Friday, January 15, 2016

Animal Madness {book review}

Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves

Laurel Braitman spent years studying animals, first as a biology major and then later as a PhD student at MIT. But it was her own dog Oliver that taught her something new about animal behavior. Oliver snapped at flies that only he could see, suffered debilitating separation anxiety, and may even have attempted suicide. As she struggled to help Oliver feel more at ease, Braitman began to suspect that nonhuman animals can lose their minds in ways that look strikingly like human mental illness. Thankfully, most of us can heal.

As a historian of science, Braitman was compelled to dig through historical archives to uncover more than a century's worth of animal insanity tales. She also traveled the world in search of emotionally disturbed animals and the people who care for them and discovered plenty of evidence of recovery: parrots that learn to stop compulsively plucking their feathers, traumatized elephants that form soothing friendships, and great apes that benefit from human psychiatrists. She found that these animals move on the same way we do: with love, with medicine, with behavior therapy, and above all, with the knowledge that someone understands why they suffer and what can make them feel better.

Showing how humans have interpreted the unquiet minds of animals, starting with Darwin's thoughts on his own dejected dogs, Animal Madness makes a passionate argument for seeing how their minds and ours are inextricably linked. Animals are us, it turns out, and they have lots to teach us about how to keep our sanity.

My Thoughts
I loved this book and found it totally fascinating. Animal mental illness has intrigued me since fostering Ice and I've read through lots of material in regards to this topic. Most of the stuff is rather dry :), but while this book was extremely well documented and scientifically grounded, I thought it was still easy to read and understand. Braitman personalized the book with her own experiences with her dog Oliver and collected lots of diverse anecdotal evidence from professionals in various animal fields. It covered the range of common mental illnesses such as depression, suicide, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

I recommend this book for anyone that lives with or thinks about animals :). As Braitman says in her conclusion, there is a great deal that the animal mind can teach us about our own minds. And beyond that, there is an immense call for changing the way we view and treat animals. It's always about treating one another as we would want to be treated :).

Check out the other books I've reviewed:
Dog is My Co-Pilot
When Elephants Weep
Scent of the Missing
Tell Me Where It Hurts
Little Boy Blue
Pawprints of Katrina
Hit By a Flying Wolf
What the Dog Knows
A Small Furry Prayer
Until Tuesday
The Dogs of Babel
Zoo Story
The Soul of All Living Creatures

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