Monday, August 29, 2011
The general meaning for sentient is “to perceive or feel,” to be aware or have physical sensations. A sentient being is self aware, and some people believe this only applies to humans. We know pets are capable of feeling pain and can suffer, but just how aware are they of their surroundings and of the people they share their life with? There are those who say that pets can't be sentient beings because they have no perception of death, but I'm not so sure that's true. I've had enough experience with pets over the years to believe they know exactly what's going on when their time has come. I do think pets are sentient beings and have an awareness we don't fully understand.
I think my pets know me better than some of my friends. They are very much aware of my moods. They know if I'm angry or in a good mood, but more importantly, they know when I'm sad. And like a good friend who knows a hug can make a difference, pets give us their own special touch to let us know they understand and are there if we need them. This alone tells me they are sentient and are aware of what's going on around them.
We domesticated pets centuries ago because we discovered that if we worked together, it benefited both of us. A dog or cat's instinct and senses will surpass our gut feeling every time. When it comes to the natural world, dogs and cats know exactly what's going on long before we do. My dogs know before I open the door to their pen if there's a wild animal in the pen and exactly where it is. If a possum or coon was in the pen but left hours ago, the dogs still know that the animal had crossed through their territory. A pet's instinct can help them find their way back home, know if a storm is coming and instinct tells them when they need to protect their family from an intruder.
I have no doubt that pets feel love and devotion. Greyfriar's Bobby is a famous dog who proved his devotion to his owner who had passed away. Bobby stayed true to his deceased owner and refused to leave his master’s grave. He died 14 years later and was buried only 75 yards away from the human he had been so devoted to.
Pets can become confused, frustrated, anxious, scared, angry or sad depending on their situation. These are the same emotions we experience at different times in our lives. When I sit outside with my dogs, I love to watch as they tune into everything around them. They hear distant noises that escape our ears. They catch movements in the fading light we miss, and they smell what we can't. They are paying attention to what's going on and know a lot more about it than we do.
I've watched as one of my pets mourned the loss of another pet they were close to. I watched my mom's dog mourn her passing and I've watched as a mother cat or dog mourned the loss of her kittens or puppies. We may not see their tears, but we can see their acknowledgment of loss – if we're paying attention. I do believe pets understand their own mortality. It may not be the same as our perception of it, but they do know. I base my belief on experiences I've had with my pets over the years and how they acted in their final days.
Pets can problem solve, think, learn, understand danger and feel pain just like we do. If awareness, perception, the ability to feel and have physical sensation is the definition of being sentient, then I believe pets are sentient beings. I realize not everyone will agree with me, and that's OK. When I look into the eyes of my pets, I see a soul giving back to me the love I give to them. That's all I need to know who my pets are and that they are indeed sentient beings.
Read more articles by Linda Cole