Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Soul of the Animals

Many humans like to believe that other animals don't feel emotion. Perhaps that makes it easier for us to kill, maim, injure, torture, use them in lab experiments, or eat them. If you knew the pain that a fish experiences when a hook rips into its mouth, would you still fish? Some would.

There are videos that show adult Elephants mourning, returning to the place where one of their family or herd members died. They rock back and forth in an Elephant funeral ritual. They mourn. They feel emotion.

Here is a story that will sound unbelievable, but I swear to you it is true...

When I lived in Pennsylvania I volunteered at a wildlife rehabilitation center. House there were a variety of animals including Bear Cats, Vultures, Owls, and Hawks. I helped to feed the animals and clean out their cages.  The Bear Cats, a rare mammal from Madagascar, ate chopped vegetables. The other Birds ate small mice or rats, all frozen. Each day I would go into the freezer, grab a frozen white Rat by the tail, and take it into an Owl pen and place it in the food dish.

One day we started noticing an odor. It smelled of something rotten. We couldn't locate the source of the smell. Over the next several days the odor became more intense, due to hot weather.

In the center of the building where the animals were housed was a large six foot square metal box with three foot high sides and an open top. This was used to re-train the predatory birds to capture mice.

The smell was coming from under that box.

The owner started up her fork lift and drove it to the shiny box. Carefully she slid the forks under the box and slowly lifted it. Then, she backed up. I could not believe my eyes.

There, under that box, were hundred of dead white Rats. Bisecting the stacks of dead Rats were linear pathways. It was a Rat cemetery.

She turned off the fork lift and took her place next to me, staring in disbelief at what we were witnessing. Apparently, the resident Rat population (living) were taking the bodies of the their dead white Rat comrades from the pens and placing them under the box. It was their cemetery, the place where they honored their dead. They did not know the white Rats. But they cared for them anyway.

The owner bulldozed the pile of dead Rats out into the woods. I felt sad for the Rats. All of them.

Friday, February 1, 2013


Several times I have gotten ready to turn the water on in the bathtub in order to take a shower, only to stop myself in the nick of time before drowning a poor little ant or spider. Once or twice my hand turned the knob just a millisecond before my eyes spotted an ant desperately trying to climb up the slippery ceramic sides of the tub, and down the drain they went. I felt horrible.

Usually I will place a long piece of toilet paper draped from tub bottom up and over the side, to serve as a "ladder" so any helpless little creature can climb out.

For the past few weeks there has been a particular spider, who I now call Charlotte, that has made several trips to the bottom of the tub.  "On belay!" she cries as she lets her spinnerettes do their thing. Down she goes, an invisible thread connecting her to the silk wisteria that borders the ceiling of my bathroom (hold you tongue!). She finally lands in the bottom of the bath tub. And there she must stay until I rescue her.

"Hello Charlotte, jumping off cliffs again?" I ask, as I tear a small piece of toilet paper for her to crawl onto. Usually it takes a few tries before we figure out each other's moves, and Charlotte will disappear into the fluffy white folds. Up she goes until the elevator reaches the top floor of Wisteria Lane, and she will walk out onto one of the white silk flowers. "Now be careful, Charlotte!" I say. "One of these days I might miss you and you will either drown or starve to death!" She disappears in green leaves.

Charlotte and I are developing a relationship. Every time I go in the bathroom I search for her with my eyes. "Charlotte, how is your day?" I ask her.  "Catch any little gnats?" "Are you warm enough?" I had closed the damper on the heating vent some time before I first met Charlotte, and realized it was mighty cold in there for a little spider. So I opened it so she could be warm again. I know she appreciates it.

I have had several relationships with Spiders in my lifetime. Each one has been special. There is an ease to connecting with them, I am not sure why, given the bad rap they get. Every Spider I have ever known has had an open heart and welcomes a smile instead of a squish.

So next time you see Spider in your house, take a moment and just watch her. Get to know her. You will find your heart warmed by the experience. Seriously.