Maybe humans shouldn’t always understand

By Baxter Black: Guest Columnist

Anthropomorphism is a word that has often been used in a negative context by people in the livestock business. By definition it is the ascription of human characteristics to things not human — particularly animals.

In our continuing effort to raise animals for meat purposes humanely we confront huge moral, biological, spiritual and logical differences that distinguish man from beast. Yet, we who spend our lives caring for animals know better than most that there are incidents that occur that cannot be explained or denied.

Horse people know that bonds exist between horses. ”Buddy” relationships are established if horses are penned close over a period of time. Take just one of them out for a ride and the other will nicker and pace and watch every new arrival until his buddy is back. At which time they may renew their biting, bullying and trash talking with each other!

“Just like my brothers and me,” I remark, anthropomorphizing.

Gary’s 31-year old mare died of old age. Her 20-year old gelded offspring and two other horses were in the pasture with her. On the advice of his veterinarian, Gary left the dead body unburied for three days — to allow the other horses to grieve, the vet had said.

Gary said the offspring stood vigil over the mare’s corpse. After she was buried he saw the gelding pawing the grave, eventually scooping out a good size hole before he gave up. Was he trying to bring her back?

When my old dog Hattie didn’t come into the back yard for the night I went ahead and locked up her co-dog, Pancho. Next morning, Pancho and I went out to feed. I called for Hattie. Finally I asked Pancho,

“Where’s Hattie?” He took me west out of the corrals, up into the horse pasture all the way to the far gate. There she was. She had died in the night.

I buried her immediately. Pancho went off feed. Every morning for several days when I let him out of the yard he would go straight to her grave and lie beside it. Try as I might, I cannot explain what I think was going on in his mind without using terms that describe human emotions.

Maybe that’s the way it should be. We aren’t supposed to know everything.