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A Spiritually Enlightening Online Magazine. November's Theme: "Grateful"
Volume 7 Issue 1 ISSN# 1708-3265

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by Jean Hofve, DVM

Gratitude—thankfulness or appreciation—is one of those things that is often thought of as a purely human attribute. But many notions of human uniqueness (and superiority) have been disproven… crows use tools, chimpanzees intentionally deceive, gorillas plan ahead, kittens learn to hunt by observation, dogs have a sense of fairness, dolphins use language, vampire bats are altruistic. All of these traits were once thought to be uniquely human—until they were found in animals as well.

There's no question that animals have complex emotions, just as humans do. Animals express joy, sadness, pride, shame, hope, despair, love and hate&#133but what about a more "spiritual" attribute like gratitude (which is defined as a positive emotion or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive).

Human beings vary greatly in feeling grateful, depending on how they interpret the situation. When given help, different people view it very differently in terms of value, cost, and intentions.

Psychologists suggest that benevolence on the part of the giver is a key component of gratitude. Few interactions in the animal world are benevolent, but since we are often grateful for things that have no giver (or the giver is unknown or unknowable), it seems that gratefulness is not truly conditioned on the motivation of the giver.

Many people have helped or rescued dogs and cats who act in a way that can only be said to be grateful. In fact, many animals have "life-changing" experiences so that they are forever different in personality—happier, more relaxed, less aggressive. Perhaps long association with humankind has enabled a higher level of emotion and expression in domesticated animals.

Remember the fable about Androcles and the lion? Androcles was a slave who removed a thorn from a lion's paw, and, in gratitude, the lion later spared his life. Story-teller Aeosop—500 years BC—used animals to demonstrate many human traits.

If wild animals in a natural state felt gratitude, what would that look like? Couldn't it be very much like the mixture of hope, relief, and happiness that gratefulness feels like in people?

It's not like you'll see a pack of wolves saying grace over a bison carcass! But they worked hard for that meal… just like a squirrel works to dig up buried nuts when food is scarce during winter, or a raven flies far and wide to spot roadkill or other food opportunities. Looking at the other end of the spectrum, might not a fawn that has just escaped a predator's attack—as well as the fawn's mother—also feel grateful?

I'd like to think that "higher emotions" like gratitude are a natural part of the makeup of all animals. Humans may have taken it a step further in terms of expression—"thank you cards" or "paying it forward" or reciprocating favours—but I think we should give due credit to the animals who teach us and give us so much!

Dr. Jean Hofve recently retired from holistic veterinary practice, but still writes and consults on holistic health and nutrition. She is a Medicine Woman of the Mountain Wind Lodge Nemenhah Band and Native American Traditional Organization (Oklevueha Native American Church of Sanpete). She founded SpiritEssence in 1995, which remains the only line of essence formulas for animals created by a veterinarian. For more information on pet health, nutrition, and behaviour, please visit the free article library at www.littlebigcat.com.

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