Some people are ignorant. Some people are intelligent. And then there are the people who are able to use their ‘intelligence’ to convey their ignorance. To me, these are the type of individuals who claim that animals are not capable of feeling the same emotions as humans. Why should we humans feel any differently from other animals? Why do so many people assume that just because we are ‘higher beings’, we can feel love, sorrow, pain, or joy any more keenly than other creatures? The fact that so many people really do feel this way was brought to my attention after the recent death of a horse.
The horse, Triumph, had severely broken his leg, leaving no choice for the vet but to put him down. Triumph had lived much of his life with another horse, Wolf. They rarely left each other for long, and could entertain one another endlessly. They were just like brothers, fighting, kicking, and biting for hours, only to turn around and share each other’s food. It was accepted by the entire farm that Wolf was the quieter, more mature of the two, and Triumph was his cute baby brother. When Triumph died, the worry turned to Wolf. Many a scientist will deny the ability of a horse to feel the loss of another any more deeply than the simple absence of a pack-mate. However, this was proved thoroughly untrue to me after Triumph’s death.
Triumph was buried a respectful distance from the rest of the horses, but Wolf was placed as near to the grave as possible. The morning after Triumph’s death, Wolf could be seen pacing the fence line and staring at his brother’s grave. Never have I felt death as deeply as on that morning. I spent several hours with the horses, and was able to see the process of Wolf’s mourning, obvious as any human’s. He had only finished half of his food, and stood staring regretfully towards his brother’s resting place. After about 20 minutes of this, the oldest mare of the herd stood across the fence from him, bit his neck gently, and led him slowly to the water trough. She acted matronly, as if overseeing his well-being, and he followed obediently, like he knew of nothing else to do. After watching him drink, the old mare again bit him, and walked away to finish her food. Wolf seemed to take this as an order, and slowly began to finish his own hay.
Anyone who questions an animal’s ability to mourn has never seen what I saw that day. I had never seen a horse look on the verge of tears, with eyes as heartbroken and distant as any mourning human’s. No one could be ignorant enough to miss the unique behavior of the horses the morning after Triumph’s death. As Wolf stood desolately near the fence, each horse individually came and stood vigil with him, gently nudging his nose or nickering softly. It was clear they were paying their respects to his loss, exactly like any funeral. Wolf hardly ever left his post, but when most of the horses had visited him, the whole herd crowded around, supporting him in their numbers. It is, by instinct, stressful for prey animals to be alone, but the entire herd mad sure Wolf never stood unaccompanied.
The emotions I saw in Wolf’s eyes that day were just as acute as any person’s. And the behavior of that group of horses was equal to that of any mourning family. I know that the sorrow and heartbreak felt by Wolf was no less pure than any older brother’s after the death of a beloved sibling. To anyone who tells me that animals, especially horses, are incapable of human emotions, I simply cannot respond. Because trying to convince the hopelessly ignorant is a thankless task, and without experiencing what I felt that day, no one can be expected to understand my view of animal emotions.