Back in May, I got to meet legendary zoo director and animal activist Jack Hanna.
He even signed a cool postcard to me – addressing me by name.
At the time, I was pretty confident we were meeting as equals – two fellow animal lovers who simply choose to cohabitate with different numbers of non-human companions (me, 2; Jack, 200? 350?).
Then I read his biography, “Jungle Jack: My Wild Life.”
He describes how he packed the family’s childhood farm with cows, dogs, rabbits, parrots, goats, chickens, cats, pigs, donkeys (for the record, this is about 8 more species than I prefer…and his list is missing one essential – “tortoise.”)
Then he talks about his first job at age 11, working for a local veterinarian. He shares:
That first summer was for no pay, but that didn’t bother me a bit. Dr. Roberts started me right off cleaning cages. I’m talking crap – cleaning, scraping, and hosing the cages of over forty dogs and cats. Maybe I’m crazy, but I didn’t mind it at all. Doing that kind of work, you really get to know if you like animals. If you can somehow enjoy cleaning out their cages, then you know you genuinely love animals.
It was about at this point in the book – on page 3 – when I discovered I didn’t really love animals nearly as much as I thought I did.
I also discovered I’m okay with that…given what I would apparently have to do to prove otherwise.
And this just made me even more grateful for the Jack Hannas of this world, who enjoy the full variety of animal (and insect! – don’t even get me started on Hanna’s affinity for cockroaches!) species in all their stinky, scary glory.
I have realized I like my animals the way I like my nature – carefully manicured and (preferably) sprayed for mosquitos before I arrive. In other words, I don’t need to know where they go potty – or how much they can produce in one (er) sitting, or how often they go, or what the output looks or smells like.
Just like I don’t want to get down and dirty with each person I meet (or offer them that same option with me), so too I prefer to keep things a little more hands-off with most of my wildlife, all of my insects, and the vast majority of nature itself.
The exceptions, of course, are my parrot, Pearl, and my baby tortoise, Malti.
Cleaning up poop? Not a problem. Scrubbing enclosures? Happy to do it. There is nothing – not one single solitary thing – I wouldn’t do for these two. They are my family, my best friends, my soulmates.
They give me a window into the life and heart of those rare and special beings like Jack Hanna who feel this same indiscriminate, unconditional love for all creatures – so much so that, when asked, they can’t even pick a favorite!
If you asked me which I liked better, my parrot or a cockroach, I would be able to answer very quickly indeed.
But Jack Hanna can’t.
Which is why he is definitely one of my newest mentors – there is a level of unconditional acceptance and love for all parts of all beings on this planet that I have not graduated to as of yet and he apparently was born with.
Beautiful. Mysterious. Worth aspiring to and working towards.
Today’s Takeaway: How do you feel about animals, insects, and nature in general? Do you like it behind glass, neatly contained, or everywhere and in your house with you? Do you have a preference for certain species – if so, do you know why?