“Getting Emotional About Animals” and Wondering Why

“Getting Emotional About Animals” and Wondering Why

Getting Emotional about Animals and Understanding Why


A picture of an emotional gorilla mother holding her young child amongst her green environment set the tone of the seminar held on February 11 on the relationship between humans and animals. 


Dr. Netzine Steklis and her husband Dr. Dieter Steklis presented to the University of Redlands an informational seminar about the connections humans create with animals and why that happens. They went into detail explaining some possible evolutionary reasons including the human love of nature, called “biophilia,” and how humans hunted prehistorically with wolves.


Dr. Netzine Steklis is an assistant professor of practice in the School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences at the University of Arizona. She expressed her growing interest in the field of animal and human interaction. She also explained her realization of the need for well controlled research studies, as a lot of answers for human and animal psychology remain unanswered. This presentation explored one of these questions.


Along with Netzine was Dr. Dieter Steklis. Both are founders of the Human Animal Interaction Research Initiative at the University of Arizona and they aim to “train undergraduate and graduate students to evaluate reported claims in this area by engaging them in all stages of research,” Dr. Dieter Steklis said. 


The two touched on the connections people have with animals and how it can lead to attachments. These attachments can positively affect not only a person but the animal as well. Haven’t you ever felt comfort and joy from cuddling your dog? They explained that the mutual feelings between the animal and human is what creates the loving bond. Because the animal reacts positively to you in the same way, a sort of friendship becomes possible.


They went further to say that connections with animals can even change interactions. Netzine explained that she personally was able to create a bond between her and gorillas through their time spent getting to know a family of them in Uganda for research purposes. One day, one of her new gorilla friends was trying to take her lunch. They pointed out that if not for the relationship her and the gorilla formed beforehand, the gorilla may have (and could have) acted in a harmful way rather than a playful way. They gently push each other and even communicate through sounds and actions. 


Because of the prehistoric bond made by Homo sapiens with wolves, it’s natural for humans to be able to develop bonds. “Wolf-dogs,” wolves at the beginning of their domestication, made by Homo sapiens through breeding, allowed for humans to become apex predators. This made Homo sapiens hyper-social and hyper-moral, as some are today. Because of the collaborative hunting and bond shared with these animals, humans perhaps became more morally conscious of how we treat dogs and pets alike. Each person has different levels of emotion for animals, and this can be caused by environmental factors such as a person’s exposure and involvement to animals throughout their life.


There is still a lot to be done to study how certain species of animals react to people. Through more research, perhaps one day we may truly understand the human and animal relationship. The two ended their discussion by promoting students to watch Gorillas in the Mist to learn more about human-animal connections.