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Animals: Their mind, heart and soul

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 2


By: J. Marlando


In most of world history and I am convinced in prehistory as well, it has been thought that animals are thinking, feeling and spiritually imbued creatures. Then around three hundred plus years ago Rene Descartes, the philosopher and mathematician came along to announce that only humans possessed souls and that animals have virtually no feeling/awareness and do not think; that they are likened to machines. What happened as the result of this declaration is that farmers began beating and/or working their animals to death and even dog and cats were, by and large, abandoned by their “masters.” While there were exceptions, for a couple of centuries cruelty and mistreatment of animals was commonplace—cats were only  good for catching mice, dogs were basically used as “watchdogs” or hunting dogs but seldom treated as beloved pets. Fortunately much of this has changed in our times but there are still those that deny that animals possess working, thinking minds, feeling hearts or have spirits.

I have been fortunate over the years as I’ve worked with all kinds of animals, domestic and exotic—from giraffes to monkeys and from elephants to bears. Presently, my wife and I have five cats at home but also  we’ve enjoyed dogs, horses, llama a goat and once I even owned an African lion. We are among those who are typically called animal people. That is, we are animal lovers!

My professional experiences with animals vary and are manifold: When I was a young man I worked at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo just outside of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Years later I became entertainment director for Enchanted Village, owned and operated by Ralph Helfer who for years supplied most of Hollywood’s exotic animals for the movies and television—Ralph was an animal behaviorist not a trainer—and finally I went to Asia for Alaskan Pictures to do a documentary on elephants and then to Australia to film a study of the Great White sharks for the same company. And so as you can see, I have a background that prepares me writing this article and making conclusions not only based on speculation but also on actual experiences.

With the above said my intent for this article is not to humanize animals but to spiritualize them in meaning and purpose.  I hope to accomplish this goal and that the reader enjoys the following text.




Clearly animals and human beings have had a spiritual connectedness since our kind first discovered themselves in nature. The cave paintings of Cro-Magnons reveal the spiritual nature of that connection since the animals depicted on the cave art are an extension of those early shamanic rituals before our kind left the wilderness. More recent American Indians followed the same traditions of rock paintings many of which were painted to attract or communicate with the animal spirits. In some tribes it was believed that during ritual dances, animal spirits endowed the dancers with awesome powers. Animal spirit helpers were thought to assist especially the tribe’s shamans in his or her wisdom and his or her healing abilities. Indeed, the Pawnees believed that the Great Spirit sent animals as teachers and most tribes sent their boy children, reaching maturity, into the woods, alone, to learn from both the plants and animals.

Certainly indigenous peoples (worldwide) hold animals sacred. Like American Natives, the Australian Aborigines, for example, hold all things in nature to be sacred including the stones. This sacredness is also demostrated in the totemistic cultures wherein select animals are considered spiritually sacred and so mystically meaningful for particular individuals or for the entire tribe. In view ofall this, animal connectedness has simply played a vital role for all mankind except for the so-called civilized who in vast numbers see themselves above the animals as opposed to merely being different from them.

While our differences with animals are obviously vast I nevertheless hold to the view that we are, at the same time, in the same web of relationship with them; a connectedness through universal consciousness and somehow (in some way) soul mates at levels we cannot grasp.Indeed, the very word “animal” arrives from the latin root meaning… soul.   



There are so many ways that animal demonstrate motives that it is difficult to know where to begin. I will start with an extremely personal story. A few years ago our son had a dog whose name was Tonto. Tonto was one of the brightest pooches I have ever encountered. He was also one of the happiest dogs I have ever known: he loved to play and would often just run about for the pure joy of it. When our son died, Tonto moped around the house with the rest of us but then, one day, he went upstairs and jumped out the second story window to the cement drive below.

