Happy Mother’s Day: Honoring Our Animal Moms

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When we think of honoring moms on Mother’s Day, we think of human mothers. But, there are animal mothers, too. Do they have the same parent-child bond that humans do?

In Reaching the Animal Mind, Karen Pryor explains that, biologically, animals can indeed form intense attachments. These attachments are not just with humans (as we hope and assume), but with other animals—especially with their offspring.

mother and young calf

My feeling is that emotion is emotion – handed out to different species in different amounts, perhaps, but causing the same internal sensations while it lasts.

We can accept that biologically determined ties exist in animals. We don’t feel surprised when a cow bellows for her weaned calf for a day and a night. We tell ourselves, however, that this distress, whatever its nature, is short-lived, and therefore not at all like human grief.

The attachment between cow and calf might not always be as transitory as we like to suppose. An interesting study of a cattle herd concerned the dominant bull. In this undisturbed herd the lead bull was not purchased from elsewhere as bulls usually are, but arose to his position after growing up in the herd. The investigators noticed that this bull always grazed around midday next to one particular cow. Why? His favorite in the harem? Not at all. Turns out he was in the habit of having lunch with his mother.

Happy Mother’s Day to all pet parents, human and animal alike!