Thursday, July 9, 2009

Thoughts about Attachment

I’ve been thinking about how people say that animals can only live in the moment, and that they don’t miss the past or worry about their future. Yet, I know that some of my animals do miss me when I’m not here and appear to be upset if things change. So, in that sense, they do miss their past experiences or they miss their past routines if I am not present to continue to do what they have come to expect me to do with them. And they also miss my presence and the attention I have given to them.

I could clearly tell that Pepper, our dear departed dog, was always extremely sad when my husband would take out his suitcase and when I would leave with him to drive him to the airport. She was visibly relieved to see me return, but still pined for him until he came home. When I go off to work on a video production, Silk usually spends a lot of her day when I am gone standing at the gate, watching for me to pull into the driveway. When my husband feeds the horses and does the evening chores, putting them in their stalls and locking up the barn, Silk is anxious because I’m not there. Is she worrying about the future and whether she will see me again?

I know that there are a lot of people who think it’s wrong to compare animals to children or give them human attributes. But how can someone not believe that we share similar emotions with animals? My animals and I both feel jealousy and sadness and loneliness and grief, and of course, happiness and love. It makes me realize how difficult it is to not become too attached to another being -- human or animal -- since many of the things that hurt when they are gone are the things that you love when you are with them. What’s different is that people are able to rationalize about how you need to let go and trust that the one you love will return, but an animal can’t. Silk will learn from the repetition of my coming and going that I will eventually be back, but she has no way of knowing when that will be and that causes her anxiety.

So, as I go off to shoot a video for the next couple of days, I will carry with me a touch of sadness. I will know that my horse is spending a lot of her time waiting for me at the gate, no matter how many times my husband reassures her that I will be back by Saturday morning. And I don’t know which one of us will be happier when I come home and see her eager face light up as my car pulls in the driveway.


Bill Evertson said...

Not sure if you have seen this clip

If a dog and elephant can have a psychic bond I'm sure humans are not always anthropomorphizing.

Anonymous said...

I think it's anthromorphizing to think they are just like humans - but to think they share a lot of emotional and even reasoning thought processes with us makes perfect sense - after all they are highly developed mammals, just like us. Of course they feel emotions - I think sometimes even more intensely with other horses even than with humans. I also have seen that horses can have special bonds with particular people.

Dusty Devoe said...

Great post!!!

Grey Horse Matters said...

I do believe that animals have attachments to other animals and people too. I know my horses who have lost two of their herd mates were upset and pined for them. Mellon was depressed for a long time and he still misses Erik as they were beyond close. And Erik missed Lifeguard when he passed. He was confused and each time I pulled in he would run to the fence and whinny for a few months afterwards, as if to tell me something was wrong. It's true they don't understand what happened and can't rationalize it but I believe they do miss their friends.
On the other hand Miss Dusty gets annoyed if I'm not around for a few days and will totally ignore me for a while just to let me know she's not impressed by my absences from the barn.
Have fun on the shoot.

One Red Horse said...

I believe that we humans tend to not recognize the cognitive and emotional strengths of other species cuz they are often extremely subtle in their expressions and our experience is so different from theirs. Cannot tell you how many times my patient dogs come and nose bump me, walk to their empty water dish, look at me, look at the dish . . . clear message their. When I get my mare Lyra from the herd she will stop, turn her head back to her friends, look at me, look at them. Yes, she would like to stay and she wants me to know, yet she will come with me without much fuss. Her gelding friend will walk us to the gate and wait for her! I believe that when we spend time with our horses with no human agenda we get an opportunity to develop our awareness of how they experience the world and communicate while strengthening their bond with us.

rebecca said...

I love animals and, I am sorry but I admit, that I totally spoil and love to death my dogs and cats. My home is not picture-perfect and I always say it is animal-proof (as in baby-proof). I make sure that it is just as comfortable and safe for them as it is for us. They are a part of our lives, they bring us tremendous joy and we talk to them and they make us laugh. Whose heart is not melted by the welcome and unconditional love these animals give you?

