Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Human-animal bond and Owner-pet relation

Anant V Joshi DVM

Animals were here on Earth before the humans. Millions of years ago when hominids realized that they were hunting some of the same game that wolves were hunting, hominids wizened up and probably followed the wolves for capturing their kills. Well, I think over millennia the relation between hominids and hunting animals evolved and so did the species. All dogs are evolved from wolves. And we humans? We are of course an offshoot of early Hominids, and we are the species that now rules the planet.

Today, Homo sapiens all over the Earth speak thousands of languages, live in hundreds of nations, and follow a million customs. They have a thousand relations with the animal species. But no matter what, Homo sapiens is the Alpha species on planet Earth. Humans use and abuse animals for all kinds of reasons, right or wrong. Eventually, it is the responsibility of Humans that all animal species are protected.

Most humans love animals. Most people including even the meat-eaters do not want to hurt the animals. A human may consume a burger in McDonalds and have a chicken sandwich as well, but when he sees a bunch of chickens crossing the road he may stop his car to let the chickens safely cross the road. Paradoxical? Sure!

Same with how we view dogs. Many human cultures keep dogs as companion animals, many cultures eat dog meat.

Humans are a real complex species. If native animals were exposed to different human cultures, animals would probably be quite confused!

Animals have their instincts, they have certain behaviors that have evolved over millions of years. They can fend for themselves in many natural conditions. And 'natural conditions' have changed rapidly all over the world in the last 200 years. Today's world is absolutely nothing what it was 200 years ago. Can animals evolve fast enough to be perfectly alright in the present world, without human help? Probably not. And what about the animals we bring into our modern homes? One thing is certain: when an animal is brought into a human dwelling and kept there as a pet, a definite human-animal bond develops between the two. Bond of love, caring and affection. A subtle facet of this bond is that the human becomes the owner of the pet animal. The animal loses a lot of his natural instincts to defend himself in the wild, and starts to rely on the human for food, shelter, cuddling and relief. This subtle aspect can be easily lost on many humans if they do not conscientiously think about it.

I see thousands of pet animals every year in my veterinary practice. I am, for the most part, delighted to see the wonderful rewards of the beautiful human-animal bond that I see amongst humans and their animals. But also, I am sometimes shocked to see a human abdicate or delegate the responsibility of his/her pet's health to the pet itself. I hear something like "The dog has been losing weight for the last several years, he is obviously getting old. He now hates to use the stairs. He may be painful in his joints. Aging, I guess."

Yes! Aging! But the dog needs to get some medical tests and probably some treatments. Sure he would not get medical veterinary care if he was a wild dog living in wilderness, but now he has been living for 13 years with a human being and he deserves some medical attention!

And neither is the responsibility to medically treat your dog that of the society. Or of your local shelter. Or of your government. Or of your local animal hospital. It is yours. You may have your culture, religion, fashion, morality based on who you are, but once you bring an animal home and keep him with you for 16 years (or 16 days), it is your human respondibility to address your pet's needs. 

Most of us love animals. Most of us love dogs and cats. But for them, love alone is not enough. They need food, water, shelter, companionship and medical veterinary care. And that is where you come in, my dear Homo sapiens! Have fun with your animal companions, but don't forget you are also their "owners" and that they depend on you for almost EVERYTHING. They depend on you, and they did not choose to become dependent on you. But now that they are dependent on you thanks to you, you need to become a true human, a true human companion to your beloved animal.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

I Wish They Could Talk

Author: Anant V Joshi DVM

Wish they could talk? What do you mean 'Wish'? I mean they Do Talk! Except we don't know how to decipher their language ... their body language. See, we Homo sapiens 'talk' with our tongues. That is how we communicate a major chunk of our thought content to others. Well, now in 2013 things are a lot different than they were in, say, 1813! There was no phone, internet, photography ... other human ways to communicate. But coming back to our other living beings, animals I mean. They primarily 'talk' with their bodies ... only if we are willing to 'listen'. 

From making a straight eye contact to blinking an eye, from perking up their ears to wagging their tails, from crouching on the ground to laying belly up, from whining to growling, from a straight down hair coat to standing hairs, they are trying to communicate a thousand emotions.

From reading our posture to responding to our pace, from listening to our heart beats to smelling our sweat, from licking our hands to tugging on our slacks: they are listening to our bodies' intended and unintended messages and responding appropriately. And when we fail to respond to them in their 'language', they get confused, frustrated, angry, anxious, sad, depressed and un-attached.

Imagine living in a place where people did not understand 90% of what you said ... let us say it was a language barrier. We have the same situation here ... our animals may be thinking that we humans do not really understand them. This is sad.

I believe it is our moral and ethical responsibility to try and learn the 'Animal Language'. Nay, we should learn their language because we love them. Without communicating with them, what is our love's worth for them?

Anant V Joshi DVM

The opinions and ideas in this blog are mine.

Following photo taken from the internet. Credits were not available.

Monday, April 29, 2013

How and Why To Communicate With Animals

This is Leo, my Siberian Husky. He is 1 year old in this picture.

