chess.

Probable winner: Sandra; a rook and a knowledge of the rules should suffice.

1. [According to Wikipedia, at least.]
2. [Here you can draw your own black-and-white cartoon.]