Recently, I wrote about the importance of not forgetting that humans are also animals. The other side of that is to remember that animals have a lot to teach us. We may be different species and breeds, but what we all have in common is the ability to communicate through energy.

October 4 is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, celebrated with the blessing of the animals, since he is their patron saint. It is also World Animal Day, started in 1931 in Florence, Italy — appropriate, since St. Francis is patron saint of that country as well.

World Animal Day
The purpose of World Animal Day is to improve welfare standards around the globe, particularly to protect those animals that are vulnerable and endangered. This recalls the words of another Francis, the Pope, when he spoke at the White House in the U.S. a couple of weeks ago: “I would like all men and women of good will… to support the efforts of the international community to protect the vulnerable in our world.”

Animals in our world are vulnerable because we don’t take the time to listen to them.

Even our closest non-human companions, dogs, weren’t thought of as anything more than unfeeling, if intelligent, animals until the last century. Once they moved into our homes, we started to treat them like loved ones and act like they could understand everything we told them.

Unfulfilled dog
But suddenly being flooded with so much affection wasn’t good for dogs because it’s not what they need. An unfulfilled dog becomes a hard to control dog, and those are the ones that wind up abandoned in shelters. Even as we brought dogs further into our lives, we wound up dumping them when they didn’t behave, and people still do it.

We thought we listened to dogs when we saw some intelligence in them that seemed different than other animals, but we didn’t. It wasn’t until behaviorists started studying why dogs act the way that they do that we slowly became able to truly bring them into our lives.

Dogs are social pack animals that need leaders. The solution is that simple.

Animal intelligence
It wasn’t until even more recently that we began to study other animals more closely and started to notice that not all of them are as “dumb” as we think. Gorillas have learned sign language and use it to communicate original ideas. Chimpanzees and crows both make and use tools, and crows are amazing problem solvers.

Far from being mindless birds, crows in the wild have figured out how to drop nuts in the street to be cracked open by passing traffic. Even more amazing, they then use the timing of traffic lights to retrieve their meals without getting run over — and crows teach each other how to do this.

I’ve seen video of a herd of cows being lured by — and then responding in sync to — a man playing a trombone, and the incredibly moving reaction from a cow being reunited with her calf. If those images don’t make you want to become a vegetarian, I don’t know what will.

Another remarkable thing is that animals can form connections across species. You’ve probably seen dogs with their “best friend” animals like elephants, rabbits, and tigers, but have you seen some other very unusual relationships? I’ve seen a sheepherding bunny, a kitten and owl playing together, and tigers raising pigs and vice versa.

Listen to your dog
These animals don’t communicate in words or send friend requests to each other via text. All they have is energy, but it’s a language they all speak in common and understand without translation. If we had learned to listen sooner, we might not have so many endangered species now.

Some people besides me have taken the time to learn how to listen, and now we have examples of “whisperers” for a lot of different species. To name just a few, there’s Kevin Richardson, who works with lions and hyenas; Pat Parelli and Jackson Galaxy, the Horse and Cat Whisperer respectively; and Chris Brittain, who works his magic with macaws.

The secret they all have in common is that they listen to the animal, respect what and how it is communicating, then learn how to talk back in a way the animal will understand. This works whether that animal is an elephant or a ferret. And don’t take my word for it, because Kevin Richardson uses this with wild hyenas himself: the only energy you can bring when working with an animal that will be successful is calm and assertive.

Animals may not have emotions quite like ours because they can’t label them, but they have deep, instinctual feelings, and many of them have complex social structures. We’re only just catching on to what St. Francis knew 800 years ago and what the French author Anatole France said in the 19th century: “Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

Just as humans are animals, animals are more like humans than we could ever imagine. It just gets lost in translation until we start really listening.

Stay calm, and listen closely!

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