Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
16 August 2000 Issue

Animal Mothers Have Feelings Too

Only a few years ago, a cat named Scarlet made headlines around the world when she risked her life to reenter a burning building FIVE TIMES to rescue her tiny kittens one by one. Even though her eyes were blistered shut and her paws were burned, the cat did not rest until she had retrieved all of her babies, tenderly touching each one with her nose to make sure they were safe.

It's funny, we humans think we have the market cornered on motherhood -- we've even set aside a day to celebrate it -- and yet a scrawny stray cat still manages to show us all up. Scarlet is not alone in her motherly devotion. Look anywhere in the animal kingdom and you will find it. A dog named Sheba wrenched hearts last year when she frantically dug up her puppies after they had been buried alive by her owner.

When a British bovine named Blackie and her calf were sold separately at auction, the distraught mother broke out of her stall and went off in search of her calf. The next morning she was found seven miles away contentedly suckling him at another farm (they were identified as mother and son by the matching auction labels still stuck to their rumps).

Even fearsome alligators can be gentle mothers, delicately cracking open the eggs of struggling-to-hatch babies in their powerful jaws.

A tourist recently captured on videotape a dolphin mother grieving for her dead baby, a phenomenon long reported by marine biologists, but never before documented on film. The entire pod surrounds the mother and protects her while she grieves. "They'll stay with [the baby] and will not abandon her, and the little funeral cortege will persist until the disintegration of the baby," said dolphin expert Wade Doak. It is also a sad fact that the greatest number of dolphins killed in fishing nets are mothers and babies. The infants are too young and bewildered to escape, and their mothers will go to extraordinary lengths to join them, singing their comfort, even when it means they too will die.

Yet there are those who still say animals have no feelings. "It is only instinct," they say. "They're just dumb animals." When a cat in Texas was beaten to death by a group of high school students, their heinous crime was defended with the words: "It was just a stray cat." Just a stray. Like brave Scarlet.

Who are we to say animals have no feelings? Call it instinct, call it hormones, call it the full moon, call it love, call it what you will. Just because we can't figure out what to call them doesn't mean animals' feelings aren't very powerful and very real. What heroic feats must they perform before we hear what they are trying to tell us?

We show our indifference to animal mothers in myriad ways. We wrench wobbly calves away from their dairy cow mothers within a day or two of birth so we can have the milk nature intended for them. We clamp intelligent pigs in "iron maidens," literally iron cages, that allow the piglets to suckle but prevent the mother from ever so much as nuzzling her babies. We shuttle off kittens and puppies at 8 weeks old with never a thought to the fact that Mom might worry about them and grieve for them.

Alice Walker noted the similarity between human and other-than-human moms when she visited Bali and saw a mother hen and her brood crossing a road. "She was that proud, chunky chicken shape that makes one feel that chickens...have personality and WILL," wrote Ms. Walker. "Her steps were neat and quick and authoritative; and though she never touched her chicks, it was obvious she was shepherding them along....[H]er love of her children definitely resembles my love of mine."

"Why did the Balinese chicken cross the road?" continued Ms. Walker, who is a self-confessed struggling almost-vegetarian. "I know the answer is, To try to get both of us to the other side."

[Thanks to Enid Breakstone for forwarding these beautiful thoughts on animal mothers and babies. Please consider sharing these words with someone who might never have realized that animals have feelings and grieve for their young.] Source: "Ferris, Suzy" <[email protected]>

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