Ask any pet owner and they will tell you unequivocally, yes! Ask many behavioural scientists and they will say absolutely not! Who is right? The short answer? Both!
How can that be? Easy: perception. Now anyone who reads my blog a lot knows that I am a big believer in perception. How we perceive something is based on our background. When I was sick many years ago my dog curled up on my bed. She never left me. She would occasionally nip out for a potty break or to grab something to eat but she was always beside me while I healed. Why? In my world she was showing concern.
When I would train young animals, dogs in our family, I would always start out with food. It is a great motivator. But eventually I moved away from that and would only give praises. My animals were well trained. I never doubted that if I called for them to come, they would and there would be no food at the end. I even had one dog that ran loose on our walks but if she saw a person she would immediately run back to me and walk at my side. Once the person was out of sight and I gave her a nod she’d take off again. I never once doubted her. Was it love?
I’m not a scientist, I’m just a woman that loves words and I loved my animals. I believe they loved me. Perhaps we are anthropomorphizing by using the word ‘love’ but that’s all we have. We may not be able to express what the animals are actually feeling in their terms, all we can do is use ours.
The scientists are probably right it isn’t love. It’s more. Watch a documentary of elephants sometime. I did. In one, a very young elephant had gotten stuck in a mud hole. The mother acted in a manner to which we would refer to as being frantic. Think of a human mother with a child stuck down a manhole. The Park Rangers we’re eventually able to get the little one out and reunited with its mother. Again the reaction is one that you would equate to a human situation. I’m not lying. I was in tears.
Whales have been released from nets and there are videos of them racing to freedom and then returning to stop in front of the group that rescued them. Gratitude? There are examples of this all over the world. There are videos of it. The only way I can explain it is through emotion. How very human of me.