I have always thought that animals think. I’m even more convinced since adopting Duke, our rescue puppy. Sometimes, I’ll watch as he lies dreaming; his legs twitching, his closed eyes moving in his head as he makes muted barks. It’s one of the times when I like to guess at what’s going on in his head.
I’m also sure that farmed animals think as well. After all, pigs are as intelligent as the average dog. Of course, no one can really know what any animal thinks. No more than anyone can ever really know what anyone thinks. Thankfully, our thoughts are private!
Scientists confirm common sense with their research that animals have the capacity to think and reason. For example, Jane Goodall’s celebrated study of chimpanzees in Tanzania documented their use of sticks to help them feed themselves. The chimpanzees reasoned that they could use the sticks as tools to retrieve ants from inside a nest rather than wait for them to crawl outside.
As with the capacity to reason, sentiency in animals – the ability to experience subjective emotions like pain and suffering – is widely documented in science. Perhaps more importantly, animal sentience is also recognised by EU law, which states that the EU shall ‘pay full regard to the welfare of requirements of animals’ because they are ‘sentient beings’.
It doesn’t require much imagination to wonder what calves in veal crates and pigs in narrow sow stalls must think and feel. Clearly, the imprisonment prevents them behaving naturally. This must affect their mental state. We know that confinement can lead to repetitive behaviours indicating frustration which in turn leads to chemicals being released in the brain in a vain attempt to ‘cope’ in such appalling conditions. Do they become depressed? Well science suggests that when sows are first chained, they thrash around trying vainly to escape before going into a period of inactivity suggestive of depression.
If you’d like to see animals exhibiting what looks like pure joy, please take a look at our dancing cows video. It was filmed earlier this year when dairy cows were being let out to pasture after a winter spent indoors. They delight in their freedom by jumping and sprinting around. The video has already been seen by over a million people via YouTube.
As a society, we rightly derive a great deal of pleasure in making the Dukes of this world live happy and fulfilled lives. Clearly, there is much more to be done for farmed animals to ensure they also live appropriate to their psychological and behavioural needs.
If you’ve got experiences of animals expressing their emotions that you’d like to share, please do let me know.