“A house is not a home until it has a dog.”
—Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals
Whether you agree with this quote or not, it depicts beautifully the irrevocably intertwined relationship between humans and animals. We just can’t live without them. Some of us love them for food, some for company and some for both. Some people work with them, some work for them. No matter how you look at it, as humans there is no getting away from the animals with whom we share our world.
Is it possible for an animal to possess human qualities? Generally it would be argued that it’s not. Humans are the only sentient beings, we possess the ability of logical thought and reasoning; we have imagination and are able to use it, and that ‘s what sets us apart from the ‘animals’ around us. We think; they do.
But perhaps it is exactly this quality that leads us, as sentient and imaginative beings, with the capacity to care and feel, to blur these lines that distinguish the ‘animal’ (though technically we are animals too …) kingdom from us homo sapiens. We have all, without doubt, been guilty of attaching human emotions to animals in a bid—as would claim the sceptics—to feel closer to them and stave off our own pathetic feelings of loneliness. After all, animals never answer us back. They never tell us our opinions are stupid or that we shouldn’t be lying on the sofa all Saturday but be doing something productive instead.
In us humans this is as natural as asking the big question, ‘Why do we exist?’ Perhaps we could call it ‘over-analysis’, but it could also be termed sensitivity or empathy. This empathy has led, throughout history, to the coupling of animals with human characteristics. The ant, for instance, stands for diligence, industry, community, strength, hard work and success. Dolphins depict childlike play, helpfulness, a breath of life, harmony, intelligence and self connection. The Hummingbird portrays joy, pure love and a celebration of life’s greatness.
Scientific studies have even linked certain human behaviours to animals. Did you know that an elephant is purportedly able to feel hate? What’s more, the emotion of empathy and grief in elephants can clearly be seen in their heart wrenching death rituals, which can last for days, caressing a carcass and sometimes even burying it with branches.
In Science News, Volume 160, No. 4, July 28, 2001, p. 55., Susan Milius writes about the research of Patricia Simonet, who has recorded dog laughter, a form of quick breathing that takes place when dogs are playing. Funny, hey?
Whether these occurrences are truly the same emotions and actions as we ‘people’ have and do is open to interpretation. But what is clear is that, as humans, our bond with animals is unbreakable and our ability to imagine leads us to feel a connection with the animal world that is, in my view, not only magical but illuminatingly creative.
Which animals would you compare yourself to? A virile, strong bull? A cunning, stealthy fox? A mouse? Use your imagination. Leave a comment below.
©Davey Northcott January 2014
Bibliography (no particular style, just a list of my sources!)
Susan Milius, “Don’t look now, but is that dog laughing?” Science News, Volume 160, No. 4, July 28, 2001, p. 55. Retrieved from http://www.phschool.com/science/science_news/articles/dog_laughing.html
Dawkins, M. (2000). Animal minds and animal emotions. American Zoologist, 40, 883-888. doi: EBSCOhost. Retrieved from http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.library.wisc.edu/ehost/detail?sid=2b9b11e6-d41d-4a82-9f23-ac4c6c1657d%40sessionmgr115&vid=1&hid=112&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ %3%3d#db=aph&AN=4385376