Capacity to Care

free range horse photography of a mare and newborn foal
A newborn foal is reunited with it’s mother after a long afternoon of herd movement.

Mourning the death or disappearance of a wild animal has always been something that weighs on me. An animal hit by a vehicle, coming upon a dead bird or animal, discovering evidence of a decomposing woodland creature, these seem like things I should encounter and easily forget. I have discovered some wise words, which I will share here, that speak to this topic that pulls at my attention often.

” …Would anyone grieve the death of an animal they had never known, much less loved? And yet some people do feel sad encountering an animal who seemingly died without witness, ceremony, or support. Sorrow for such a commonplace death with no connection to us reveals important dimensions of our emotions. The death of a close relative or friend entails the complex loss not only of a person we admired and loved, but also the end of a meaningful relationship. The death of a pet represents the loss of an animal we cared for and who had given us unconditional acceptance, comfort, and companionship. The death of a wild animal doesn’t deprive us of anything. The animal had given us nothing and had taken nothing from us in return.

Grief for such an animal might be considered one of the purest experiences of compassion, based only on the sense that an innocent life has ended. It reminds us of the importance of our relationships, the give-and-take that lends meaning to our lives. We know that an animal in the wild is inherently incapable of human expectations and emotions. But we might wish anyway that we could extend the comforts of social bonds we enjoy to this one animal we have discovered. It is as if our discovery constitutes an encounter that reminds us of the interconnectedness of life. In any case, our wish that we could share the best of being human reveals our capacity to care altruistically without expectations of anything in return.”

–Krystine I. Batcho Ph.D., Why Should We Grieve the Death of a Wild Animal?, Psychology Today

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