Promoting understanding
and compassion for animals



Book excerpt no 10

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Animals as teachers…

My philosophy on life is pretty simple.

I believe that we are here to learn and to love.

 What we learn and how we learn it, will vary from person to person but I think it is our duty to advance ourselves intellectually, spiritually and emotionally throughout the course of our lives. To leave this earth a wiser soul than when we entered it.

Learning can occur through traditional teaching methods such as instruction, research and analysis. It can also occur experientially and be reinforced through reflection.

Teachers can take a formal role such as an instructor, mentor or coach. They can also play an informal role, simply being a friend or acquaintance who helps us realise important lessons in our lives.

While I have been fortunate enough in my life to have learnt from some wonderful human teachers I have also had the opportunity to learn from some amazing animals. Time and time again I have marvelled at the inspirational qualities of these animal teachers. I have admired their bravery, friendship and openness as well as their capacity for unconditional love, acceptance and forgiveness. They have also helped to guide my actions and influence my decisions.
The following passage highlights how contact with one special individual, completely redirected my life.

If I look back at my life at this point in time, I can only say that it has been unusual. Some people take a detour on their path, I undertook an expedition. In fact, I went so far off track that you could have called me irretrievably lost, but I did survive and I did find my way home.

Up until the age of twelve, I was a typical animal lover. I drew animals, played with them and cared for them. Any thought of cruelty repulsed me and I was committed to a dream of creating an animal sanctuary.

But at twelve, I started high school. It was not an ordinary high school but an agricultural high school. My parents sent me there because they thought that it would compliment my animal loving tendencies. Sadly it completely overruled them.

I was expected to look after animals and then accept that they would be sent for slaughter. I had to witness the killing of chickens, turkeys and ducks and was thoroughly indoctrinated into the world of animal husbandry. This brainwashing process obviously worked because after I left school I enrolled in an agricultural degree, majoring in animal production.

In my second year I spent six months gaining practical experience working on two beef cattle studs. It was on the second stud and at nineteen years of age that I finally awoke to what I had become and somehow found my way back to my real purpose.

You see one day, some of the farmhands decided to go kangaroo shooting and on the spur of the moment, I asked them to bring me any joeys that they might find in the pouches of the kangaroos they shot. Sure enough that afternoon, I was presented with a seven month old infant, an orphan whose mother had been shot from beneath her. This little mite I named Tara, and she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

She was old beyond her years and she studied me with the maturity of a wise elder before accepting me. She became my world for a few short weeks – sleeping in her makeshift pouch (an old jumper tied off at the bottom) next to me in my bed – all the time holding one of my fingers in her tiny little paws. When she was out of her pouch she clutched my legs and followed me everywhere.

Tara awoke a part of me that had been sleeping for a long time. She helped me to reconnect with my nurturing side – my compassionate self. To realise that all life is precious and that nothing can be judged. This was a rather astounding accomplishment as I had been heavily involved in the agricultural industry for nearly seven years. You could say that my “desensitisation” was almost complete.

After a few short weeks the farmer that I was working for decided that I was a failure. An agricultural student raising a baby kangaroo was preposterous – so he delivered an ultimatum. Either get rid of the kangaroo or he would kill it. Luckily they had some friends staying that weekend and they had to drive past my sister’s place to go home. They agreed to take Tara there and for a while I thought we were safe. My sister was devoted to Tara and loved her as much as I did but she died after a few days. Kangaroos like many other creatures have bacteria in their stomachs which help them to digest the large amounts of cellulose that they ingest. But when they are stressed, these bacteria multiply to an alarming degree and can eventually kill them. Tara had suffered two massive shocks in her life and she simply couldn’t take it.

When Helen told me that Tara had died, I immediately sat down and wrote the following poem and it was not until I finished those last few lines that I realised the message that she had brought me.


Now that she’s gone,
I can’t dream, love or touch her.
I think of her as those clouds that I love,
A beautiful vision that faded.
Beauty that not only lay in the physical sense
but something so haunting it filled me with awe.
And now as my heart softly aches
and my eyes slightly blur.
I feel anger and confusion
at why a gift so precious
has been taken away.
Maybe she was just to bring me back
from what I have become, to my own real desire.
I have realised it now and from her I have life.

 Tara gave me my life back. From that moment on, I abandoned all of my previous plans of stud management, swapped my major to conservation and once again became committed to animal welfare.

 I believe that when we open our lives to the influence of animals like Tara, we are opening it to the purest form of guidance. This is because there can be no confusion about the message they bring us. This may seem incongruous as animals do not speak to us verbally. In fact many people would say that because of this, there is far more room for misinterpretation. But I believe the messages that animals communicate to us reach us on a subconscious level, only becoming conscious after much reflection. They are pure because there are unadulterated by the opinions of others.

Whether animals are conscious of the messages they bring us or just spiritual vehicles, is to a degree, irrelevant.

I personally believe that they are conscious of their role and undertake the task with dedication and sincerity and they are willing to leave, when their purpose has been fulfilled.

I hate to think how my life would have turned out if I had not been open to the influence of animals. I cannot imagine the opportunities that I would have missed and the path that I would now be following.

Animals as friends…

It is a sad fact that even with today’s unparalleled levels of communication there is loneliness. Despite our mobile phones, our email, our faxes, our messaging and chat rooms, many people still feel ultimately alone and depressed.

In the 1950’s approximately 10% of households consisted of only one individual. Today the figure is closer to 25% and sociologists predict that within twenty years this number could rise to 33%.

Although the figures for divorce show that the rate of relationship failure is rising, I don’t really think this is an accurate reflection. In the past people stayed together because they had to, but it did not mean that there was any love in the union. Many marriages have simply been a loveless form of bondage.

However attitudes today are changing dramatically. People are marrying later in life or refraining from marriage altogether. When they do marry, they often stay together for a short period of time, divorcing even before they have had children. And more and more people are making a conscious decision not to have children at all.

If you contrast this with the baby boomer generation where families of four, five and even six kids were the norm, it becomes apparent that our modern society is gradually separating itself from the family unit. People have different priorities, different expectations and different standards than they did thirty or forty years ago. But with this increased independence comes a potential downside. More and more people are beginning to experience isolation and loneliness to such a degree that it interferes with the quality of their life.

Consequently many people rely on animals to fill the large void that is present in their lives. Animals tell us that we are OK and that no matter how many mistakes we make, they will stand by us. They don’t care about our credit rating or the car we drive or our knowledge of contemporary art. They are grateful for the small things we do for them and they repay their gratitude the only way they can – through love. They will not leave us when times get tough and they won’t turn their back on us if we are wrong.

Just like a human friend, an animal friend provides you with a sense of self worth and an identity. They can also be great company and a wonderful source of interest. For some people their animal friend is the most important thing in their world, their only reason for living.

For these people… indeed for all of us who have ever fallen completely and utterly in love with a companion animal, the pain of letting go is unbearable.

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