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Compassion in animals

Mar 05, 1998 04:57 PM
by K. Paul Johnson

At dinner tonight I was reading a new book called The Compassion
of Animals, a collection of true stories of ways that animals
have demonstrated caring and concern for others.  Usually it's
their owners, and protection from fire or crime or poison or
snakebite.  But these I'd heard before, and what was most
striking were the stories about animal compassion for strangers.
Like the stray dog who found a newborn infant that had been
abandoned to die on a Detroit alley, and wrapped herself around
the baby to keep him warm and protect him.  Or the bear in a zoo
in California whose enclosure was invaded by a hungry stray cat
while he was eating dinner.  Observers feared the bear would
attack the cat that was begging for food, but he actually took
food out of his bowl and put it down for the cat to eat.  Now
they're permanent friends.  Maybe you've heard of incidents where
children fell into the ape enclosure in zoos and were gently
carried to safety (in one case) or shown deep concern and
protectiveness (in another) by gorillas.  Pigs featured in a
couple of stories, protecting one owner from a criminal and
warning another of carbon monoxide in a van.  There was even a
man whose iguana saved him from death by whacking him in the face
with his tail after he had passed out!

The cumulative effect of reading a lot of these stories is to
realize that feelings of compassion and caring are not just our
unique human capacity; they're inherent in life itself.  And that
somehow makes one appreciate life in all its variety in a new

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