I believe animals and humans share many of the same emotions. I once had a dog that my niece (who raised him and he was very attached to her) gave to me because she moved and because he was so big (a rottweiler) her current apartment did not allow pets. It was supposed to be a temporary situation that turned permanent. Although he had a great life with us and was loved, his heart belonged to my niece and everytime she would come visit he would not leave her side. Once she left, I could swear the dog was depressed for days because he would cry and would not eat. It was very sad. So, yes, they do feel.

I like your blog expecially because it covers a topic very close to my heart. I will return for sure.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

I truly do believe that all creatures, especially mammals can feel attachment, even if it just that comfort that comes with familiarty and routine, such as with horses.

I saw my neighbor's gelding pining away for his buddy that was recently sold. Those two were truly bonded.
He was a normally active, calm horse, but for the week following the sale of his pasture pal, he would just stare out to the empty field across the road and occasionally call out to him. I rarely even saw him eat.

I know that he was attached to his friend, because even after my neighbor brought in a new horse, that gelding was disinterested and passive around it.

And this last young horse that my neighbor brought in ultimately helped cause his death. I wonder if that gelding was even relieved to that he was without his wasn't even worth living.

Beautiful post, Victoria. I'm sure your horses are attached to you and will be excited to see you when you return home again.


Jeanne said...

I think they miss us. I hadn't been to the barn in a couple of weeks, and when I went out Saturday, my horse seemed kind of down. I trimmed his feet a bit, then hung out with him and played a little. The next day, he looked MUCH perkier.

Pony Girl said...

Good thoughts here, I agree with you. I think horses feel emotions, in their own way, but they don't think like humans in terms of a language. And we often label their behaviors and reactions with human emotions and language, which makes no sense, because they might be reacting to something out of fear, when we are thinking/labeling them as just being a pill! Am I making any sense? :)

John and Regina Zdravich said...

It is obvious that animals have feelings, emotions and memories. You can tell by the expressions on their faces, their body language, and of course their actions (like standing at the gate waiting for you). It always just floors me when people talk as if animals don't have those thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and get offended if someone talks about loving an animal as a family member. Are they threatened by this somehow?

Transylvanian horseman said...

I know how my horse whinneys when I appear at the barn, and how my car sulks if I have been away for a few days.

I remember how my former trail horses used to slow up and save energy when the ride headed towards the route that included a steep hill.

A cunning old horse used to avoid me when I was wearing riding clothes, but came up to me when I was wearing causual clothes.

Animals do possess a form of memory andintuition. They aren't human but, well, a horse is very good at being a horse.

billie said...

It amazes me that there is anyone who DOESN'T think animals experience attachment, but I know there are people who consider horses "livestock" with nothing to offer but the ride.

I suspect the fact that if one recognizes the emotions and attachment, the level of responsibility for horsekeeping goes way up - easier to say they don't form attachments and not worry about it.

It completely boggles my mind when people assume we are going to sell the pony b/c my daughter will outgrow him. He's a member of our family and he's also a member of a quite closely-bonded herd. We wouldn't dream of disrupting all those bonds.

Breathe said...

I has always stunned me when people don't think animals have the same emotions as we do. Granted some of their triggers and associations are different (a dog in the presence of an angry master will cower whether he has done anyhing or not - adopting the pack submissive posture). But the range of emotions are there.

My German shepherd foundling is afraid of water hoses 10 years later. She's not living in the present. Someone somewhere scared her terribly with a hose and she is not recovering.

If only Silk could read the blog and know that you will always return... ;)

Nor’dzin said...

Our cats always recognise the signs that we are going away and become restless. They always appear immediately when we return and are clearly pleased to see us. Dee certainly missed me when she was living away for a few months, and she behaves differently when I am around. She and Red know that we are family.