The Human Side of Animals by Royal Dixon is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here: [LINK TO TABLE OF LINK]. Chapter VIII: In their Boudoirs, Hospitals, and Churches
"Never stoops the soaring vulture
On his quarry in the desert,
On the sick or wounded bison,
But another vulture, watching
From his high aerial look-out,
Sees the downward plunge and follows,
And a third pursues the second,
Coming from the invisible ether,
First a speck and then a vulture
Till the air is dark with pinions."
Many animals show a surprising knowledge of medical and sanitary laws, but these laws vary in the different species as much as they do among humans. Animals are divided into as many classes and social castes as are mankind; and those that have advanced beyond the nomadic life, and have fixed homes with servants and luxuries, naturally are more refined in the matter of their personal care.
Science may yet prove that the old legend of the mermaid sitting on a rock, with a glass and comb in her hand, was not so far from truth as we imagine. No doubt, the bright-eyed seals looked like sea-maidens to many ancient mariners. The originator of the mermaid stories had possibly seen seals making their toilettes. These beautiful and affectionate human-like creatures of the water, wear, attached to their front flipper, a handsome comb-like protuberance. When they rest on the rocks, they use this little comb to brush the fur on their faces; and the Northern fur-seals, when the weather is warm, use their flippers as fans. The secret of teaching seals to play tambourines is due to their desire to comb their fur and fan themselves!
Members of the cat family are, perhaps, the cleanest of all animals, with the exception of some of the opossums. Lions, panthers, and pumas dress themselves very much as the domestic cat performs her toilette. They use their feet, dipped in water, as wash cloths, and their tongues as combs and brushes. Hares also use their feet to wash their faces, and this they do very often, to keep their exquisite hair in perfect condition. Dogs enjoy wiping their coats against green grass and shrubs.
Certain animals are so fastidious that they have community beauty-parlours! Goats, deer, giraffes, and antelopes, for example, are very particular about their personal neatness and cleanliness, and they come together to assist each other in making toilettes. One of the reasons that animals suffer so much in captivity, especially when alone, is that they have no one to help them dress, and some of them, such as the giraffe, cannot reach all parts of their bodies. I have seen a young guinea pig that had been rescued from a mud puddle being cleaned by both of his parents. Water-loving animals, like the beavers, seemingly take great pride in their toilettes, and in this respect they show more human traits than any other animal.
It is a general belief that animals are quite care-free, and that when they awake in the morning there is nothing for them to do but play or wander about. This is a mistaken belief, for they have to dress themselves, and this not only means a bath in many cases, but a smoothing out of their fur and hair. Some are shy and seek the darkest places to dress themselves, others, like the dog and cat, seek the hearth. Every one has possibly seen a cow and horse licking each other, and it is generally believed that this implies special friendship between the two, but this idea is incorrect; it only implies mutual aid in making their toilettes. They have a beauty parlour, and thus aid each other. In no way are animals better prepared to teach man than in their methods of personal cleanliness, and this means health. Their utilisation of clay, dust, mud, water, and even sunshine to keep their health, far exceeds that of mankind. In fact, man's first knowledge of simple, natural health remedies came from animals. This wisdom they have acquired by ages of instinct and reason, for theirs has been the normal life, whereas man's is often abnormal. Each animal is his own specialist. However, when an animal becomes too ill to doctor himself, he is treated by another. I have seen a horse licking the wound of one of his fellows to stop the pain.
American Museum of Natural History, New York
WATER-LOVING ANIMALS, LIKE THE BEAVERS, SEEMINGLY TAKE GREAT PRIDE IN THEIR TOILETTES. THEIR FUR IS ALWAYS SLEEK AND CLEAN.
American Museum of Natural History, New York
GREAT FOREST PIGS OF CENTRAL AFRICA. LIKE THE COMMON DOMESTICATED HOGS, THEY WILL SEEK A CLAY BATH TO HEAL THEIR WOUNDS.
Animals know better than man what kind of food they need, for the simple reason that their tastes are natural, while man has allowed his to become perverted. In times of sickness absurd practices have been observed. Ice-cream and buttermilk, for example, were for ages refused to typhoid fever patients, while to-day they are generally used under such circumstances. But the natural desire for sour and cold things was always in evidence; animals have always depended upon these desires.
Among them are skilled dietitians, who restrict their diet in case of illness, keep quiet, avoid all excitement, seek restful places where there is plenty of fresh air and clean water. If a dog loses his appetite, he eats "dog grass," while a sick cat delights in catnip. Deer, goats, cows, and sheep, when sick seek various medicinal herbs. When deer or cattle have rheumatism, they invariably seek a health resort where they may bathe in a sulphur spring and drink of the healing mineral waters. They also know the full value of lying in the warm sun.
Cats are skilled physicians, and have various home remedies, such as dipping a feverish foot into cold water, or lying before a warm fire, if they have a cold. Many animals know how to treat a sore eye—by lying in the dark, and repeatedly licking their paws and placing them over the afflicted member.
How wonderful would the human race become, if it had the strength of a lion, the power of a bear, the wisdom of an elephant, the cleverness of a fox, and the health of the wild boar! But these qualities are found chiefly among the animals because of the marvellous knowledge of the laws of health and self-preservation.