The question is was he actually committing suicide or are animals even capable of such confused and distraught emotions? Most professionals doubt that animals are capable of such abstract thinking but there has been many tales of dogs not eating and going to the graves of their masters to die; and yes, in Scotland there is even a famous bridge where it is said dogs throw themselves to their own deaths. It has also been said that depressed dolphins will throw themselves out of the water and horses have been known to run off cliffs. Suicides? I would not dare guess but I have witnessed animals feeling grief. And grief is a mind/heart emotion. This brings me to repeat a story told by *Gary Kowalski: Koko, a female gorilla who has mastered a vocabulary of five hundred words in Sign Language. Anyway, her instructor, Doctor. Francine (Penny) Patterson gifted her with a baby kitten that the gorilla named “All Ball.”

Both All Ball and Koko became chums, playuing togethe and so on. It became quite a loving relationship and then, the cat got out one day and was hit by a car. When Koko was told about this, she signed “sad/frown” and “Sleep/cat” and cried. She cried for a week thereafter when the subject of cats evolved.

In the reverse of these sad contemplation, I believe it was a Chicago newspaper that reported a mama cat, making five trips in and out of a burning building to save her five kittens one at a time. That takes a mother’s love and yes, lots of heart.

And speaking of heart, I was fortunate to meet **Ralph Helfer and work for him. Ralph was the first to reject training animals with whips and instead taught them behaviors with love. And so, instead of starting his relationship with an animal, be it a bear or tiger or horse, using techniques to create that animal subservient and afraid, he befriended it. He talked to it and did all he could to learn the animals indiosyncracies; the animal’s fears, likes and dislikes. Soon enough he had gained a reputation in the movie industry as having the best “trained” animals in the business—what few knew at least in the beginning was that those well behaved animals were not “trained” at all, at least not in the traditional sense but taught through understanding and love.

I once asked Ralph why he thought that love had such tremendous influence over the animals and he told me that "love permeates all consciousness." With that in mind, I will share a couple of asides here: Some years ago the renowned Horticulterist, ***Luther Burbank, said that “The secret of improved plant breeding, apart from scientific knowlegde, is love.” The internationally famouis cancer surgeon, Bernie S. Siegel said love heals and that love is physiologic. I once asked the physicist Fred Allen Wolf, what love is and he said, “Love is the glue of the Universe” which, in a way, corresponded with Ralph’s answer that love permeates consciousness. Indeed, when I was a small child my own grandmother, Nellie Anna Harvey, always had the neighborhood’s best flower gardens and was known to have the best laying chickens in town. Lots of people used to ask what her secret was to get her chickens to lay such an abundence of heathy, big eggs and to grow her plants and flowers so beautiful. She would always say, “It’s simple, I just tell them that I love them and that makes them happy and feel safe.”

Returning now directly to the animals, I will share the story of Ralph’s Mo—short for Modoc. Mo was an older elephant that Ralph perchased or took off someone else’s hands. When Ralph began working with Mo, Mo was pretty broken down from enduring many terrible years as a circus performer. As Toni, his wife wrote, Mo “...had lived through the horrible poisoning of the Ringling herd, when a dozen of her friends had died leaving Modoc terribly ill. She had survived train wrecks, fires, storms, angry mobs, one-night stands and a life far from her native land.” Also her trunk had once been paralyzed from pushing heavy circus wagons around the country. Along with this, a drunken handler had beaten and put her eye out with a bull hook , Most circus people heard that the grand old elephant had died.

Ralph began working with Mo who was very weak and yes, broken hearted. In the end however a relationship evolved and finally old Mo began to trust and so respond to Ralph’s love and kindness.

Then there came an invitation for Ralph to attend the annual picnic for retired circus performers. And as Toni says, “They were a marvelous combination of special-oddities—members of the old Ringling band, clowns, acrobats, roustabouts, aerial artists, trainers of all kinds, fat women, small peoeple, tight rope walkers—a warm-hearted profusion from the past who sang songs and reminisced for one day each summer when the circus came to town.” On that day Ralph had a surprise for them, a little performance by his first elephant who, by then, he was very proud of.

Ralph went to the barn and brought the elephant out who by then was walking youthfully again, and had a renewed spark about her. The retired circus folks of course applauded as she went through her routine. Indeed, when the act was over there was a standing ovation but then someone shouted out, “But can she dance?”

