What is it like up there
above the shut-off level
of our simple ears?
~ Lisa Mueller
This is a world where there are monsters
There are monsters everywhere, racoons and skunks
There are possums outside, there are monsters in my bed.
There is one monster. He is my little one.
I talk to my little monster.
I give my little monster some bacon but that does not satisfy him.
I tell him, ssh ssh, don’t growl little monster!
And he growls, oh boy does he growl!
And he wants something from me,
He wants my soul.
And finally giving in, I give him my gleaming soul
And as he eats my gleaming soul, I am one with him
And stare out his eyepits and I see nothing but white
And then I see nothing but fog and the white I had seen before was nothing but fog
And there is nothing but fog out the eyes of monsters.
stands for all things,
even those things that don't flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as St. Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking
and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.
"Horses aren’t lazy and they’re not greedy and they’re not jealous and they’re not spiteful, they’re not hateful. They’re not that way. But the human can sometimes only describe a horse in the way that they view other human beings."
by James Wright
Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
“Excuse me, but I do not trust lions. Or bears or snakes—"
"That’s because you want them to be the creatures you imagined as a child. Lions should be the strong but sweet beasts in a Disney cartoon. But they aren't, so when they start acting like lions you're angry at them for not being the fantasy animals you imagined. Real bears don't wear top hats and ride unicycles. Nor do they sleep in bed next to Goldilocks. Human beings force them to do those stupid things in circuses and films or children's books. Sure, some might be more docile or more ferocious than others, but in the end they will always, always be bears. You know you should never should turn your back on a bear. You should never even get near them; it's that simple. They're not being dishonest—you are in your perception of them."
…forgetting what we think we know is the best way to begin understanding dogs…If we want to understand the life of any animal, we need to know what things are meaningful to it, beginning with what it can perceive—what it can see, hear, smell, or otherwise sense.
Human noses have about 6 million of these receptor sites; beagle noses have more than 300 million. The difference in the smell experience is exponential. Next to a beagle, we are downright anosmic, smelling nothing. We might notice if our coffee’s been sweetened with a teaspoon of sugar; a dog can detect a teaspoon of sugar diluted in a million gallons of water.
What’s this like? Imagine if each detail of our visual world were matched by a corresponding smell. Each petal on a rose may be distinct, having been visited by insects leaving pollen footprints from faraway flowers. What is to us just a single stem actually holds a record of who held it, and when. A burst of chemicals marks where a leaf was torn. Imagine smelling every minute visual detail. That might be the experience of a rose to a dog.
A dog looking around a room does not think he is surrounded by human things; he sees—and smells—dog things.
What we may think an object is for, or what it makes us think of, may or may not match the dog’s idea of the object’s function or meaning. Objects are defined by how you can act upon them: what the German biologist Jakob von Uexküll called their “functional tone.” A dog may be indifferent to chairs, but if trained to jump on one, he learns that the chair has a sitting tone: It can be sat upon. But other things that we may identify as chair-like are not so seen by dogs: stools, tables, arms of couches. Stools and tables are in some other category of objects: obstacles, perhaps, in their path toward the eating tone of the kitchen. A ball, a pen, a teddy bear, and a shoe are in some ways equivalent: All are objects that one can get one’s mouth around.
What about a dog’s power of visual and mental perception? Look a dog in the eyes and you get the definite feeling that he is looking back. Dogs return our gaze. They are looking at us in the same way that we look at them. Naturally we wonder, is the dog thinking about us the way we are thinking about the dog?
In fact, we are known by our dogs probably far better than we know them. They are the consummate eavesdroppers and Peeping Toms: Let into the privacy of our rooms, they quietly spy on our every move. They know about our comings and goings. They know whom we sleep with, what we eat. We share our homes with uncounted numbers of mice, millipedes, and mites—none bothers to look our way. Dogs, by contrast, watch us from across the room, from the window, and out of the corners of their eyes. Their sight is used to see what we attend to. In some ways, this is similar to us, but in other ways it surpasses human capacity.
Dogs are anthropologists among us. They are students of our behavior. And what makes them especially good anthropologists is that they never tire of attending to minute changes in our expressions, our moods, our outlooks. Unlike us, they don’t become inured to people.
I believe that the best way to create good living conditions for any animal, whether it’s a captive animal living in a zoo, a farm animal, or a pet, is to base animal welfare programs on the core emotion systems in the brain. My theory is that the environment animals live in should activate their positive emotions as much as possible, and not activate their negative emotions any more than necessary. If we get the animal’s emotions right, we will have fewer problem behaviors.
That might sound like a radical statement, but some of the research in neuroscience has been showing that emotions drive behavior, and my own thirty-five years of experience working with animals have shown me that this is true. Emotions come first. You have to go back to the brain to understand animal welfare.
Of course, usually — though not always — the more freedom you give an animal to act naturally, the better, because normal behaviors evolved to satisfy the core emotions. When a hen hides to lay her eggs, the hiding behavior turns off fear. But if you can’t give an animal the freedom to act naturally, then you should think about how to satisfy the emotion that motivates the behavior by giving the animal other things to do. Focus on the emotion, not the behavior.
So far, research in animal behavior agrees with the neuroscience research on emotions. A really good study on whether animals have purely behavioral needs was done with gerbils. Gerbils love to dig and tunnel, and a lot of them develop a corner-digging stereotypy when they’re around thirty days old. A stereotypy is an abnormal repetitive behavior (ARB for short), such as a lion or tiger pacing back and forth in its cage for hours on end. Pets and farm animals can develop stereotypies, too. Stereotypies are defined as abnormal behaviors that are repetitive, invariant (lions always pace the exact same path in their cages), and seemingly pointless.
An adult gerbil spends up to 30 percent of its "active time" doing stereotypic digging in the corner of its cage. That would never happen in nature, and many researchers have hypothesized that the reason captive gerbils develop stereotypic digging is that they have a biological need to dig that they can’t express inside a cage.
That shows that the motivation for a gerbil’s digging stereotypy is a need to hide inside a sheltered space, not a need to dig. The gerbil needs the emotion of feeling safe, not the action of digging. Animals don’t have purely behavioral needs, and if an animal expresses a normal behavior in an abnormal environment, its welfare may be poor. A gerbil that spends 30 percent of its time digging without being able to make a tunnel does not have good welfare.
All animals and people have the same core emotion systems in the brain. Most pet owners probably already believe this, but I find that a lot of executives, plant managers, and even some veterinarians and researchers still don’t believe that animals have emotions. The first thing I tell them is that the same psychiatric medications, such as Prozac, that work for humans also work for animals. Unless you are an expert, when you dissect a pig’s brain it’s difficult to tell the difference between the lower-down parts of the animal’s brain and the lower-down parts of a human brain. Human beings have a much bigger neocortex, but the core emotions aren’t located in the neocortex. They’re in the lower-down part of the brain.
When people are suffering mentally, they want to feel better — they want to stop having bad emotions and start having good emotions. That’s the right goal with animals, too.