Emotions We All Share

Ruby and Chance

The most meaningful and powerful aspects of living among so many different species at River’s Wish comes through the opportunities to help and care for them as we observe and interact with them. In Marc Bekoff’s book The Emotional Lives of Animals he writes "When it comes to the emotional lives of animals, science is just trying to catch up to what people experience every day. With respect to animal emotions, I believe we know as much as we need to, and more than we think we do, to change, right now, the way we treat animals.  As a society, we just need to ask ourselves, what would cause more harm?" (137)

The emotions of the animals at the sanctuary are always present. They may seem subtle at times, but as we become familiar with each species and individual, we are more aware of these emotions. At times I wish the animals would write a book for humans and call it How to Pay Attention To Other Species For Dummies book. What we could learn through listening to them!

There are so many stories about the animals showing their emotions at River's Wish. One story that comes to mind right away is that of two physically disabled miniature horses.  Baby came to us several years ago with a severe curvature of the spine. When the veterinarian checked her heart rate he found that her heart was on the wrong side of her body. Still, she is by far the fastest runner of the six miniature equines living here.

S’mores came to River’s Wish in November of 2010. He was a four year old miniature stallion with a severe clubbed hoof. He had been used for ‘pony rides’. We had S’mores gelded and we tried to have his hoof corrected, or at least helped. He has been seen by four veterinarians and they each say that he does not exhibit signs of pain and that we will know when he is no longer able to live a quality of life. As of this writing, an engineering class is developing a boot for S'mores, with the use of a 3-D printer.

The first time I let the little horses onto the pasture I observed something beautiful. Baby, of course, led the way. The rest of them squealed and ran and kicked their back legs up in the air. S’mores ran and did his best to keep up with his friends, but he was lagging quite a ways back. As the little horses turned and started running back I watched in amazement as Baby slowed down, turned to watch for S’mores and stopped, waiting for him to catch up. Together they ran at S’more’s slow pace. This spoke volumes that reinforced what I already knew. The conscious and deliberate action, communication and caring that animals show.

In February 2010, Ennis the pot bellied pig arrived. Shortly after his arrival he was shivering. As much as it may have been from the cold, I believe that it was just as much from fear. He went from the only home he knew to a home where there was a bossy pig, Delilah, who was not welcoming his arrival.  He lay by the house shaking and so we set him up in Pete’s warm shop. Seeing Ennis shaking, I could not help but think of all of the pigs who suffer on factory farms and laboratories. Over time he adjusted to his new home and gradually Delilah was accepting him. Pigs are territorial, just like rabbits, cats and humans.

There are so many rich experiences we observe and share among our fellow animals. We also must be conscientious of this and meet their needs. Bekoff writes about grieving. "There is no question that animals grieve..the universal signs of grief are seen most keenly when animals respond to the death of a mate, family member, or friend. Like humans, animals can suffer monumentally over a separation or loss. Humans and animals share neural pathways when it comes to suffering. Some scientists even say that the demeanor of elephants suffering from the loss of friends and the disruption of social bonds resembles post traumatic stress disorder." (63)

We have witnessed grieving among the animals. When Rudy the steer lost his companion Yula, he followed her into her grave, licked her face and body and bellowed for what seemed like hours. Later, he stood over her grave and continued to bellow and mourn her loss. His grief was felt as though it were tangible. When a bonded pair of rabbits loses a mate it is important to leave the deceased body with the partner. This provides a space for grieving and closure.

Many people don't realize that 'farm' animals have bonds, emotions and individual personalities. Just as a dog or cat is regarded as having a unique personality, so do the billions of other animals living on this planet. During tours we introduce people to Flower the turkey who is much more interactive, yet guarded, than Walter the turkey. Vegan the Yorkshire pig is far more enthusiastic and outgoing than Valentine, another Yorkshire pig.

Giving recognition and reflection to the individuals who grace the grounds of River's Wish continually reminds us of their powerful presence. Through working with these beautiful beings day in and day out, it is no wonder why we don't eat their brothers and sisters. These sentient beings are genuine and authentic individuals, whose lives matter. Their lives matter to them, to us and to those who have the honor to meet them. Why then would we turn a blind eye to their relatives? We cannot.

Through humane education we can share the lives of the animals at River’s Wish and in doing so, broaden and deepen connections leading people to regard animals on a more personal level.  Through meeting the animals directly, or through photographs or paintings, abstract notions of a species are replaced by concrete and tangible individuals. These lives are the essence of what we do. Their emotions create emotions within us. We are not so different. They give us hope and perspective. We are their stewards and they are our teachers. We all have something to learn from them.

Rudy and Yula


  1. Wonderfully written observation. No most notable emotion I feel when visiting rage sanctually is peace and happiness. I think it helped me be calm.


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