I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a dog. Well…there are the first few years of college, times when I certainly wished for a dog. I need dogs in my life as much as I need the air I breathe. And so many people I meet seem to be just as heart crazy about them as I am. My husband says he wishes he had the same status in our home as my dog because my dog is the one who gets the most kisses when I come home.
Cognitive ecology is the study of animal minds as they have evolved. Like us, it seems to be more important what animals feel than how much they know. We don’t have to rely on research to know that dogs, and many other animals, feel a wide range of emotions: anger, happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise.
My latest dogs have been a Rhodesian Ridgeback named “Eli” and a rescue dog named “Ken.” Oh, they were the best of buddies and partners in crime. But Eli was quite a bit older than Ken and after about a decade, he became ill with cancer. He died shortly after the diagnosis.
There was this day I’ll never forget. I came home from riding my bike a day or two after Eli passed. A terrible sound took me by surprise. It was a sort of wailing and moaning all together. I couldn’t imagine what it was and from whence it came. What I discovered was heart-wrenching. There was Ken under the bushes in the backyard, missing and mourning the absence of his bro Eli.
The years went by and I know Ken must’ve been lonely, but things were chaotic and I didn’t think it wise to get another dog. Ken became my constant companion. Years later we moved, and it was somewhat consoling to discover that Kenya had made another friend.
I’d have a cat, too, but I’m allergic. My grandson has a bearded dragon who loves to be held. When my kids were toddlers, I remember coming home one day to find our cocker spaniel on her back…seemingly nursing four kittens. We never found the mother cat, and I don’t know if actual milk was produced by my dog, but those little kittens hung around for a while. Something so exceptional seems to happen with dogs. I watch the way my dog watches kids. He’s the self-appointed guard dog protector. Seems we can indeed learn a lot from animals about goodness.
No doubt some of you out there can attest to the unsurprising research that supports the existence of a wide variety of emotions in a wide variety of animals and how their company affects our own human emotions. When I taught at the university, we used puppies to help calm students with test anxiety. I think it turned out to be good for us all. The company of an animal can decrease high blood pressure. A dog or cat can be a true and comforting companion for the elderly. Equine therapy is often considered enhancing for children with learning disabilities. The research is out there.
More and more documentaries support the idea that there are such strong emotions in animals. The documentary Blackfish and the film The March of the Penguins are two films that are illustrative of a moving sentience in animals. Blackfish is so painful to watch. So many films focus on the emotions of animals and how they impact our own emotions. I’d love to hear your own, perhaps more recent, recommendations of films you like about animals.
Here at InMindOut we’d also love to hear your stories regarding how an animal has made a difference in your own good health and well-being.
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