My Story

Animal Intelligence


Observing Empathy In Animals

By James Donahue

There has been debate within the scientific community as to the ability of animals to share empathy with one another as humans do. Most pet owners know the truth to this. The animals in our homes often surprise us with amazing displays of sadness, happiness and concern not only for one another but for their owners.

I write from personal experience after having owned and loved various cats and dogs over the years.

I recently spent time “house sitting” in California with my daughter’s three cats while she was away for a summer sabbatical. The animals all had distinct personalities which led to interesting situations during my time with them.

To give the cats total freedom of not only the house and grounds, my daughter had a swinging “cat door” giving them access to the outside. Since cats are nocturnal animals, they were most active during the night. From my bed I could hear the cat door clicking as the cats entered and left the premises.

All worked well until a young raccoon discovered the cat door and used it to find its way into the apartment and ravage not only the cat food dish but the trash containers and any other food items it could get its paws on. This led to a decision to put a sliding gate on the cat door after hours. Consequently one of the cats named Leon became locked out for the night.

Sometime around two o’clock in the morning I was awakened by Katesh, a lovely Siamese, who was gently nudging my arm. I realized that she was letting me know that Leon was scratching at the door to be let in.

On yet another occasion, when the third cat, Mojo, got stuck high in a tree and was afraid to climb back down, Leon expressed great concern. This cat, a beautiful grey Russian, paced the base of the tree and kept constant vigil until the crisis was over.

A few years ago my wife and I adopted an older cat named Tucker that quickly became a close-knit part of our family. This cat was so attached to us, and we to him that the animal slept with us in our bed.

At the time we were sharing the home with other people. One of the women in the house had a strange quirk of taking in stray cats, so there were often numerous cats living in the house. Tucker tended to keep to himself and had little to do with nearly all of the other cats in the house except one . . . a small almost pure white cat they called Stinky. Stinky and Tucker got along although they never seemed to have a strong bond between them.

Then came the day that Tucker, who was an old cat the day we took him in, got sick and died. He was buried in the back yard under a small pine. We noticed that Stinky spent the next few days sitting quietly on top of Tucker’s grave and rarely left his post. He appeared to be mourning the loss of his old friend.

Last week a pet rabbit reportedly awoke a homeowner in Ketchikan, Alaska by scratching on the woman’s chest after fire broke out in the home during the night. The occupants of the house escaped safely, but sadly after the fire was out the rabbit was found dead of smoke inhalation.