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How The Hen House Turns: Love From; Between Animals

on August 13, 2017 - 9:40am
Formerly of Los Alamos

The noun love takes up a full three inches in my beloved 1980 edition of Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary Unabridged. There are eight definitions with eight examples: “…a strong affection for or attachment or devotion to…” persons or things or interests or deity or “…in tennis, a score of zero.”

The question here, however, is do animals do it? We’ve talked about how Lucy goose “loved corn,” as did the other Hen House birds. I could relate to the eagerness in which she raced to my hand to gobble as much as she could before the chickens got to me. She didn’t race so fast if I offered anything else.

But is it fair to call that love, when the word is also used to describe deep feelings toward other living beings--or to life itself and its source? The English language is amazing in its broad use of such words.

For our topic, love between living critters--including humans--I remember the work of Temple Grandin, Animals in Translation, written with Catherine Johnson (Orlando, Harcourt Books, 2005). She reminds us that in the 1970s behaviorists usually studied animals in the laboratory. Ethologists study animals in their natural environment, but neither “…looked inside the animal’s head.” Now I think they do.

I especially like Grandin’s comment about riding a horse. It is “…a lot like ballroom dancing…It’s a relationship.” Many books have been written about the human/horse connection and what I would call the true love that defines many relationships between them.

So it is with dogs. The work of James Herriott has been gathered into a retrospective collection called James Herriot’s Dog Stories: Warm and Wonderful Stories About the Animals Herriot Loves Best, New York, St. Martin’s Griffin, 1986.

Lately, there has been a recognition that confined animals need companionship, so zoos have placed unlikely animals together with great success. The book Unlikely Loves: 43 Heartwarming True Stories from the Animal Kingdom by Jennifer S. Holland, New York, Workman Publishing, 2013, tells stories that make the word love seem very real. The photographs make it hard to deny.

It was hard to deny when DeeDee and Scooter found each other at the shelter after a week in Espanola. They were overjoyed, and their caring of each other lasted until their very last hours together 14 years later.

Yes, we also had a relationship with our domestic Hen House birds. So did Scooter and DeeDee. They “knew” they were supposed to guard the birds, not chase them. Just keep the coyotes out of the yard, and try to chase off the Cooper’s hawk in time.

When Turkey Two chased her guard dog DeeDee around the outside of the Hen House yard, DeeDee could only look back and complain, then retreat, looking more ashamed than annoyed with her tail between her legs. No love lost between them? Maybe not. However, when Turkey Two died suddenly at the Hen House door, DeeDee was part of the circle of animals gathered to worry about her demise and tell me about it.

Two special relationships come to mind. They suggest the concept of love between living beings. One is my relationship with Lucy goose. I knew she hated to be held, but she relaxed and let me grab her when she realized I wanted to fix her sore foot or take her through the deep snow for a treat of swimming in the house bathtub.

Why would Ms. Campbell the duck trust me not to pick her up when she came close with a soft “mkk mkk,” asking me to get the trowel and dig up a scoop of wet dirt full of worms. Is such trust a dimension of love?

How about the bond that persists into adulthood when a hen is raised from chickhood by a loving human. Why else would she come to me across the yard and tuck herself under my arm when I sat on the bench outside? The concept got blurred when someone she didn’t know well sat on the bench and soon had the hen under one arm. Love takes many forms, but sometimes there is no better word to express our relationships.

DeeDee and Scooter Neeper. Courtesy photo