This sweet, sweet book is aimed directly at people like me who like pretty much anything with fur, feathers, or four feet. Written by National Geographic magazine writer Jennifer Holland, it was suggested to me after a co-worker --who also has a menagerie of cats (and birds) at home-- happened upon it one day while perusing the New Books display shelves.
Unlikely Friendships: 47 remarkable stories from the animal kingdom, is a collection of short entries, each with beautiful color photos. Koko the gorilla and her kitten, All Ball, is probably the most familiar story that so many of us fell in love with: Koko asks for a kitten (in American Sign Language), proceeds to care for it, mourns its loss, and learns to love again. This was nearly forty years ago, and it doesn't seem unusual anymore. The pairings and stories presented here go well beyond what could be considered simply instinct. Some are long relationships, some are very temporary, but all show compassion, empathy, and friendship on a level many only attribute to humans. If nothing else, they are beautiful pictures with nice, happy short stories.
There is certainly no question that animals make emotional connections with people. This has been proven by more than anecdotal evidence. Studies show that encounters with pets can lower blood pressure, ease depression, and soothe mental and physical pain. The next question is if, and how, they connect with each other and their world. Are they able to problem solve? Do they socialize? Do they play? Several studies address this, but they are likely rather dry reading; here are some other books that I think you will find very readable.
First, from Marc Bekoff, The emotional lives of animals. After a forward by Jane Goodall, Bekoff presents stories of animal joy, empathy, grief, embarrassment, anger and love along with the supporting scientific research.
Next try Bats sing, mice giggle by Karen Shanor and Jagmeet Kanwal. I haven't seen it happen, but don't question their abilities. Then again, I was raised on Disney cartoons!
Most recently, Virginia Morell brings us Animal Wise: the thoughts and emotions of our fellow creatures. As a science writer, not a scientist, Morell brings the most recent animal cognition research to life.
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