It’s uncertain if animals would feel romantic love. Yet there’s some evidence they can feel the same spectrum of feelings as we do. Even primates’ brains are remarkably similar to the human brain.
Take one example of a cat’s head. Compared to ours, a cat’s brain is small, occupying just about one per cent of its body mass compared to about two per cent of an average human. Yet it’s not just about scale. Neanderthals, the hominids who went extinct more than twenty thousand years ago, had bigger brains than Homo sapiens, but they were certainly no better than the Homo sapiens who defeated them in the game of survival. Surface stretching and composition of the brain matter rather than scale of brain. The cats ‘brains have an impressive folding surface and a structure about ninety percent identical to ours. It means they will also feel romantic love. Yet we still are never going to say for sure.
We know one thing: the dog or cat doesn’t just look at you as a food provider. All animals in the pets and zoos develop close bonds to their caregivers. As attachment is a form of affection, animals may also affection their carers.
Dogs have been known to love their masters so intensely that they have long been grieving their deaths. This was the case of the Skye terrier Greyfriars Bobby in Aberdeen, Scotland. He served as a friend to Constable John Gray, until the death of Gray in 1858. Bobby was seen lying on top of his master’s grave at Greyfriars Kirkyard during Gray’s funeral. It is recorded that the faithful police hound spent regularly at the grave of his owner until his death fourteen years later.
The dogs’ loyalty to their caregivers was verified in a report undertaken by Daniel Mills, a British trained animal behaviour expert. The thesis employed an extension of the odd condition model of Ainsworth, in which the researchers studied the response of dogs and cats to their owners and strangers. He observed that, as their parents left, firmly attached dogs appeared to behave similarly to children, while cats appeared not to do so. Cats tended, if anything, to have more of an evasive bonding style, frequently avoiding their parents and happily welcoming strangers.
Naturally these findings do not indicate that cats are unable to bind. While cats no doubt tend to have a more withdrawing type of attachment than dogs, most of us know from anecdotal experience that there may be major discrepancies in how cats are attached to their owners. There is no question that my own two cats, Bertrand Russell and Roderick Chisholm (named after philosophers like my other pets) are anxiously entangled, clinging tenaciously to me to the point of annoyingness.
Although it may appear fairly uncontroversial for dogs to be bound to their owners and for the owners to assume the position of caregiver, there is also evidence that dogs may temporarily assume the caregiver position. Dogs tend to be attuned to their owners ‘feelings and will serve as a trustworthy friend in times of need.
Researchers at the University of London observed in a study published in the September 2012 issue of Animal Cognition that dogs were more likely to follow a crying human than someone who was talking or singing, and that they responded to crying with submissive behavior. That comparison, according to the researchers, suggests that the dogs ‘reaction to weeping was not simply the product of fascination but based on a rudimentary perception of human distress. These results suggest that the caregiver-receiver positions are often inverted when a dog comforts its sorrowful owner. The dog is the caregiver temporarily and indicates a more complex form of bonding in dogs than in children.
Such findings were checked with brain scans, too. Neuroscientist Gregory Berns at Emory University used fMRI neuroimaging to study the dogs ‘brains. This is not an straightforward feat. The fMRI scans operate only if the subjects remain fully still, which dogs are not normally able to. Berns nevertheless taught his dogs to lay still in the scanner’s close compartment, making brain imaging feasible. The findings were stunning. In reaction to their owners, Berns ‘research team observed elevated activation in brain regions associated with commitment, empathy and a philosophy of mind. A philosophy of mind is a form of thinking that is constantly informed on what others think and expect. Yeah, obviously dogs are curious what their parents are doing.
Animals also are likely to understand shared affection and attachment. It testifies to the awe-inspiring story of Tika and Kobuk, two malamutes who have been friends for years. The two dogs had bred together and born eight liters of puppies. Yet Kobuk had become a bit of a tyrant. He’d snatch the food from Tika and drive her out if he had the opportunity. She would always threaten to take away whatever publicity that people were giving her. But when Tika developed cancer in her leg the abuse came to a full stop. Kobuk’s actions had completely improved. He let Tika sleep on the bunk, while he was sitting on the grass. He had groomed her face and back and was not going to leave her side. In the process, Tika’s leg had to be amputated. At the beginning sitting on three legs was also a struggle for Tika. Kobuk would try to rescue her as she staggered, and slipped. He also saved Tika’s life when she went into shock from amputation during her recovery. Kobuk barked for the owner to get up, who raced Tika to the hospital. Tika survived, thanks to Kobuk’s love and care. Kobuk went on caring for Tika while she was still recovering. Yet Kobuk was back to his old ways after Tika had completely recovered and learned to walk on three legs.
Animals often form bond relationships often with members of other non-human organisms. The BBC series Animal Odd Couples features many odd attachment partnerships, including the one between a giant lion, Casey, and a small coyote, Riley. Once Anthony and Riley were sent to an animal shelter called “Keepers of the Wild,” they were just around a month old. They united right away. They loved running and being groomed together. They were the same size when they arrived at the sanctuary but that soon changed. The little coyote quickly outgrown the lion. Their early relationship continued into adulthood in spite of their radically different physiques.
Joy of attachment isn’t limited to animals. In his book Mind of the Raven biologist Bernd Heinrich suggests that they may have a sort of affection towards each other, because ravens have long-term partners. Else it is impossible to explain what’s holding the pair together for a lifetime.
Although not all birds fit for survival, plenty do. Brant goose is no different. The series from the BBC shows a male Brant goose who has selected as his soul mate a 45-year-old female Aldabra tortoise. He chases away whoever wants to get next to her, making sure she gets to enjoy her fresh lettuce without interruption. The big female tortoise gladly puts up with his safety and treatment, she really seems to really love it. A very cooky pair.