Animal Madness - How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, Gorillas on Drugs, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves

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Charles Darwin conjured his evolutionary ideas by looking at physical differences in Galapagos finches and fancy pigeons (among other species). Alfred Russell Wallace developed similar theories while investigating the geographic distribution of a range of creatures in the Amazon Basin and the Malay Archipelago. Laurel Braitman got her lessons closer to home, learning about evolution by watching her dog. Oliver was a stunningly beautiful and charming Bernese mountain dog. But he was also insane and much to Braitman's horror, he became her guide to the complexities of the disturbed canine mind. For one thing, he was terrified of thunderstorms. But worse than that-and far more confounding-Oliver snapped at flies that only he could see, ate Ziploc bags (including the contents), towels, and cartons of eggs. He suffered such debilitating separation anxiety, was prone to eruptions of aggression, compulsively licked his front paws until they were bare and oozy, and may even have attempted suicide.
Though her experience with Oliver was heartbreaking, his emotional extremes, mental disturbances, and responses to drugs like Valium and Prozac, forced her to acknowledge a form of evolutionary continuity between humans and animals that, as a college biology major and a PhD graduate from MIT, she had never been taught in school. Nonhuman animals lose their minds. And when they do, they do it a lot like us.
Over the past three years Braitman has traveled all over the world in search of disturbed animals and the people who care for them. She also spent months in the archives of the nation's oldest natural history museums and zoos reading letters, journals, field notes, and books by famed field biologists, naturalists, curators and zookeepers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In Animal Madness she includes the stories of some of the first creatures to come to the United States and very publicly lose their minds-such as Johnny Gorilla, a baby gorilla captured in Gabon and sold to a family that raised him like a human chi
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