Do Animals Have Emotions?

 

I had been away for two weeks, continuing my professional training. Nikos had only been with me for a few months and was still living in the busy commercial barn where we had met. (It took a few more months to find a quieter barn, with more turnout; and another year to find him a home where he could live in the open air, the way Creator intended.)

This was before I had been trained in Reiki or animal communication, and so I hadn’t known how to reach across the country to be with him, and I’d missed him terribly. And so the morning after I returned, I immediately went to see him, my beloved Nikos, the creature who had dropped into my life in a way that made me believe in miracles, who had pierced my heart the moment our eyes had met, the creature who always greeted me with soft eyes and soft knickers, who reveled in my touch. This creature, this handsome, kind, loving being who even after such a short amount of time was unmistakably my partner, as though we had been together since the dawn of time, this creature turned around in his stall and presented me with his big, brown butt.

I spoke to him softly, apologizing for being away for so long, asking him to turn around.

He refused.

He didn’t fully forgive me for nearly a week.

 

A couple of years ago, I was rushed to the hospital with a health issue I’d been unaware of until that day. I could see my sweet dog Elika’s eyes get big as she watched me being wheeled out of the house by paramedics.

I was in the hospital for five days. Elika, who is the beat of my heart, was in my mother’s care. I knew that Elika would miss me, but she loves my mother, so I felt that all would be well. On the third day, I was well enough to finally ask how Elika was.

My mother’s face changed, darkened. She looked down, avoiding my eyes. “Well,” she said. She lies on your bed and cries.”

Heartbroken and crying myself, I buzzed for my amazing day nurse and asked if my little girl (she’s only 20 pounds) could come visit. The nurse checked for me. The answer was no. When she saw how distraught I was, she asked again.

The verdict was that Elika could not come to the room, but she could come to the lounge. So later that day, my mother brought Elika for a visit. I could see the relief on Elika’s face when she saw me. “There you are!” her sweet face said. “There you are.”

We visited for about half an hour. I was in the hospital for two more days, but now that Elika knew where I was, knew that I hadn’t abandoned her, there was no more crying.

 

One of the exercises in my animal communication classes is for the students to speak with Elika. Everyone speaks with her at the same time, silently, jotting down notes.

At a class a few years ago, when it was time to share their notes, one of the students spoke with great emotion, his eyes shiny with tears. He said that in connecting with Elika, he has sensed her tremendous love for me. He said that even If he hadn’t learned anything else all day, that one connection, that one experience of intense love, would have made the entire class worthwhile.

 

For several years, I lived with and cared for a family of five horses—two mares, a stallion, and a yearling colt and filly—while the human family was out of the country.

After about 18 months, the couple decided to re-home the stallion, a lovely, gentle creature that I had grown extremely fond of. The morning he was trailered off the property, I went back into the house, crying. A huge empty space had opened in my heart. I missed him terribly.

I wasn’t the only one. The sweet mare Kinsale stood with her head over the fence for two weeks, staring into his empty paddock. For two weeks, her heart broken.

 

My Nikos came to me when he was 18. I didn’t know anything about him and couldn’t read his racing tattoo, which is under the upper lip of Thoroughbred race horses. The vet couldn’t read it; the hoof trimmer couldn’t read it; a series of other folks, including two barn managers, couldn’t read it.

One day, one of those same managers decided he just had to read the darned thing. He grabbed a flashlight, pulled Nikos’s lip back, and read the tattoo. Why it was suddenly visible is a story for another time (and I promise to tell it), but it was suddenly visible.

I sent for his racing papers and found out all about him. His name had been Winning Cliff. He had been sold as a yearling for a high price. He had run close to 60 races in under three years, a tremendous (and abusive) number. He had won his human “owners” a respectable amount of money.

As I read his story, I saw him as a baby, running in a pasture with his mother. The vision was sharp and strong, like a newsreel in my head. I wept for him, for the life he had been forced to bear. But my heart also swelled with pride for him, for his victories, for his strength.

I went to the barn to tell him what I’d found out. For the year that I had known him, Nikos had always been the at the bottom of the herd hierarchy. He would move to make way for the other geldings and always came into the barn last. This didn’t bother him at all. Everyone has their place in the herd, and he graciously accepted his. If he had ever fought for a higher ranking in a herd, those days were over.

But that day, when I approached the paddock with the 10 or 12 horses, so excited to share my news with him, to tell him that I knew who he was, that I was so achingly proud of him, when I approached the paddock and caught his eye, he locked me in his gaze, arched his neck, expanded his chest, and walked straight through the herd, gorgeous, powerful, proud. When he reached me, our eyes still locked, his whole presence said, “Now you know who I am.”

It was an amazing afternoon. I had not known that an animal could be proud of who he was. That day, Nikos taught me. His whole demeanor changed. Others in the barn noticed and asked what was going on. He was taller, stronger, younger. And he stayed that way until the day he passed from this earth.

 

From the time that I was eight until I was about 12, my family had a sweet black dog named Prince. His hair was wavy and shiny, and he had a gorgeous white throat. I adored him.

On one of our camping trips, Prince picked up some ticks. They multiplied until my mother was finding them in many of the rooms of the house. Without telling any of us children, she arranged for the Anti-Cruelty Society to come and pick him up.

That evening, after he was gone, she told us that it was for the best, that a nice family who could keep him outdoors would take him. This was, of course, nonsense. He was an adult, male dog. He was not a purebred. He most probably sat in a cage for 10 days before being put to death.

I think about my sweet Prince from time to time. How terrified he must have been, removed from his family, living in a cement-floored cage, the terrible noise.

 

I think about all of the other creatures—dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, all of them—that suffer this same fate.

I know that animals have emotions. I imagine that you know it as well. What would our world be like if all humans came to understand this?

 

 

 

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