A turtle fancier wonders:
About a week ago, as I went to feed my 10-year-old pet turtle Grover a bunch of dried turtle pellets, I looked deep into his eyes and wondered: “Does he even know who I am?” “Does he trust me?” Or even, dare I ask, “Does he love me?”
Obviously he gave me no indication of his affection, or lack thereof: He just chomped on those pellets without any regard for my feelings whatsoever. It was weird to think that I’ve had my reptilian friend for more than a decade now, and yet, I have no idea whatsoever how he views me.
Van Hooker decided to ask animal behaviorists and came up with a Top Ten list, dogs at No. 1, of course. He worries:
13. Turtles: Sadly, my love for Grover is probably completely unrequited. With his simple reptilian brain and lack of terribly interesting behaviors, he probably doesn’t have the capacity to love me. Brian VanHooker, “Ranking Every Kind of Pet by How Capable It Is of Loving You” at MEL Magazine
And he gets the answer you might expect to his question here.
Here’s a rule of thumb: The question isn’t what we understand but what the animal understands.
An animal can love you if there is a similar animal relationship you can replace. If you can be pack leader, boss stallion, Big Mommy Kitty (who does everything for her kittens), mate-for-life (lacking only feathers!), then the animal who needs or seeks that type of relationship can love you. If no love relationships exist for that animal in nature, well then you would be expecting the animal to independently invent one.
Why not ask him to do your taxes while you are at it?
When we “tame” animals, we successfully insert ourselves into a relationship that the animal would understand in nature. Otherwise, he has no basis for accepting us.
See also: Furry, feathery, and finny animals speak their minds
Does intelligence depend on a specific type of brain?
Animal minds: In search of the minimal self