Are animals sentient beings? What’s wrong with anthropomorphizing?

Anthropomorphism… attribution of human qualities to nonhumans.

I find it disturbing when people espouse the opinion that animals do not have feelings. As an animal communicator I know for certain that they do, as they regularly share their feelings with me. Why is it that some people are so insistent that we not anthropomorphize animals? Could it be that ascribing emotions to animals means we would have to acknowledge they are sentient beings?

When my beautiful mare, Misty, lost her new filly she had tears running down her face. I had never before seen a horse cry, but that day Misty cried. She had so looked forward to being a mommy and she was devastated. She grieved her baby for months. Her usual spark was missing, so much so that she allowed two of the geldings to boss her around, effectively moving her down from second to fourth ranked in the herd. Her normal personality was very much an alpha mare so it was astonishing to see this change.

Later that year she started looking pregnant. The only stallion she had contact with was our mini, Arlo, who at 31 inches could not have done the deed… unless she laid down. Uh oh. Suddenly I started hearing stories about minis who had bred full-size horses.

That very cold and snowy December as her udder filled and began to wax I was checking her every two hours round the clock. This went on for two weeks with all the signs of impending birth. Then one day everything stopped. She had just gone through a false pregnancy!! She wanted that baby so badly that she imagined herself pregnant and manifested all the physical signs. If animals have no feelings then why did Misty grieve and experience a false pregnancy?

How many times have you heard about cats who suddenly stop using their litter box and soil the house? Often they are upset about something and are acting out those feelings desperately trying to communicate with their guardians.

I recently communicated with a cat who felt displaced by new family members and began to withdraw. As he withdrew further and further he left himself vulnerable and was eventually killed by predators. If he had no feelings he would likely still be alive.

Dogs are even more demonstrative, displaying a wide range of feelings. Is there any doubt about the joy they exhibit when their person comes home? My new puppy, a standard poodle, is one of the most demonstrative dogs I’ve ever met. She is filled with exuberance and loves to clown around for our amusement.

How many times have you seen a dog dreaming, talking in their sleep with their limbs jerking to and fro? Why would they dream if they have no feelings? What would be the purpose? And haven’t we all heard stories about dogs who gave their lives to save their person? Is that not love?

I haven’t even touched on their sense of humor. Some are sarcastic, others more thoughtful wisecracker types like a George Carlin, some are raucous, others have a dry wit. They run the gamut. One stallion I communicated with bragged about how “well endowed” he was. I think he got a kick out of the shock value. See, there’s another category: twisted humor.

This post could get very long with many anecdotes about all manner of animals who have expressed their feelings during communication sessions, but by now you probably get the idea.

So just why are some people convinced that animals lack emotions?

The only conclusion I can come to is that believing they are “dumb” animals allows for treating them like inanimate objects, just another piece of property.

What do you think readers? Is that a plausible explanation? If yes, what can we do to change this misperception?

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7 Responses to “Are animals sentient beings? What’s wrong with anthropomorphizing?”

  1. Chris says:

    I think that, to a certain degree, animals ARE sentient beings. Probably not the same way we are, but they are definitely sentient. To me, “sentience” means more than just consciousness. An animal could be conscious, and yet still function mostly just on an instinctual level. Sentience means being self-aware…not only does a sentient being percieve the world from its senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste, etc), but it is also aware of how it interacts with the world, and it has a sense of self. It thinks, it remembers, it has wants, etc, and it is aware that those thoughts are coming from itself. No one could doubt that cats or dogs are sentient beings. I know they are. They are very intelligent, but they also do have an awareness about the world around them. They might not be as intelligent as humans or understand things the same way we do, but they are definitely aware. Here’s a really simple example…when my cat wants to go outside, he goes to the door and starts meowing and scratching on the door. Now, if cats only reacted on instinct and what they can see, then wouldn’t he just go to a window and keep trying to climb out instead? But somehow he recognizes that he CAN’T go out through a closed window (even though it’s transparent) and he CAN go out through a door. He has a goal (he wants to go outside), he is aware of his surroundings (he’s inside the house) and he thinks of a solution to the problem (he knows someone will open the door for him). To me, that proves some level of rational thinking, and I think it proves sentience.

    And of course, that’s just a really simple example. Cats and dogs do things everyday that show how intelligent they are. I think a lot of other animals are probably sentient too. You can look at them and just tell there is some kind of personality there.

  2. Pet Psychic says:

    Thank you for the thoughtful comment, Chris. I believe that your example of the cat also demonstrates another level of intelligent reasoning. That is, your cat found a way to communicate with another being who doesn’t speak cat. Dogs and horses also do this. I would suspect most animals do. They have a need and they find a way to get it met sometimes using very creative means. They are quite effectively training people.

  3. Janet Roper says:

    Thank you for your post. I find it sad that when negative qualities such as cruelty or greed are assigned to animals, anthropomorphism is accepted without question. It is only when positive qualities, such as the ones you cited in your post, are attributed to animals that anthropomorphism is seen as adverse. What does that say about us humans?


  4. Pet Psychic says:

    Thank you, Janet. I appreciate your thoughts.

    It seems to me that humans have such a need to feel superior that they cannot allow for the concept of intelligence in what they view as lesser beings. The “dumb” animal label has always offended me and certainly doesn’t apply to the majority of animals I have met.

  5. Jenny says:

    Pretty good post. I just came by your site and wanted to say
    that I have really enjoyed reading your posts. In any case
    I’ll be subscribing to your blog and I hope you post again soon!

  6. Pet Psychic says:

    Thank you, Jenny. I’m glad to hear you found it interesting. Hope to see you again soon.

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