Jane Goodall Reflects On How A Childhood Dog Changed The Way She Saw Animals

"Rusty, I’ve never known a dog like him," the famed primatologist said, remembering her beloved canine companion.

Iconic primatologist Jane Goodall changed how the world sees chimpanzees ― but one of her biggest influences was a dog.

The trailblazing scientist’s years of research, beginning in 1960 in Tanzania, won her international acclaim and played a pivotal role in the world’s understanding of animal intelligence.

But Goodall, now 89, told The New York Times in an interview published Wednesday that she remembered a point in her career when the prevailing scientific establishment told her she had “done everything wrong.”

She recalled being told, “Chimps shouldn’t be named, they should be numbered. You can’t talk about their personalities. You can’t talk about them having brains capable of solving problems. And you certainly can’t talk about them having emotions.”

It was the memory of her childhood dog, Rusty, that gave her the conviction her critics were wrong.

“My dog Rusty, when I was a child, taught me that was absolute piffle,” she said. “Balderdash. Rubbish.”

Jane Goodall in 2022.
Jane Goodall in 2022.
Tommy Martino/Associated Press

Rusty was a neighborhood dog who belonged to a nearby hotel, but he would come over to her family’s home and spent most of his time with them.

It was like the canine had been “sent” to her by a higher power, she said, reminiscing, “Rusty, I’ve never known a dog like him.”

However, she admitted, “any dog” likely would have made a similar impression.

“We all know that [dogs] can be happy, sad, fearful and that they’re highly intelligent,” she said.

Goodall has spoken about Rusty in the past, and her latest remarks echo similar comments she’s made about what people can learn from their relationships with the animals in their lives.

“You cannot share your life in a meaningful way with a dog, a cat, a rabbit, a rat, a bird, a horse, a pig, I don’t care, and not know that they have emotions similar to ours and that they have minds that can sometimes solve problems,” she told Vox in a 2021 interview.

And while she’s best known for her work with chimpanzees, the primatologist hasn’t been shy about revealing her true favorite animal.

“My favorite animal, altogether, is a dog,” she said in a 2015 video published by the Jane Goodall Institute. “Because dogs have taught me so much, and are so faithful and give unconditional love, and I don’t like to think of a world without dogs.”

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