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Emotion in the wartime animal – human relationship

2015 May 9
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Sidney and morals

Sidney and morals

I have just finished drafting the penultimate chapter of my book on the cat and dog massacre and animals on the Home Front in the Second World War. Finished does not mean “finished”, of course. There is still much to do overall on the book but at least there is something reasonably coherent (I hope) to play around with. In this chapter I have explored the nature of the emotional animal-human relationship during the war.

The idea of sharing of emotion across species in some ways takes us back to the work of Jeremy Bentham over 200 years ago. His well-known epithet, “The question is not, can they reason? Nor, can they talk? But, can they can suffer?” devalued human speech that emphasised the differentiation between humans and animals in order to stress cross species commonality through “feeling”. Charles Darwin famously acknowledged the emotional lives of animals that scientists such as Marc Bekoff are at last researching. Bekoff has argued that, “We form close relationships with our pets not only because of our own emotional needs but also because of our recognition of theirs.” John Bradshaw, now known through TV programmes on cats and dogs, has suggested that both cats and dogs have a relationship with a human keeper that is “fundamentally affectionate”.

One war diarist described the emotional and empathetic support of her dog : “To me he is more than an animal: he has kindness, understanding and intelligence and not only knows all that is said but often reads my mind to an uncanny degree.” Unlike her human partner who seemed unable to understand his wife, the dog could apparently do this. Instead of dismissing this as simply a product of an imaginative human mind  I have tried to consider other possibilities that value the dog – and the woman – alike.

(I am aware that the image is ahistorical but liked the idea of Sidney sitting next to Mark Rowlands’ book on animals and morals. Taking photos of cats is a good writing avoidance tactic – more pleasurable than doing house cleaning, another such device …)


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