Do Animals Have Emotions?

Yahoo! today features an article asking if animals smile and feel other emotions. Further into the discussion a 2011 study on chimpanzees and mood disorders is mentioned, which concluded that “Chimpanzees display behavioral clusters similar to PTSD and depression [to humans] in their key diagnostic criteria."

I've always believed that animals have some degree of emotion, and I can attest to the statement above in which animals display depression. In my college years, my brother and I had a dog he got from the pound. (This was during our single years, when my brothers, my sister and I rented a house together.) Shauna had a warm, sweet, generous disposition, and at the same time, she loved to scamper through the woods and explore the fields behind the house. A couple years later, I got a tiny little orange kitten and named him Samson. Shauna didn't know what to make of him. Samson, however, made it known that he wouldn't be pushed around--he wasn't a patsy.

For those first few days, Shauna gave Samson a wide berth, while he hissed at all her comings and goings. One day, Samson sat in the middle of the kitchen. Shauna slowly and carefully approached him; nothing in her demeanor was threatening. Samson sat still until Shauna came close enough to sniff him. He clawed her, sliced her black nose and opened a streak of red blood.
I felt so bad for my beautiful dog.

As time went along, Shauna and Samson became best friends. If Shauna lay by the sliding glass doors to watch the outside, Samson lay beside her in a parallel position. If Samson chattered at the squirrels on the trees outside my window, Shauna leapt on my bed and joined him by putting her front paws on the windowsill.

We all know this joke or some form of it:

Lassie: Bark! Bark!
Mother: What's that Lassie?
Lassie: Bark! Bark!
Mother: Timmy fell down the well by the old Smith place and broke his arm? Let's go, girl!

But that stuff really happens. Once, I was getting ready in my room when Shauna bounded in. She huffed and snapped her head about. It was unlike her to be so agitated. She darted out of my room, came back and did the same thing, then stood tensed in my doorway. When I took a step toward her, she shot down the hallway with me running behind her. She took me to another wing of the house and stopped in front of Samson, who was choking on something. I didn't know how to help him. I shouted, "Jesus!" the only prayer my mind could come up with in my panic.

Samson's airway cleared and he was okay, but there's never been a doubt in my mind that Shauna came to get me to help Samson.

I know animals feel happy and sad. Why do dogs wag their tails? It can't be a learned response, because puppies do it. It really must be that something has triggered their happiness--you, their important other, has come home! A piece of bacon is being offered! A ball is being pitched!

Lymphoma got a hold of Shauna and she died two months after diagnosis. My brothers, sister, and I picked a nice spot in the woods and buried her there. I planted wild flowers over her grave. Samson became lethargic after Shauna was gone. He slept all the time; he didn't want to play. He stopped greeting me at the door, something he'd always done with Shauna.

He missed her.

Do animals have emotions? Yes, I believe they do.


Sandy Nawrot said...

We have lost our share of animals in our house, and there is a malaise that hangs over the place for a while after one has passed. Not only do I believe they feel emotion, but they sense it too. If I am down, any one of my cats will crawl right up in my lap and lick my hand or nuzzle me.

Danette Haworth said...

I agree. Shauna seemed to know how I felt, too. Casey--well, she's my constant companion, and I love that my return even from a quick errand is heralded with great joy.

Charles Gramlich said...

We talked about this in class the other day. If you judge by the physiological response to events, mammals and birds certainly illustrate emotions. it's much less clear for reptiles, amphibs and fish.

tracey said...

Of course they do, all animals do. They know who is kind to them and who may be dangerous. I used to have a cat who would crawl under the covers and snuggle up with me when I was sad. She never left my side, not once. She knew I needed her to be there for me and she always was.