Be My Valentine?

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Can animals really love? In Karen Pryor's latest book, Reaching the Animal Mind, there is a chapter on long-standing, individual attachments between animals, discussing cats and dogs, horses, cattle, and her own research on wild dolphins. Here's the opening of that chapter, as Karen's valentine to you:

Animals, like people, have preferences for other individuals that can only partly be explained by reinforcement, and for which we have no particular evolutionary explanation either.

In about 1985, I acquired my first Border terrier, named Skookum (a Northwest Indian word meaning sturdy and useful, but not beautiful). When Skookum was just a puppy, he spent an afternoon playing with a half-grown German shepherd named Orca. A few months later, Orca and her owner visited my house and Skookum and Orca played again. That was it: two encounters. About three years later, I took Skookum to a lecture by a visiting dog trainer. The room was jammed with people and dogs. Skookum, normally respectably-behaved in public, suddenly went berserk, pulling on his leash, whining, jumping up and down, trying desperately to get me to take him to something across the room.

"Look, it's Orca, Orca's here!" Indeed it was Orca. Orca was now a big grown-up search and rescue shepherd, looking very different from her younger self. Alas, she had zero time for him now, but Skookum, in spite of their minimal contact, would never forget her."

Reaching the Animal Mind, New York: Scribner, 2009. Chapter 6 "Attachments."

The moral of the story? Animals, like people, can form intense attachments, both within and across species. They may not be able to express it in the form of roses, chocolates or Hallmark cards, but if you pay attention to what is happening at the other end of the leash, you'll know that it is there. What can be a better Valentine's Day gift than that?

Happy Valentine's Day!