TV documentary producer Olmert examines an important hormonal element in the health-giving ties of affection between humans and animals.
“Long before animals were practical, they were fascinating,” she writes. “Long before we wanted to eat them or ride them, we wanted to paint them and touch them.” It’s our natural sense of biophilia—the biological urge to connect, our ancient attraction to other creatures. A raft of contemporary scientific inquiries has identified the hormone oxytocin as a prime mover in the strong feelings of attraction, recognition and commitment between mammals, and it’s also an essential genetic ingredient bonding parent with child. What is oxytocin’s gift? It makes us feel good by relaxing both our physiological and psychological climates; it calms and quiets as it heightens our receptivity and awareness. Olmert has a lively voice, but she’s unarguably sensible as she tracks the known effects of oxytocin release. It happens when we earnestly watch an animal go about its daily routine and the living world reveals itself. Making successful physical contact increases well-being on both sides, as the animal releases oxytocin as well. Olmert explores a variety of engagements, from paralanguages (grunts, coos, growls) to the seat-bone communication between horse and rider. She only rarely takes flights into fancy, as when she speaks of the “vague, mutual sense of recognition” that flowed between man and wolf some 400,000 years ago. She also offers some intriguing digressions, such as the role oxytocin could potentially play in understanding aspects of autism and attention-deficit disorder.
A warm exploration of the bond that might just keep humans sane “until our own species can settle down again and act civilized.”