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comfort their human companions and parrots care for their injured
mates. When we increase our understanding of how animals show
compassion, says behavioral ecologist JOANNA BURGER, we understand more
mother walked gingerly toward our detached garage to get something from
the chest freezer. Although the driveway was plowed, snow drifted
across it like dollops of meringue on warm pie and it was covered with a
wet sheen of ice. Mom slipped and fell and could not get up again.
There was nothing to pull herself up with, and the car and garage were
too far away for her to crawl there for safety.
my brother’s dog, had trailed behind her. He barked furiously, but it
didn’t rouse anyone. So he sat down on the cold ground and inched closer
and closer until he was lying alongside my mother. And there he stayed,
warming her with his own body until someone found them quite some time
later. Feister gave my mother not only warmth, but comfort.
it is not surprising that dogs demonstrate care and compassion for
their human companions—we have a long history together. Dogs are herding
animals and, after evolving with us for more than 25,000 years, we’re
part of their “pack” and they want to keep the pack together and safe.
But dogs are not unique in showing us compassion. Horses, for instance,
have only been domesticated for about 5,500 years, yet they are also
compassionate with us.
my brother Johnny was five years old, he rode our grey horse up into
the fields, almost a mile from the house. My dad and I stood watching
him, binoculars trained on the horse’s slow walk. Suddenly, the horse
tripped on a woodchuck hole hidden in the grass, and Johnny went
tumbling over the horse’s head, down to the ground. Deliberately, and
with care, the horse lowered his head until Johnny could grasp the
bridle, and together they walked all the way back to the house. The
horse’s head was bowed low in what must have been an awkward,
uncomfortable position, but he persisted. This was not a calm horse, and
I might have expected him to kick Johnny or at the least run away.
Instead, he carefully led Johnny to safety.
of animals demonstrating compassion for members of other species and
their own species are all around us; we just need to recognize them.
Failure to prove the existence of compassion in other animals is more
about our inability to design appropriate experiments, than a failure of
other animals to feel or act on cognition or emotions.