Book Review – Animal Madness
As I shared in my post yesterday, I’m currently immersed in and avidly reading some excellent works covering animal psychology, neuroscience and ethology. I’ve long been fascinated by these matters but my interest has deepened since bringing Twinkle into our lives. She is so complex, displaying such psychological damage from her years in the puppy farm that I owe her a serious commitment to use my own brain in efforts to understand her; this will, I hope mean I can do the best to help her mind heal.
So, when I came across a review on Brain Pickings, a website that describes itself as “a human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, a subjective lens on what matters in the world and why, bringing you things you didn’t know you were interested in — until you are” for Laurel Braitman’s book, “Animal Madness” it was on order quicker than Twinkle fleeing when a bath is in the offing.
The book has lived up to my high expectations and is one of those rarities – a scientifically rigorous read that manages to glow with genuine compassion, has a generous hint of humour throughout and encourages a re-read as soon as the last word is reached. The author holds a PhD in the history of science from prestigious MIT – this may well account in part for why this book resonates with me so completely as history is one of my great interests. Moving from Descartes to Darwin, through to modern thinkers and researchers, the book discusses evidence from veterinary science, psychology, pharmacology and biology. Interviews with those working in zoos, animal rehabilitation and training, neuroscientists, behaviourists, and others with expertise and experience of working with animals that are obviously, painfully psychologically damaged. Some of the historic experiments are disturbing to read and show how far our understanding of human mental health issues has moved on. What this book does so well is to make direct, academically sound correlations between what is known about the human mind and mental disturbance and what is seen and attested to daily by those living and working with animals with the same. By pulling multiple threads together, the author convincingly suggests that,
Braitman was prompted to write her book after adopting Oliver, her Bernese Mountain dog, who experienced extreme fear, anxiety and compulsions. In her efforts to help him and to find the expertise needed, she found herself on a journey into understanding mental illness in non-human animals and what this tells us about ourselves. This is one of the great things I love about the book: it’s helped me to understand how I am relating to Twinkle (and of course Susie-Belle and Renae too) and what her “emotional thunderstorms” – two words that perfectly describe her special moments and a phrase I’ll be borrowing I’m sure – mean to her, and me.
Although many animal species are documented and my own interest lies with dogs, there is such a wealth of information, fascinating facts and thoughtful discussion that I found myself reading every single word, even though I’d never have thought I’d find reading about a suicidal parrot or masturbating orangutan a good use of my time. Skim reading is to be discouraged for if you do, you’ll miss out on the cumulative pleasure of reading the vast breadth of stories that are documented here and if you enjoy it as I have, the emotional and intellectual growth it will bring.