Home Bird Stories Dog Stories Dog Poems Cat Stories Bear Stories

Have Animals A Foreknowledge Of Death?

[April 30, 1892.]

In a recent Spectator there is a quotation from Pierre Loti to the
effect that "animals not only fear death, but fear it the more because
they are aware that they have no future." Pierre Loti is a brilliant
novelist, but I am not aware that he is a scientific naturalist, and I
trust his idea is a mere chimera. Loti would take from the brutes the
one privilege for which men may envy them, and endows them with a
knowledge of the aftertime that we have only by revelation. However, two
common-sense naturalists have published their belief that the lower
animals have a foreknowledge of death, and one of them goes so far as to
give an account of an old horse committing suicide. He says the animal
frequently suffered from some internal disease, and that it deliberately
walked into a pond, and, putting its nostrils under water, stood thus
till it dropped dead from suffocation. The incident, I think, is easily
explained. Many horses drink in the manner described, and in old horses
heart-disease is not uncommon. I imagine the stoppage of respiration
caused a sudden and natural death from heart-disease.

I should like to ask naturalists who think animals know that they must
die, where they draw the line. They must stop somewhere between a dog
and a dormouse. Poets have made far more frequent allusion to the
subject than naturalists, and they may be quoted on both sides. Philip
James Bailey, in illustration of his contention that hope is universal,
says: "and the poor hack that sinks down on the flints, upon whose eye
the dust is settling, he hopes to die." But we have on the other hand
Shelley's Skylark, with its "ignorance of pain," because it differs from
men who "look before and after." Wordsworth's little girl of eight knew
less than her dog, if she had one, for, says the poet, "what could she
know of death?" I admit that when the carnivora have crushed their prey
to death they cease to mangle them; but I fancy that is only because
there is no more resistance; and a bull will trample on a hat and leave
it when it becomes a shapeless mass. The nearest thing I ever saw to an
apparent foreknowledge of death, was in the case of that least
intelligent of dogs, a greyhound. I had to shoot it to prevent useless
suffering from disease. It followed me willingly, but when I led it to a
pit prepared as its grave it instantly rushed off at its best speed. I
suggest that it saw instinctively something unpleasant was about to
happen, but it does not follow that death was present to its mind.
Domestic poultry will furiously attack one of their number that
struggles on the ground in its death-agony. They do not dream of death;
they think its contortions are a challenge to combat.


Next: Our Four-footed Friends Big And Little

Previous: Some Facts Of Maternal Instinct In Animals

Add to Informational Site Network

Viewed 2254