The Human-Animal Bond

Written by Dr. Nicholas Pappas. Posted in Featured

Published on February 01, 2012 with No Comments

Recently, my wife and I had the pleasure of viewing Stephen Spielberg’s “War Horse.”  We found it to be a parable of the human animal bond and gave it a very distinct thumbs up.

Why did I feel so strongly about the movie?  It occurred to me that this movie was a paradigm for what life really could be, should be and, hopefully really is – a wonderful gift to be savored and nurtured, replete with the virtues most of us hold so dear.  Sacrifice for one’s love and friendship, valor in the face of unspeakable adversity, loyalty that transcends our imagination, honesty which needs no particular explanation, that good will always triumphs over evil and; of course, the inexplicable treasure of the human animal bond.  And that random acts of kindness quite possibly aren’t that random.  In the end, I believe man’s inhumanity towards man will be left on the trash heap of human history.

I tried to imagine, albeit fleetingly, Cowboy as the “War Cat.”  Certainly, cats are intelligent enough with a brain that anatomically is as close to a human being’s brain as any animal.  They possess the ability to make themselves virtually impossible to find.  And cases of traveling hundreds of miles to be reconnected with their masters are well documented.  After all, wasn’t Rin Tin Tin a legitimate World War I hero of trench warfare?  Yes.  I can just imagine Cowboy, regal and imperious as he is crawling under the barbed wire to deliver an imperative battle saving message.  Nah, not unless tuna and sleep are involved.

Over the last several millennia the evolution of the human animal bond has taken on significance far greater than one could have ever imagined.  From Noah to the Nativity and contemporary anthropological studies reveal that many ancient cultures found something so profound about the beasts of burden to the extent that some had become deified.

At the very least, some inextricable coexistence between animals and man is fundamentally necessarily to be truly happy.  I believe John Donne was correct—“no man is an island.”  We are all a part of the whole.

A great deal of research has been performed on the human animal bond and, also, the animal to animal bond.  Many of these theories have proven to have merit.  For example, we now understand that people who grow up and have pets most of their lives, have an average life span four years longer.  And it has been observed that antibody levels are substantially improved when frequent human animal interaction is observed.  Also, something as seemingly innocuous as having a pet in your lap can result in a dramatic decrease in blood pressure.

These can be rather forensic and antiseptic explanations.  Personally, I am convinced something more ethereal is factored into the equation.  There are many mysteries in life of which just acceptance is enough.  Empirically, I am certain that a puppy’s cold nose, a kitten’s purr and a baby’s backside make the heart soar.  Studies of brain activity show that when people view pictures of puppies, kittens or babies there is increased brain activity in the centers that are known to effect joy.  Beauty without feeling is a visionless picture. 

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About Dr. Nicholas Pappas

Dr. Nicholas Pappas is a former Chairman of the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. He has been involved in veterinary medicine for 40 years and has practiced for more than 30 years. You can reach Dr. Pappas at

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