Animal Grief - How Animals Mourn by David Alderton


The author looks at whether animals go through bereavement and even feel grief as humans understand the term.

Fri 02 Dec 2016

By Judy

Animal Grief - How Animals Mourn by David Alderton

Animal Grief - How Animals Mourn by David Alderton

The author looks at whether animals go through bereavement and even feel grief as humans understand the term.

Alderton looks at the beliefs in the past about animals, the arguments about whether they have souls as Christianity has debated over the centuries. He looks at how Hinduism, for example, with its belief in re-incarnation, views the souls of animals. Darwin is also looked at with his investigations in animal self-awareness.

Alderton looks at how different species behave when those around them die. This varies hugely between animal types. Wild rabbits, for example, do not have the luxury of time to reflect on the death of any of their number. Their lives are short and fraught with danger, (hence also they reproduce very quickly). Other animals, such as cetaceans (whales), some primates and elephants who live longer and take longer to conceive and nurture their (fewer) young can be observed to behave in ways when one of their number dies that could be perceived as ‘feelings’. Prodding and rolling a newly dead creature, seemingly in an effort to revive it in the case of some primates or returning to the bones of a dead companion in the case of elephants, as examples. Alderton argues that in some instances such bereavement behaviour is useful to the species.

Many animals will fight ferociously to protect their young, but if that young does die, after a relatively short period of ‘bereavement’ an animal will move on. In the wild it has to in order to survive.

None of the animals that we generally keep as pets are as neurologically developed as whales, some primates or elephants. Recent physiological studies have revealed economo neurons in the brains of those species, which are not present in cats or dogs. This is not to say that our pets are not affected by the loss of companions in various ways. But evidence of this is mainly anecdotal and open to misinterpretation.

While our own grief at the loss of an animal companion is undeniable it may be wrong to think that our animals, while undoubtedly feeling disorientation, a sense that something is lost, stress and even boredom when a companion animal or even a human carer dies, have the capacity to grieve as we do.

This well illustrated book which discusses, though inevitably is unable to answer the question of whether animals grieve, is a good read for anyone interested in trying to really understand their pets rather than just wanting to project human characteristics onto them.

In this reviewer’s opinion animals’ ability to live intensely and joyously in the moment is part of why their companionship is so good for humans and, after all, why would you want to wish something as dreadful as human grief onto your beloved pet?

Article by The Pet Owners Association

The Hubble & Hattie imprint was launched in 2009 and is named in memory of two very special and much-loved Westies owned by Veloce proprietors, Rod Grainger and Jude Brooks. Hubble & Hattie is the home of a range of books that cover all-things animal – be these dogs, cats, horses, rabbits or elephants – produced to a high quality of content and presentation and offering great value for money.