You’re All a Bunch of Animals

Matt and I had a houseguest all week last week. One of the best parts of entertaining guests is that you get to be a tourist in your own city. Our friend Sam did all the things I’d love to do if I had a week in Chicago with no responsibilities. He went to the Art Institute and the Museum of Science and Industry. He went to the beach. And on Thursday, we went, together, to the zoo.

I’ve noted here before that I’m not a dog person. I’m generally not so interested in domestic pets. (Though we did almost get a lizard. Almost.) That said, I love the zoo. I turn into a little kid when I’m there. On Thursday I got so excited about the sea otter that I misjudged where the glass was and banged my face into the window. True story.

And then we got to the polar bear exhibit. At which point Sam turned to me and said, “This is kind of depressing.” It was. The polar bear was all alone. Just the one, in this huge arctic re-creation. Wasn’t he lonely? Shouldn’t he have some friends in there with him? The aforementioned sea otter was swimming solo too.

I don’t know much about how non-human friendships work, but both Sam and I figured the solitary animals could probably use some company. And I did read an article recently about the benefits of baboon friendships. “Female baboons that maintain closer ties with other members of their troop live substantially longer than do those whose social bonds are less stable,” according to a new study in the journal Current Biology. “Females who were able to maintain the same grooming partners from one year to the next lived longer and had more surviving offspring.”

And next to that article, was another one from 2006, titled “Baboons in Mourning Seek Comfort Among Friends.” Without even reading it, I got the gist and came to my own conclusion: Polar bears need friends too! (Yes, I’m making the jump from baboon to polar bear. Hopefully that’s legit.)

In the summer issue of The Bark, there is an article entitled “Does Your Dog Need a BFF?” I haven’t read said article, because it’s not available online and I keep forgetting to find it on the newsstand. But the crux of it is published in the online table of contents: “Researchers say they do.” I guess being man’s best friend isn’t enough.

To all you pet owners and animal lovers out there, my question is this: Does your pet have a best friend? How can you tell? Was I crazy to think the polar bear was lonely? (According to the zoo’s website, “Lincoln Park Zoo participates in the Polar Bear Species Survival Plan®, a shared conservation effort by zoos throughout the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.” Clearly they have his {or her?} best interests at heart.) Have you ever gotten overexcited at the sea otters? ‘Cause, um, they’re pretty awesome.

15 Comments

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15 responses to “You’re All a Bunch of Animals

  1. Personally, I’m a fan of the penguins. And you never see them alone, so friendship must be important to them!

    As crazy as it must sound, my dog does have friends. He had a BFF that lived next door. Whenever he would go out into our backyard, he’d look for her in the neighbor’s backyard. If she was out, he’d hop the fence so they could play together. If she wasn’t, he’d sit on our side of the fence and whine at the neighbor’s back door. Eventually, you could hear the neighbor’s dog whining back at him, I guess as if to say no one was around to let her out, but she really wanted to come out and play. The neighbor’s dog would also get loose to run over to our front door to find my dog on several occasions. That family moved away, which was pretty sad at first since he didn’t understand why she was never outside anymore. But he’s bounced back and befriended other dogs in the neighborhood.

  2. Zoos CAN be so hard to visit – all those beautiful animals, and so many of them seem sad!
    My dogs definitely make friends – our first “little girl” has a best friend – Beamer – and his name is even better than treats to make her behave. She had a ton of allergies & her hair wouldn’t grow in though, especially after she and Beamer didn’t live across the street anymore. So we got her a “little sister,” and it has made all the difference in the world! She doesn’t have to take steroids anymore to keep from chewing holes in her own skin, and she actually is growing some hair in like a proper terrier!

  3. Karen A.

    We have two cats. In the past when one has died, the other has exhibit symptoms of mourning: not eating, walking back and forth between their favorite spots. Yes, I think animals need same species companions and that they experience a level of what humans recognize as joy and mourning.

  4. Jen

    It’s funny that today’s topic is about animals and friends, because just a few minutes ago, my husband was telling me about our one-year old Australian shepherd Murphy, and how her “friend” (a neighbor’s dog) was out this morning during their walk. Murphy and her friend got to play and sure enough, our pup was in a noticably peppy mood this morning. Her best friend is Reggie, a young basset hound that belongs to another couple we’re close to.

