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Why Do We Treat Pets Like People?

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Do Animals Have Personalities?
Besides anecdotal evidence, there is scientific research to support the idea that animals exhibit individual and consistent behavior across a variety of situations. Using game-theory models, researchers at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands have suggested that fish, bird, and mammal “personalities” may be linked to evolutionary survival and reproduction.

But is personality just about consistent behavior, or is it also about emotion? Scott Blais is the cofounder and director of operations at the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee. With over 2,700 acres, it is the largest natural-habitat refuge for endangered Asian and African elephants in the United States. A unique operation whose number one priority is the respect, health, and privacy of the animals, the Sanctuary centers on the basic assumption that every elephant has distinct needs and personalities.

When talking about “the girls,” as the caretakers at the Sanctuary (which hosts females primarily) call the elephants, Blais says, “Some have trust issues; some have more social needs; some just want you to stand close to them.” Ned, who passed away in May 2009, was a gentle soul. Shirley is the “grandmother” of the group. Billie, who had a reputation as “dangerous” in her circus days, is insecure but increasingly cooperative and dependent on her best friends, Frieda and Liz. She also loves back rubs. Tange is coming into her own after the passing of her longtime friend Zula; Blais describes this situation as similar to what a person might go through after a spouse dies.

While Blais believes it’s foolish for humans to assume animals don’t have the capacity for happiness and sadness, he draws his conclusions about the elephants’ personalities from watching their behavior. He may not always know what motivates their behavior, he says, but he’s confident they feel emotion and “they are as individual as people or dogs or cats.”

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181 comments

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10:34PM PDT on Aug 5, 2012

Of course animals have personalities! And they go through changes while in contact with human beings. My "wild" cat has calmed down and is more affectionate and trusting as time goes by. She still won't accept not having her own way, and slaps us when she doesn't but she has mellowed down. She is also a cat that loves water and used to get into the shower with me, drinks from the tap and puts her paws in her water bowl while drinking. She also loves going out in the rain. So, there's a personality!

4:15PM PST on Dec 6, 2010

Animals can feel pain and have feelings like us.That is the reason I watch Dogs 101.

9:58AM PST on Nov 25, 2010

interesting!

11:43AM PST on Nov 19, 2010

Animals have their own unique personalities and the more I see the dark side of hman nature, the more I like and appreciate animals. They are always true to their nature and cannot be corrupted like humans (unless trained to do so) and are more intelligent than we give them credit for.

5:26AM PDT on Oct 30, 2010

animals have better personalities then humans. Animals are intellegent and sensitive.

8:58PM PDT on Oct 27, 2010

Animals are beings with all the same feelings.

8:15AM PDT on Oct 26, 2010

they are incredibly intelligent, know us more than we want to admit, give undying love, loyalty and affection. pretty hard for a human to live up to i'd say. there isn't anything i wouldn't do to help animals. i love them all.

2:57PM PDT on Oct 24, 2010

many dogs have better personalities than some people I know!

11:21AM PDT on Oct 23, 2010

We're all looking for love ... and where else can you find it, unconditionally and at no-cost?

11:20AM PDT on Oct 23, 2010

We're all looking for love ... and where else can you find it, unconditionally and at no-cost?

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