Comparing “When Animals Mourn” and “A Man and His Cat”

Categories: Animals

“When Animals Mourn” by Barbara J. King, a retired professor of biological anthropology, gives you an insight into the speculated grief of animals. She focuses on the resemblance of human emotion and cognition to that of an animal. Similarly, “A Man and His Cat” by Tim Kreider, a professional essayist, writes his story about the 19 years he had with his cat, and the humanoid qualities that it can have. He even goes as far as to compare owning a cat to having a committed human relationship.

Although King and Kreider display varying perspectives, we can learn about an animal’s emotional capacity through their knowledge. Barbara J. King reflects on the opinions of animal behaviorists, biologists, and anthropologists in “When Animals Mourn,” stating that an animal’s presumed grief is difficult to draw conclusions. King explains one of the most captivating stories she had come across. Some of the most notable animal confidants were two ducks, Kohl and Harper, residing at an animal sanctuary in New York.

Being rescued from a horrifying foie gras farm, they had many health issues and relied on each other immensely.

After four years together, Kohl’s health was deteriorating, and it was decided that he had to be euthanized. After Kohl passed, Harper laid down next to him for hours, resting his neck on his beloved friend. Harper lived his last two months in despair, going to Kohl’s favorite places and shunning himself away from others. This story, more than anything, displayed the love between two animal friends.

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King also reiterates a study on bottlenose dolphins done by Joan Gonzalvo, a marine biologist who primarily studies cetaceans and oceanic environments. The subject was a mother dolphin that experienced behavioral changes after her baby died.

Her reactions were intriguing, for they mirrored the signs of mourning. She tended to her babies’ body, attempted to make it swim, and stopped eating consistently. Another study on dolphins done by Fabian Ritter in Mammal Encounters Education Research demonstrated the sympathy of the dolphins. When a mother’s baby had died, two others swam with her, and several slowed their speed to the mother dolphin. The most thought-provoking behavior of all was that the other dolphins showed great concern by carrying the corpse on their backs.

King goes on to speak about the complex emotions of elephants. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, a zoologist who focuses on elephant behaviors, shares his experience with researching elephant tribes. He concludes that elephants not only mourn for the loss of their loved ones but show concern for other families as well. From an evolutionary perspective, humans have developed advanced cognition. It wouldn’t be off-base if we considered the emotions of wildlife or even pets in our own homes. Although an animal’s emotion isn’t on an equal footing with human sentiment, it does display the humanoid tendencies of an animal. Instead of examining the mourning patterns of elephants, grasping the anthropological characteristics of animals can be done simply by adopting a cat like Tim Kreider in “A Man and His Cat.” Although King expresses the sole emotion of despair across multitudes of various animals, Kreider expresses the assortment of reactions of his singular cat.

The cat was originally a stray and gravitated towards him from the moment he fed her. He took the cat in and from then, he explained, she gradually broke the rules he placed on her as they grew keener. He spoke about his bond to a cat like the connection between a man and his wife. He slept in the same bed with her, being awoken each morning for breakfast. His cat even controlled when he would wake up because he had the habit of always feeding her in the morning. He even explained that the cat and his ex-girlfriend were similar in demeanor.

The cat displayed jealousy and disapproval while sandwiching herself between Kreider’s work, hobbies, and women. She even mimicked some of the same things he did, like only drinking from tall glasses, and pounding on the keys to his foot-pedal pump organ. He expresses the amount of time and money spent on this cat, that not only exhibits his devotion to the cat but the attentive bond between them. Kreider believed that in part, they understood each other. Although we don’t know if the animals themselves can understand their own emotion, there is a being that feels regardless. “The Power of Science-Based Storytelling: An Interview with Barbara J. King” by Lauren Choplin of the Nonhuman Rights Project, gives us a glimpse into the ethical mindset of King. She’s not only a retired professor of biological anthropology but a huge animal activist.

She has written a book called Personalities on the Plate: The Lives & Minds of Animals We Eat, which encourages the preservation of all life. King empathizes with animals stating that humans believe that they are the center of all that matter, displaying their supposed superiority by controlling, exploiting, abusing, and slaughtering animals. Although she understands the pain among all these animals, she is seeing a gradual change in the world.

Choplin quotes one of her favorite lines from King’s book, “We owe it to all of these animals to become aware of their sentience and to use our intelligence to acknowledge and act on behalf of theirs.” Dave Davies, a reporter for WHYY-FM in Philadelphia, interviews Tim Kreider in “Essayist Breaks Free from Conventional Relationships In ‘Because I Love You’.” We learn about his many forms of medium, from a cartoonist to a published author. He not only talks about his relationship with his cat but his relationship with several women. With over 200 pages of essays regarding his female relationships, he comedically interprets his feelings and commitment issues.

His cartoons, “The Pain–When Will It End?” ran in several weeklies and the local Baltimore City Paper for twelve years. He originally went to school for writing but ended up drawing cartoons and distributed them on the streets of Baltimore. Once he was hired to do weekly comics for a local newspaper, he decided he was going to be a cartoonist. Barbara J. King and Tim Kreider both demonstrate an understanding of the depths of nonhuman animal emotions. Whether it be detailed research on one of the most powerful emotion or a 19-year relationship with a cat, they both show the human-like qualities of these creatures. Although human emotion is more advanced than an animal’s, ultimately, they still feel. Animals should be treated with respect because as Kreider asserts, they are living their one chance at life, just as everyone else is.

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Comparing “When Animals Mourn” and “A Man and His Cat”. (2022, May 02). Retrieved from

Comparing “When Animals Mourn” and “A Man and His Cat”
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