We inherited Toby when our son went to college eight years ago. One day, Toby suddenly did not eat and play. I could feel two large lumps under his belly. He began to develop hairless spots all over the body. A visit to the vet showed he had skin cancer. Since Toby was an old dog, the vet recommended euthanasia to lessen the pains.
Before taking him to the Humane Society, I decided to feed him for the last time. With difficulty, Toby limped to sit next to me on the floor. He put his head on my lap. I used my bare hand to give him each mouthful. He ate heartily as if he knew it was his last supper. We made eye contact as I encouraged him to eat more. Tears streamed down my face, although I must admit that I seldom cried even when people died.
When it was time to go, Toby just stood up and walked. He could not jump into the car anymore. My wife and I had to lift him into it. While waiting for the last shot at the Human Society, Toby suddenly returned to his normal self, playing with the other dogs due to receive the same fate. When the time came to go inside, Toby licked our hands to bid farewell, then never looked back. We’ve decided not to own a dog again. The emotional trauma was just too much to bear.
I’m sure many dog owners have gone through similar kind of emotional experience. Among the popular domestic animals, we’ve tried cats, hamsters, rabbits and ducks following our son’ whims. It’s painful to describe what has happened to them. We raise them because we want their company or for another purpose. We seldom bother to think about what they want from us.
Two other animals among many I’d like to discuss that we tend to treat like a tool because of their great use – the cow and the horse. They seem to exist to serve our purpose. So we seldom bother to think more and higher of them.
The cow, although slow-moving, has tremendous physical strength even though it does not eat meat. Consequently, it costs the owner little capital to raise. All you need is to leave it to graze outside the field. When it comes to till the land, the cow is always pleased to help, never complains and never gets tired. What if you don’t want its service anymore? There is always the popular New York steak! If I were a cow, humans would absolutely be my worst enemy. Fortunately, a cow never thinks that way (You may wonder does a cow think?). Because a cow is so willing to serve human needs, we take their existence for granted without any appreciation.
The horse fulfills a valuable human need because it runs fast. It is also strong and willing to carry you on its back. If a soldier carries his wounded mate back to safety, he will be accorded hero status. On the contrary, horses routinely served the army in the old times in every battle and died silently regardless which side they were on. In the army, besides carrying high officers, the wounded, and war supplies, horses were killed for meat when they could not perform. As always, they required no maintenance because they ate grass and drank from any water source wherever the army camped. Recently, a documentary was aired on German TV (www.dw.de) about how capable horses are in helping to connect with autistic children and provide emotional help.
If we want symbols like friendship, loyalty, sacrifice, dedication, endurance, and low maintenance, we can find infinite amounts in cows and horses. They are always willing to serve human needs with no complaints and no requirement for appreciation, not to mention payback. These are the qualities that make them admirable. Where else can you find such friends who are totally dedicated to you? I can guarantee that you will never find such qualities displayed to absolute levels in our own humankind.
To go back to the question — Do animals think? We’d better say they don’t because if they really do, we’ll be ashamed of ourselves due to the ridiculously unequal ways we treat them. However, deep inside, we know that animals think. We may not see their facial expressions, but we see other expressions if we care to look, especially in their eyes. Theirs seem to show as much feelings as ours. Remember the last time your loved one’s eyes shone when they came close to yours? You will see the same kind of affection displayed in an animal’s eyes, too.