Peace and Healing

A Perspective of Traditional and Non-Traditional Methods of Healing

Animals and Feelings

Do animals have feelings?

It has been posed to me by many fundamentalist Christians that animals DO NOT have feelings. If we believe animals have feelings then we are one step closer to admitting they have souls. This dogmatic stance was not a stance I could break down or not even slightly open the door on in conversation. When I pointed out the happiness of a dog being playful versus the sadness and despondent behavior when a dog is in pain it was rationalized away by, “those are not emotions.” You are placing human traits on an animal and we will never know how the animal is feeling. I suppose in a very strict sense of research and design there is some truth here. However, study after study has proven theories of learned helplessness, the actual shedding of tears by mammals, the endorphin rush when a mammal is happy, and the signs of depression in dogs and cats when owners are gone evidenced by appetite disturbance and being destructive in the home.

Approximately six years ago I gave up hunting. It was not the hunting I was enjoying but the dance I did with nature and the hundreds of sunrises coming to life. I still hunt but with a camera and a telephoto lens. It is very interesting to me that certain species mate for life, and it appears those species that are monomorphic (each gender looking alike) versus dimorphic (not looking alike) are the ones that mate for life. This does not hold true all the time but frequent enough. Some examples are Canada Geese, Wolves, Whales, Porpoises, and frequently Bald Eagles. It was a Sunday morning and the sun had been up for about thirty minutes on a cold November morning in Southern Illinois. The wind was brisk, waking me up with each gust across my face as nature’s alarm clock. A pair of geese were flying my way. I hunkered down in the mud, cattails, and saw-grass calling frantically as my father taught me.  The geese turned and locked their wings as they soared ever so gently into the decoys, balancing on the wind as if walking a high wire. It took two shots and the first goose splashed motionless in the water. The other took off gaining altitude and quickly circled and landed next to it’s mate. I watched in awe, never reloaded, as the goose honked furiously at it’s mate trying to wake it from it’s eternal sleep. It flapped it’s wings and continued to honk moving it’s neck up and down. I stood up, it became frightened, flew away and I questioned what in the hell was I doing. Do animals feel emotions? I have shared this story and was told it was instinct. Okay, instinct with dedication, feelings, and sadness. I will add those emotions onto the Canada goose with no regret. I enjoy my photographs now. I understand the ethical hunter, but it is not a walk I want now in my life.

What are examples of animals showing emotions?

It was once thought that mammals such as dogs, elephants, chimpanzees are able to express emotion and feelings as opposed to amphibians and reptiles. Recent studies now show that fish do have pain receptors and do feel pain.

There are many videos on elephants and their display of emotions. These videos tug at our heart strings and are very dramatic. It confuses me how one can continue to deny the blatant display of grieving as well as the shed of tears and not come to an understanding that animals have feelings. There is a clear narcissistic component here. Humans for the most part must feel superior to their four legged counterparts. The separation of spirituality and intelligence, the ability to have compassion, and judgement. At least this is what we frequently hear. It intrigues me that European soccer teams DO NOT have an animal mascot. Their soccer team are called the Crusaders, Dynamos,Celtics and other names using locations. Yes, there may be one or two with animal names but not like their Western counterpart. In the West we put animals on a pedestal for sports teams, Bears, Tigers, Colts, etc. while we kill them handily and place ourselves above them emotionally. Really? Why?

In the following video we have a well known scene where elephants are grieving over dead elephant bones. For all the adversaries to this article it has been researched and elephants DO NOT show this behavior over the bones of other equally sized animals ie: rhinos, giraffes, and hippos.

Examples of specific emotions are well documented and cause a stir paradoxically of emotions in humans that do not believe these exist. When I have experienced the loss of a loved one through death and I grieve and mourn in the privacy of my dwelling, I will not forget my Labrador nuzzling and soothing me. No, my Lab was not hungry. No, my Lab did not need to go outside, and yes I do believe there was an understanding  of my emotions. It is not by accident that it took us till 2009 to find out fish feel pain. In 2025 what will we find out then? In the fifties we had “Lassie” that allowed us to be entertained, and we all wish we had a companion similar. There was “Flipper” and other television heroes that either swam or ran on all fours. Is it really that frightening that animals show emotions? Are we that insecure with our egos that we cannot give them that? I believe we are all related, we are all connected and the actual separation of DNA is really not that far apart. If that is too hard to deal with maybe one should go home, hug their pet, and watch for a little compassion and empathy from your furry friend.

All comments and opinions are welcomed.

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