Friday, April 19, 2013
Have you ever seen your pet cry? And by “cry,” I mean actual tears from their eyes as an emotional response. Most people would say no; the general consensus is that animals lack the capacity for such a thing. We know that animals can “tear up” as a result of allergies, dust, upper respiratory infections, pollutants and such, but crying as an emotional response is believed impossible by most.
I don’t really like that word “impossible,” though. It would imply that we humans think we know everything there is to know about the emotional lives of animals. But how can we? Unless we are a dog, we can’t know what is in a dog’s mind or heart. We can form an opinion based on science and personal experience, but I think it would be arrogant for any human to say they know with certainty what emotions a dog or cat is capable of feeling.
Many scientists definitely have their own rigid thinking about the emotional capacity of animals. They base their opinion on carefully controlled research rather than the one-on-one bonding that takes place between people and their beloved pets. But here’s the thing: a recent study proved that people could tell what emotion a dog was experiencing by looking at photographs of the dog’s face. The photos were taken after introducing stimuli designed to elicit a specific reaction from the dog.
Happiness was correctly identified by 88% of the study participants; anger was correctly identified by 70%. So if we can tell by a dog’s face whether he is happy, angry, sad, surprised or afraid, is it farfetched to believe we’ve only scratched the surface in terms of the emotional capacity of animals? I don’t think so.
Jeffrey Masson, author of the bestselling book When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals, believes that animals do lead complex emotional lives. To support his theory, Masson found hundreds of anecdotes from the published works and field studies of noted behaviorists, including Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Cynthia Moss.
Few scientists have acknowledged or researched animal emotions. Yet “most people who work closely with animals, such as animal trainers, take it as a matter of fact that animals have emotions,” wrote Masson. “Training an animal will meet with little success if the trainer has no insight into the animal’s feelings.”
Searching online, I found a site that discussed the idea of animals crying tears as an emotional response. The writer asked for stories from people who had seen their animal cry, and the responses poured in. Nearly 100 people recounted tales of their pet crying; they spoke of tears of sadness, heartache, loneliness, frustration, tears of missing another animal or a person…even tears of joy. Could they all be wrong? Could each of those stories have a medical explanation for the tears?
Sure. But I like to think it’s equally possible that the anecdotes are in fact, proof that cats and dogs can cry. I’ve never seen it with my own eyes, but does that mean it’s not possible? I can’t see the air, electricity or Mars, but I believe these things exist. We can’t see our emotions either, but there’s no doubt we all have them.
Have you ever seen a dog or cat cry real tears as an emotional response? Please share your story in the comments!
Top photo by kitty.green66
Bottom photo by Colin Davis
Read more articles by Julia Williams