Since I was little, I have often felt closer to animals than to others of my own species. This month, in honor of the ninth anniversary of my blog here on Psych Central, I have decided to spend the month featuring some of my first-ever mentors and teachers with a mini-series called “Animals Are Just Like Us! I hope you enjoy it. 🙂
About eight years ago, a book came out that knocked me on my, um, softer side. The title of the book was “Unlikely Friendships.”
The author, previously a longtime writer for none other than National Geographic, chronicled 47 stories of interspecies friendships which made me question yet again why it is so hard for our own species to get along.
I mean, if they can do it….
Here again, I discovered inspiration and mentoring for my own life and relationships by witnessing how sometimes all it takes to make a new friend is summoning the courage to open up and give another being a chance.
A gorilla and a kitten. A bird and a cat. A tortoise and a hippo. A leopard and a calf.
Who would’ve thought?
And yet the internet abounds with similar sightings – bears and lions, cats and lemurs, dachshunds and ducklings.
With literally zillions of views to their credit, these micro-documentaries each reliably capture the universal interspecies truth about friendship – it is always possible if we are willing to try.
My own extended family to date includes five different species: a cockatiel, a redfoot tortoise, a 3-toed box turtle, a standard wire-haired dachshund and, of course, the resident homo sapiens, who seems to chronically reside right at the bottom of the household pecking order.
But I don’t mind. Far from it. In fact, my low position on the flock totem pole gives me the unique vantage point to observe all the ways in which our respective members mobilize to cope and co-exist, even when we are jealous, even when we don’t understand, even when we really don’t want to.
There is a particularly noticeable bond that has developed between our dachshund, Flash Gordon, and his small redfooted tortoise sister, Malti.
Although perhaps their unfolding friendship isn’t so unlikely – after all, they do share some important friendship-worthy things in common.
For instance, they both love to wander around on the lawn. They both like to eat yucky things they find there that they aren’t supposed to eat.
They both enjoy resting, napping and begging for food. They are both very independent and strong-willed.
Perhaps most importantly, they are both very cute.
Another unlikely friendship I have witnessed is my own unfolding connection with our flock’s resident rescued 3-toed box turtle, Bruce.
Bruce came to us at a particularly tumultuous time in our family’s history. Malti, who at the time was only one year old, had just escaped. She stayed gone for six miserable days. As my mom and I whacked through overgrown fields and peered under bushes, panhandled “missing tortoise” signs to strangers and tacked up those same signs all over the neighborhood, I began to receive calls about turtle sightings.
Not once but twice, the call was about a small olive-shelled turtle who kept turning up in the strangest of places. The second time, the couple who found him literally drove him to my door and handed him right to me. At that point, I agreed to take him in and figure things out from there. Less than an hour later, I found Malti hiding under a bush just two blocks from our house!
Coincidence? Divine appointment? A bit of both? Was Bruce meant to join us? From that moment and to this day, I believe he was.
And yet he was SO scared of people. After all, our species hadn’t served him so well up until that time in his life.
It has taken Bruce three years to begin to trust me, to the point where he now permits me to come close, photograph him, take (adorably cute) videos of him, even pick him up if the situation absolutely necessitates it.
Slowly, surely, he has decided I am a friend. I couldn’t be more grateful….or amazed. Bruce has made an obvious choice to let me befriend him, and a very brave one at that.
Perhaps the most unlikely – or at least unexpected – friendship I have seen within our little flock is the developing connection between Pearl and Malti. To say Malti was a bit of a surprise to Pearl, who at the time was 15 and quite happily accustomed to being an “only bird,” would be putting it mildly.
During our sessions with Marta, our wonderful animal communicator, Pearl would say things like “I understand my mommy loves the shells but I don’t understand why. They are slimy and stupid.” Malti, in turn, would comment repeatedly on how Pearl is “odd and loud.”
So when they started getting to know one another, often during our shared outdoor lawn time, I expected snaps and shrieks, not…..singing.
Malti has gotten into the habit of walking right up to Pearl in his little outdoor cage. While she stands there eyeing him with great curiosity, he runs back and forth and sings to her. They really need a “cuteness overload” warning label.
One of the neatest interspecies friendships I’ve seen yet is the one that has formed between my now 20-year-old cockatiel, Pearl, and my parents.
Pearl adores both of my parents and works them for all he’s worth.
He looks to my mom for victuals, casually dining on freshly baked loaves of bread, dishes of pasta, eggs, even whole pies she has set aside to cool. He also relies on her to give him all the off-limits shiny toys when his own mommy (me) isn’t looking.
Pearl and my dad bonded before Pearl even left the Petsmart where I rescued him.
To this day, the moment Pearl sees my dad, he starts flapping and shrieking and won’t stop until he is perched up high on my six-foot-tall dad’s broad shoulders.
They also have a shared love of music – Dad will sit patiently for hours at a time, singing and playing his guitar, while Pearl shrieks out a rousing lead.
So perhaps such unlikely friendships aren’t so unlikely in the end.
Do you have any stories about so-called unlikely friendships, whether between two humans who have chosen to overlook surface differences to become friends, between non-human beings of different species or between humans and animals who have made the brave choice to trust each other for mutual connection and care?
We are all in this – this thing we call life – together. Sometimes, our non-human friends have more to teach us about being “all in” than we could ever have imagined.
With great respect & love,