Jewish World Review March 9, 2005/ 28 Adar I, 5765

Wesley Pruden

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Scouting for votes in the barnyard | There's good news for Democrats, desperate for voters to replace their old reliables in the red states, in some new scientific research in England.

If Hillary Clinton and John Kerry succeed in getting felons registered to vote in the expectation that criminals are a natural Democratic constituency, they should extend their concern to cows. And chickens, pigs, goats and even sheep.

This sounds at first like another cheap sheep joke, but researchers at two prestigious universities say animal emotions are so similar to the emotions of humans that we might have to revise thinking about animal welfare. And then, of course, about voting rights.

"Remarkable cognitive abilities and cultural innovations have been revealed," Professor Christine Nicol of Bristol University told London's Sunday Times. "Our challenge is to teach others that every animal we intend to eat or use is a complex individual, and to adjust our farming culture accordingly."

Cows have a secret emotional life to accompany their very public love lives. Professor Nicol says a cow feels strong emotions such as pain, fear and even anxiety. Maybe even guilt, perhaps when she has a headache and doesn't feel like producing as much milk as Farmer Jones is counting on. But when the hay is particularly sweet and fine, she feels "great happiness."

Here's the good news for Democrats: Cows, says Professor Nicol, can even worry about the future. This may explain why, on days that the newspapers are full of stories about farm subsidies, mad cows and the falling price of grain, a conscientious cow wears a sad-sack expression of worry and concern.

John Webster, a professor of animal husbandry (why hasn't Susan Estrich demanded professorships in animal wifery?) at Bristol U., writes in his book, "Animal Welfare: Limping Towards Eden," that humans should be wary of condescending toward animals just because they have smaller brains.

"People have assumed that intelligence is linked to the ability to suffer and that because animals have smaller brains they suffer less than humans. That is a pathetic piece of logic."

Professor Nicol, in fact, says that even chickens must be treated as "individuals." Tiny brain or not, a chicken may have a good reason, after all, for crossing the road. But cows are the species that these researchers have studied most closely. Anyone who likes real cream in his coffee, or the sensual pleasure of a thick chocolate malted milk, can appreciate this. We shouldn't be surprised that cows are, not to put too fine a point on it, shameless sexpots. (Or sextubs, considering the size of the average bovine beauty.)

Cows form genuine friendships, and a couple of cows who like a good gossip with their cuds will freeze out another cow they don't like, such as an old bossy who appears to be the bull's fave date. Cows, the Bristol researchers found, can even bear grudges for years, just like a dumped human girlfriend. (Or a Democratic voter who can't get over Al Gore or John Kerry.)

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Such cows, if Miss Hillary and Sen. Kerry can contrive a way to extend the vote to the barnyard, will fit nicely with established Democratic constituencies. Cows, says Professor Webster, are often crazed for sex — and a bit of a slut to boot. A cow gets excited when another cow comes into heat, the bull is away on business, and starts trying to mount her. "Cows look calm," he says, "but really they are gay nymphomaniacs."

Not everything in the barnyard is about having a good time, gay or otherwise. Donald Broom, a professor of animal welfare at Cambridge University, says his research has persuaded him that cows can be become excited by solving intellectual challenges. (Larry Summers, please note.) In one study, cows were taught to open a door to get food. Their brain waves were measured on an electroencephalograph, or brain-wave machine.

"Their brain waves showed their excitement," says Professor Broom. "Their heartbeats went up, and some even jumped in the air. We called it their 'Eureka!' moment."

Another Cambridge professor studied sheep. Sheep, says Professor Keith Kendrick, can remember faces and form strong affections for humans, become depressed by long separations from them and greet old human friends enthusiastically after absences of three years. That infamous Playboy cartoon ("Will I see you again?") was not a joke, after all. There's obviously an opening here for sensitive Democrats looking for a new class of victims with the blues.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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