My dogs don’t lose sleep worrying about what to get me for Valentine’s Day. They snooze through TV commercials for flowers and candy, and their idea of a night out on the town would involve me chasing them after they’ve escaped from their dog pen. Fact is, dogs have no concept of Valentine’s Day…but they are capable of showing love. It might not be the same way we express our fondness for one another, but dogs do indeed have feelings of love.
We know dogs share some of the same emotions we have. They can become jealous, angry or depressed. Dogs show joy and express their happiness with a wiggling body when they see their favorite person. Research has also shown that dogs are capable of showing empathy to us and other animals. Many people claim their dogs can also express love, and now there is research to back up their claims.
The debate over which emotions dogs can feel has been going on for years. However, as scientists continue digging into the canine mind, they are learning that the bond we share with our dogs is more than just providing them with security or their favorite CANIDAE food. It’s deeper and perhaps even more complex than we know.
Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta trained 12 dogs to remain calm and relaxed inside an MRI machine so clear images of the brain could be seen without having to sedate the canines. They focused on the area of the brain associated with positive emotions, and found that dogs and humans share the same brain structure that controls emotions. We share the same hormones, and have the same chemical changes that take place in the brain.
I feel sorry for people who perpetuate the myth that cats are aloof, unloving and incapable of (or disinterested in) bonding with their human(s). That’s far from the truth. I’ve had wonderful relationships with many different cats, and each has shown unequivocally that I am not merely tolerated because I dole out their CANIDAE food twice a day. Oh sure, they appreciate having good food and a warm place to sleep. We all do. But the depth of our relationship goes far beyond me being the provider of their creature comforts.
My cats cannot say “I Love You” in human words. They can’t express love by buying me presents or doing nice things for me. They may not be able to define what love is in the same way we do, but they can and do show love in their own unique ways. Here are 8 things cats do to express love.
They Want to Be Near You
When cats climb onto your lap, drape themselves over your shoulder or curl up next to you in bed, it’s not because they’re looking for body heat. They want to be with you because they love you, and they enjoy being in your company. Every night before I go to bed, I say goodnight to my cats. Annabelle is either in “her” box in the closet or one of the cat beds. Minutes later, she tucks herself in next to me, her head on my pillow and her paws over my arm.
They Comfort You
Felines make great “nurses” for two reasons. They seem to always know when you are hurting whether it’s a physical or emotional ailment. They also stay by your side to give you lots of healing purrs until you are feeling better. How can that not be a sign of love?
They Protect You
You only have to do a brief Google search to find dozens of stories of “hero cats” who saved their owners from injury or death by alerting them to carbon monoxide, fire, gas leaks and other dangerous situations. My angel-cat Binky even alerted me to the presence of a peeping Tom – she jumped on the dresser and growled until I looked out and saw the perv staring in my window!
I’ve rescued quite a few dogs and cats over the years, most of them wandering strays that were lost or abandoned. Some were healthy despite their life on the streets, and some were a little rough around the edges. A handful had been abused in one way or another. The one thing all of them had in common was their ability to leave the past behind and move on with their life. Humans may be the smarter species, but it’s the animal world that has an unbiased ability to forgive.
Most of us learn at an early age that life isn’t exactly fair. We experience setbacks, have missteps, broken promises or shattered relationships that can cause us to lose faith in other people. Things happen, and no matter how hard we try, we can’t control everything that occurs in life. When we feel vulnerable, our tendency is to focus on what made us feel bad, find someone else to blame or hold a grudge. Forgiving a wrong can be hard to do sometimes.
Our pets on the other hand, have the ability to forgive us if we make mistakes when dealing with them. Of course it’s not the same type of forgiveness we give to another person, but dogs and cats don’t hesitate to give us the benefit of the doubt when a human mistreats them or unfairly punishes them. Animals don’t translate the failings and mistreatment given by one human to mean all humans are abusive or unfair. We get a pass if we lose our temper and yell, as long as it’s not on a regular basis. No matter what kind of treatment a dog or cat experiences, they don’t hang on to the past, hold a grudge or complain. What happened in the past is not relevant for creatures that live in the present. However, gaining their trust may be harder to do if their trust was violated. Read More »
Scientists have long been interested in doing studies about our canine friends. Recent studies have explored how the canine mind works and how important body language is to them. This new research has found that dogs, like humans, will often yawn when they see someone else yawning. Researchers also believe yawning is one way that dogs show us empathy.
