Popular Science

Can we really ever know if animals are happy?

Tail wags, rat giggles, and horse snorts.
A dog portrait

Happiness is in the ears of the beholder.

My tortoise is always glaring at me. Whether I’m feeding him carrots, stroking his shell, or casually watching him from afar, all I get in return is his eternal stink eye.

I’ve tried my best to please Linus since spotting him at a pet store chain that shall not be named. He sat in a stuffy, glass tank under fluorescent lights, and hid in his shell when customers peered in or tapped on the glass. His food dish was almost empty, with just a few hard pellets left of commercial tortoise food. The girl working there told me these unappetizing supplements gave tortoises all the nourishment they need (for the record, that is incorrect). I decided then and there Linus was coming home with me.

I built him an open wooden terrarium, replete with hiding spots, sunning rocks, and dishes overflowing with leafy greens. Of course, a life of captivity isn’t ideal for any tortoise, but my artificial oasis had to be better than a glass prison in a loud store.

I want to believe Linus is happy with me, but with that impassive, craggy face it’s impossible to tell. So I consulted.

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