Monday, May 9, 2011

The concept of Time.

For many of us Time is such a fleeting, precious commodity it got me wondering about our animals sense of time and do they consider it as hard to come by as we do? God knows neither my horses, dogs or cats seem to stress about time like I do but, how much do they understand of its passage?

For example, now in my 50s I am often reminded of how many years have passed and so quickly. Normally it is only that daily look in the mirror that brings the reality of time crashing in, but then there are those other not so subtle reminders like an invitation to the baby shower of a student that you started teaching when they were not much more than a baby themselves. I often wonder where the time goes and muse at how fast the years whisk by. Are our animals aware of the same concept? Do they realize that they are getting older and that perhaps their time with us is getting shorter with each passing day.

My barn recently had a joint Birthday party (Yes I know I am a little bit crazy) for my horse Pete and my dog Morgan. Pete turned 22 in March and Morgan turned 11 on April 29 so we had a onesy/twosy Royal birthday party since it was the same day as the Royal Wedding. Morgan in particular relished being the center of attention and although I don't know if she understood that it was the day of her birth, she clearly understood that the occasion was for her. Pete on the other hand is an attention hog every day so he was just happy for the extra treats. But do they know that they are both middle aged or better?

I tend to worry and angst about how my animals are and if they miss me or get lonely when I am gone on long trips. My sister loves to tell me that animals do not have a clear concept of time so they don't know they difference between you being gone a day, week or a month. I don't think I agree with that. My dogs are always gleeful at my return even if I have just been gone an hour or two, but I notice a greater velocity to their response when I am returning from a longer absence. What do you think?

Maybe I truly am crazy but I worry about this especially because I have several beloved 4 legged companions that are getting up there in age and I recently lost my favorite cat to kidney disease at age 16. Every time I have to go out of town, are my animals aware that there is less time that we have to spend together?

Now I don't plan on being one of those people who calls her dog from the airport but is there something else I can do to keep my animals from missing me when I am gone. Between horse shows, teaching clinics and pony club testings, I travel a lot more in the summer so I am open for any suggestions. I have people the animals know take care of them when I am gone but they still sometimes act funny when I am gone for longer periods. The dogs get depressed and mope around and sometimes my horse Pete goes off his feed. The cats are the only ones that seem to do fine but they certainly lecture me when I return.

What do you think? Do you experience the same thing with your animals when you travel?


HorsesAndTurbos said...

Absolutely! I took on a winter boarder horse who, since 2002, boards somewhere for the winter and goes home for the summer (tragically the owners' barn burned and 31 horses died...the mare was lucky and in the pasture but the owner is quite broken and never rebuilt).

She was happy with me, but when I drove down the road that she lives on, she started pawing and pawing in the the trailer; when I unloaded her she practically pulled me to her pasture, and at 20-something years (owner can't remember how old she really is), the mare galloped to her rolling spot, rolled, got up, galloped around her pasture, and went to her favorite grazing spot.

I was touched when I yelled "Goodbye, Patches" she popped her head up and looked at me for a minute, as if to say "See you this Fall!"

Alison said...

I have a mutt who only digs up the lawn when I am gone on extended trips. So he must be able to tell length of time. My horses? Not so much. My chihuahua I swear is part human. The trouble for me with these issues (when we philosophize on the intelligence and emotions of animals) is the way we as humans treat (and eat) animals as if they are for us to use. It gets sticky because I do like a steak yet I do love animals.

Francesca Prescott said...

I think one of my dogs, Tom, a Yorkshire Terrier, is far more "aware" of the passage of time than the other. He's much older than Leo, my Cavalier King Charles, and hates being left behind for any amount of time at all. When we're going on holiday he clearly knows something's going on even before we start hauling out the suitacases. He goes all hunchbacked and skulky and seems to shrink. Tom is always delighted to see me, especially if I've been gone longer than a couple of hours, and literally gets hold of my arm with his mouth (he doesn't bite, he just holds, wanting me to stay close). He also says "helloooooooo" when I come home (I promise! It sounds just like that, so I always say hellooooo, back! He's eleven years old, so has had plenty of practise.)

As for Leo, the king Charles, he's always happy to see me, but I don't think he's as switched on as Tom, and definitely doesn't mull things over as much. He's only three, so maybe that will change.

I used to have a dog called Simba, a Lhassa Apso, who would get so mad at me for going on holiday that he'd poop in the house when I came home. And he'd look at me all sternly while he was doing it, too, as if to say, "take that, meanie!"

As far as my horses go, I know Kwintus got depressed when my daughter went to University last September, and is always delighted to see her when she comes home for the holidays. I don't know whether he's aware of how long she's been gone. Does he know he's getting old? I think he was depressed when I was forced to retire him last fall, but has definitely got used to his new life, and seems more than content to just hang out in the field with his friend Coconut.

Dreaming said...

I'm not sure if my animals are conscious as time is passing - but they do seem to respond to my being gone longer than usual.
I was gone for almost a month this winter. Doc wouldn't talk to me for several days when I returned. He was clearly miffed that I hadn't been there to feed him - evidently he didn't develop a connection with my house sitter!
Several years ago we had a dog break the tip of his tail when we picked him up at the kennel. He wagged his tail so hard that when it hit the door the bone broke. They actually call it "happy tail" disease!