A friend of mine works at a wild animal sanctuary. The work is hard and dirty, and the pay non-existent, as she is a volunteer. At first glance you would think she scrapes out stalls and washes animals mostly because she is a Good Samaritan; because she wants to help animals who have seen better days. While this is true, she also works with the animals so she can give them space to share their stories, often sharing ones of her own.
Nash is one of her favorites. He is a cougar who was used by a gang for protection, much like a guard dog. Chewie is a camel, donated because he was to be slaughtered and fed to the wild cats as he had severed rear leg tendons. And RC, her favorite, is a blind horse. RC came from a place that forced her to live in filth, which was the eventual cause of her blindness. My friend listens to their stories, working with them to bring a bit of peace and comfort to their world. And she swears when she look into their eyes she can hear them talking back.
There is no hocus pocus here— there is no run away imagination or desperation for someone to talk to. Sue is a down-to-earth, hard working, funny friend that just happens to listen better than a lot of us. You hear animals too – you just don’t realize it. How many times has your cat looked up at you and meowed, and, without thinking, you ask, “What do you want?” as if you expected an answer? How many times have you gauged what your dog wants by the speed of their wagging tail or the perkiness of their ears? How can you figure out the difference between wagging for food and wagging to go outside and wagging for pets?
Like Pavlov’s Dog (no pun intended), many interactions are learned through repetition, through action and reward. Animals don’t have the capacity to think at the same level as humans; they merely remember what gets them fed or pet and repeat these acts over and over again so that you, in your personification, believe they are thinking and speaking. But regardless of all scientific explanations, there are still plenty who connect with animals on all sorts of levels. Some are upfront and obnoxious about their rapport; others never admit to conversations with anything lower on the food chain than themselves. But there is something about the presence of animals, domesticated or not, that touches us in indescribable ways. The connection is on an energy level that cannot be detected by scientific methods. You have to admit, the moment you look into the eyes of your dog or cat or the lions at the zoo, they look back and you feel something deep and primal.
Oh, we say we listen — to our friends, our spouses, to our bosses and our kids. But do we? How often do we stop and really listen to what they’re saying? How many times does someone start to talk and, before you know it, your mind has slipped forward to what’s for dinner or a song you can’t get out of your head? How many times do we look into each other’s eyes and feel what’s truly there? Experience the unspoken energy? Not as often as we could; not as often as we should. We are too busy, too stressed, too tired, to stop the chatter in our head and listen to what’s being said, both verbally and non-verbally, by those around us. We don’t mean to not listen —we do care about others. We care about how they feel, what they think, what they do. But we have forgotten how to slow our lives down and listen —to feel the cosmic energy being sent our way. There is no place we need to be so quickly and desperately that we need to cut off the current between another who is trying to connect. We don’t have to connect forever — just long enough to make a difference in their lives.
I’m not saying we should try and communicate with every chicken or cow we see, or every butterfly that passes by. But who’s to say there’s not a basic need in all life forms be understood? To be accepted? Even if for a nanosecond? Maybe it’s not a conscious thought; maybe it’s more primal than that. Maybe it’s just instinct. The instinct of comfort, of the instinct of contentment.
In the long run, it really doesn’t matter if communication with animals is real or not. What matters is we need to think of others besides ourselves. We need to slow down and not over-think and over-analyze everything. In their simplicity, animals remind us of who we once were. Of where we came from. We came from a world that was quieter, simpler than the madness we experience these days. And slowing down, communicating with animals, and each other, is worth the time you take.
When my friend nuzzles RC, the blind horse, she may not be looking into his eyes, but she is feeling his energy, his story, his gratitude. He thanks her for taking the time to brush him, feed him, to nuzzle him. She doesn’t care if this exchange can be measured by scientists — all she knows it that she is making the horse feel better, and in the act of listening, feels better herself.
Not too long ago my cat of 18 years passed away. It was a gradual thing, old age and kidney shutdown all part of the cosmic circle. I spent a lot of time talking to her those last days. I told her stories about our younger days, reminded her that I was there, and that we’d always share our energies in the form of memories. I don’t know if I made her passing any easier, but in listening to her breathing, I heard her story, I shared her life.
My life is better for it. Yours will be, too.