More than one way to tame an animal

A fascinating phenomenon was brought to my attention. Russian experimenter Belyaev
is a breeder who worked over time to select the tamest foxes among the new ones that were born. By the end of the tenth generation the foxes became more dog-like: In addition to their docile behavior they had softer paws, floppy ears, flatter faces, a curly tail and they barked like a dog. What was most amazing, that they didn’t expect to happen was that even their fur changed color, and now had splotches of white in it.

Belyaev discovered that the tame foxes had less adrenaline than the wild variety. This explained the tameness but it still didn’t explain how taming could change the physical features. We don’t understand why, but it’s clear that hormones impact on physical appearance – which is truly fascinating.

As impressive as this is, a selective breeding process is not the same as an actual taming process. Considering the prophecy of messianic times that says: The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard lie down with the kid, the calf, the beast of prey and the fatling together with a little boy to herd them. (Isaiah 11:6) I wondered whether anyone had tried to tame wolves.

Research has shown that wolves are very social by nature. The wolf’s strongest personality trait is its capacity for making emotional attachments. In addition to this they have an aversion to fighting. Under certain circumstances a wolf can be aggressive, such as when harassing prey, meeting strange wolves, and when protecting the den or pups from other predators. They have a variety of traits and personalities and a variety of adaptive behaviors to their environment. Furthermore amazing data exists on the villagers of Nadbiarezha playing with wolves. So wolves apparently have the potential for peacefulness.

Still, if all of the wild animals will in the future become peaceful, by means of what kind of process will this come about? Will humans tame them all? Could there be factors that increase viciousness or peacefulness in animals?

I’d like to relate to this question from a Biblical as well as an ontological perspective.

We read in the book of Genesis (6:12) When God saw how corrupt the earth was, for all flesh had corrupted its ways on earth… The continuation is the story of the flood, during which God saved Noah and two of each species of animal.

The classic commentator, Rashi explains that not only people but even animals had become thoroughly corrupt. Not only was their behavior corrupt but their intrinsic nature became corrupt (says commentator Meshech Chochmah). Humans had a bad influence on animals. Inside Noah’s ark they had a chance to correct things. (See for a fuller analysis.). In other words human beings can have either a positive or negative effect on animals.

For an ontological proof consider the following story related in the book Holy Brother. (p. 107) A dog named Ginger was gentle with the females in the family but whenever she saw a man she became astoundingly vicious, growling and getting ready to attack. Even the man of the house was never able to go near their dog. The one and only time Ginger deviated from this behavior was when the renowned Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach came for a two day visit. Ginger bounded over to him, tail wagging and emitting whimpers of delight. The only explanation she could find was that the dog sensed something very singular in this man and responded to it immediately.

If an animal can respond to a person in this way, in the long term people can impact on animals very nature. The implications of this are immense. This means that there is no need for selective breeding, nor for taming. When humans will behave fully and authentically human (i.e. moral) animals will by nature become peaceful. Awesome responsibility, don’t you think?

Batya Yaniger

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