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Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive…

Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in…

by Laurel Braitman

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Those of us who are pet owners and consider our animals to be a part of the family have no trouble believing that animals do possess the consciousness that means they are capable of independent thought and the ability to feel emotions. But this also means that we believe that they possess the capability to suffer from mental illness, much in the way that human beings do. It is this sad idea that Laurel Braitman explores in her book, Animal Madness.

Braitman and her then husband adopted a Bernese Mountain dog named Oliver. He was being surrendered by his current family but Braitman was given little information about why. It turned out that Oliver suffered terribly when left alone, even going so far as to jump out of a closed window in their apartment, plummeting to the cement below. Miraculously, he survived his fall but his anxiety and terror didn't abate at all. Although they tried everything to help Oliver, nothing worked to calm him. His clear, unmanageable, life long distress sent Braitman on a search into the origins and treatments of mental illness in animals.

In addition to her own dog and other canines, Braitman looked at whales, dolphins, elephants, birds, horses, and primates, among others, and the documented problems they suffer as domesticated or captive animals. Taking newspaper reports, interviews with keepers, and communications with experts in the fields of animal behavior, veterinary medicine, and mental health, Braitman discusses the problem of diagnosing animals without anthropomorphizing them, the ways in which their diagnoses parallel human mental health biases of the time, the option of medicating or changing the behavior of the animals, and the ways in which human interference with wild animals has led to so many of the atypical, extreme behaviors we need to control or alleviate.

Using anecdotal stories to support the wider neurological theory underpinning her conclusions, Braitman covers animals suffering from mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, OCD, and PTSD and even discusses the idea of whether or not animals can be suicidal. Although the book purports to suggest that understanding animals will help us understand ourselves, there is only a very tenuous link to that idea. Since animals cannot tell us what they are feeling, human beings must extrapolate solely from observations what is going on. It is therefore not surprising that it is all framed in the same terms that human mental illness is described.

All of these observations have, by necessity, taken place on animals either living in captivity or that have been domesticated to one extent or another rather than factoring in any animals in the wild who manifest the same behaviors. Is this because they don't have these issues in the wild? Is it because it is too hard to study the same wild animals over extended amounts of time? Is it because these animals don't survive long in the wild? These are questions that Braitman doesn't address or acknowledge, making the book less complete than it should be for the conclusions it draws. There is certainly no doubt that the ways in which we bend animals to be what we want and expect of them, in zoos, parks, and our homes, does them no favors mentally and her indictment of our role in animals' mental anguish is not without basis for sure but as she cautioned in the very opening pages of the book, she seems to be anthropomorphizing quite a bit herself. It is sad to read about the variety of ways that animals harm themselves and others of their species and interesting to read about the ways, some more palatable than others, that we people try to help them conquer these atypical behaviors. Over all, the book opens a small window into the discussion about the well being of animals, specifically those under human care, living lives we don't recognize as normal, rich, and satisfying for them. ( )
  whitreidtan | Jan 5, 2015 |
Through extensive research on various species throughout the world, the author reveals hows animals, like humans, can suffer from mental illness and can possibly be helped through treatment. Her interest in the subject began with her own dog, a rescue, who exhibited severe emotional issues and fear of abandonment. He was aggressive, compulsive, and one time jumped out of a 4th story window.

This was a difficult and at times disturbing book for me to read. As a wildlife volunteer I observe animals in their natural habitats and am awed at what they do instinctively. Many of the animals the author profiled where wild animals – elephants, gorillas, birds – captured by humans; their stories are heartbreaking. When wild animals are removed from their natural environment, behavioral issues are often the result. I confess, I’m not a big fan of zoos or circuses. Many do an adequate job of providing for the animals, but far too many do not; a nice cage is still a cage.

Audio production: The book was read by Madeleine Maby in a pleasant, easy to listen to voice. The book moves through a series of stories about the various animals the author researched, making this a good choice for audio over print. ( )
  UnderMyAppleTree | Jan 4, 2015 |
People aren’t the only creatures that can go crazy. Braitman experiences this firsthand when she acquires a crazy dog, a dog that so desperately needed constant human companionship that he hurled himself out a second-story window onto concrete when Braitman left the house. The author goes in search of more information about animals who exhibit extreme behavior and the result is this fascinating book. ( )
  debnance | Jul 27, 2014 |
Humans and animals have shared this planet and some animals have even evolved side by side with humans. It should not be surprising that the animals that share our lives like dogs, cats and birds, or the animals that are forced into a more human life like performing, working or zoo animals would develop mental health disorders alongside the humans that they interact with. Through the lens of her troubled dog, Oliver, Laurel Braitman explores the world of animal mental health in everything from mice to dogs and gorillas to elephants in order to show that humans and every other animal are strikingly similar.

I have always believed that animals were capable of emotions and when I studied animal behavior in school, I was glad to know that this thought was becoming more widely accepted. It is now not a question of 'if,' but to what degree. Though most of the stories in Animal Madness are anecdotal, there are stories amassed from professionals in the field with a whole life of observational experiences that provide good proof that through psychological meds and behavior therapy, an animal with severe trauma and possible PTSD could recover and lead a healthy life for their species. Some of the stories are absolutely heartbreaking; for example a working elephant who was pregnant and forced to work during her pregnancy and ultimately giving birth while logging. The calf rolled down the hill they were working on and died. When the mother refused to work, she was blinded. Ultimately, however, though the story is grim, the end result shows how we all need the same things: love, understanding of our needs, therapy and medicine.

This book was provided for free in return for an honest review. ( )
  Mishker | Jun 26, 2014 |
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"For the first time, a historian of science draws evidence from across the world to show how humans and other animals are astonishingly similar when it comes to their feelings and the ways in which they lose their minds"--

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