by Patricia Collier
Researchers working in neurobiology and behavioral observation seem to be learning what pet lovers have known all along: animals have feelings.
New evidence gathered from actually studying dogs, chimps and other animals, supports pet owners' firm convictions that animals experience fear, jealousy, grief and love.
"Five years ago my colleagues would have thought I was off my rocker," said biologist Marc Bekoff. "But now scientists are finally starting to talk about animal emotions in public. It's like they're coming out of the closet."
For example, recent studies show dogs excel at reading human emotional cues which enables them to be equally astute at expressing their own feelings.
Samuel Gosling, a biologist at the University of Texas at Austin, said dogs have proven to be quite emotionally complex. He said there are four dimensions of canine personality: sociability, affection, emotional stability and competence (a word used to represent obedience and intelligence combined).
According to Gosling, these dimensions are "remarkably similar to the four basic categories of human personality found in standard psychological tests."
Veterinary consultant, Dr. Jean Swingle Greek, said the "news" comes as no surprise to her.
"To those of us who share our lives with animals, the surprise was not in the scientific confirmation of the emotions that we take for granted, but more in the fact the scientific community has stayed in denial this long.
"It is amazing that time and resources still need to be wasted convincing some that what looks like distress in a rat, is, in fact, distress," Greek said.
And yet, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, some scientists are still arguing animals have no emotions, that they merely respond to incentives, such as food.
But for Greek, and millions of people who enjoy the companionship of animals, behavioral studies in lab animals has become an oxymoron.
"Either the emotions of animals are like man's, in which case it is wrong to subject them to such tests, or the animals' emotional lives are so different from man that studying their response in the lab is unlikely to ever yield any tangible gains for human health. They simply cannot have it both ways," Greek said.
© 2003 Animal News Center, Inc.