Ralph didn’t know and he told the crowd that he didn’t know. “But let’s find out,” he said and turned to the elephant. “Dance,” he told her wondering what the animal would do. The elephant danced. Suddenlly, another person in the stands shouted out. “That’s her…that’s Dancing Modoc” and quite suddenlly Ralph and old Mo was surrounded by the audience and their tear filled eyes.

Elephants are extremely intriguing. When I was in the jungles of Thailand where elephants are used in the timber industry, the big animals work daily with the sawyers  but…flatly refuse to go to work if they do not get their morning baths. To elephants bathing is not only for cleanliness it is a ritual.

Elephants also have their own justice system. If one elephant does something that the herd disapproves of, that (naughty) elephant is sent (sentenced) to spend time alone in the bush. I was able to watch an ostracised elephant who clearly showed signs of remorse and, in fact, I am sure that I saw tears in his eyes as he stood alone away from the herd.

Keeping focued on “heart” it is well known that great affection can occur between different species. Mimi,my stepdaughter has a big, wallowing, licking playful Labrador and five cats. The dog and cats not only play together, sometimes eat together but they sleep and cuddled together. ****Jeffrey Moussaiefe Masson mentions that horses will often make friends with other animals such as goats. Ralph Helfer actually had a lion and a lamb who would lay in the afternoon sun  together. But speaking of heart, what about romantic love between animals?

There has been many debates on this topic and lots of anthropologists and zooologists doubt that animals ever truly romance one another. On the other hand. Jeffrey Masson, mentioned above, tells us that A.J. Magoun and P. Valkenburg used a small airplane “to track wolverines across the tundra, have described the mating of these rare, solitary animals. To an observer, they write, most wolverine mating appears to be a matter of aggressive males and relectant females. They were surprised by the behavior of the female they called F9 and an unidentified male. F9 and the male joined in exploring a rock outrcropping on the tundra. They played. They rolled on the ground. Like an exuberant dog, F9 crouched and lashed her tail, then bounded away. When the male did not respond to her sniffing him, F9 turned and bumped him with her hip. After playing, they rested and then mated. Two days later they separated, perhaps never to meet again.

On the other hand, lots of living creatures are monogamous and mate for life—wolves, gibbons, swans, bald eagles, prarie voles and…you guessed it, turdle doves. There are others! They are the exceptions, however, and not the rule!

And speaking of loving others—among elephant herds, young elephants will sometimes become attached to their grandmothers or specific other relatives just like human children do. Beavers will stay at home after growing up to help their parents raise their new siblings. Coyotes will do the same thing taking over chores such as feeding, washing and protecting their younger brothers and sisters. Jeffrey Masson tells us that even year old beavers will typically remain with their parents obviously to take care of their siblings so there is obviously some attachment to family and family life.

Certainly in most homes pet pooches and cats become extended members of the human family they live with.  My Mother and Dad had a dog they both loved for years. Tanya in fact would go to the door and lay down every late afternoon waiting for my dad to come home from work. When he did she would jump up and down and greet him with licks. When my dad died, the dog kept going to the door for two or three days waiting for him. Then, on the forth day, instead of going to the door at the time she always did, she instead walked around in a circle in the living room, stopped and howled at the top of her voice. After that, she never returned to the door. She knew!

When it comes to animals we cannot attempt to give them our values or feelings in terms of how we respond to emotions such as remorse, guilt, shame, anger and so forth. Remember every living creature projects the world differenly—not even two human beings see the rose in the same way. Nevertheless, I am convinced that we can exchange empathies with animals. While we cannot know, as *****Thomas Naget would tell us, what it’s like to be a bat. But, on the other hand, we know what it’s like to feel fear, to feel rejection, to feel unloved, to feel anger, to feel upset and to feel alone. It is then “what things feel like” that open our hearts and minds to the hearts and minds of animals.

 *The Souls of Animals * Gary Kowalski *Stillpoint

**I worked for Ralph, his wife Toni and his partner Tom Carota at Enchanted Village in Orange County, California as entertainment director. (Some of the shows performed had as many as twenty human actors and singers and fifty exotic animals). The last I heard Ralph is living in Africa but since I’ve reamained in contact with Tom, I know he now lives in Palm Desert and has a business in Mexico.

