We have all heard the sad stories of traumatized dogs from irresponsible breeders in Eastern Europe. We also know, that zoo animals suffer psychologically, so that animal mothers often abandon their newborn offspring. Laurel Braitman’s book “animal madness” deals with such issues. She does not rate “un-normal” behaviour in humans and animals, but quotes the father of Charles Darwin: ”Everybody is crazy for some time in his/her life” and she writes: ”There is a smooth transition between insane and normal”. Her book is not a psychiatry textbook, so she does not elaborate which problems could be more genetic (“nature”), (like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, some forms of depression) and which could be the result of traumata (“nurture”). Her leitmotif, the theme of the book, is something else: she gives us proof, that animals have feelings, that every animal (from species with a bigger brain) has its own personality and that animals can have psychological problems. The author grew up on a farm with a Sardinian miniature donkey named Mac whose mother died shortly after his birth. She raised him with a milk bottle, but Mac became a hazard for a pony and a pair of goats in his corral, and when they were not around, he bit his own legs until they bled and pulled out his fur with his teeth. She also had a dog named Oliver, who expressed his anxieties by compulsive licking of his paws.
The scientific fields “animal psychology” and “animal psychiatry” are just emerging, and given publicity by books like this one. It is only natural that some things remain speculative. One chapter deals with the strandings by dolphins, for which she offers an explanation: These animals have only one possibility in the open sea to protect themselves from pot whales or sharks, and that is, hide behind each other. If whales or dolphins are exhausted, sick or injured, then they have not enough strength anymore to surface out on the ocean in order to breathe. Thus a bruised animal will swim to the shore and the others follow him, since their instinct tells them never to leave a conspecific alone.
Dr.Braitman asks more questions than offering answers, but, as I said, this field of science is still in its infancy. We have reason to hope that new insights about animal’s mental problems will bring more light into the unsolved problems of understanding the mind of homo sapiens.
Publisher Simon & Schuster 2014|
ISBN 978-1-451627008 |
Paperback and Hardcover