John Wesley claimed, in his directions on the art of keeping well, that many of the medicines which were used among the common people of his time were first discovered by watching animals in their medical practices to cure their ills and pains. "If they heal animals, they will also heal men," he claimed. The American Indians learned most of their cures from watching animals, especially the cure of such diseases as fever, rheumatism, dysentery, and snake-bites. A rheumatic old wolf would bathe in the warm waters of a sulphur spring; a sick and feverish deer would eat the fresh leaves of healing ferns, while a wounded hog or bear would always seek a red-clay bath to heal the wounds. Sick dogs will invariably eat certain weeds, and an unwell cat will seek healing mints and grasses.
Old hunters tell us that a deer after having been chased for several hours by dogs, and after having escaped them by swimming a cold stream, will, upon reaching safety, lie down in the ice and snow. If a man did such a thing, he would immediately die. But not so with the deer, for he will arise about every hour and move around to exercise himself, and on the morrow he is perfectly well. The same animal, shut up in a warm barn for the night, as has many times been demonstrated with circus animals, will be dead by morning.
From this natural method of healing, mankind may learn much, and especially as it pertains to the treatment of extreme heat, cold, exhaustion, and paralysis of the muscles, and most especially sores and wounds. I have seen a wounded hog that had been badly bitten by a dog, wallow in rich red mud to stop the flow of blood.
It is a common practice for a raccoon actually to amputate a diseased leg, or one that has been wounded by a gunshot, and wash the stub in cool flowing water. When it is healing, he licks it with his tongue to massage it, and also to stop the pain and reduce the swelling. This wisdom is often classed by the unknowing under the term instinct, whereas it displays no less skill and knowledge than that of our modern surgery. The intelligence of the raccoon stands very high in the animal world.
Foxes, when caught in a trap, will very often gnaw off a limb. This requires a special power and a moral energy that few men possess.
William J. Long, in the Outlook, tells of an unusual proof of animal surgery in the case of an old muskrat that had cut off both of his forelegs, probably at different times, and had grown very wise in avoiding man-made traps, and when found, had covered the wound with a sticky vegetable gum from a pine tree. "An old Indian who lives and hunts on Vancouver Island told me recently," said Mr. Long, "that he had several times caught beaver that had previously cut their legs off to escape from traps, and that two of them had covered the wounds thickly with gum, as the muskrat had done. Last spring the same Indian caught a bear in a deadfall. On the animal's side was a long rip from some other bear's claw, and the wound had been smeared thickly with soft spruce resin. This last experience corresponds closely with one of my own. I shot a bear years ago in northern New Brunswick that had received a gunshot wound, which had raked him badly and then penetrated the leg. He had plugged the wound carefully with clay, evidently to stop the bleeding, and then had covered the broken skin with sticky mud from the river's brink, to keep the flies away from the wound and give it a chance to heal undisturbed. It is noteworthy here that the bear uses either gum or clay indifferently, while the beaver and muskrat seem to know enough to avoid the clay, which would be quickly washed off in the water."
Animals not only know how to doctor themselves when they are sick, but some of them, such as the fox, have learned how to make artificial heat by covering green leaves with dirt. And while they do not make fire, their homes are often heated in this practical way, and thus sickness avoided. Domestic horses and dogs wear hats in summer, and possibly in the future they will learn the enormous importance of wearing clothes! Trained monkeys already take great delight in dressing up, and dogs like smart suits.
Monkeys show the greatest interest and brotherly love when one of their number is injured. Watson tells of a female monkey that was shot and carried into a tent. Several of her tribe advanced with frightful gestures, and only stopped when met with a gun. The chief of the tribe then came forward, chattering and remonstrating vigorously. But as he came nearer, there was every evidence of grief and supplication for the body. As he was given the body, he affectionately took it in his arms and slowly moved to his companions, and like a silent funeral procession they all walked away.
Nor does their interest cease with life, for we are told by no less authority than Col. Theodore Roosevelt of a large grizzly bear that was discovered lying across the trail in the woods. The hunter shot her as she was preparing to charge him, and later he examined the spot where she was lying, and found that it was the newly made grave of her cub. Evidently some animal had killed the cub in her absence, and she, in her grief, was determined to avenge the wrong by lying in wait for the enemy.
Public meetings for civic council and religious worship are not confined to man alone. In Macgrave's History of Brazil we are told of a species of South American monkey known as the ouraines, which the natives call preachers of the woods. These highly intelligent creatures assemble every morning and evening, when the leader takes a place apart from the rest and addresses them from his pulpit or platform, Having taken his position, he signals to the others to be seated, after which he speaks to them in a language loud and rapid, with the gestures of a Billy Sunday, the audience listening in profound silence. He then signals again with his paws, when all cry out together in apparently confused noises, until another signal for silence comes from their leader. Then follows another discourse, at the close of which the assembly disperses. Macgrave attempts no explanation as to the object of these addresses; but if his accounts be true, surely they must have as much meaning for the monkeys as many of our public lectures and church services have for us! No doubt much of the advice imparted concerns the personal and collective welfare of the tribe members.
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Dixon, Royal, 2006. The Human Side of Animals. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/19850/19850-h/19850-h.htm#Page_120
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