“Like Us, Animals Grieve When They Have Loved”

Beatrice Marovich reflects on Barbara King’s recent book, How Animals Grieve, claiming that “love is so ubiquitous and natural that we can’t really avoid it” – that words like grief and love apply to more than just human emotions:

When we hear a story about deep social bonds between birds, what do we name that social bond? When we see intense forms of social devotion between dogs captured on video, what do we name it? King is constantly on guard against the charge of anthropomorphism—that she’s violating species boundaries by finding something so human as love, or grief, in animal life. “Anthropomorhic excess”, she acknowledges, can very likely “cause us to miss crucial distinctions.” It could make us humanize all of animal life. For this reason, she’s careful to specify that the physical experience of grieving in cat life looks (like all cat behavior) notably distinct from the experience of grief in dog life, which is inevitably different from goat grief.

The 17th century English philosopher Anne Conway argued that the differences between humans and other creatures were “finite” differences—differences of degree and intensity. There is no infinite difference between creatures that makes another’s form of life wholly and eternally incomprehensible. Whoever can’t see that something sort of like “justice” functions in the animal world, Conway argued, “must be called completely blind.” I’m with Conway. In a sense, then, I’m also with King. Whoever can’t see that something sort of like love, or something sort of like grief, functions in dog life must be blind.