Do animals have ‘feelings’?

A colleague rang in to say her dog had died and she was feeling overwhelmed with grief. On top of that she was worrying about her other dog who appeared to also be mourning the loss of ‘her friend’. Another colleague mocked the first when she heard about this, stating that the first colleague was applying human emotions to animals and she should gain some perspective.

This got me thinking about animals I’ve known and whilst I recognise it’s important not to get too caught up in applying human emotion to them, I’m convinced they do go through a range of emotions and therefore do have ‘feelings’.

My childhood dog would know 10 minutes before one of us got home that we were on our way and start getting excited and pining. Then when we came through the door she would greet us with what can only be described as a grin, her mouth quite literally changed from any other time, curling up at the sides as she expressed her excitement.

I recognise different moods in my cats. They sulk when I go away, get annoyed if I move them from their preferred sleeping space and demand attention when they are in need of some loving! I nearly always know what they want from me by the way they behave or how they meow; this is their way of showing their feelings as well as their needs. One of my cats gets very jealous if I’m giving attention to the other and even if he is fast asleep he will come over and butt in, trying to get the attention onto himself. I’ve heard about animals who have stopped eating or shown rage after they experience bereavement, which surely indicates an emotional response to loss.

I believe animals are sentient beings, they share the same underlying circuitry as ourselves, so whilst they may not have the complexity of emotions we have they most certainly have some. I imagine that animals experience anger, fear, jealously, rage, sadness, surprise and devotion; otherwise they would struggle to make the right choices to survive in the world and ensure the survival of their offspring. I suspect, however, that animals may be far more emotionally complex than we give them credit for and think anyone who has ever developed a relationship with an animal might agree with this.

In addition, animals become an important part of our households and we certainly develop strong emotional bonds to them, so experiencing their loss is absolutely a bereavement and we have to go through the whole range of emotions associated with this before we are able to move on.

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For the love of Dog!

It always seems to cliche to talk about the weather, but sometimes it just needs to be done! The weather this weekend has been lovely, the sun has been shinning brightly and it lured me outside for a walk so I could enjoy it. While I was out I met so many dogs and their Owners, playing together in the sunshine and making the most of the outdoor space.

I long to have a dog, they are such great company and make going out for walks so much more fun. Unfortunately my current living situation and lifestyle make having a dog impossible. I sometimes feel resentful about this. I think that as I haven’t had children I should at least be blessed with a dog! It really isn’t possible at the moment. I don’t have enough space in my home, certainly no outdoor space which I think would be important. I also spend a long hours out of my home working and I’m don’t think this would be fair on a dog, they thrive on company and I’m not sure the cats would count as they would most certainly be very put out by the addition to their space!

I have always lived with cats, apart from a couple of years in college digs, and find them great company. I love their independence, the fact they choose to come back and live with me. I currently have two cats and they provide me with a lot of love and laughter. I know that I am in no position to have a dog but that doesn’t stop me from yearning for one.

When I was 14 years old we got a dog, she was a cross between a Labrador and a springer spaniel, she was a lovely good natured dog and I feel lucky to have had her around to comfort me when I was feeling blue. I remember fondly some wonderful walks with her and loved the fact she could accompany me to the shops or the pub; I could take her with me to visit friends, she really was a constant companion.

When I think about some of the children and young people I have worked with, who have experienced a number of different placements over their lives, each one stripping them of stability, I realise how overwhelming this must be. It struck me that if each of them had a pet that could stay with them then I think this would go some way to helping them maintain some stability in their life, which is one of the most important foundations required for a fulfilling life.

I am determined that at some point in my life I will have a dog. I will change my circumstances so that I can accommodate a dog and enjoy all the benefits this will bring. Until that time comes I will have to make do enjoying other people’s and keep on dreaming!