State of the Ark

By Belinda Recio / September 12, 2011

Animals have feelings, too. This may sound absurd because it is so obvious. But the belief in animal emotion has not always had the support that it has today. The history of Western thinking about animal emotion sadly begins with the work of René Descartes, the seventeenth-century French philosopher. For centuries, Descartes’ assertion that animals have no consciously experienced feelings, including the sensation of pain, gave scientists moral permission to dissect live animals. Unfortunately, there are still people—in both industry and academia—who defend Descartes’ ideas based on the view that we cannot absolutely prove that animals have feelings.

Fortunately, during the past 50 years, the field of animal ethology, which studies animal behavior, has done much to change humanity’s understanding about animal emotions. Scientists such as Jane Goodall, Marc Beckoff, Jonathan Balcombe, and others, have observed such a wide range of emotions in so many different species that even skeptics are finally starting to reconsider their position. Complex emotions, such as grief and empathy, have been observed in elephants, chimpanzees, dogs, and many other animals. A few years ago, Kuni, a bonobo chimp at a British zoo, rescued an injured starling that had fallen into her enclosure. Kuni picked up the stunned bird and climbed a tree. She then spread the starling’s wings and tried to launch it into flight. Her efforts failed and the bird once again fell to the ground where Kuni watched over it until it recovered enough to fly away on its own. There are countless other stories of animals like Kuni, who have demonstrated a depth of feeling that was previously associated exclusively with humans.

Of course, for those of us who share our lives with animals, and enjoy a close bond with them, we would never question whether animals have feelings. When human beings feel emotions, we express them in many ways. We use facial expressions, body postures, physical gestures, and a variety of vocalizations, in addition to language. Animals are no different, except that they do not use language in the same way that people do. But all their other ways of communicating emotions are there for us to understand, provided we pay attention.

Obvious as it might seem, we should never forget that animals have feelings, just as humans do. It isn’t enough to provide our animal friends with shelter, food, and exercise. We also need to tend to their emotional needs. A happy, well-adjusted dog, cat, horse, or other animal (including a human being) is more likely to live a longer, healthier life. So learn to “read” your companion animals’ feelings. Look at their faces, their body postures, and movements. Listen to their vocalizations. Watch how they react to you, your family, friends, and other animals. Try to figure them out. Read books on animal behavior and emotion. As you start to realize that there is not much of a difference between your feelings and those of other animals, chances are you will deepen your bond with your animal friends, and possibly with your human ones, too.

Homeopathic Remedies for Animal Emotions

In the 1920s, a noted homeopath, Dr. Edward Bach, developed a system of 38 flower remedies, each prepared from the flowers of wild plants, trees, and bushes. Dr. Bach believed that attitude plays a vital role in maintaining health and recovering from illness, so he wanted to find something that treated the emotional state rather than the physical symptom. After identifying 38 basic negative states of mind and spending several years exploring the countryside, he managed to create a plant or flower based remedy for each one. Bach Flower Remedies not only help people, they also help our companion animals with their negative emotions. All 38 Bach Flower Remedies can be given to animals. The remedies treat everything from fear and dominance to separation anxiety and jealousy. Veterinarian recommended. Visit for more information.

Belinda Recio

Belinda Recio

Belinda Recio is a writer and curator working at the intersections of nature, art, and soul. She has authored books and iOS apps on a wide variety of subjects, ranging from animals to sacred arts. She is the founder of True North Gallery, where she exhibits art that connects people with the natural world. She is also a past recipient of the United States Humane Society’s Award for Innovation in the Study of Animals and Society.
Belinda Recio

Latest posts by Belinda Recio (see all)