***Autobiography of a Yogi* Paramahansa Yogananda*Self-Realization Fellowship

****When Elephants Weep*Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson & Susan McCarthy*Delta

*****The Mind’s I*Douglas R.Hofstadter and Daniel C. Dennet*Bantam Books




Mind is not fully comprehended by anyone whether we are talking about human beings or ants. Indeed, there remains the debate between science and vitalism whether or not the *mind is a mere epiphenomenon of the brain or, in other words, an activity of the physical brain or if mind and body are separated and mind is of a more spiritual or mystical nature. One thing we know for sure is that the brain interprets reality for us and for every other living creature big and small. The world we see is certainly not the identical world that, for example, a bee sees.

Brains of course are organs; sophisticated, complex and marvelous organs but organs nevertheless.  There is good news on the horizon, however. Today science is agreeing that our hearts have an intellect too and communicates directly to the brain. The ancient Japanese might have comprehended what modern day science is just discovering—**After all they have a word, “kokoro” which includes nuances of both mind and heart. This is a beautiful thought in that people over much of the planet are taught to reject feelings from their hearts and trust only the so-called objectivity of their minds. Nevertheless, the mind working aloof from the heart will never enjoy a full or contented life.

Most animals live full and contended lives in their own realms if they (and their habitats) are left alone by our kind. One reason for this is that we humans do not act through kokoro—***a major reason that elephants and rhinoceroses are on the endangered list is because they have been murdered over the centuries for their ivory. Profit motivations seem to always have a way of skirting around ethics. The reduction of the world’s rain forests is a condition caused by human greed as well. The point being made for this narrative however is animal lives are content and happy when left alone. This doesn’t mean their lives are trouble or challenge free of course only that they are in cooperation and at peace with nature.

When we speak of the mind of animals, most typically we immediately think of the chimpanzee. The major reason for this is that they are known to be our closest kin—we are after all, 99.4% genetically similar. ****Roger Fouts tells us about *****Jane Goodall’s extraordinary discovery in 1960, “…that the chimpanzees at Gombe Stream in East Africa were regularly making and using tools” which reminds us that tool making is the very hallmark of hominid culture. But again, we are extremely similar genetically.

Some years ago I had the privilege of working very close to chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. (******My major job at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo was preparing food and formulas for the great apes). At that time we had had two beautiful orangutans by the names of Maggie and Jigs. They lived together and were extremely close. Maggie had an eye for me, however and poor Jigs became jealous. Whenever I came around and Maggie would rush over to greet me, Jigs would find his way to a corner and sit and pout…or stew, as it were.  Jigs got his revenge, however: One day when there was a large crowd in the Monkey House, I was walking past Maggie and Jig’s cage and Jigs stuck his finger under my pants, gave a yank and left me standing naked before the crowd. Luckily I wasn’t wearing a belt because an Orangutan has the strength of around eight grown men in one finger. As it was my parents simply tore away from my body. In any case, I ran out of sight of the crowd as quickly as possible, embarrassed to say the least.

With the above experience aside, I had a lot of time to observe chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. Realizing that a great many zoologists and other professionals disagree with me, from my own observation orangutans seemed to be the most astute thinkers. Now the odd part of this is that of the three, the orangutan is the most distant from we humans genetically. In fact, the chimpanzee is closer related to us human beings than they are related to either gorillas or orangutans. When*******Vincent Sarich and Allan Wilson compared the molecules of a blood protein taken from humans and chimpanzees, they concluded that, as Roger Fouts tells us, that “we’re not distant cousins” but in fact “sibling species—like sheep and goats or horses and zebras.”

Nevertheless, as I say, from my own observation orangutans seemed to be more mindful than the other two—although, I will add this: Gorillas were the most heartfelt of the three. One of the major dangers of walking a gorilla, say to be weighed or something, is that they might want to give you an affectionate hug without realizing their own strength. I believe it is safe to say that anyone who has worked with gorillas know them to be gentle and loving. “Gentle” and “loving” certainly indicate thoughtfulness!

In sight of animal thoughtfulness I have read about a woman who was walking in her pasture and had an eleven-month old calf step in her way not permitting her to walk by. Finally the woman took the calf by the horn and tried to make it move but stubbornly it resisted. Finally looking past the calf she discovered a copper-head snake in her path.

