BOOKS: Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November/December 2013:

Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed
by Marc Bekoff
New World Library (14 Pamaron Way, Novato, CA 94949), 2013. 381
pages, paperback. $15.95

On a breezy spring night at the dog park, your faithful
neutered friend humps a stranger’s dog––perhaps a female, perhaps
another male. Embarrassed, you race over, pulling away a bewildered
Rover and wondering why it happened. Humping, also known as mounting,
is a normal canine behavior, studied inconclusively by various
researchers for about as long as anyone has investigated dog psychology.

Says Marc Bekoff, “There isn’t a single explanation for mounting or
humping.” Dogs hump, he suggests, basically because they can.
The title questions get about six pages between them, amid many
dozens of others, some revisited several times as Bekoff thinks them
through from different angles.
Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology
at the University of Colorado at Boulder, is author or co-author of
more than 800 scientific and popular essays and 25 books. Why Dogs Hump
and Bees Get Depressed assembles 105 fascinating short essays about
topics including dogs experiencing guilt, apes and violence, and
deaths at SeaWorld. Though dogs and great apes are the species
mentioned most often, Bekoff discusses practically every animal
familiar to humans at least once, along with some animals hardly anyone
knows about.
Do animals commit suicide? Bekoff contemplates the question,
concluding that we do not yet know enough to settle on a single
conclusive answer. Bekoff considers suggestions about whales
intentionally beaching themselves and stressed elephants jumping over
cliffs. After one of Bekoff’s lectures about animal grief, audience
member Cathy Manning told him about a burro who gave birth to an
unviable foal. Manning watched the burro walk into a lake, where she
drowned herself. Bekoff says the burro story caused him to rethink
animals and suicide. He hopes for more lively discussion and research
in this compelling area. I do, too.
Animals are sentient beings who often selflessly serve us, but
humans do not always return their loyalty and kindness. Bekoff writes,
for instance, about Bill and Lou, two oxen who worked as a team for
ten years at Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont. After Lou
became lame, Green Mountain College officials in mid-2012 announced
both would be slaughtered and fed to students. Heated local protest
soon went viral through electronic media. Lou was killed anyhow in
November 2012. Bill was believed to be still alive in March 2013, but
at last report had not been seen in nine months. “There are many
ethical lessons here for those who teach humane and compassionate
education,” says Bekoff.
Late in the book Bekoff offers ten essays arguing that humans
should not eat animals, including “My Beef with Temple Grandin:
Seemingly Humane Isn’t Enough.” Bekoff and humane livestock
handling expert Grandin are longtime Colorado State University faculty
colleagues, and on friendly terms, but they have one fundamental
“Does Temple Grandin actually make the lives of factory farmed
animals better because they are treated in a more humane way because of
her research?” Bekoff asks. “I think, to be fair, that perhaps
some animals––likely a tiny fraction of the animals who go to
slaughter––may have slightly better lives than they otherwise would,
but let’s face it, no animal who winds up in the factory farm
production line has a good or even moderately good life, one that we
would allow our dogs and cats to experience…So, ‘slightly better’
isn’t ‘good enough’ and I’d like to see Grandin encourage people
to stop eating factory farmed animals and call attention to the fact
that none of the ways in which they are currently treated even borders
on what should be acceptable and humane.”
Bekoff describes his encounters with wildlife including pumas
and bears near his home in rural Colorado, and his mostly successful
efforts to teach neighbors about avoiding conflict with problematic and
dangerous animals. He points out in “Recreational Hunting: Would You
Kill Your Dog for Fun?” that wild animals are as sentient, capable of
suffering, and worthy of moral consideration as our pets. Bekoff also
recommends, as ANIMAL PEOPLE often has, that driver education classes
should include species-specific instruction on roadkill avoidance.
Several essays question the ethics of wildlife management,
including “Using Hamsters to Save Ferrets: the Need for Compassionate
Bekoff’s concluding essays, “Conservation Works” and
“Rewilding Our Hearts,” emphasize the importance of optimism.
“In addition to being proactive,” Bekoff writes, “we
need to be positive and exit the stifling vortex of negativity once and
for all. Negativity is a time and energy bandit, and it depletes us of
the energy we need to move on. We don’t get anywhere dwelling in
anguish, sorrow, and despair.” ––Debra J. White

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