Lately, I’ve been doing some research for a new novel that has an elephant as a main character, and though I thought I knew something about these fascinating animals, I’m finding out more and more with each page I turn. I realize as I do my research that the emotions we define as human-like are often simply instinct and the animal instincts we see are often emotions.
For example, last night, my friend Peggy came over with her dog Ellie (I’ve written about them here before). As soon as Izzy heard her voice, he went into “play mode,” exceptionally excited to see both of them. He ran over to me, tongue out, tail wagging, then went back to the door, over and over again, as if to say, “Well, aren’t you going to open the door? I’m excited! Look who’s here!” To say that he wasn’t happy to see them would have been the understatement of the century.
Then there’s the dog who lives across the street from me, tied to his tree all day, all night, every day of every week of every month of every year. There are times we walk by him and he simply cries. Sadness? You bet. And Izzy feels compassion for him because when he hears Tyson cry, he whimpers a little, too.
Elephants are said to have emotions. They sense their own mortality and are known to mourn over the lifeless bodies of those who were part of their herd. Baby elephants torn from their mothers and forced to work for the vanity of humans experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Adolescents who lose their families because they’ve been off exploring are incredibly anxious about catching up with the matriarch. And if a human abuses an elephant, that elephant will not forget. Truly.
Over the recent Father’s Day holiday, I found a photo of my dad with one of his dogs. I happen to know that the photo was taken shortly before my father had his sexy pompadour shaved, not long before he headed off to World War II. That head of hair never grew back but was maintained in a crewcut for the rest of my father’s life. That moment when the photo was taken was particularly poignant for my father who knew he might never see his beloved dog again, and I believe that dog picked up on the emotion, because he leans in protectively against my father’s leg.