Two nights ago, Maria and I were driving from State Line Road to 300, headed back to the apartment after a long job. On the side of the road was a dead calf... not uncommon on this open cattle range stretch of road. The difference was that this calf's presumed mother was standing over the top of it, nudging as if with hopes to wake it up... hoping that her calf, who already displayed signs of rigor mortis, still had the faintest sign of life inside. As we approached with the vehicle, mama heifer moved off to the side while I walked out to inspect her calf. I dragged her calf off into the brush (praying not to step on a rattlesnake in my flip-flops) so that mama wouldn't be lingering so near to this busy oilfield road.
Throughout my life, I've encountered through personal experiences a number of instances which prove to me, irrefutably, that animals--and even insects--are imbued with a wide range of emotion. Many pet owners share this inside knowledge (intelligence and emotion of cats, dogs, rodents, birds, reptiles, and fish) that science in most cases has still not proven. Our human shortsightedness, or apathy, fails to make this associative connection beyond our Fido's and Whiskers'.
Saint Petersburg, Florida, 1997: I was waiting for a Greyhound bus to Maine, when outside the station on a harried street corner, something caught my eye. A female cardinal was fluttering around in the middle of the street as if she'd been hit by a car. In actuality, it was her lifelong mate that was lying dead in the street. She was in fact fluttering all around him, on him, over him, dancing back and forth frantically, as if trying to get anyone's and everyone's attention in a desperate cry for help.
On this blog, I once wrote about another bird... it was either a lapwing or a killdeer, who approached me in my truck, then ran away, then back to my truck... all the while looking at me and calling me, beckoning me to help her! Her baby had fallen into a drainage hole and I lifted the heavy grate to retrieve it.
In Pennsylvania, I showed my kids on a few occasions the "screaming beetle," which, if picked up, starts making grunting noises while it squirms and struggles to escape. If you turn the beetle upside down, or get it too close to your face like you're going to eat it, then the grunts turn into desperate screams! You can watch and feel its body, legs, and mandibles stiffen up and brace for impact. As you begin to place the beetle uprightly on the ground, it calms down. The volume and intensity of it's cry is incremental, based on the insect's level of discomfort or perceived danger.
The wolf spider is a type of traveling ground spider that is not territorial; that is to say, whose life does not revolve around a web. It hunts for food on the move. If you see one on the ground, and you get down close to it and talk to it, it becomes visibly nervous, moving around a bit as if unsure where to run. If you yell at it, or clap, or make any loud noises directed at it, it gets scared and jumps away, scrambling to get as far from the noise as possible.
Decades ago, when I was an avid hunter, I learned that otherwise silent squirrels, rabbits, deer, foxes, and raccoons will sometimes audibly cry--even scream--when they're in pain. Squirrels will cry a mournful wail for weeks after losing a loved one.
In 2004, in the wake of the tsunami in Thailand, I remember a small story on the news about an elephant that, when all other animals fled or sought self-preserving protection, an elephant was rushing into dangerous currents to save human children, picking them up and placing them on its head and back. The elephant did this more than once, leaving the safety of calmer shallow water to save more kids.
Now I'll admit that no amount of intelligent life or emotion will ever cause me to stop eating meat. I believe in the Bible, which teaches that God gave man dominion over animals and all living things. But I am also a steadfast animal advocate, believing that our God-given dominion means that we have a responsibility to continually listen to, learn from, care for and preserve nature--including livestock which is bred for consumption. Regarding the latter, I strongly advocate for quick, clean, and humane kills (Kosher, e.g.). Even though I don't hunt anymore, early lessons taught me how to later do so with incredible skill. Having studied the effects of angular ballistics with different calibers, grains and tips of rounds--even long before I was top of my class at Marine Scout Sniper School--when I would shoot a deer, it would drop and die instantly.
As a lifelong habit, I pay attention to and care for animals. I try to notice their emotions and behaviors, and I treat them gently. I implore everyone to do the same.