In The Bond, I devote an entire chapter to the remarkable intelligence of animals and the efforts by some people for a long time to deny or explain away their thinking with high-sounding and dismissive theories. It’s really only in the last quarter-century or so that there’s been a revolution in our understanding about animal cognition and emotions.
For a long time, some leading behaviorists offered the view that animals were little more than biological machines, driven by instinct and ensnared in an endless and often harsh pursuit of mating, feeding opportunities, and other behaviors necessary for survival. They were pre-programmed, according to these theorists, and not capable of any choice or volition in their daily decision-making. By diminishing animal intelligence, and thereby putting ourselves on a special plane when it comes to intelligence, we cleared the way to do with animals as we wished.
Yogi helped his owner after a serious accident.
In the book, I also cite a remarkable range of altruistic acts by animals—another arena where we laid claim to species exclusivity. But the actions of dolphins saving swimmers from sharks, dogs alerting their owners to fires or other threats, and all sorts of animals acting in heroic ways puts the lie to that claim, too.
Today, our Texas state director presented the award for Valor Dog of the Year to a loyal dog who came to the rescue when his owner had a serious accident.
Last year, Paul Horton was riding his bike alongside his 4-year-old golden retriever, Yogi, near their Texas home. Horton hit a bump, flipped over the handlebars, and landed on his head. When he regained consciousness, he was unable to move.
For the next 45 minutes, Yogi refused to leave. When Horton told Yogi to go home, the dog instead went to the top of the hill where the trail met the road and barked furiously. When Horton’s neighbors took their dog for a walk nearby, they were drawn by Yogi’s barking and out-of-character agitation. Once they came closer, Yogi ran down the hill, leading them to where Horton lay.
Even when the paramedics arrived, Yogi refused to leave Horton’s side. After surgery and countless tests, Horton found out he had broken a vertebra and was paralyzed from the chest down. But if Yogi hadn’t brought help, doctors say he could have died. Horton went through rehabilitation and has some use of his arms and hands. Now, the dog rarely leaves his side.
Yogi was singled out among many other heroic dogs by our panel of celebrity judges, including Charlotte Ross, Chris Riggi, and Jon Prescott, and also by supporters who named him the People's Hero. His family received special prizes, though the love and devotion of their furry companion might be the best reward.
P.S. I’m also reminded of the strength of the bond between people and their pets in the wake of disasters, like this spring’s tornadoes and flooding. While our flood response continues in Mississippi, The HSUS is also sending staff to the devastated city of Joplin, Mo., to care for displaced pets at an emergency shelter with the ASPCA.