Do animals have emotions? Can they be compassionate to other animals? I have always believed that they could, and read a book years ago – When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals, by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson – that told stories of non-domesticated animals demonstrating emotions.
A couple of weeks ago, at about 2:15 in the morning, I heard a loud, scared squawk from Juan Carlos’ and Lupe’s coop. I grabbed a flashlight and ran out, but was too late. Lupe was gone.
I spent a couple hours searching the yard, calling for her, with my heart sinking each minute. Lupe always came running when I called her. I was worried that an animal had gotten her and kept mentally berating myself for all the things I could have done to keep her even safer. I eventually gave up, and, after securing Juan Carlos against any predators, went and tried to sleep for a few hours.
At 6 a.m. I was awoken by Lupe’s clucking outside the front door. I have no idea where she spent the night, but I was thrilled that she was back, and safe.
That night, I got to see first-hand the effects of the night before on Lupe. Usually she and Juan Carlos tuck themselves in at night in their coop. I check on them and wish them a good night before I go to bed. This night, however, neither of them was going into the coop. Lupe came into the house, something she knew she wasn’t supposed to do. And she refused to leave. I finally picked her up and carried her to the coop. She scuttled way in the back, behind Juan Carlos, instead of staying in her usual spot in front. Then I moved the coop, turned it around so the door was against an outside wall of the house, covered it with a heavy-duty tarp, and barricaded it in place with chairs until morning.
When she did the same thing the following night, it dawned on me that she needed some help processing the fear she experienced. I decided to try doing a shamanic session for her. I’d never consciously worked on an animal before, so I had no idea if it would work or not, but I wanted to help her.
During the session, I asked her to show me what had happened, and she showed me a vision of a pointed greyish-white nose and lots of teeth. From what she showed me, I surmised that it had been an opossum that had come to the cage and tried to eat her. I worked with her to release the fear and trauma and strengthen her overall energy. Since it was my first time working on an animal, I wasn’t quite sure how effective it was in helping her. I asked her to jump on my lap the next morning if she felt better. (She had jumped on my lap two times in the prior three months, so I knew that this was something she could do but was different enough from her usual activities to send a message.) I then spent a few minutes with Juan Carlos to help him as well.
The next morning we went through our usual morning routine: I gave them some chicken food and water, and then sat down on the front steps to give them some grapes. Both Juan Carlos and Lupe will eat grapes from my hand. After a minute or two of devouring a grape, Lupe jumped up on my lap and sat there…telling me in her own way that she was fine. Since then, she has tucked herself into the coop each night and is sitting in the front, like old times.
I shared this story with a friend of mine here in Guatemala, and she shared one with me. She had two hens that had small clutches of chicks. Unfortunately, an opossum had been attacking the chicks, despite her best efforts to protect the chicks, only one was left. The mother of the chick stayed with the chick, while the other hen took herself back to the coop with the rest of the hens.
One night, my friend also heard a loud squawk. The opossum had attacked the mother hen. She ran out and was able to rescue the hen, but couldn’t find the chick anywhere. She took the hen, cleaned her wounds as best she could, and put her in a box in her house to keep her safe.
The next morning, the chick showed up and ran to its mother. Unfortunately, the mother couldn’t move because of her injuries. My friend was trying to figure out what to do, since the chick was being trained by its mother how to scratch and find food, when the other hen (the one who had lost all of her chicks) came running.
She took the chick under her wing and made a circuit of the yard with the chick, showing the chick how to scratch and find food. When they completed the circuit, they went over to the injured mother, and clucked to each other for a few minutes. My friend said it was as if the “aunt” hen was giving a progress report to the mother hen, with the chick chiming in. Then they made another circuit and reported back in to the mother hen. They did this all day. At night, the chick slept with the mother hen, and in the morning the other hen would come and take the chick for the day. This went on for three days. On the fourth day, the mother hen was recovered enough to walk in the yard with her chick. The other hen went back to the coop and left the mothering to the mother hen.
Are these examples of animal emotions? I think so. I’d love to hear your stories of times you’ve seen care, compassion and emotions among animals. Feel free to share below!