A golden moon bear.

Right now I am immersed in yet another book about….wait for it….animals.

Over the past few years (ever since I started writing my own first book about animals, a book featuring my 17-year-old parrot, Pearl), I have realized books about animals are the best self help books out there.

They are also the saddest books. And they are the most uplifting and hopeful books.

Also, I used to think genuine miracles were rare, until I started reading books about animals. (Here, I include both companion animals and wild animals, although the book I’m about to share with you focuses on the latter.)

This book is called “Search for the Golden Moon Bear” by Sy Montgomery. Along with the author, there is a core cast of characters, including scientists, conservationists, politicians, volunteers, activists, and, of course, bears.

The setting is 2002 in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos – places still transitioning from a brutal genocide that had occurred just three decades earlier. For example, here are two sample conversation-starters Montgomery’s pre-trip guidebooks suggested for use by foreigners when encountering the local militia during their travels:

“That’s a very nice gun, sir.”

And (always a classic), “I’d be honored to give you the gift of my truck.”

Yikes! 

Meanwhile, the local people she met, desperate to rebound from near-total poverty, were quite keen to sell anything others would buy – including elephant, rhino, tiger, snake, and of course bear parts.

Yet right alongside the activities of the animal traffickers, Montgomery gives more than equal page time to stories of individuals brave enough to stand in between the hunters and the hunted and fight to give animals a chance to survive, repopulate and even thrive.

One such individual, a man who was nearly single-handedly responsible for taking in and rehabilitating the region’s population of stray dogs and confiscated bears, was involved in a very bad car accident about midway through the book.

It was such a bad accident – a head-on collision on a major expressway – that his driver was killed on impact. The man was left with a crushed skull, one dislocated eyeball, and a temporary case of brain damage that resulted in total amnesia.

Through a succession of events, he ended up in the operating room of the best hospital in the city just 22 minutes after the crash. From that point forward, a stream of friends, friends of friends and near-strangers tag-teamed his recovery to ensure he had the best of everything at each stage of his recovery.

When he returned home to the wildlife preserve he operated in Thailand, the first three people he spoke with each asked him the same question:

What kind of amulet were you wearing?

Apparently amulets are a big deal in Thailand – to the point where no one really believed he was telling the truth when he said he wasn’t wearing an amulet at all.

But then each of those three people stopped, pondered for a moment, and came up with the exact same conclusion:

But of course you’d be all right – because you are taking care of the animals.

Wow. Of course. Of COURSE.

Today’s Takeaway: My intention in retelling this story is NOT to take anything away from the amazing job many people do taking care of other people. Taking care of those who need caring for – whether they happen to be people or animals – is, in my opinion, a life very well spent. Yet there does seem to be something special about choosing to take care of beings whose rights, safety, health and wellbeing are still considered far subordinate to those of people. In this way, animals often seem to be weaker than people, but perhaps that also makes them stronger than us in other lesser-known ways. Maybe their gratitude comes in the form of these types of miracles – a spirit-level and heartfelt THANK YOU for the gift of love and life. What do you think?