Empathy is defined as the ability to identify with the feelings, attitudes or thoughts of someone else. Feeling another person’s pain is one of the requirements used to describe sentient beings. Many scientists have come to the conclusion that there are some non-human species, especially mammals and birds, that do have an awareness of self. Of course, people who have a strong bond with their pet have known this all along. Our understanding of canines continues to open our minds and hearts to the unique relationship we share with them.
The empathy of dogs may not be as refined as ours, but when you see the compassion of a mother dog nursing an orphaned squirrel or other wild animal alongside her pups, or a dog who refuses to leave his injured four-legged or two-legged, friend, their actions show a concern for others. Empathy isn’t something that can be taught. It’s what causes us to laugh when someone else laughs, or cry when we watch a love story on TV or see something bad happening to someone. Anyone who has ever rescued a dog or cat from a bad situation on the street did so because of empathy.
Parents of human children rarely admit to others that they have a favorite. In my opinion, it’s probably not because they don’t feel a deeper bond with one of their kids. Every human being is a unique individual. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, to feel different things for different people.
One might say there are as many “shades of love” as there are stars in the night sky. So it’s a perfectly natural, human thing to have a favorite child, but most parents won’t admit it because the backlash can be brutal. Recently, one dad blogger received the internet equivalent of being burned at the stake after he confessed to having a favorite child. Society says we’re not supposed to play favorites with our kids. And that goes for our pets, too.
The reality is that some kids and pets are closer to our hearts than others. We may not understand why, but we know it’s true. It is what it is. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t create feelings of guilt. We think we should be able to love them all exactly the same, and we feel bad because we don’t. We can’t change what we feel, though, no matter how much we might want to.
I admit that I feel guilty for having stronger feelings for one of my cats than the other two. I positively adore Mickey and Rocky and would be a hot mess if anything happened to either one of them, but my spirit would be shattered if I lost my sweet Annabelle. I don’t know how (or even if) I could ever get over that loss, because this little cat has touched my heart in a way that I didn’t even know was possible, until one day … there it was. Annabelle is my heart cat. There will never be a cat that I love as much or more than Annabelle. As sure as I know my own name, I know this to be true.
Have you ever seen your pet cry? And by “cry,” I mean actual tears from their eyes as an emotional response. Most people would say no; the general consensus is that animals lack the capacity for such a thing. We know that animals can “tear up” as a result of allergies, dust, upper respiratory infections, pollutants and such, but crying as an emotional response is believed impossible by most.
I don’t really like that word “impossible,” though. It would imply that we humans think we know everything there is to know about the emotional lives of animals. But how can we? Unless we are a dog, we can’t know what is in a dog’s mind or heart. We can form an opinion based on science and personal experience, but I think it would be arrogant for any human to say they know with certainty what emotions a dog or cat is capable of feeling.
Many scientists definitely have their own rigid thinking about the emotional capacity of animals. They base their opinion on carefully controlled research rather than the one-on-one bonding that takes place between people and their beloved pets. But here’s the thing: a recent study proved that people could tell what emotion a dog was experiencing by looking at photographs of the dog’s face. The photos were taken after introducing stimuli designed to elicit a specific reaction from the dog.
Happiness was correctly identified by 88% of the study participants; anger was correctly identified by 70%. So if we can tell by a dog’s face whether he is happy, angry, sad, surprised or afraid, is it farfetched to believe we’ve only scratched the surface in terms of the emotional capacity of animals? I don’t think so.
Jeffrey Masson, author of the bestselling book When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals, believes that animals do lead complex emotional lives. To support his theory, Masson found hundreds of anecdotes from the published works and field studies of noted behaviorists, including Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Cynthia Moss.
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