Friday, December 14, 2007

Brett the Vet - Can you feel it

Can you feel the breeze on your face and the wind through your hair? Can you hear birds singing sweetly in trees? Can you see wide open sky confined by horizon? Can you taste salt sea, sweet honey, sour lemons, and bitter almonds? Can you smell a rat, cat, or cow pat? Now imagine what other animals perceive. Sensuous delights are not species specific.

Mammals have similar sense organs as man. In the majority of species at least two senses are more highly developed than ours. Evidence even suggests the existence of additional senses in some. When members of our own species apparently experience the world differently from us it gets difficult to imagine how sensations are felt in other animals. But we know for sure that dogs can smell and hear better; eagles seek prey from great heights; a hint of chlorine in the water will deter cats from drinking it; cows feel individual flies touching any part of their bodies.
Ignorance of animal sentience is convenient, but simple observation reveals the miracle of each individual life. We do not need scientific experiments to illuminate carnal conduct although these have been perpetrated with impunity.

Interpretation of feelings is quizzically subjective. Obvious emotions such as excitement, happiness, sadness, anxiety and anger are easier to detect in animals than in humans because they respond openly and honestly. Other emotions, conveniently relegated to behaviour status can be deciphered avoiding anthropomorphism. The implications of an unrestrained, angry bull need no elaboration. We gain further relative insights mindfully regarding the delight of lambs playing together in a field, the distress of separated cows and calves at weaning, the loneliness and aggression of an isolated dog confined to a backyard barking night and day, or the uninhibited exhilaration of horses copulating in sunshine. Subtleties of animal behaviour go unnoticed by the untrained or disinterested eye. A carefully observed cat flaunts a fully developed personality, displaying intricate emotions not dissimilar to ours. More concentration (and time) is required to interpret nuances of reptilian rapture in a tortoise.

We need constant reminding of pain and suffering in animals. They feel pain as we do, and in certain cases more acutely. Some people have higher pain thresholds than others. Some horses will bolt at the sight of a needle. Pain is there for a reason. It is the natural way of drawing attention to an area that needs care or protection. It heightens our awareness. It makes us cautious. It creates emotional responses to physical suffering. It is necessary to feel pain. Many people are unable to interpret pain correctly in their beloved pets or valued livestock. A broken leg is painful and easy to detect: toothache trickier. The basic emotions that underlie all our actions are fear and love. Love demonstrated needs no explanation. Fear reactions with pain range from aggression and withdrawal to mistrust and anxiety. Can you love someone who causes you pain? When fear and love are intertwined we can convince ourselves that one is the other.

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