It shouldn't come as a great surprise that human beings are animals. But it's an easy thing to forget, because we're constantly telling ourselves, in one way or another, what special animals we are.
So it's nice to get a reminder from Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, a cardiologist, and Kathryn Bowers, a writer whom I met at the NASW meeting last year, that we do have animal natures.
The New York Times apparently agrees, because it gave the pair two ad-free pages inside the Sunday Review section yesterday for an excerpt from their book, Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us About Health and the Science of Healing, to be published tomorrow.
Natterson-Horowitz (who is "I" in the book, despite the joint authorship), is at UCLA and she consults at the Los Angeles Zoo, where, she says, she began to wonder what diseases animals get. And she found illuminating parallels between human animals and others. "I'd long assumed that wild animals stayed effortlessly lean and healthy," she writes. "But in fact, given the chance, many wild fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals overindulge."
Cancer likewise occurs throughout the animal kingdom, she discovers. "Where cells divide, where DNA replicates, and where growth occurs, there will be cancer. Cancer is as natural a part of the animal kingdom as birth, reproduction and death." That observation felt a little familiar to me, as did a section on parallels between addiction in humans and addiction in other animals.
But one other section I found very illuminating--and original. The authors talk about cutting, a phenomenon often seen in distressed teenage girls, and in many others, in which people deliberately slice themselves to try to create some kind of peace. It's not always associated with suicide, but it's often linked to mental illness of one sort or another. Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers draw parallels with pets who "overgroom" themselves, horses--"flank biters"--that nip at their flesh and draw blood, and human nail biting. It's not unusual to see a cat that has plucked out some of its hair from too much licking, but this is the first time I've seen anyone link that with cutting in humans. It's an interesting observation.
I don't know how many more such examples can be found in the book; I don't have a copy. But if you're intrigued by these, you might want to take a look. And by all means, read the thorough story by Katharine Gammon at Nature Medicine for a very nice examination of the history of the zoobiquity movement, as you might call it, and more about the researchers involved.
If you're intrigued by all of this, you're not alone. As of this morning, the Zoobiquity excerpt was the second-most emailed story at the Times.