Today, we are going to explore briefly how humans can communicate with animals in a more efficient way.

The key to animal communication is body language. We humans are not taught early on how to decipher body language cues of other humans, let alone animals. Animals, on the other hand, are taught early on by their animal parents how to communicate using body language. Of course they verbalize and vocalize too, but that is primarily a secondary means of communication for them. Mainly, they do it with their bodies.

Over millions of years, we humans have evolved in a very unique way. We have somehow put our body language skills in the background, and have developed sophisticated language skills, writing skills, a well developed sign language and even Braille, a language for the blind. So we humans have really surpassed most animals in our communication skills.

That has created a unique situation: We have drifted even farther from our animal relatives. There is a huge gap between animals and humans.

Because the animals cannot speak like us, we don't understand them well. We treat them coldly. We presume they do not have emotions, they do not have feelings, they do not feel pain, they do not have consciousness, and we also presume they do not have a soul! (Well, let us not go there because that is a topic for religion experts to handle, a topic which is not even being debated anywhere).

So, to communicate effectively, we have to first bridge the gap that exists between humans and animals.

The first step for bridging the gap is to go back to basics: Either we learn animals' body language, or we teach them our language, or we do both, or we meet anywhere in between.

I believe it is much easier for us to learn animals' body language, and you will be surprised to know the reason!

The reason is that we have almost the same body language skills that the animals have. See, over millions of years we Homo sapiens have been living with the animals, sharing our habitat, homes, and even hearths. So what do you think, we humans were spending all those millions of years NOT communicating with the animals? Absolutely not! We did not have a spoken language of our own, and neither did the animals. So we humans developed skills to recognize cues in the bodies of our animal relatives. We were able to see the great similarities between the body's reaction to different stimuli: the reactions of animals and humans were the same.

We started to see the facial expressions of the animals, their breathing pattern, their pupil size, their hair coat; are the hairs standing on end, or are they lying close to their skin. Are the ears perked up, or are they hanging down. Is the tail in between the legs, or is it raised. Is the tail bushy or is it plain. Is the animal digging and scratching the soil with his front feet? Is he showing his teeth? Is he snarling? How is he behaving when he is sick? Is he keeping his head down? Is he keeping his eyes closed? Is he laying down? Is he vomiting? Is he scared stiff? Is he jumping around and is obviously happy? Is he mimicking us humans?

In ancient times, we saw how the animals approached other animals. We learned from them. They learned from us. We saw how they approached strange animals, how they approached enemy animals, how they approached or ran away from dangerous or bigger stronger animals. We saw they protected their offspring just like we did. And how did they do it? They stood right in front of their offspring and warned us by snarling at us or showing us their teeth, or barking or howling at us.

We did the same to other stranger humans! We made friends with some, we became enemies of others. We protected our offspring.

In this scenario, many animals became our friends. Descendants of wolves, dogs became our friends: we gave them shelter and food, they led us to our food so we could hunt it!

So, my point is that we humans can go back to basics and try to learn how animals communicate with their body language. We have to observe keenly the minute changes in posture, expression, breathing pattern, pupil size, hair position, tail position, approach, and a thousand other less obvious things in an animals body to properly read his thoughts. Then we will respond more kindly, more bodily rather than with spoken word, and will become more in tune with an animal's feelings. This will not only make us better friends of animals, it will make us better humans: since other humans will inherently recognize our most inborn feelings being expressed through our bodies without saying a word. And when we will use spoken language, it will be in total reconciliation of what we would be expressing with our body language. The world would be a better place, there will be more love: not just amongst humans and animals, but also between humans.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Sense and Sensibility

They say man has 5 senses: Sight, Hearing, Taste, Touch, and Smell. Really? Some claim they have a sixth sense. The intuition. They seem to know the future. They seem to have the sense to see the past: things that happened in the past ... things that were so far removed in space and time from them that there is no logical explanation of how these individuals with a sixth sense could have known it.

The social animal Homo sapiens has 5 senses, which are the information gathering gadgets. The brain processes the information and we make some sense of the world around us. There are millions of inputs in our brain at any given moment. Our brain is a sensitive instrument ... it is able to process these inputs brought to it by its data gathering friends, the 5 senses.

One would presume that the brain would be limited by its own capacity to process information, as well as by the capacity of its data gathering friends, the 5 senses. So the more sensitive the brain is, and the more efficient the senses are, the more accurate the outcome should be of this whole exercise involving the interplay of senses and the brain. This is pretty advanced in Homo sapiens. Probably more so than in other animals.

Many animals, wild and domestic, do have senses that are far superior to those of men. Eagle has a sharper eye, dog has a sharper more advanced sense of smell, owl has night vision much superior to that of man, insects have a tactile sense superior to that of men, elephants can hear sound waves humans cannot even imagine, and who knows which animals have a sense of taste that is far superior to that of man. And yet, humans have probably developed their cranial lobes to an extent that they are able to process the meager amount of information our weak senses feed our brain in a hyper efficient way to extract all the info we need for our survival and continual domination of the animal kingdom.

