Tonawanda News

Features

October 13, 2013

CRITTER COMPANIONS: 'Animal Wise' explores animals' feelings

Tonawanda News — To be fair, I was going into this book a little leery. 

As a professional zoo animal trainer I know that constructs are not helpful. Constructs are words that we use to label the animals we work with (e.g. dominant, aggressive, sweet). They don’t get you anywhere, they are circular. You will find yourself in a rut, if you try to change behavior by listing all of the labels associated with that animal.

Dr. Susan Friedman, a psychology professor at Utah State University, says an animal doesn’t approach because it’s sweet; it’s called sweet because it approaches. Another example is an animal doesn’t bite because it’s dominant; instead, it’s called dominant because it bites.

I though, like behavior, am not one-dimensional. I wanted to give the book “Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures” by Virginia Morell a chance. Afterall, my mother recommended a long time ago that I write about animals’ feelings. 

In addition to training animals for a living, I also have many critter companions at home. When I talk as if I were my cat Julian I use a high-pitched, innocent, child-like voice and end all my sentences with “meow.” I may pretend I know what my pets are thinking, but I am just making it up. Giving animals human characteristics is fun and all, but is it accurate or more importantly worthwhile? How do we really know what their thoughts or emotions are?

Measurability is the way we know the truth. It is the most fundamental theme of science. If it can be measured, there can be facts and with facts comes knowledge. Luckily, the book “Animal Wise” is about the facts.

Written by a contributor to National Geographic, Science and Smithsonian, author Morell does a great job transplanting the reader to the field or lab to learn how scientists not merely interpret behavior but scientifically measure it. Morell’s detailed writing style including her description of the researchers’ Kelly green zoo polo or their battered straw hat covering their red hair and blue eyes, or the sanitary stainless steel cage used for training sessions allow you to better immerse yourself in her story.

Text Only
Features
  • SUN LIFE Volunteers honored 1 040614.jpg Women Who Move the City (and beyond)

    April 7, 2014 2 Photos

  • SUN LIFE POUND 1040614j jpg.jpg Rock n' roll fitness

    April 7, 2014 1 Photo

  • sig - crib notes RGB Enough of this winter -- it's time for spring

    Midway through separating the bits of dog food from the shredded paper towel pieces on the saturated bed sheet that had been strewn across the dining-room table, I finally realized I’d had enough.

    April 7, 2014 1 Photo

  • sig - critter companions RGB Dear readers, it's me, Kenny

    I have bad knees. I have been told to blame my grandmother. I have also been told to blame her for my love of animals. Today, we celebrate the 100th Critter Companions column.

    April 7, 2014 1 Photo

  • SUN LIFE mummies 1 033014.jpg 'Mummies of the World' exhibit arrives in Buffalo

    As visitors arrived for the recent NCAA basketball tournament games in Buffalo, a much older group of visitors arrived via motorcade at the Buffalo Museum of Science — but these newcomers to the Queen City wouldn’t be seeking out a place to have a beer between games or where to find the region’s best chicken wings.

    March 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • sig - double trouble RGB Years later, still spending sunny days on Sesame Street

    I always knew we’d hit “the Elmo years.”

    Going into parenthood, it seemed like a given. Both my husband and I  were “Sesame Street” fans from childhood ourselves, and we were happy enough to pass it on to a new generation. And we knew, having friends with children of the applicable age, that in this day and age “Sesame Street” equalled Elmo, the squeaky-voiced “furry red menace” (thus dubbed by Oscar the Grouch) of parents everywhere.

    March 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • SUN LIFE Local Restaurant Week 2 033014.jpg Back for another bite

    As spring finally starts to unfold in Western New York, residents are likely eager to get out of their houses — and organizers of Local Restaurant Week hope they’ll consider eating out as they do that.

    March 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • Wineries invite visitors to take a Taste of the Trail

    If one weekend of food and wine pairings is a good thing, two weekends of food and wine pairings must be even better.

    For the first time, the Taste of the Trail event, which takes place Friday through April 6 and April 11 to 13 on the Niagara Wine Trail, will be split into two weekends, with half the trail’s wineries taking part the first weekend and half the second, said Elizabeth Maute, wine trail coordinator.

    March 31, 2014

  • sig - critter companions RGB CRITTER COMPANIONS: Rewards for playing nice

    March 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • SUN LIFE signs of spring 1 032314.jpg Region's favorite signs of spring gear up for season

    Ah, the signs of spring: The birdsong, the flowers, the green grass, the flowing waters of the Erie Canal or Niagara River ... and the words “Opening soon” on the marquee of your favorite seasonal business.

    March 24, 2014 1 Photo