Barking Blondes: A question from the Big Brother house. Do animals have souls?
The Celebrity Big Brother house isn’t usually known for being the background to stimulating conversation. That is, however, until this week. A discussion between – wait for it – journalist Liz Jones and boxing champ, Evander Holyfield ended with the question “Do animals have souls?”
Anyone that’s spent time with a dog knows they have emotions, feelings and the capacity of lateral thought. Their power of learning and reading our body language has been scientifically proven to beat a chimp’s in many cases. Over thousands of years, they have adapted to understanding the nature of human beings. It’s no surprise, therefore, that they have feelings and emotions and experience good days and bad days like the rest of us.
Until recently scientists could only use behavioural observation and basic learning tasks to understand a dog’s intelligence and emotional capacity, which gave them the intelligence comparable to a toddler. A dog’s ability to feel emotion could not be scientifically assessed. But last autumn an enlightened article in the New York Timesrevealed a study that used MRI technology for the first time to tell us what dogs brains were telling us in different situations.
The results from this were eye opening and proved that dogs’ brains respond similarly to humans in a similar area of the brain called the caudate nucleus. Dogs have the emotional capacity of a young child. These finding throw massive implications to the way we treat dogs and in the long-term may influence how dogs are treated in legal situations. It will be difficult to consider them as chattel (a possession like a car) knowing they possess the emotional capacity of a child.
None of this takes into account their intuition or their ‘sixth sense’ which possibly puts dogs into a intelligence level of their own. There are countless anecdotal stories about dogs showing the most powerful emotion – grief at the loss of their owner like the legendary ‘Greyfriars Bobby’. When devastating mud slides hit Brazil a couple of years ago, a striking image of a dog refusing to leave the site where his master was engulfed hit the world’s press. Despite his own life being in danger and without food or water this dog wouldn’t leave the mud bank.
Other dogs have been known to sit and wait by a front door for the rest of their lives waiting for their owner to return after they’ve died. When our bulldog Matilda returned from the Christmas break having spent a wonderful few days in the country with an ailing family member she appeared clearly down in the dumps, perhaps missing the country air or the people.
One in 10 dogs suffer from separation anxiety similar to children that get homesick or miss their parents to extremes. With careful training dogs can overcome this quite easily, but it takes time, patience and commitment from the owner. The loss of a loved one or a change in circumstances be it a move or the death of another pet in the home can upset dogs and it’s up to the owner to work their pooch through a time of change, just as you would for a child with distractions and spending time getting them re-adjusted to their new routine.
‘Barking Blondes’ by Anna Webb & Jo Good, published by Hamlyn, £12.99