General Non-Fiction posted February 8, 2011

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You might be surprised! Part 1

What's Fido Up To?

by Writingfundimension

It is natural, even admirable, for parents to think their children are the brightest,
and best-looking the world has ever known.
A surprising number of pet owners in America feel the same way about their surrogate children - beloved Fido and Fluffy. A recent poll conducted by The Associated Press and concluded that 2/3 of Americans believe their pets are uniquely, extraordinarily sensitive.

Naomi, a good friend of mine, is an interesting example of this attitude. Her fifteeen-year old golden retriever Shasta had to be euthanized a year ago. She wasn't going to replace her and go through the heartbreak again. Enter Simba: a kitten that fit into my friend's fist and had survived a fall from the tenth story of a construction site. Moved by its helpless state, Naomi brought the cat into her home. She now feels a supernatural connection with Simba and is completely convinced that he is a reincarnated version of her dog Shasta. "He does things that I've never seen a cat do. He lies in the same spot on my bed and snuggles just like Shasta did, lounges in front of the fireplace and loves to fetch balls. How many cats do you know love to fetch balls?" 

I keep my feelings to myself on this matter. There are mysteries in this Universe I do not begin to understand. But I do imagine there is another cat somewhere that loves to lie in front of a fireplace and catch balls. What I think is probably happening with my friend is a combination of longing for a beloved pet who played a large role in her life and a dose of anthropomorphism - the projection of human traits and feelings unto animals. 
Hoping to head off the posse, I'd like to say that I do believe animals have a very rich emotional life. Though emotions such as pride, sadness and aggression in animals may be similar to what we feel, they probably are not felt in the same way as a human or for the same reasons. What I'm asking you to consider is the possibility your pet does a dance when you feed him not because you have bought the best dog food on the market but because you have placed his food in a spot where he can readily get to it at the same time every day.  

Yet, your conviction that your animal is extraordinarily sensitive and intuitive has the backing of some very influential scientists including English naturalist Charles Darwin. Their studies are providing fascinating clues to what may be going on in your pet's brain. Without the winnowing influence of a narcissistic ego, animals often appear able to access emotional states more readily than humans.

Animal behaviourist Hope Rydan describes a remarkable example of  a spontaneously altruistic behavior by a wild animal: She observed a half-grown elf calf guarding the body of another elf calf killed by coyotes when the herd moved on. For at least two days the calf straddled the body, chasing away the coyotes, and from time to time sniffing the face and muzzle of the dead calf. Eventually, when coyotes had partially consumed the carcass, it was forced to move on. Ignoring a thousand-year-old breeding code, this calf risked its life before forsaking its dead brother.

Yes, Fido and Fluffy do have a rich emotional life, but equally so do animals in the wild. We seem unwilling to accept this notion when gawking at them in a zoo, committing them to shelters to die or using them to further scientific advances. And in case you're thinking that the emotions of wild animals are primarily due to survival instincts, consider the following anecdotal report from researcher Cynthia Moss.

"I came across a band of African elephants surrounding a dying matriarch as she swayed and fell. The other elephants clustered around her and tried mightily to get her up. One young male put food into her trunk as the other elephants stroked her. At last, the group moved off but one female and her calf stayed behind. The female stood with her back to the dying elephant, now and then reaching back to touch her with one foot. The other elephants called to her and finally she walked away." 

These stories and the thousands of others point to the ability of animals to appear human-like in their feelings and communications; but their emotional language is unique and filled with nuances we can only guess at. By refusing to see animals through the filter of our own needs and projections, I believe we may yet be able to see the Earth we all share with a new awareness and without the need to dominate and subdue. Animals, unlike humans, live in the moment. That is all they know. What if we could learn how to do that through observation and reverance for what they have to teach us, be they friend or foe? 

In concluding Part 1, I'd like to quote the following Cherokee worldview on Great Spirit's intention for the cooperation/respect between species:

"In Cherokee mythology we find all creaures alike living and working together in harmony and mutual helpfulness until man, by his aggressiveness and disregard for the rights of the others, provokes their hostility, when insects, birds, fishes, reptiles, and four-footed beasts join forces against him.  Henceforth, their lives are apart, but the difference is always one of degree."



Anecdotal references and quotes from: When Elephants Weep, Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson. Cherokee myth courtesy of First People, a Cherokee Nations website. Thanks to Angel14451 for the great picture.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Artwork by angel4451 at

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