Being with Animals

Being with Animals

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Being with Animals: Why We Are Obsessed with the Furry, Scaly, Feathered Creatures Who Populate Our World

Author Barbara J. King is a biological anthropologist and a professor of anthropology. She has studied monkeys in Kenya and great apes in various captive settings. In her book, Being with Animals: Why We Are Obsessed with the Furry, Scaly, Feathered Creatures Who Populate Our World (Doubleday, 2010), she refers to “new age woo-woo,” warns against greedy neo-shamans and won’t get mixed up in anything to do with psychic pets.

However, it is in the chapter titled “Dog and Cat (and Buffalo) Mysteries” that this interesting book about the human-animal bond especially comes to life. It seems the next thing the reader knows, the skeptical Dr. King is entertaining the notion that perhaps pets can be telepathic, citing Rupert Sheldrake’s (a scientist with a PhD in biochemistry from Cambridge University in England) theories on morphic fields. There does appear to be both anecdotal and documented evidence of pets seeming to be aware of when their owners will be arriving home. Dr. King handles this respectfully and allows the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.

I loved the chapter titled “Ravens, Shamans, and Dogs Who Dream.” I could easily enjoy an entire book devoted to subjects such as the reindeer people of Northern Siberia: “Eveny people dream about reindeer, and use the dreams’ content to make sense of issues and problems in their lives, sometimes in retrospect. It’s not that the reindeer offer solutions themselves; these dreams feature no cartoonish talking animals. Rather, people need to pay keen attention to how animals act, both in their waking and dreaming lives.” Further along in the chapter, it is described how the Runa people of Ecuador perform ceremonies on dogs – including giving them hallucinogens — to make them understand human speech.

Being with Animals traces the history of peaceful – and not-so-peaceful — cohabitation of people and animals from archeological evidence of cave art to speculation about the future. With numerous examples from the animal kingdom, and some mythical creatures such as unicorns, the spiritual bond between animal and human is affirmed in this thoughtful exploration. Recommended.

— Review by Diane Saarinen

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