Animals Can Lose Their Minds, Just Like Us, Expert Says

Author of "Animal Madness" argues humans and animals express similar feelings.

ByABC News
June 10, 2014, 5:47 PM

June 11, 2014— -- A viral video that told the story of Mister G, a rescued goat who became depressed after he was separated from his lifelong burro friend, Jellybean, and then showed their uplifting reunion, touched our hearts, maybe even made us a little misty-eyed.

Mister G refused to eat or go outside for six days after he and Jellybean were rescued from a hoarding situation in Southern California and taken to different shelters. In an extraordinary moment, the video shows Mister G perked up for the first time when Jellybean was brought to the California animal sanctuary where he had been placed.

The interaction seems uncannily human-like, and one expert says that's because animals and human can share similar emotions and feelings.

"Humans and other animals can lose their minds in ways that are really similar, and surprisingly similar, and thankfully, a lot of us can recover using the same forms of therapy," said science historian Laurel Braitman.

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Braitman wrote a book called "Animal Madness," which argues that humans and animals are "astonishingly similar when it comes to their feelings," and that, like us, animals can lose their minds.

She first started to research the emotional similarities between humans and animals with her dog Oliver, who suffered from terrible anxiety.

"He would eat things that weren't food," Braitman said. "So he ate socks and towels, and I mean, he was six years old so this was not puppy behavior. He ate zip-lock bags, including their contents, even if there weren't food in them."

"He also snapped at flies he couldn't see," she continued. "He hallucinated a little bit at night, and we couldn't get him to stop doing that, even by petting him or giving him treats."

Sadly, Oliver was never cured of his anxiety. When Braitman left him at a kennel over Christmas, she said the dog became so distressed he started eating a wooden panel in his pen and became very sick.

"They rushed him to ... the emergency vet, and realized he was suffering from bloat," she said. "[This] can happen in big, barrel chested dogs, their stomach twists, and you have maybe an hour to act, and do surgery … and they did it, but the damage was so extreme."

"The veterinarian reached us on the phone, we were in California," she continued. "And told us that we had to decide whether or not to do further surgery… and so we had to decide to put him down over the phone. It was really heart breaking."

While nothing seemed to solve Oliver's issues, what Braitman found in her research for her book is that, aside from meds, a huge factor in animal psychological recovery is love, even if it's not from the same species. There is Mister G and Jellybean, of course. There have been cases of baby bonobo monkeys thriving after being given surrogate human mothers when their biological mothers were killed by poachers. There is also a baby elephant named Chouk, who was found wounded and alone in the forests of Cambodia, most likely after walking into a poacher's snare, and was nursed back to health by conservationist Nick Marx.

"He was in a terrible state," Marx said. "He was incredibly thin and wouldn't have survived. Hand-fed him everything he ate, and he's here today."

Chouk is now the first elephant recipient of prosthesis, and he has benefited not only from human companionship, but also from an older elephant named Lucky. The two play soccer together and even dance the Macarena.

Braitman said if we humans can learn to recognize that animals of all sorts, from elephants to dogs and everything in between, have true emotional range, it will change our attitudes about so much, from zoos to circuses to where our food comes from.