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37387340 Animal Sentience

37387340 Animal Sentience

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Published by AllSentientBeings

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Published by: AllSentientBeings on Feb 15, 2013
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The song of the pig
They laugh, they dream, they don't tell porkies. So why are we such swine, asksJeffrey Masson
Three years ago, my family and I were visiting Auckland, New Zealand, when we heardabout a pig who lived on a beach. This pig was famous: schoolchildren came to visit, shehad been proposed for mayor, and her neighbours were fiercely divided between thosewho thought a pig living on the beach was a bit of magic and others who feared shewould devour their children. We found the beach, but Piglet, as she was called, hadmoved to a macadamia-nut orchard farther north. To cut a long story short, we met her guardians and wound up buying a house on that very beach. We heard many stories aboutthis amazing pig who liked to go for a swim early in the morning when the sea was at itscalmest and who enjoyed having children sit on her side, as long as they gave her atummy rub before leaving.She was immaculate, well-mannered, sensitive, intelligent, and kind to strangers. Whenwe finally met her, we could see that you could not ask for a better neighbour or ambassador for farm animals. Her emotional life was particularly near the surface. Shealways let you know what she was feeling; most of the time it was obvious from thesmile on her face, especially when she was swimming or playing with her small humanfriends.But there were more mysterious aspects to her as well. She was sensitive to music andliked to hear the violin played. She especially seemed to enjoy music on the beach atnight when there was a full moon. One of her guardians took a picture quite recently of her making the sweetest sounds during a night of the full moon, as if she were actuallysinging to the moon. The picture of Piglet singing is photographic evidence of her specialaffinity for music, water, night and moon.It is another reason to believe that many animals ' pigs foremost among them ' may haveaccess to feelings that humans have not yet known. Perhaps if we listen carefully enoughto the songs that Piglet and her cousins sing at night to the moon, we may yet learn aboutemotions that could bring us a new and utterly undreamt-of delight.An old English adage claims: 'Dogs looks up at you, cats looks down on you, but pigs isequal.' There is some truth in this. Pigs are more or less the same size as human beingsand resemble us in many ways. Their organs are so similar to our own that pig heartvalves are used to replace human aortic or mitral valves.There is a quite wonderful quotation from W. H. Hudson, the great naturalist who livedfor some time in Argentina, that perfectly describes the pig's attitude towards us:'He is not suspicious or shrinkingly submissive, like horses, cattle and sheep; nor animpudent devil-may-care like the goat; nor hostile like the goose, nor condescending likethe cat; nor a flattering parasite like the dog. He views us from a totally different, a sort of democratic, standpoint, as fellow citizens and brothers, and takes it for granted that we1
understand his language, and without servility or insolence he has a natural, pleasantcamaraderie, or hail- fellow-well-met air with us.'The fact that pigs will become extremely friendly with human beings, given half achance, is something of a miracle, considering how we treat them. Perhaps pigsthemselves are aware of our resemblance and so regard us as cousins. Handled withaffection, even an adult pig might well become as friendly as a dog who has always livedwith the family.One has to wonder why the pig came to be despised by both Jews and Muslims. Was it itsflesh that was distrusted, or the pig itself, as an animal? People have usually believed theformer, claiming that because pig meat was so easily prone to spoiling and trichinosis, theconsequent human diseases led them to avoid the meat.But the late F. E. Zeuner, an expert on domestication, rejects this view, pointing out that pork is no more likely to spoil than any other meat in a hot country, and in any eventthere are tropical islands where pork is the main meat eaten. He proposes a humaninterpretation. Nomads would once have despised the settled farmers who bred pigs, andthat feeling in some way transferred to the animals themselves.It is undeniable that we share a great deal in common with pigs, though people have beenreluctant to acknowledge the similarities. Like us, pigs dream and can see colours. Theyare sociable. (On warm summer nights pigs snuggle up close to one another and for somereason like to sleep nose to nose.) The females form stable families led by a matriarchwith her children and female relatives. Piglets are particularly fond of play, just as humanchildren are, and chase one another, play-fight, play-love, tumble down hills, andgenerally engage in a wide variety of enjoyable activities.As Karl Schwenke points out in his classic book In a Pig's Eye: 'Pigs are gregariousanimals. Like children, they thrive on affection, enjoy toys, have a short attention span,and are easily bored.' He reports that when pigs were put into a small pen, as they are onmost farms, 'their world was instantly narrowed to each other, the food, and the sty, andas they grew, their world became smaller and smaller. The tedium of their existence soon became apparent: they were lethargic, exhibited ragged ears, had droopy tails, and rapidlyacquired that dull-eyed glaze that swineherds associate with six or seven-year-old breeding hogs.'One can witness the interaction and affection when pigs greet each other, snout to snout,sometimes with love grunts ' soft, open-mouthed greetings given when a pig is feelingamorous, or maybe just sweetly affectionate. Pigs can also be cliquish: an older newarrival may not easily find acceptance.Like humans, pigs are omnivores. Though they are often fed garbage, their food of choicewould be similar to our own. Kim Sturla, of the Californian animal sanctuary AnimalPlace, tells me that when she offers her pigs mango or a head of broccoli, they willalways take the mango. She explains that they have a sweet tooth, and a pastry will2
always win over a healthy vegetable. Remind you of somebody?They get easily bored with the same food. They love melons, bananas and apples, but if they have had them for a few days, they will set them aside and eat whatever other foodis new first. We don't often associate pigs and cleanliness but, if permitted, they will bemore fastidious in eating and in general behaviour than dogs. When offered anythingunusual to eat, a pig will sniff at it and nibble gently.Many people have found it disconcerting to look into the eye of a pig. One gains thestartling impression of another person looking back at you. Pigs have small, rather weak eyes and appear to be squinting, as if they are trying to get a better take on the world.They seem often to wear a wistful look.Dick King-Smith, the author of The Sheep-Pig (turned into the much-loved film, Babe)and who used to be a pig farmer, once said: 'Many times I've looked into a pig's eye andconvinced myself that inside that brain is a sentient being, who is looking back at meobserving him wondering what he's thinking about.'When I recently visited Carole Webb's Farm Animal Rescue in Cambridge, I wasintroduced to Wiggy, a gigantic male weighing nearly a thousand pounds. As I came intohis stall, he was busy picking out soft hay with which to line the straw in his self-made bed. He grunted when I walked in, looked up, and fixed me with his eye. It was uncanny,like meeting a person in the street whom you feel you know but cannot place. I lookedaway for a moment, embarrassed by the naked intimacy of his glance.Juliet Gellatley, in her book The Silent Ark, describes visiting a factory-farm shed whereshe saw a large male boar, 'his huge head hanging low towards the barren floor. As Icame level with him he raised his head and dragged himself slowly towards me on lamelegs. With deliberation he looked straight at me, staring directly into my eyes. It seemedto me that I saw in those sad, intelligent, penetrating eyes a plea, a question to which Ihad no answer: 'Why are you doing this to me?' 'If we are to consider pigs as sentient beings with intelligence and a full range of emotions, perhaps we should feel guilty when a pig gives us that look knowing he willsoon be off to his death.This is an edited extract from Jeffrey Masson's The Pig Who Sang to the Moon (JonathanCape, '17.99).' Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson 2004.From Books First, '14.39, plus '2.25 p&p (0870-160 8080).Masson is a Freud scholar and psychoanalyst
The ones that got away
Pigs have touched the imagination and drawn the sympathy of the British before. Onlythis week a wild boar made the headlines when it broke for freedom at Cinderford, in3

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