The Animal Doctor

Do Animals Have a ‘Group Soul’?

DEAR DR. FOX: My beloved Rosie, a female Shih-Tzu, died in January. She would have been 15 in February. We were very close. For example, after I returned home from knee-replacement surgery, for the first two weeks, she stayed by my side 24/7. After that, she would periodically check to make sure I was OK.

Two weeks ago, our vet asked if we would consider adopting an 8-year-old male Maltese who needed a home after his human “mom” died, and his human “dad” no longer wanted him. We met Dickens and his human dad at a park to see if we would consider adopting him. I was sitting on a park bench when Dickens came up to me, stood up on his hind legs, and looked straight at me. I swear I saw recognition in his eyes.

We agreed to adopt him. When we brought him home, he ran into the house and straight up the stairs to the second floor. It was like he knew the house. Upstairs, we have a TV room with two recliners and a wedge between them. Rosie liked to sit and sleep on the wedge. The first thing Dickens did was ask to be in my lap, then he jumped up on the wedge with no hesitation and settled down.

From the time we brought him home, he has followed me around and is always with me. He has also exhibited other “Rosie” behaviors.

Am I crazy? Is all of this coincidence, or is it reincarnation, or some kind of “group soul”? -- M.N., St. Louis, Missouri

DEAR M.N.: I think this is all coincidence, but reflective of the collective intelligence of dogs, which makes them behave and respond in the same ways in the same situations. I do not take this as evidence that animals have a “group soul,” as some Theosophists and others contend. It is more akin to Carl Jung’s collective unconscious in the human race.

We can mystify reality and wax spiritual, but existential reality is surely a wonder in itself. Every living being is a miracle of creation and survival, most animals having a far more ancient, if not more noble, lineage than we more recently evolved primates with the arrogance to name ourselves “man the wise” (Homo sapiens).

Our lives are often changed by the love of an animal, and also by the way we treat them when we give them equal consideration and respect. In doing so, we may earn the “Homo sapiens” title.

Australian aborigines have long known this, and proclaim of Australia’s indigenous feral dog, “Dingo makes us human.”

When your new dog first met you and you made eye contact, he saw trust and love in your eyes and in your body language. And as you entered his heart or spirit, he entered yours.

I SEE YOU-FEEL YOU

“Facial mimicry” is the term given to the empathic communication seen in the facial expressions of humans interacting face-to-face. One person smiles, and the other smiles. It is one of the pillars of human communication and intimacy.

Such mimicry is indicative of a high degree of social and emotional cognition and awareness, which are attributes of being human. But this behavior is not exclusive to our own species. Ethologists and comparative psychologists studying other animals’ behavior have documented this ability in other primates, as well as in dogs and wolves (as per my book “The Soul of the Wolf”).

Now, ethologists from the University of Plymouth, England, confirm that facial mimicry has been seen in sun bears. An article to that effect, “Facial Complexity in Sun Bears: Exact Facial Mimicry and Social Sensitivity,” was written by Dr. Marina Davila-Ross and associates and recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.

These Asiatic bears continue to be subjected to extreme cruelty as in the bear bile farms in China, where they are confined in coffin-like cages; the dancing bears of India, which are defanged, declawed and kept in chains; and bear-baiting with dogs in public arenas in Pakistan. These examples are all a sad reflection of our evident lack of empathy and the insensitivity and ignorance of unquestioned cultural traditions.

WHAT’S THE MOST DOG-FRIENDLY CITY IN THE U.S.?

Long Beach, California, was judged the most dog-friendly city in the United States, based on the availability of veterinarians, kennels, groomers, obedience classes and dog parks. Mesa, Arizona took the second spot, followed by Atlanta; Sacramento, California; and Seattle. (Newsweek, May 22)

(Send all mail to animaldocfox@gmail.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxOneHealth.com.)

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