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  • Writer's pictureSue Dawkes

Do Animals feel Empathy?

Updated: Jan 8, 2019

I went to visit Lucy Lamb (now sheep size!) on Monday, at her new home , living with sheep for the first time in her life. It was lovely to see she recognised the dogs and me and my dog, Peggy, immediately went into mothering mode with her. The farmer said for the first two weeks she wouldn't mix with the other sheep and just ran up and down the fence, where there is a footpath on the other side, looking for humans. She is now settled, although I was slightly worried we'd unsettled her as she definitely would have followed us out of the field. There are only half a dozen other sheep, one being a castrated male who circled us the whole time we were there as he seems rather besotted with Lucy. It was lovely seeing her in an environment that she is supposed to be in. However............. the man she has been given to is actually a retired farmer who actually doesn't want the responsibility of another animal and was going to pass Lucy on to another farm for breeding but asked if I would like her back! So I'm now back to square one and looking for someone more local to me to take her in.............

On Wednesday towards the end of my walk with the dogs we were walking through a sheep field and, as we got to the gate to go through to the other side, there was a sheep lying there, obviously injured because it didn't attempt to get up and allowed Peggy & Polly to lick it. I know the farmer so we came through the gate and I decided I would ring him when I got home. I was nearly back to the road, presuming the dogs were behind me, when I turned round and discovered Peggy was still by the gate next to the sheep. When I called her she just sat down and refused to come. I walked back and as I got closer, instead of coming to my call, she laid down and refused to move. She really didn't want to leave her injured friend and I could only get her to move by putting her lead on and dragging her away.

So, do dogs & other animals have empathy? Can they relate to another animal's suffering? I would like to think so. Peggy, unlike her mother Polly, has always had a caring, nurturing side to her and looked after Lucy from the day I bought her home. My dogs are not vegetarians & neither am I, although I only try to eat animals that I believe have had a relatively free and long life (hence I don't eat lamb as I see no sense in slaughtering an animal as young as five months) and I don't want to get into that debate but I do think animals have more feelings than we give them credit for. So do animals feel empathy for each other?

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