Last Sunday, a video appeared that sent the Internet into a tizzy. It was of a dog burying a puppy in the dirt, seemingly out of compassion. It quickly went viral, and countless sites scrambled to cobble together posts about it, calling it “heart-wrenching,” “heartwarming,” and “an astounding act of mourning” (Huffington Post).
For those who haven’t seen it, the video shows a dog coming across a dead puppy in a ditch, somewhere in the Middle East. The dog sniffs the motionless pup, then begins to shovel dirt on the puppy with his snout, meticulously moving around the pup make the job well and complete. Once the pup is buried, the dog moves on.
“If you didn’t believe animals have the capability to grieve like people do, you might now change your mind.” wrote Huffpo.
You can watch it on YouTube.
“Bless that dog,” wrote Carolbehm54 in the comments.
“So sad. Breaks my heart,” wrote Willr1976.
It was an example of how the a video brings people together, and it opened people’s eyes to how great and mysterious our animal companions are. Who knew they could mourn like that?
And then, the darkness fell. New York Magazine was the first to bring down the darkness.
What if, the story wonders, the dog was simply burying the puppy because the puppy is food? Like how a dog buries a bone?
“I suspect it was more likely just caching dead meat, rather than a soulful response to the demise of a puppy that it wanted to bury,” Peter Borchelt, a New York animal-behavior consultant, told the site.
Thanks a bunch, New York Magazine.
Borchelt goes on, really digging into his macabre thesis, testing it out, throwing it against the wall and seeing what sticks.
“I wouldn’t want to go so far as to say that the dog is saving the puppy to eat for later, because that might not be the issue — it might not have the need. But it’s still a piece of this instinctive thing,” he said. “Here’s meat, here’s a bone — I’ll bury it.”
And we’re the suckers for not immediately getting that the dog is burying the puppy because the dog wants to eat it later.
“We as humans look at that and say, ‘Oh my God, this dog is burying this animal like we bury people.’ Except they’re two entirely different behavior systems.”
And now, Borchelt’s thesis has become the story. Those same sites who reported on the “heartwarming” act are now calling it the cold method of a ruthless scavenger. “Dog that buried dead puppy might have just done it for food,” announces the Huffington Post. “Sorry, but that dog burying a puppy was probably planning to eat it,” msnNOW soberly informs us.
Sigh. Couldn’t they have left well enough alone?
What do you think? Is the dog buring the puppy out of compassion or hunger? Keep in mind that Borchelt is an animal-behavior consultant who has worked with the Museum of Natural History and was formerly the director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at the Animal Medical Center.
And yet, what the hell does he know?