Thursday, 11 December 2014

Yes, Animals Have Feelings (Op-Ed)

Jonathan Balcombe, Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy | December 10, 2014 11:54pm ET

Jonathan Balcombe is director of animal sentience at the Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy. He contributed this article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

On Saturday mornings I drive 15 miles to a sanctuary in rural Maryland where I join a small team of volunteers tending to farm animals rescued from neglect or abuse. Some of these animals will never fully trust a human. Others want to interact.

As a biologist with a special interest in animal happiness, I've figured out where they like to be scratched and rubbed. Goats, such as Trudy or Malcolm, walk over to me and lean gently against my leg. I scratch between their horns, caress their faces and vigorously swipe my hand down their backs and flanks. They become noticeably more relaxed. Their eyelids droop and they stand completely still. One of the older sheep, a ram named Adam, wags his tail in approval when he is petted. Another sheep, Clover, once scraped her hoof across my boot repeatedly when I briefly stopped massaging her back — a sheep's way of asking for more. At the pig barn, 700-pound adults lying blissfully on soft hay will assist the effort to give them a belly-rub by shimmying further onto their sides and raising their legs. And when the chicken barn door opens, about 20 birds come surging out into the sunlit garden. They spend the next few hours foraging. They nibble at seeds and vegetation, and search for invertebrates by pawing backwards at the earth with their strong feet then stooping down to peer and peck at any moving morsel they've uncovered. They do this with devotion, taking breaks to sunbathe by reclining on their sides, fluffing out their feathers, and stretching a wing to maximize the surface area available to the sun's warm rays.

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