The debate continues whether animals feel the same emotions that humans do.
Although there is a lot of agreement that they form close bonds and even love, other emotions are still questioned.
Many argue that animals cannot feel ‘human’ emotions, such as hate, grief, or jealousy, or at least not in the same way we do.
Those of us who work with animals, who spend endless days and nights caring for them, who come across so many of them, will tell you there is absolutely no doubt that animals feel the emotions we do.
If you really understand them, can read their body language, and even their facial expressions, you cannot deny this.
People in rescue deal with some of the most troubled animals and we can see the pain, loss, and sadness they feel.
They have trust issues. They have separation anxiety. They suffer from depression. We see animals comfort each other, grieve for one another, and protect one another.
Several years ago, two senior Siamese siblings were abandoned at our shelter. They were small, and frail, and stuck together like glue. They slept together, ate together, and watched out for one another. It was the two of them against the world.
When one of them became critically ill, and we realized we would have to let him go, our main concern was for his sister and what would happen to her.
The minute he was gone, she became restless and searched for him.
At first, she was confused, then you could see the grief wash over her as she realized her loss.
We didn’t know what to do to ease her pain.
Out of nowhere, one of the other cats that lived in the hallway stepped in. It’s like he sensed her grief and knew she needed him. He would snuggle up to her when she fell asleep and kept her company when she was awake. He wasn’t her brother, but he seemed to fill that void in her life.
It was an incredible show of compassion.
Besides Katie’s Place, I also volunteer at a pig sanctuary in Mission. There are three siblings living together in one enclosure. Two brothers and a sister. They fight. They argue. They pick on each other just like all siblings do, but if one of them is in trouble, the other two are right there.
Recently, one of them has become ill and we have to give him medication. He’s not very fond of taking his antibiotics and we need to get creative.
Of course, while we try to get the medicine into him, he complains about it the whole time. The beautiful thing is that the moment he voices any kind of distress, his sister runs over and nudges us.
Her concern for his well being is so obvious. She is not angry with us, or in any way aggressive, but you can tell she needs to be reassured that we are not hurting him. When we do she relaxes and steps away.
I once had a cat with neurological damage to his back end, which made him incontinent.
Unfortunately, while he was in the house, I had to put a diaper on him for most of the time. He absolutely hated those diapers, and every time I would take him into the bathroom to put one on, he’d get super angry.
He was the most loving boy and we snuggled constantly, but when it came time to put that diaper on, his eyes would narrow and he would hiss, spit and complain the whole time. He was furious, but he never hurt me. He just wanted to make it clear that he was not amused.
Once the diaper was on, I would apologize profusely and within a few minutes his demeanour and facial expression would change and I knew I was forgiven.
I have spent my whole life around animals – cats, dogs, pigs, horses, rats, and birds, just to name a few.
I have come into contact with hundreds of them. I have seen their sadness, their joy, their anger, confusion, compassion and empathy.
I have seen animals forgive, and love, and even hate. I think the only reason we still question their ability to feel complex emotions is because of the implications that would have on the way we treat and exploit them.
By Magdalena Romanow is a volunteer at Katie’s Place, an animal shelter in