There has been Dolphins that have saved people from drowning and even from shark attacks and one story tells of a pig that witnessed its mistress having a heart attack and ran to the road, laying down in an attempt to stop traffic for help. When the ploy didn’t work the pig would run back to the house to check on the woman and then return to the road trying to stop traffic again.

We have all heard stories of dogs saving people but cats have too. One story tells of a cat running from the garage to the bedroom in order to meow and wake up his sleeping owners to warn them of a fire breaking out. One of the most amazing stories, however, is about a gorilla by the name of Blinti Jua. Back in the 1990s a little, three-year old boy climbed over a wall at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago and fell eighteen feet which knocked him unconscious. Blinti Jua saw the accident and rushed to the boy. She picked him up, held him in her arms and carried him to an access gate so that the zoo personnel could take over.

These wonderful stories tell us that animals are much more than a mental map of instincts and robotic responses. They think, they feel and they love.

*My personal belief is that mind/spirit is separate from body/brain.

**Kitaro Nishida*An Inquiry Into The Good* Yale University Press

***We humans need to be more protective of the animals. Today the endangered species list include: Siberian tigers, Asiatic lions, Asian and African elephants, Sumerian rhinoceroses, the giant Panda and the Wallaby. Sad but true.

****Roger Fouts and Stephan Tukel Mills*Next of Kin*Morrow

*****Jane Goodall is a primatologist, ethnologist, anthropologists and a foremost authority on chimpanzees.

******When I worked at the zoo my immediate supervisor was Cliff Myers a man I grew not only to respect but to love. Don Davis was the zoologist in charge, a good man and a person you’d like to know.

*******Also from Next of Kin by Roger Fouts and Stephan Tukel Mills.



We lovers of animals and other living creatures have a tendency to humanize our pets by projecting our humanity onto them. We are different of course. Our human values and human ethics are typically miles away from the realities of other living things. Yet, there is a connectedness that many of our kind miss; a consciousness that connects everything in the universe in a web of relationships and, in this way, we are in a kind of kinship with all of nature. Certainly the American Natives knew this as they spoke of the animals, the plant life and even the streams and rivers as their brothers and sisters. This I am convinced is the proper view. Mind, consciousness—call it God—permeates all life and in all life, I believe, is that most powerful and potent cohesiveness called…love.

One major reason why many professionals do not credit animals with cognizance is because they do not recognize themselves in reflection—a dog, for example, will bark at himself in the mirror. I have a theory about this, however, which I will share: Unlike human beings who live so much in concepts, dogmas and ideologies, animals are spared such nonsense; animals do not make value judgments or label things; they do not keep time nor do they strand themselves between the past and future. They live in the present, just as Emerson’s rose that I so often refer to does. In short they live in the moment and, as said, the moment holds eternity. As a result they recognize themselves in the other or, in other words in the collective. Horses who love goats, realize that goats are not them but there is no ego to sensor their love; no conceiving that horses are better than goats or, even better than other horses. They simply are and that is the only reality!

Darwin said that the entire world has evolved because of the survival of the fittest system. The truth, however, is that most wildlife lives in cooperation. It is actually only we human beings who find reasons to conquer and destroy our own species. It is only we humans who will destruct nature for personal gain and kill for the sake of profit. This fact may well be one of the most unsolved mysteries of the universe, the simple question  that asks, why does  man’s inhumanity to man persist.

Perhaps we should start learning from nature and stop attempting to control it?

Suggested reading: The Gentle Juingle*Toni Ringo Helfer*Brigam Young University Press






Dec 5, 2012 2:40am
Hi there Marlando, I have enjoyed reading your personal stories and experiences working with such an amazing variety of animals. I like the quote 'love permeates all consciousness'. Isn't that the truth?! Animals have far greater wisdom and intelligence than we give them credit for.
Dec 5, 2012 7:19am
Thanks worspeller--Yes, I have been very fortunate to works around a lof of animals and they are great teachers. nyway, thanks you for your kind words s you know they mean a lot.
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