The grief of dogs. July 10, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: animal awareness, animal feelings, pet feelings, pets
Good grief. Silence Dogood here. Scientists have announced the amazing finding that dogs may experience grief just like, and as deeply as, people.
What’s actually amazing is that it’s taken science so long to “discover” what any pet owner or animal lover could have told them was obvious: Animals have emotions just like us. They experience happiness, excitement, anticipation, desire, contentment, sadness, anger, outrage, fury, fear, terror, insecurity, uncertainty. They experience engagement and boredom, just as we do. They experience love, and can experience hate. They feel loyalty and can feel alienation. They know mourning and loss. And they remember.
Elephants and apes actually hold forms of funeral services for their dead. Dogs are famous for refusing food and dying after a beloved owner’s death. Crows can precisely recall people who have injured them, and pass the knowledge that these particular people are dangerous through colonies and generations. Parrots like Amazons and African greys, who can communicate directly with us, will let us know how they’re feeling in no uncertain terms. (When my first marriage came to an unhappy conclusion, Plutarch, my yellow-naped Amazon, announced out of nowhere: “Thomas* is bad! Thomas is bad! Thomas is bad!”)
This so-called discovery is especially galling for me and our friend Ben, because our elder cat, Athena, is dying. She isn’t in pain; she’s just letting go, leaving us. Watching the reaction of our younger cat, Linus—literally throwing himself on her and crying his heart out—and our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh, who lies as close to Athena as she can get and licks her for minutes on end, as a mother cat would her kitten, would rip the heart out of a stone. Or maybe even a scientist.
Why is science so slow to acknowledge that animals have thoughts, memories and feelings? The answer, unfortunately, is obvious.
Much of science is based on animal experimentation, which is generally if not uniformly about the torture of animals. (Exceptions are animal behaviorists, who attempt to learn about animals without tormenting them, such as Irene Pepperberg and her famous African grey, Alex, or Jane Goodall and her chimps.)
The scientists who do torture animals in the name of science are told that they’re pursuing a noble goal, such as discovering new cures for human diseases. For their mental health’s sake, they must distance themselves from the animals, deny them the status of fellow creatures who deserve to be allowed the basic rights of a life of comfort and loving contact with others.
In this respect, the scientists are no different from slave owners, Nazis and other genocidal types, and serial killers. But they’re also no different from the unfortunate kids who end up in the military by choice or by draft, trained to be deadened to the humanity of the enemy so they can kill them. (We’ve seen how well this attempted indoctrination works; we call it post-traumatic stress disorder.) And most ironically of all, this total dismissal of the feelings of animals links these scientists directly to their purported enemies, the science-hating fundamentalists, who also believe that animals were put on Earth solely to be exploited by people.
We now live in a virtual world, where the human genome—and presumably any animal genome—can be mapped, and information extrapolated accordingly. Surely we no longer need to force our scientists to torture animals in the name of progress, reducing the poor people in the lab coats to subhuman status in the process. Picture the guy who tortures dogs as a day job, hoping to find some kind of medical breakthrough, and then goes home to his family and the beloved family dog—a dog who clearly loves him—every night. It’s enough to bring on a serious case of schizophrenia in anyone.
‘Til next time,
* Not his real name.