Living With Animals: Touch

By Hope Bidegainberry on September 7, 2018

Hearing, vision, smell, taste, touch: When we talk about our pets’ senses, we usually focus on the first four, assuming they are superior to our own, but how valid is that? According to the literature, cats and dogs need to be up close to see clearly what we see from a distance, but both see far better than us in poor or dim light. Compared to humans, dogs hearing range is twice as wide; they hear sounds we do not even notice, and they hear them quite distinctly. Cats also have far superior hearing, making out sounds well above the range of humans and even that of dogs. With a far greater number of the cells sensitive to odor, cats’ sense of smell is more than a dozen times stronger than our own. Dogs have even more of those smell cells, but the debate rages on as to which of our pets has the more sensitive schnoz. And as for taste, apparently we win. People have 9,000 tastebuds on their tongues, dogs have 1,700, and cats get by with a mere 473.

But what about touch…? Here, in my opinion, the science fails miserably and we must rely, instead, on that other sense: common sense, or what we know because we know. The literature focuses on how both dogs and cats rely on their sensitive whiskers to feel their way in tight spaces. Using that as the measure of “touch” is like limiting our own sense of touch to our sensitive fingertips. Inadequate. Misleading.

Yes, dogs and cats rely on those whiskers to orient themselves in relationship to what’s around them, but that’s just part of the story. They also rely on touch to communicate. Every cat and dog I know touches and asks to be touched in order to make themselves and others feel good, to connect both physically and metaphorically with those they know. They touch with their whole selves, rolling into our bodies, embracing and hugging even without arms and hands. They tell us they love us by touching us, perhaps the best way I know to celebrate another sense: the sense of joy.

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