It is sad but true: animals “grieve” for lost relatives. They also grieve for friends who have passed on. In one instance we are told a Siamese cat howled for days and would not eat after her sister died. It would seem that the Siamese cat’s propensity to vocalise loudly allowed her to express her emotions more clearly.
On the Yahoo website a visitor states: “My Siamese cat cries all the time now since her sister died”. She asks whether she should get another cat as a companion for her grieving Siamese cat. It is sad to learn that her cat had been grieving for 3 whole years before the owner asked for advice. She says that her cat keeps on crying and the difference is noticeable since the loss of her feline friend.
Scientists, in general, appear to be coming around to the idea that animals do grieve and that they have emotions which are wider than once believed (although Dr Badshaw believes that cats don’t grieve but can experience jealousy). One of the experts in this area is the Professor of Anthropology at College of William and Mary, Barbara J. King. She says that she has taken a hard look at the way animals grieve on the loss of relatives. Barbara has written a book on the subject:- How Animals Grieve: The Science of Animal Emotion.
“It’s there, and we can see it and measure it. I really want to break away from the constant drumbeat of this worry about anthropomorphism because I think that really misses the key issues.”
What she is referring to is that many people believe that those of us who say that animals have certain emotions similar to ours are anthropomorphising them. I for one don’t believe we are and Prof. King agrees with me and others.
Prof. King refers to the case of Willa, a Siamese cat. King writes:
“I cannot imagine describing the behaviour of Willa the Siamese cat without invoking the word “grief”. For 14 years Willa lived with her sister, Carson, at the home of Karen and Ron Flowe in Virginia. The feline siblings groomed each other, lazed together in favourite parts of the house and slept with their bodies entwined.”
It seems that quite suddenly Carson died after a fairly short illness. Willa’s reaction was marked:
“Within 2 or 3 days, though, she began to utter an unearthly sound, a sort of wail, and to search the spots she and Carson had favoured together. Even when this startling behaviour faded, Willa remained lethargic for months.”
I have referred to cats and specifically Siamese cats. I believe that quite possibly grief may be more noticeable in Siamese cats because as mentioned above they are more able than vocalise emotions.
However, grief is not confined to cats, quite obviously. In one case a female dolphin reportedly prodded at the lifeless body of her calf and would not eat. In another case, in Kenya, a herd of elephants was observed apparently mourning the death of its matriarch. There have also been examples of apparent grief in dogs and giraffes: both highly social animals.
Prof. King is not sure whether animals understand the finality of what has happened when a companion dies. An animal’s response to the passing of another may simply be an emotional realisation of the fact that the other animal is no longer there. It may be a strong emotional response to separation. But perhaps that is what grief is for humans as well.
The area of animal behaviour that concerns emotions need to be better understood and I hope that more research is carried out in the future. Knowing that animals have emotions similar to ours including the emotion of grief will hopefully help humans to treat them better.