For centuries, many people believed that animals, like dogs, had no feelings, no independent thought, and some even believed against all evidence that they didn’t feel pain. They were, in this system, automata, living but unfeeling machines. Some religious groups still, I am told, subscribe to that notion, despite its obvious falsity. One needs only to spend a little time around any of the animals we are accustomed to sharing our lives with to know the difference.
An anecdote on point.
Simon, the adopted poodle, ￼ spent the last four years of our cat Diana’s life with her as a constant presence in his world. She tolerated him, played with him when it suited her and generally ignored him when it didn’t. He seemed to think that he was the dominant member of the pair, though clearly he was not. By her own choice, she lived in our heated garage, away from the house, with several heated beds, food and water and her litter box. I would put her up at night, to protect her from coyotes (or, knowing Diana’s absolute confidence, to protect them from her) and each morning Simon would lead me to the garage and bark for me to open the door and let her out. We would go in and she would pad down the stairs from the upstairs bed she preferred, jump up on my workbench to get petted and a few treats, and then she and Simon would exit together to start a new day. A few months ago Diana’s end time came, from old age, and we had her put down.
Now I am not one to overly ascribe human characteristics to animals, nor do I believe in magic or other unexplainable phenomena. I can only report that from the time I came home from the necessary but awful trip to the vet, Simon would not go in the garage. He did not bark at the door and if I opened it to go in for my own business, he would not follow unless I firmly called him in. Even then, he would not go into the separate shop portion where the workbench is.
Then a few weeks ago, four months after Diana’s death, Simon suddenly started going back out to the garage in the morning and barking to be let in. He went in the shop and stood at the base of the stairs, looking up, apparently waiting to hear Diana’s feet hitting the floor above. When nothing happened, he would look at me, look up at the empty workbench and then, seeming deflated, walk out of the garage. Now he still does it, but his time at the foot of the stairs is shorter, his glance at the workbench is brief.
I cannot explain rationally his refusal to enter the garage after the time of her death nor can I explain why, after a gap of four months, he suddenly began expecting her to have returned.
I do not claim to know what goes on in a dog’s mind, but I think I do know from the evidence in front of me that definitely they have one and that it is active in trying to understand the world they live in and the creatures they share it with. I know without a doubt they feel happiness, they feel a form of sadness, and it is beyond cavil that they feel pain, both physical and psychological. If one can define so broad a concept as “love”, they feel that as well by nearly any definition.
Simon is our pet, he is a cute little dog whose antics amuse us on a daily basis and yes, on occasion he can be a bit of a nuisance when he insists on our changing our plans to meet his desires of the moment, though we do it gladly. But he also is an independent creature in this world, making sense of it the best way he can, with the information that he has, doing what must be done so that his needs are being met in the situation he is in….in other words, doing exactly the same thing we humans, and every other animal in the world, are doing every day.