Webster’s Dictionary defines the word anthropomorphize as: “to attribute human form or personality to things not human”. It is human nature to anthropomorphize especially in our relationships with animals. How many times do you see dogs dressed in little clothes, or do you try to understand your pet or another animal by looking through “human eyes” or giving them “human thoughts”?
When you are a caregiver for prey animals such as cattle and horses, it is very important to not anthropomorphize because cattle and horses cannot think or act like humans. Prey animals think and act very differently from humans because their survival depends on it. In addition to being genetically “wired” very differently than humans, prey animals are not as intelligent and are incapable of viewing the world as a human would. They live in the present (not dwelling on things that have past) and cannot at all imagine the future.
To be effective when I handle my cattle, I must “think like a calf”. That takes quite a bit of practice and focus, and has to be learned through experience. But, once you educate yourself and are able to “think like a calf” it is so much easier to ensure that the calf is comfortable in his world because you understand what is important to him. For example, if I offer my animals a comfortable resting place in which they feel safe (a low stress environment), a good source of feed and water, and room to play and interact with herd mates; that is what is important to them. That group of calves does not care if the resting place is a dirt-based pen or a pasture of grass because all of their needs are being met in either scenario. Now, as a human I can easily admit that a pretty green grass pasture is more romantic than a cattle feedyard pen, but a calf does not think like that. A calf cares about survival not aesthetic beauty.
The key to good animal care is understanding your animals and developing the ability to “think like them”. That ensures animal comfort and, in my opinion, opens the door to true humane care.
So, what is the purpose of this post? The primary purpose is not to define a really impressive word that you can dazzle your relatives with your intelligence when you use it…although, that can be fun! The primary purpose of this post is to alert you to the fact that humane care must be defined on the animal’s level. The animal is, after all, the one that will receive the care. And, as I pointed out above, a calf is incapable of thinking like a human.