Connecting With Animals: Anthropomorphizing

I’ve been mulling over the concept of “anthropomorphizing”: attributing human feelings and emotions to animals and inanimate objects. And yes, it’s true that the wind and the pumpkins in these photos do not actually have the human attributes we humans have assigned to them — these are indeed anthropomorphisms.

However, I see many emotions and much intelligence and rampant individuality in the coyotes I observe, and many of these characteristics are similar if not the same ones we humans have. I’m not arbitrarily imposing uniquely-human characteristics — anthropomorphizing — on these animals. Rather, I recognize, as do many observers, drives and behaviors which are clearly similar to ours. As animals ourselves, we share some basic characteristics with other animals, including the need to eat, sleep, self-protect, raise our young, care for one another, defend families. I’m saying that behind these activities lie the same feelings, sensations and emotions which make us engage in these things: hunger, sleepiness, care, love, anger. You can’t truly understand these animals until you recognize the similarities, and then magic and real understanding open up. I’ve come to see coyotes as living lives different from ours, but parallel to our own — not dissimilar from the Hobbits over in the Shire.

Anyone who has a dog knows animals are bundles of emotions, yet some animal behaviorists are reluctant to admit this because their disciplines don’t allow it –there’s little way to determine it under controlled laboratory conditions and no way to quantify it, and also, they want humans to stand alone at the apex, as unique in the world, in the “Aristotelian” model which became woven into the doctrine of the church, where Man stood apart — Man alone had been made in the image of God. Anthropocentrism places humans at the center of the world saying we are the only ones with emotions, brains, etc, and that we can’t possibly attribute these to other species because we can’t prove it.

But we can’t even exactly define our own human emotions — this doesn’t mean we don’t have them!  The “love” you have for someone is totally different from the “love” I have for someone, and your “love” for the out-of-doors is not the same as your “love” for your child.

Psychologists, on the other hand, as opposed to animal behaviorists, know animals have similar emotions to humans, and have even used animal studies — often cruel studies — to understand human behaviors, such as the effects of early maternal deprivation on the human psyche.

In the same vein, and on the flip side of the coin, I think it’s telling that humans like measuring animals’ intelligences based on our own unique standards which we presume to be at the top of a pyramid. For instance, learning and manipulating symbols or the use of language as we human animals use it, is often considered the summit of intelligence. Behaviorists have written about the monkey who could learn and manipulate 400 symbols, on a screen or as objects — the bright little bugger! Haven’t humans shown their OWN limitations by their anthropocentrism there? In fact, if we were to use a chimpanzee standard on ourselves, there are instances where we might fall far below on the intelligence scale. For instance, chimps have a far superior short-term memory to that of humans, as shown by their consistent ability to reproduce ten items on a screen from memory whereas humans cannot. And they can be better at strategic reasoning than are humans, as seen in a recent study led by Tetsuro Matsuzawa of the Kyoto University Primate Research Institute. See www.

It is only very recently that humans have begun cracking the Rosetta Stone of animal communication, emotion and their amazing intelligence. By embracing a world order which created a strong divide between humans and other critters in regards to intelligence and feelings, we limited our own ability to learn more about both these other animals and ourselves. When it comes to the idea of human supremacy, we humans have a history of sidelining and persecuting those offering new discoveries that turn established doctrine on its head: Galileo with his telescopes proved Copernicus’ discoveries that it was not the earth (and by extension, Man), which was the center of the universe, but rather the sun around which other planets revolved. The Inquisition put Galileo under house arrest for the rest of his life and forced him to recant. Society was not ready to accept it. Now that we have begun, barely begun, this investigation, we are making astonishing discoveries about animals, and we are surprised and incredulous. For instance, in the realm of emotions and memory, elephants come out way ahead of humans (and so do octopi).

Two coyotes approach and help another coyote who showed signs of irritation and distress on her neck area

Two coyotes approach and help another coyote who showed signs of irritation and distress on her neck area

In writing up my observations I include shared characteristics, feelings, and behaviors that I observe. This helps people better understand and relate to the animals. People tend to care about what they can relate to. As I said above, there is still a divide between scientists — between animal behaviorists who don’t want to assign emotions and intelligence and individuality, and psychologists who do. My thought is that you can begin from the premise that animals and humans do have the same drives and feelings, or you can begin from the premise that they are completely dissimilar. It’s hard to prove either premise quantitatively, but simple observation will show you incredible similarities if you are willing to take the time to really look and understand.

Two coyotes snuggle together, one affectionately licking the others' ear

Two coyotes snuggle together, one affectionately licking the other’s ear

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rick Meril
    Feb 08, 2016 @ 22:57:44

    excellent post today and thanks

    Sent from my iPad



  2. Bipasha
    Feb 09, 2016 @ 05:13:24

    Thanks for this! I will share.


  3. Claire
    Feb 26, 2018 @ 16:32:54

    I really like this post and agree with much of what you say. Keep up all of your fascinating observations!


    • yipps:janetkessler
      Feb 26, 2018 @ 16:37:44

      Thanks, Claire. I would be very interested to hear about the parts you do not agree with — I’m always trying to tighten up my own thinking about this topic!

  4. Bobbie Pyron
    Feb 27, 2018 @ 14:42:50

    I couldn’t agree more. In my book, A PUP CALLED TROUBLE, one of the things I hope readers will take away from the story of the overly curious coyote pup is that they live in family groups, just like us. They have feelings similar to ours–curiosity, loneliness, deep attachment–and are deserving of our respect.


  5. Cindie White
    Jan 08, 2019 @ 06:08:28

    Love this!


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