Reflections about how animals think and feel

Recently, a good friend of mine attended an animal communication course. I was really excited to learn from him what he had learnt.

He says it is only his first course, so he doesn’t claim to know a lot. Not yet.

The course, by the way, is conducted in Mandarin, so there’s no way I can attend. I won’t be able to understand a word of what the instructor says.

But as my friend quipped, “Communication isn’t about language, you don’t even need language to communicate, especially with animals.” You know what, he is absolutely right. But still no, I cannot afford the fees! It is quite expensive. I don’t have the time at the moment too.

So anyway, we got talking and a lot was discussed.

Basically, here’s what I learnt from him.

Animals do not think like us. 

So we must never ever anthropomorphise.

Their way of thinking is much simpler than ours. 

I believe that animals are definitely conscious feeling beings. They feel more than they think. Sometimes, I think humans think too much. Perhaps we should feel more.

We got to the subject of dying and euthanasia and he told me this: Animals do not want to die. They just want to survive.

From my own readings, I learnt that animals may not know that they will die one day, but they do mourn their deceased friends and family. They grieve when their loved ones pass away. They will miss them. They just may not know that one day they too will die. That knowledge isn’t there.

Animals have a survival instinct, so they want to survive.

I told my friend that I have never opted for euthanasia for any animal thus far. Of course I am not saying it’s wrong. To each her own, as long we make decisions based on compassion and we are true to our conscience, that’s good enough for me. But I’ve got enough flak from people who hounded me to have my own terminal animals euthanised or else “You are being cruel, you are letting your pet suffer”. I’ve also had people who believe in euthanasia and practise it, attack me verbally for not subscribing to it. One even asked her husband to tell me off. Now, that was a first. Tak cukup dia sendiri marah saya, dia suruh suami dia marah saya juga. To me, if you choose to kill (for your own personal reasons), that’s your prerogative, why must you also force other people to kill? Nobody is saying your decision is wrong. Or bad. Nobody is judging you. So why must you judge others who choose a different path?

There are a few things I find hard to tolerate in humans and these are (1) Those who judge others without knowing other’s circumstances, (2) They who force others to think and do like them (aka the Control Freaks), and (3) Those who give unsolicited advice (without being asked, without full knowledge of other’s circumstances). I think if people want advice, they will surely ask for it. Otherwise, they just want a listening ear. And of course, (4) Those who are not honest, not sincere and not courteous.

I’ve opted for palliative care, strong painkillers, sedation, etc. whatever it takes to make the terminal animal more comfortable. I always think that animals know when to let go. They are beings of Nature. I’ve often been asked why I do not opt for euthanasia for my own terminal animals. My answer is this: I do not know what the animal wants. If they could tell me that they want their lives to be ended, I will respect that, just as I will for humans, but there is no way animals can tell me what they want. And now, my friend has learnt that animals do not want to die. They want to survive. Then all the more, we have to respect that if that is what they want.

A few days ago, one of my friends rescued a female cat. She wanted to send the cat for spaying and put in a claim for our Neutering Aid. I told her of course she is welcome to do so, but we cannot pay if the cat is pregnant. So my friend asked her vet to check and he palpated and said, “No, not pregnant.” My friend told the vet that she intends to claim from us so she had to be sure, so she insisted that he do an ultrasound and he did. As it turned out, the cat is in an early stage of pregnancy. Now, my friend said where the cat is is not a safe place for her to deliver and her kittens would surely suffer and might not even survive. My friend is not able to shelter the mother-cat or the kittens as she leads a very busy life. So she opted to have the vet do an abortion and have the cat spayed so that the cat can be returned to her colony. My friend told me all this and even sent the ultrasound image to me and she said she will not claim as she respects our policies. This is the kind of honesty I truly appreciate.

I totally understand how overwhelming it is to have to deal with new litters of newborns. For cats, it can be anything from 3-7 kittens. For dogs, it can be 12 puppies. How are you going to rehome that many and if you can’t, you have to adopt all of them. So yes, I totally understand. It’s just that AnimalCare is no-kill, so we cannot fund it. So, do whatever you feel is right and practical so that you can cope and you don’t fall into compassion fatigue. As long as you can answer to your own conscience, you will be okay.

For humans, I am pro-choice. I listened to Hillary Clinton make her argument and appeal for pro-choice and I was instantly converted. I agree that it is the mother’s decision and I totally empathise with how hard it is for some girls and women to go through pregnancy and bring up a child.

But for animals, again, I do not what the mother-animal wants. And I’ve actually encountered three mother-cats in very early pregnancy – Pole, Minnie and Samantha. Luckily I have the means to let them go through and deliver their kittens, so that’s my choice.

