And what, if anything, can we do about it?
By Fransi Weinstein
Recently I read an article on bored and lonely pets in the Sunday New York Times. It’s something I’ve always wondered and worried about, regarding my own pets; and how they feel when I’m gone for long stretches of the day.
All I know is, now that I’m a freelance writer and work from home, my two cats are used to having me around, they don’t like it when I go out and they show it:
They sit on my clothes in an effort to prevent me from putting them on. If I’m taking my laptop they’ll even sit on that. They follow me around everywhere — from the bedroom to the bathroom to the closet to the front door. Things they never did before.
Sometimes they sit there looking miserable, heads down, very dejected. Sometimes they slink away, hiding in a closet or under a piece of furniture. And then there are the times when they just look at me with a sad look on their little faces.
So needless to say after reading the article my curiosity was aroused
Thinking about it, I was pretty sure that most, if not all of us, have felt it at one time or another. Lonely. Alone. But our four-legged friends? What about them? Is my concern for my cats valid or am I just being neurotic?
I decided to dig a little deeper.
It seemed to me that the best place to begin was by trying to better understand loneliness from a human perspective; and then trying to figure out if there are any similarities between us and animals.
On the human side of the equation loneliness is, as described on Wikipedia, “a feeling of isolation or lack of companionship, a lack of connection or communication with other beings.” Something that can be felt “even when surrounded by other people.”
Considering that my goal was to determine whether or not animals could feel lonely, it’s ironic that one of the “treatments for loneliness (and depression) in people is pet therapy, or animal-assisted therapy.
But who can they turn to?
I turned to an expert for answers
Dorothy Litwin is an animal behaviorist in Toronto. We had an interesting and informative conversation. But it became clear pretty quickly that if I was looking for a definitive “yes” or “no” answer, she wouldn’t be able to give it to me.
“Quite simply,” she explained, “we can’t know for sure whether or not our pets are lonely because they can’t tell us — at least not in words, in a language we understand.”
Having said that, she does believe, as I do, and maybe you do as well, that animals can suffer from separation anxiety (which isn’t exactly the same as loneliness), animals can grieve (although it’s hard to spot and diagnose) and dogs, even more than cats, want and need to spend time with humans.