Inner Landscapes: The Emotional Voice of Animals
by Brenda Shoss
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9/11/01: At 8:45 a.m. American Airlines Flight 11 smashes into the north tower of the World Trade Center. Fifteen minutes later United Airlines Flight 175 shatters the south tower and irrevocably seizes a nation's invulnerability. Amid a frantic tangle of survivors and rescuers, Salty leads Omar Rivera from the 7lst floor to safety. On the 78th floor, Roselle steers Michael Hingson toward an emergency exit. Another dog shepherds his blind guardian down 70 flights of stairs, as glass fragments rain from the crash site above them.
If Roselle, Salty and roughly 300 other courageous canines at Ground Zero could speak, they might have explained: "It's our basic nature. Bravery? I don't know...How about a treat?"
Anyone who has witnessed an animal's selfless valor knows firsthand that nonhuman beings exhibit an elaborate range of psychological, perceptual, behavioral, personal and communal initiative. "It is clear that animals form lasting friendships, are frightened of being hunted, have a horror of dismemberment, wish they were back in the safety of their den, despair for their mates, look out for and protect their children whom they love," writes Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson in When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals. "They feel throughout their lives, just as we do."
And sometimes they organize. Consider, for example, the 30 monkeys that raided a police station in India to emancipate an orphaned relative. The baby, found clinging to a female langur shot with an airgun, continued to suckle his dead mother in captivity. Meanwhile monkeys atop the station's roof dispatched several liberators to claim the orphan. "It was as if the monkeys had made up their minds to take charge," Inspector Prabir Dutta said. "The monkeys impressed us with their show of solidarity. Human beings have a lot to learn from them."
Scientists and philosophers have long debated the issue of consciousness in animals. Descartes viewed them as automated entities limited to involuntary instinct. Voltaire argued that animals share our emotional fabric and experience fear, pleasure, rage, grief, anticipation, hope, and love. In 1872 Charles Darwin refuted the 19th-century code of human superiority over animals in his groundbreaking work, The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals. Darwin found that the ability to vocalize is merely one form of communication.
Some animals purposefully inflate hair, feathers, and other appendages when afraid or angry. To intimidate intruders, an apprehensive hen ruffles her feathers and reptiles puff their bodies into jumbo proportions. A dog's assorted ear angles articulate curiosity, surprise, or concentration.
Does body-talk prove that animals speak and feel through myriad channels? Darwin searched for confirmation that animals weep, but found inconclusive evidence that elephants cry under great duress. Still, Masson contends, "tears aren't grief; they're only symbols of grief. We have to look at animal expressions of feeling on their own terms."
Grief and an awareness of loss are regarded as human trademarks. Yet when a mother witnessed the brutal drowning of her three-week-old calf on the banks of the Elk River in Missouri last summer, she frantically guarded her dying child until authorities removed her. The traumatized cow grew paranoid around humans. "We may have to put her down if things don't change," her caretaker reported.
A mother's love crosses the species barrier. Darwin recorded the unceasing calls of parents in
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