Author & Anthropologist
Humans tend to view animals as a source of entertainment, but anthropologist Laurel Braitman is more concerned with entertaining them. That's why she started putting on music concerts for everything from wolves to miniature donkeys. The only rules: no people, and no food bribes for attention. Braitman gives her Brief But Spectacular take on non-human entertainment and animal madness.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Now the latest edition in our Brief But Spectacular series.
Tonight, Laurel Braitman on the emotional depths of a howl. A writer-in-residence at Stanford Medical School, Braitman's book "Animal Madness" explores mental illness in all creatures.
And her latest project discovers how music can be good for even the wildest souls.
LAUREL BRAITMAN, Author & Anthropologist: I think communicating with other animals is exactly like communicating with other human animals.
The way to woo a dolphin is usually just to be like super sexy and really outgoing. Dogs too, you know, they will seem to be the most curious and most attracted to the person that's least interested in them.
Humans and animals can have really similar behavior and even emotional experiences. Animals can have almost all of the same kinds of mental illnesses or at least similar to those in people, so, everything from post-traumatic stress disorder to mood disorders like depression.
Lots of other creatures have also wound up on these drugs, Zoloft, Lexapro, all kinds of anti-anxiety, antidepressants, even antipsychotic drugs. And a few great apes even in the United States even have their own psychiatrists.
We think about them as entertainment, like going to the zoo and watching the elephants. And one thing that makes me sad is that we don't usually think about what entertains them.
One of my favorite emotional experiences is to listen to music. I wanted to put on concerts for other animals, because I had a feeling that there was a lot that we could learn by watching other animals listen and respond to music.
The first music for animal show I did was actually for a very lonely miniature donkey. He hated it. He ran away. He ate thistles and he only came back when we started playing bluegrass standards and Nina Simone.
One of the most recent concerts was for wolves at Wolf Haven sanctuary in Southern Washington. And that one was awesome, because these wolves, most of them, they spent more than a decade on a 10-foot chain. They were part of a roadside attraction in Alaska.
I thought these wolves deserved a concert. So I worked with the band Black Prairie. My collaborator Aubree Bernier-Clarke made a really beautiful film of it. They came from very far away to as close as they possibly could be to see the band.
And then, at the end, the band howled, and the wolves responded.
LAUREL BRAITMAN: I'm just fascinated by all this stuff. I think it makes us better people to realize that we're animals just like everyone else.
By looking into their eyes and seeing what they're doing, we really begin to understand ourselves.
My name is Dr. Laurel Braitman, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on animal madness.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Maybe they will end all their concerts like that, with a howl?
JUDY WOODRUFF: I was about to say, they can't applaud, but they can howl.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Yes.
You can find more of our Brief But Spectacular videos online at pbs.org/newshour/brief.