And I always wonder: why do we have only 5 senses? I mean there are more than 5 senses in the world today, and these extra senses are present and functioning in other animals. 

These senses are absent in Homo sapiens:

ECHOLOCATION: This is the sense that enables a bat to radiate ultrasonic sound waves to an object, and when the waves get reflected back to the bat, the bat knows the shape and distance of the object. This is really amazing. This is far superior to the ultrasound that I use in my veterinary hospital. This sense is totally missing in Homo sapiens.

ELECTRORECEPTION: Some animals (fish) including sharks have the ability to detect even minor electrical fields. When a doctor puts leads on your chest and plots an ECG, he is basically measuring the electrical impulses your heart is radiating to your skin. But these electrical impulses do not stop at our skin. If we are in salty water, e.g. in Seawater, these impulses will travel in the salty water. And, a shark can detect these from a distance. Scary, right? Absolutely! We humans do not have any electroreception. Well, I take it back: we do have some, but we really have to almost touch the source of electricity to feel it. I know we can sometimes feel the static electricity on our hairs! But that is not what electroreception is. We humans totally lack this sense.

MAGNETORECEPTION: This is the sense that tells an animal which direction he is facing, vis a vis the Earth's magnetic field. That is how many avian species especially migratory birds know which direction to fly to, and reach their destination thousands of miles away! 
I guess we Homo sapiens could use something like that, especially if it tells us the direction of our actions. I guess we can call it our moral compass! Well, we do have it, (I mean most of us do have it) and it is another story how well or how often we use it! But sorry, I am digressing.

OTHERS: The ability to sense pressure waves with a high level of sophistication, body's orientation in water etc. are some other senses that are not natural to humans.

So my point is that we have 5 senses and we are totally lacking so many other senses. Not only that, we have our 5 senses that are way inferior to those of animals'. 

Animals are our relatives. Evolutionary speaking. I think they do deserve our respect. Oh yeah! It is not a typo, I mean it. They do deserve our respect. They have earned it. Yes! They have earned it. When we do not understand how they have earned it, or if we choose to ignore how they have earned it, we are just being thankless and ungrateful. But is not that a well developed Human sense also? Pardon the flavor of my thoughts (it may be too chilly for some, or bitter, or astringent), but I ask you, when are we Humans going to recognize that animals are our relatives? Have not we understood evolution enough?

Are we going to be sensitive? Because being sensible ain't enough.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Animals are very similar to humans, but hey are not humans.

Humans and animals are made up of the same stuff: 70% water, bones, ligaments, muscles and skin. We have similar cells, tissues, blood, lymph, bones, and the same vital organs. Our cells and our genes are so similar, that scientists regularly inject human brain cells into mice brains to see how those injected cells thrive and behave. 

Having been in private practice of veterinary medicine for more than 2 decades, I run into a lot of animal lovers. This is a very satisfying profession. Most people are kind-hearted, love their animals, and will do anything to save even a stray animal. 

Some people sleep with their animals, some share the food from the same plate. Some hunt with their animals. The degree of sharing between animals and humans is really baffling. Everybody is different, and everybody has a right to express their love in the way they think is most appropriate for their family and their animal companions. We are not going to judge anybody. We love the human-animal bond.

One thing that I believe in is that we should not humanize the animals, nor should we think of humans as animals. Yes, animals and humans are eventually all animals: as my blog says ... Domestic, Wild and Social. But it is a great idea to keep the distinction in the back of our minds. I was very sad to see some TV programs where kindhearted people got killed or mauled by their own wild animals. The program is called Fatal Animal Attraction or something like that. See, wild animals are very cute, beautiful, and furry. That does not mean that they do not have millions of years of selective breeding in them to make them furious hunters. That’s how they survive ... by hunting prey. One never knows for sure when a "tamed" wild animal will erupt into his original personality of a hunter.

We have all seen rowdy kids! We love them and all, at the same time we worry that a rowdy kid is going to get in trouble, is going to get hurt, or just is going to tick a neighbor or a guest off! Our dogs are like our kids. If we do not train them to behave, then they cannot be blamed for social transgressions. Just like every human kid goes to school, I think every pet dog needs to go to a boarding-training school where he will stay for a couple of weeks getting to learn all basic commands. Then of course the humans can take over and continue the life long training and learning process.

Well that’s it for today talking about wild and domestic animals! 

The social animal, the Homo sapiens is a different beast altogether. He is very complex, egotistical, as well as of course kind and compassionate at the same time. The problem with him is that he thinks that the whole world is here for his enjoyment, and he can do whatever suits his fancy and ephemeral needs: he can destroy the eco system, pollute the rivers and oceans and the atmosphere, and drive out other animals from their natural habitats … animals that are at this stage of the evolution a little weaker than the humans. The good part is that a vast majority of this animal species, Homo sapiens, is kind hearted and is trying to save the endangered species, heal the hurt animals, and is trying to find natural habitat for displaced animals. That's a good thing we are doing!
Dr. Anant V Joshi DVM