Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Secret Life Of Pets

In recent years, an increasing amount of research has found that dogs and cats, as well as birds and other animals, are far more intelligent and emotionally astute than previously believed. This new science indicates that we may want to rethink the way we treat our furry and feathered friends.

It was only about a decade ago that scientists were debating whether animals had emotions at all; the golden retriever with the goofy grin on its face isn’t capable of feeling actual “happiness,” said many biologists. Today, for the most part, that debate is finished. Ethologists have begun to accept the once radical notion that animals such as dogs possess subtle mental states, including envy and empathy.

New studies show that cats have also fallen prey to unjust stereotypes; they aren’t the anti-social snobs society has labelled them. In fact, write Janet and Steven Alger in their book Cat Culture: The Social World of a Cat Shelter (Temple University Press), cats can maintain community and form close bonds with humans and with each other. After four years of observing cats in captivity, the Algers found that the felines actively initiated ways of running the shelter, were very social, and weren’t aggressive, despite the shelter’s tight quarters.

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