Do Pets Have Emotions?

Dogs have emotions
Whether or not animals have emotions has been a topic of research for ages. Read through the article to find out…
According to Darwin’s theory of evolution, there is continuity in the process of evolution. So the difference lies not in whether or not different species have emotions, but in the degree of emotions experienced by different species.

There is a movie by the name Hachi – A Dog’s Tale, which tells the true story of a lost dog who is taken home by a professor. This dog eventually became so attached to him, that he walked with him to the station every morning, waited till he left and returned home. In the afternoon when it was time for the professor to return home, the dog went back to the station to receive him accompany him home. This happened till the day his master died in college and didn’t return home. The dog didn’t understand why the professor wasn’t coming home, and so he spent the next 9 years returning to the station every afternoon to wait for his master, till someone came to take him back home! He died on the station, while waiting for the professor! Regulars at the station were moved to tears by this display of love, and a statue has been erected in the memory of this loving creature in the Shibuya station! I doubt anyone who watched this movie came out without being deeply moved. Can anyone reading this, please explain to me why a dog would do something like this, if he didn’t experience emotions like love, a deep sense of attachment to his master, trust, etc., etc.?

dog with master
You and I, it’s a beautiful world!

When you see or hear stories of animal affections, you can’t help but be touched by the animal’s love and loyalty for its owners and for others of its species. Simply because these creatures cannot speak and are at our mercy, doesn’t mean that they do not feel emotions. In fact, research shows that animals can have a wide spectrum of emotions!

Research and Scientific Conclusions

Embarrassed Chimpanzee
Sheesh! This is embarrassing…

Science, for all the noise it makes about advancing every day, hasn’t yet come to a final conclusion about whether animals have emotions or not. Some studies show that they do, while some others are vague and do not prove anything. But they do not hesitate to conclude that since they cannot confirm the existence of emotions in animals, animals must surely not have any emotions.

Studies have revealed the presence of spindle cells in the brain of chimpanzees, whales and dolphins. These are the cells that control the relationship between our feelings and thoughts, and also control our social behavior. But this is not conclusive proof that these creatures have emotions. People who study behavior – behaviorists – say that what we interpret as emotions in animals, is merely trained response to stimuli, which the animals develop over time, by assimilating the different reactions to different actions.

Sad bulldog
I’m sorry.. Please don’t shout?

Studies reveal that when owners yell at their dogs, the dogs look guilty irrespective of whether they’ve done something wrong, indicating that it is really difficult to accurately compare emotions and their manifestations, between humans and animals. But researchers of cognitive ethology back up the theory that animals are, indeed, deeply emotional and feel a variety of emotions. Neurons and chemicals found in the human brain, which are associated with feelings, have also been found in other mammals, tipping the scales in favor of animals having emotions.

Two dolphins swimming
Time to play?! Woohoo!

Research also shows, that mice are capable of feeling empathy; chimps and dolphins seem really happy when playing; elephants, monkeys, otters and bears appear to grieve and mourn the death of their kind; baboons display quite a temper; elephants suffer from post traumatic stress disorder(!) and exhibit strong maternal instincts; dogs can feel jealousy, anger, shame, embarrassment and even get depressed; cats can cry and are also very affectionate; fish are sentient and have distinctive personalities; whales are quite amorous; mice love having fun just as much as you and I do; and iguanas seek pleasure too…

According to Darwin’s theory of evolution, there is continuity in the process of evolution. So the difference lies not in whether or not different species have emotions, but in the degree of emotions experienced by different species.

The Emotional Angle

Keeping aside the scientific aspect of the topic, here are a few incidents which could very well make you wonder whether the question we are addressing is redundant! Read on…

Chimpanzees hugging
We’ll hug each other through this..

There was a video posted on you-tube after the recent tsunami, where a dog was fiercely guarding another injured dog. He wouldn’t let anyone come close to his injured friend, and would periodically lick him and gently place his paws on the injured dog’s back. The injured dog was eventually treated and they were both kept together. If this doesn’t scream love, affection, and a strong protective instinct, I don’t know what does!

Polar bears hugging
I’ll miss you so much..

Another video is about a bird who was hopping around the dead body of his mate. The bird had died at a busy traffic intersection and his mate refused to leave his side, pecking anyone who tried to get close, and squeaking loudly all the time as if it was crying. This continued for a couple of days till the bird finally gave up and flew away. You are free to draw your own conclusion.

We all know for a fact that lovebirds cannot survive alone. They have to be kept in pairs and if one escapes by chance, the other will eventually die. Why this deep sated need for companionship? Maybe they feel lonely? Just an emotional guess on my part!

Elephant with baby
That’s my baby!

Elephants are known for their strong maternal instincts and elaborate funeral rituals. They move in groups and take care of the younger ones, and refuse to leave behind an injured elephant. This can be proof enough, of their strong sense of belonging and care for each other.

For me, this question is redundant. I, personally, am not one who needs scientific proof for things that I can see with my eyes! All I need, is to see my adorable dog slinking away when my dad yells at him, to burrow his head under his blanket or behind the sofa and sit there till one of us goes and talks to him, to know that he does feel emotions! My neighbor’s dog gave birth to two puppies, one of which was still born and had to be buried in the backyard. The new mom used to go scratch the place where her pup was buried and refused food for almost a week! How can you explain this, if animals are not supposed to have emotions?

mischievous monkey
We don’t have emotions?!
Here’s what I think of that theory!

But there are a few skeptics who believe, that what we imagine to be emotions in animals, is nothing but anthropomorphism – meaning, humans projecting their emotions onto animals (all those who are nodding their heads vigorously at this theory, have to come up with an explanation for the above-mentioned dead professor projecting his emotions on his very much alive dog!). These people, I’d like to invite to my home to try to convince my pet to play with them when he’s just been reprimanded, or to look into his big, brown puppy eyes, which look oh-so-sad, when you refuse to give him his favorite treat, and then say with conviction that he doesn’t have emotions! Not everything is justified by ink on paper. There are some things you simply have to see, to know and believe, wouldn’t you agree?!