By T A Balasubramanian
Animal Madness, How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves, Laurel Braitman, Speaking Tiger Publishing, Paperback, INR 450; 373 pages
We’d fallen for Oliver at first sight. The first real sign of trouble I discovered by accident. I said goodbye to Oliver and locked the house, only to realize as soon as I reached my car that I’d left the keys in our apartment. As I headed back up, I heard a plaintive yowling – not feline nor human… it was a bark that sounded like the squeak of an animal too large to squeak (this was before I knew any elephants), and it was coming from our apartment.”
Oliver is an adult Bernese mountain dog owned by the author. These sturdy, calm dogs are bred to guard livestock and pull carts of cheese and milk through the Swiss Alps. Oliver’s behaviour as a pet, however, mirrors that of a person driven by uncontrollable anxieties. “If we didn’t return home by five or six in the evening, we knew he would have destroyed pillows and towels or chewed on wooden objects. He scratched so hard at our floorboards that it looked as if we lived with giant termites. If we were with him, Oliver was the picture of calm; alone, a tornado.”
This experience with Oliver made Braitman write this wonderful book on the psychological world of animals. Can animals become anxious or depressed? Can they experience feelings like sadness, anger or loneliness? Braitman investigates these issues in the form of anecdotes and conversations with people. She covers dozens of cases relating to the mental health of animals ranging from dogs and cats in households to elephants, horses and dolphins in zoos, farms, aquariums and in amusement parks.
It is interesting to see the extent to which animal and human problems have common roots. For example, a “depressed” bear, a “mad elephant,” or a gorilla with “nightmares” may be diagnosed with conditions that are similar to humans with psychiatric problems. Some medications used to treat human problems are prescribed for animals with identical issues, and they seem to work equally well. Even if you don’t own a pet the stories here are entertaining and educative: they will make you wonder how closely we are connected to the hundreds of other animal species on the planet.
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