My friend said for many, many feeders and rescuers, it is very daunting to handle pregnant animals and take up the responsibility of rehoming or adopting the entire litter. This, I absolutely understand. The reason AnimalCare had to have a no-kill policy is that when we first started, my senior vet told me there are rescuers who purposely catch heavily pregnant mother-animals and abort. We cannot fund that, aborting in late pregnancy is endangering the mother-animals’ life as well. Then there is the question of when the fetus is conscious and able to feel. At late pregnancy, there is a chance the fetus is already conscious. I don’t know really know, actually. I think nobody knows. That is why we have a blanket rule – we will not fund spaying that include abortions.

And we actually had one woman who applied to us to claim for a pregnant cat’s spaying. The vet who respects our policies had refused to sign her form (this was during the days of the hardcopy form), but she forged the vet’s signature and submitted her application. I compared signatures and was suspicious, also the charges were higher than the usual spaying charges, so I called up the vet. The vet (whom I trust) said he did not sign the form and yes, the cat was pregnant. So you see how humans cheat? The woman is blacklisted for life, not for spaying a pregnant cat, but for cheating and forging the vet’s signature. There is no excuse or a second chance for deliberate dishonesty. Once a person cheats, she will cheat again.

Sorry I digressed. Back to the animals now…

My friend also says he learnt that animals have a much higher threshold for pain than us humans. I agree with this too.

I know they also accept whatever happens to them. They are very accepting beings. We hear people saying, “I don’t want my pet to suffer.” But they don’t know that the animal might not be “suffering” in the human’s concept of suffering.

They are not like us humans. We often refuse to accept what happens to us. When we suffer too much pain, we want to die, we want to opt for assisted suicide to “end it all” because we cannot bear the pain anymore and know there is a way out (note: I’m not saying assisted suicide for humans is wrong. Not at all. In fact, if the human, of sound mind and body, opts for it, I respect his decision to end his own life, After all, it is his life, isn’t it?).

I think it’s because our way of thinking is much more complex than that of an animal’s. And as humans, we create all kinds of resources to help us get what we want, including assisted suicide.

Animals want to survive. This is true of all animals. Added to that, our pets want to make us happy – this is true of cats, dogs and other pets who have received our love and caring. They will want to do everything to make us happy. When they are sick, they will strive to heal and survive just to make us happy. They might even drag on just to stay on with us, says my friend.

Here’s something else that I know for sure – animals are very forgiving. And my friend concurred with me on this. He is a cat and dog rescuer, and he has far more experience than me.

I remember many years ago, I helped MDDB get back their dog, Goldie. Goldie was MDDB’s rescue but given to another lady from a certain organisation for fostering. Unknown to MDDB, this fosterer sent poor Goldie to another shelter for euthanasia. When my friend, Wani, contacted me from England, she thought it was already too late and she asked me to ask this shelter to keep Goldie’s remains so that she can give Goldie a proper burial. So I rang this shelter and what do you know, Goldie was still alive!!

They had not euthanised Goldie yet!!! I told the shelter not to put Goldie down. Do NOT do it, please.

So I quickly contacted Wani and she arranged for their member to collect Goldie (yes, alive) the next morning from that shelter.

First thing the next morning, MDDB’s member collected Goldie (alive) from that shelter and this member took care of Goldie from then on.

The story does not end there, though.

This is the most interesting part which really opened my eyes after that.

An animal communicator was engaged to talk to Goldie.

Goldie related how she felt when she was under the fostering of that lady. Goldie’s description was unlike a human’s description. Goldie did not perceive the bad treatment as “bad” but Goldie was confused and could not understand why she was treated that way. There was no criticism on the part of Goldie. None at all.

It was from a dog’s perspective. My hair stood on end as I read the whole transcripted conversation between the communicator and Goldie.

I actually wrote about this, it’s somewhere on this blog, but I’m not giving the link here because it happened so long ago and there are some details which should stay buried. With the correct keywords, you can get to that blogpost.

I did not publish the transcript of the conversation between the communicator and Goldie as that’s confidential.

But here’s what Goldie finally “said” – she forgives that lady.

Animals are SO very, very forgiving.

It puts us humans to utter shame, I tell you. It really does.

So what I’d like to share in this post is actually just this: Please do not anthropomorphise animals. They do not think like us. Their way of thinking is much simpler. Love them, please. Take good care of them. Treat them well with unconditional love. They can read our feelings (I’m very certain of this), but they might not be able to understand complicated concepts. They do not need our complicated concepts, actually.

Life is simple. It is fools who make it complicated.


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One response to “Reflections about how animals think and feel”

  1. Feng Kok Law Feng Kok

    Reflections about how animals think and feel. Thanks for sharing. Please share if there is any more this type of reflection. Sincerely