Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves
By Laurel Braitman
Edition: 1st ed., 2014
“[A] lovely, big-hearted book…brimming with compassion and the tales of the many, many humans who devote their days to making animals well.” —The New York Times
Have you ever wondered if your dog might be a bit depressed? How about heartbroken or homesick? Animal Madness takes these questions seriously, exploring the topic of mental health and recovery in the animal kingdom and turning up lessons that Publishers Weekly calls “Illuminating…Braitman’s delightful balance of humor and poignancy brings each case of life….[Animal Madness’s] continuous dose of hope should prove medicinal for humans and animals alike.”
Susan Orlean calls Animal Madness “a marvelous, smart, eloquent book—as much about human emotion as it is about animals and their inner lives.” It is “a gem…that can teach us much about the wildness of our own minds” (Psychology Today).
“Laurel Braitman's experiences as a twelve-year-old on a farm with Mac, a miniature donkey she bottle fed, affected her whole life when he grew up to be a biter and kicker despite her love. Years later, she and her husband adopted a four-year-old Bernese Mountain dog on which they had no background information, and again, the results were not what she had hoped. Desperately in need of attention, Oliver received it from Braitman and her husband without restraint. Despite this, he still remained so anxious whenever he was left alone that he literally "went crazy," eventually he becoming a "liability at the dog park." Separation anxiety was just the tip of the iceberg with Oliver, who becomes a recurrent image in the book.
Beginning a serious, very intense study of animal behavior, Braitman spends three years at animal sanctuaries, zoos, aquariums, water parks, and animal research centers throughout the world, creating a body of work that is thorough and academically rigorous enough to have earned her a PhD in the History of Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She recognizes, however, that the audience for this book is quite different from the academic audience to which she presented her original research. Here her goal is to show that all animals do share some basic characteristics and needs with other animals, including humans, and they are often subject to the same psychological problems as humans. She also understands and hopes to assuage the emotions of guilt, helplessness, and sadness among pet lovers like herself who have discovered that love is not always enough in dealing with a seriously disturbed animal.
Thanks to the research of animal behaviorists over the last hundred years, a "mad elephant," a gorilla with "night terrors" and extreme "homesickness," and a "brokenhearted" bear, may now be diagnosed with conditions similar to some of the "codes of behavior" mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (1952), which identifies and names the psychiatric problems which humans face, and some of the same medications used to treat human problems are now being prescribed for animals with similar issues.
Providing ample examples of abnormal behaviors among displaced animals at zoos, marine centers, and aquariums across the United States, Braitman discusses animals with a variety of disorders: PTSD, generalized anxiety disorders, separation anxiety, attachment disorders, generalized panic disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders. Even Alzheimer's disease is being diagnosed now in animals. Enrichment programs for captive animals and even "family therapy" are now being used to help some animals which have not been able to deal with the reality of their current existence. Ultimately, Braitman questions whether some animals may even commit suicide, be it a dolphin's "passive suicide" to the apparently deliberate stranding of many whales, sea lions, and monk seals. As Braitman says, "I discovered that the guilty country is crowded. So many of us are there looking for answers and blaming ourselves, wondering what would have happened if..." Eventually, she concludes, "Animal madness isn't our fault, though - not always anyway..." This book may help to assuage some of that guilt by providing more information on the inner lives of our pets. ”