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Give a Dog a Fone

Communicating with animals has long been a human obsession. From Aesop's Fables to Doctor Dolittle to, er, Mr. Ed, people have always wanted to know what their four-legged friends were thinking and feeling.

Well, now -- thanks to the power of wireless technology -- you can. Sort of.

Yes, mobile operator Vodafone K.K. has today unleashed its latest gizmo for the Japanese market -- a phone that translates dog barks and woofs into picture and text interpretations of the canine’s emotions.

According to the company, if a customer comes within 15 inches of man's best friend, its barks will be analyzed and converted into illustrations of six dog feelings -- happy, sad, frustrated, on guard/territorial, assertive/showing off, and needy. [Ed. note: So what does it mean if they pee on your leg?]

The dog-phone, dubbed Bow-Lingual Connect, is a reworking of the popular computerized gadget of the same name first unveiled by Japanese toymaker Takara Co. Ltd. in August 2001.

Oddly enough, some experts doubt that such a device could actually work.

"It sounds absurd," says Robert DeFranco, director of The Animal Behavior Center of New York. "I've never, ever seen anything in the scientific literature that suggests a machine could do that."

"We don't really know enough about dogs' emotions, because we don't know much about how their brains work," De Franco adds.

Undaunted by such naysayers, device inventor Takara is now planning to launch a version for cats called -- what else? -- "Meowlingual" in Japan next month.

Nyao.

— Gabriel "Bow-Wow-Wow" Brown, Research Analyst, Unstrung and Dan "Never Could Stand That Dawg" Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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