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Mismatched animal friends remarkable, sweet

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Readers tired of stories of war, riots and economic woes might find solace in a book called, Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom, by Jennifer S. Holland.

Holland's book begins with the leading work of animal kingdom researchers. Noted primatologist Jane Goodall, "described her own relationship with wild chimpanzees as friendships," writes Holland. This view isn't fully embraced by the academic community. Others cringe at the thought that we anthropomorphize animals by suggesting they have emotions or engage in friendships.

It's doubtful these researchers would approve of owners referring to their pets as family members. I can guarantee they'd never attend a dog funeral or have one serve as a wedding ring bearer.

That said, most of Holland's stories are sweet. Who could resist reading about a male Macaque who wanders around an Indonesian Hindu temple with his cat? Pictures illustrate the monkey cuddling and gently carrying the feline the way a child snuggles a baby sibling.

As you leaf through the book, tales of unlikely relationships will catch your attention. There's the iguana and the cat; the dachshund and the piglet; and the lion, the tiger and the bear. The titles sound like kid stories and they are suitable for a family audience.

Nevertheless, the stories could swiftly make the hearts of the grumpiest of protester and the stingiest of billionaire melt. What brings people together more than our love of animals?

My favourite is the near-sighted deer and the poodle. While the story is darling that wasn't the reason I liked it. Instead, it sounds more like the beginning of a good joke: "So this near-sighted deer and a poodle go into a bar...."

Perhaps this is why Holland's book is appealing. Many of these species should not get along, but they do. Some even bring together predator and prey. The accompanying pictures will shock you -- especially the one highlighting the snake which befriended the gerbil which was meant to be his supper.

Granted, many of the predators involve animals that were thrown together in zoos, reserves or homes of pet lovers. They don't have to be in a fight to be fed.

I'd love to assume that my dog loves me for me, rather than the fact that I help her maintain her robust figure on quality, abundant food. Holland uses a quotation from biologist and primate specialist Barbara King to explain this concept: "the animals aren't fighting for their basic needs -- which allows their emotional energy to flow elsewhere."

Perhaps this book offers a subtle or unintentional lesson for humanity: animals in captivity get along because they get enough. Their basic needs for survival are met. In the wild they fight for resources - for survival.

The notion may sound like a theory by Karl Marx. But there's one key difference: Many humans seem to have yet to master the balance of what need means. I know that I likely don't need ice cream or a bottle of wine. Yet, I still partake of both -- often far too much of both. Perhaps I should watch my animal role models for better cues on how to handle wants versus needs (just as long as they don't ask me to take down a wild pig or pluck leaves off a tree).

Aside from the odd carnivore, the examples in the book showed animals eating alongside each other. The futile emotion of jealousy doesn't come into play. The Indian cow chewed its cud from the food the farmer offered. His friend, the cheetah, worked all day to take down pigs, monkeys and jackals. Albert, the sheep, ate leaves off the same tree as Themba, the elephant, but didn't complain that the elephant required 30 kilograms more than he did.

Some experts cringe when we speak of animals this way. Animals don't have emotions. But Holland's story of Koko the Gorilla, which used sign language, shows she mourned the loss of her kitten. When asked what she thought, Koko signed "cry."

Two traits that seem to be non-existent in this book are anger and jealousy. Perhaps this is a lesson on how to get along with other species or even our own. Life for animals is rarely easy. It's no different for humans. But if we accept each other and eliminate jealousy, we could make the world a better place.

Holland's book is not only a fun read that takes you away from the harsh news of the day, it may also provide a welcome comment on interspecies or same-species relationships. As our world seems set ablaze with violence, hatred and inequity, we might want to learn from the salty dog and the dolphin: we should love the one we're with.

char.adam@mts.net twitter.com/charspetpage

In the pet community:

Support Cvets Pets and Manitoba Mutts on April 1 for the April Drools Adoption Fair. Winnipeg Blue Bombers will be at Sprockett's Doggy Day Camp, Suite 7-795 Thomas Ave. Chris Cvetkovic, Joe Lobendahn, Kito Poblah, Chris Kowalczuk, Chris Greaves and Obby Khan will be there to sign autographs and offer pennants (cost is $5). All proceeds will go to Manitoba Mutts.

For further information: go to www.manitobamutts.org

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 20, 2012 D5

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