Learning from the animals

Zoobiquity: What
Animals Can Teach Us About Health and the Science of Healing
by
Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers
I’m a fainter. And so are oscars (the fish, not the statues).
And there’s a reason we do this, the oscars and me.
Here’s the deal: “Fight, flight, or faint. Fainting is the body’s
way of flipping a circuit breaker. It halts the action and perhaps even a
pursuer. It can defuse conflict. It can enable escape. Fainting and its related
spectrum of ‘slowing down’ behaviors remain with us because over hundreds of
millions of years they have helped animals evade death.” (p. 30)
This is just plain fascinating.
And seriously: animals fainting. Who knew?!
And to learn that fainting is actually a smart thing for a body to
do sometimes (in the midst of torture, say, or while being subjected to a film
of open heart surgery during 7th grade science [yeah, one of those
things happened to me; wanna guess which?]) reduces the shame of such a thing. It’s
a response that’s built into us for a reason.
This book is co-written by a science journalist and a physician
who have explored many of the ways veterinary medicine can inform human health.
It’s good stuff. Though there are some shocking instances in which physicians
could have saved human lives (West Nile
virus!) if only they’d listened to the veterinarians. But there are also some
great examples of cooperation between doctors of both types that have resulted
in benefits for all of us animals.
The thing I realized after reading this book is that the sections
that most interested me related to animal and human medical/psychological
conditions. The fainting, and heart attacks due to terror, and self-mutilation.
Now, normally the mere mention of self-mutilation (cutting: oh,
no…) is enough to make me feel… faint. (see above)
But the way the topic is presented in this book is pretty darn
captivating. Self-mutilation is presented as grooming gone wrong. And we
creatures are all about the grooming.
(One of the nicest animal moments of my life: my sister’s dog used to do that
little nibbling grooming thing dogs do, with his nose all scrunched up, along
my arm. I knew then that I was truly part of his pack.)
Anyway, the book describes the way grooming tends to calm us, and
sometimes it just gets taken too far, and… self-mutilation. Birds plucking out
their own feathers, people cutting themselves, horses biting their own flanks.
There’s all kinds of other interesting stuff here: sex, drugs, and
rock and roll in the animal world (OK, so there’s no rock and roll, but
the other two things are in there), eating disorders and obesity, the wretched
cancer, and animal adolescence (which is as strange and squirrelly in animals as
it is in humans). 
So, yeah. We’re all linked, all us humans and chimpanzees and
sharks and lions and cedar waxwings and prairie dogs. 

I don’t know about you, but I find this weirdly
comforting. 

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