  5. megan

    Not sea otters, for me it was the flamingos. Except that they don’t put glass if front of their cage so I almost fell in during an excited approach to their ‘cage’…

  6. Georgianne

    I went to the zoo on a misty/rainy day, and finally I had to open my umbrella–a big, sunflower umbrella–right in front of the otter enclosure. They went nuts! They stopped romping, stood up on their hind legs, then raced over to the glass to stare at my umbrella.

  7. Lisa Z

    Animals are so enriching! I urge you to reconsider domestic animals!! I have a cat and I can’t wait to get a dog. That being said, in response to your question, I left my cat, Tulio alone with food and water and 3 litter boxes for a conference in FLA and I happened to buy my wedding dress and veil while I was there on a few days of after conference vacation. My veil was a floor model from an out of business company so I brought it back with me in a plastic bag. Somehow it ended up on the floor and Tulio peed on it! He must have been lonely to express. Thank goodness it is not ruined.

  8. Lol. I love that you hit your head on the glass! Too funny! I also love going to the zoo! I haven’t been to the zoo in a couple of years. I have been meaning to take my nephews but just haven’t gotten around to it this summer. And honestly, it’s too freaking hot/humid right now. So maybe this fall…

    I am like you and am just not a pet person… So I don’t have to worry about them having a friend… I think i would probably have a pretty lonely pet if I did have one since none of my friends have pets either!!

  9. I’ve often thought that about the polar bear at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Poor thing.😦

    I think it really depends on the animal. I got my current cat and his littermate when they were kittens; unfortunately, his littermate had a birth defect and died at 7 months old. Our current cat stayed an only child for a few years and then we decided to get him a friend because we thought he might be lonely. BIG mistake. Our cat apparently hates cats whom he’s not related to. We did everything the books and shelters tell you to introduce the cats properly and our cat STILL fought with the newcomer daily for a good six months.

    The shelter told me later that there are some cats who just, for whatever reason, hate other cats and there’s really nothing you can do to change that basic temperament. Who knew?

  10. Ana

    our dog probably could do with a friend, she’s been listless since we moved to a new neighborhood little over a year ago.

    Once we had a neighbor’s dog stay for the weekend. When he left, she jumped up and clawed at the doorknob of the front door (that he left from) and CRIED. It was such a sad sound, it broke my heart!! I often get a sad empty feeling after the hustle and bustle of stay-over guests (does depend on the guest…), so I understood…

  11. I know the Lincoln Park polar bear plight. I too have experienced the weird lonely feeling he gives off when you are watching him. I have also seen him doing repetitive motions over and over again, like he is in solitary confinement or something. We once watched him repeat the same thing–swim in a circle, get out, shake his head a few times, get back in the water, swim in a circle, get out, etc. until we felt so awful about his singularity that we had to leave lest we start crying. He definitely needs a pal. It’s pretty ridiculous.

  12. marielle

    If you get the chance, visit the otters at the Shedd Aquarium!

  13. I think it depends on the animal you are talking about. In the case of baboons, they live in large troops and are very social animals. They pretty much have to be to survive where they live, with all the big predators.

    Dogs live in packs too, so are definitely more social.

    Polar bears have been know to play with each other, but in general live solitary lives.

    I don’t think all animals need friends. Some animals are extremely territorial and only come into contact with each other to mate in the wild (ie Tigers). Humans, like most primates (but not all) are social beings…

  14. Betty

    My puppy Piper is a very, very social critter, and she loves to spend time with other dogs. Our neighbor up the street has a puppy the same age who she just loves, and whenever we pass by their house when we’re out taking a walk together, Piper yanks really hard on the leash to get me to stop in front of their house. She’ll look really longingly at the house hoping and wishing that her friend will come out for a romp. I literally have to drag her away from the house, and even then she doesn’t willingly want to leave. I always knew that dogs were very social pack animals, but until I had my very own dog, I never realized how strong that instinct was to be with other dogs. I guess it must be common knowledge though to many dog owners which must be why there seem to be hundreds of thriving doggie daycares in the city that I live in.

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