Seeing Eye Dogs are clichéd. Not only that, some people really don’t like dogs. Of course, the seeing eye horse is an option, but not everyone likes horses. Moreover, some people claim to have allergies to fur. So if you don’t like dogs and horses, don’t like sniffling while not being run over by cars, or simply want to be a little different, what should you do?
One new option is the seeing eye octopus. Octopuses have many advantages over the typical mammalian assistance animal. For starters, they have no fur, are completely silent, and have excellent vision. Dogs and horses are both dichromats, with less sensitivity to color than normal human vision. Octopuses, on the other hand, are even able to see the orientation of polarized light.1 Octopuses are also extremely intelligent, and are the only invertebrates known to use tools.2 For all of these reasons, the octopus is becoming increasingly popular as an assistance animal.
Annette Simpson, one of the first to adopt a seeing eye octopus has this to say:
You can’t believe how happy I am to have Ozzie. He’s a Wunderpus photogenicus [literally: photogenic, wonder-cat] octopus whom I received last month, and not only does he help me navigate the city, he can also prepare simple meals and play checkers. My only complaint is that he’s a terrible chess player.
There are, of course, a few unique difficulties that anyone considering a seeing eye octopus should take into account. First of all, octopuses are aquatic, and need to be kept in an environment that simulates the open ocean. Second, they are very picky eaters, and do not like grass or spoiled meat. And third, some species are extremely poisonous. If you can accept these difficulties, however, the octopus makes an exceptional companion and guide.
Kuniyoshi Utagawa, octopus, red fish (detail). Public domain image, available at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kuniyoshi_Utagawa,_octopus,_red_fish.jpg.