I didn’t know I had the capacity to love animals until I gave birth to an animal lover. Prior to that (I’m ashamed to say) I found some animals pretty horrendous and steered clear of them, especially if they shed and pooped anywhere close to me. But all that changed, when my second daughter was born and started walking, talking and making her preferences known.
We noticed whenever we went to the zoo she spent an awful lot of time cooing to the animals inside their cages. It didn’t matter whether they were cavorting monkeys, slithering reptiles or roaring lions – they all got her fearless and loving attention. At age 3 we gave her two lovebirds as a Christmas present, sealing our acceptance of her love for animals. A year later, she started school and came home crying, about how much she loved animals more than the mean humans she had met at school. A warning bell sounded distantly in my mind but I disregarded it.
She grew out of her dislike for humans (whew!) but her love for animals grew and grew. When it came to us, she had an unspoken – and many a time spoken – ultimatum, ‘Love me, love the animals I bring home.’ And bring home she did. It continued right up to the time she finished high school and college.
The love birds had long since died with a proper burial and mourning period. But they were followed by others – Buddy the tortoise, Pat the abused lab who was adopted for a short time, countless cats that hung around the compound, more birds, goldfish, even worms. Every one of them was named according to their personalities (until then I had no idea worms had personalities.)
Then when she was seven years old, we got Caesar our yellow lab and our whole life changed. He was just two months when we brought him home – a cuddly beige ball with beautiful trusting eyes and a tail that wagged non-stop. For the next 12 years of his life they grew up together, inseparable friends. My older daughter joined in the close-knit love circle and he became their ‘brother.’ As he grew in size and strength they became very proud of their four-legged brother’s abilities to protect them. The rest of us knew he was just a lamb in disguise.
However, our hope that with the arrival of Caesar, the other animals would stop coming home was short-lived. If anything, the ‘save the animals’ committee grew even more strong and the strays kept coming and coming.
There were mangy looking cats that were picked up from the streets and puppies that were left on the roadside to die, birds that had fallen off trees and broken their wings, squirrels found in gutters and nursed back to health, the list was endless but my patience was not. The squirrels in particular tested my endurance to the limit. They hid all day in my daughter’s room and as if retaliating to my animosity chewed the bedroom furniture with a vengeance. I rejoiced when they recovered and she freed them up a tree in her grandmother’s garden.
By now, thanks to the walking talking animal planet in my house, my knowledge about animals had increased a hundred fold and I started to see them in a more generous (compassionate?) light. There was also some philosophical insight passed down from the said source that explained -very logically -about how animals were a part of creation and had as much right to be in this world as humans.
I’m now a firm advocate against animal abuse. I’ve stopped going to circuses and don’t go on elephant rides when I travel. I also feel terribly guilty for the times I posed in Thailand with tiger cubs and baby crocs (who were so obviously drugged) just to have a good picture on my wall. I now only enjoy seeing animals in their natural habitats like nature reserves and wildlife parks. That’s where they belong; not in circuses to perform tricks to amuse us. Just as elephants do not belong in temple festivals – with heavy chains on their legs and temple bells ringing incessantly in their ears, loud enough to drive them crazy.
The change in my perspective was not sudden. It grew with the experiences I had over the years with animal lovers and animals. Somewhere along the way, I stopped thinking of myself as a superior being and got to know some of the creatures around me. In the process, I have learnt much from them – especially about life and death, about loving unconditionally, about acceptance and trust and giving faithfully without reservation.
Caesar taught me all of this too and a lot more. As dogs invariably do, he made his way into my heart and stayed there permanently, even after he left us to cross the rainbow bridge a few months ago.
Long story short, I’m a different person now. I’ve looked into the eyes of various creatures and seen the love there, sensed the fear in their beating hearts, stroked their silky soft fur and felt the weight of a trusting head in my lap. I’m more of a HUMAN now than ever before.