What Lessons have Animals Taught You About Life?

I am a firm believer that animals can teach you some of the most valuable lessons in life. I try to learn from them every day. My dogs show me everyday how to live in the moment and enjoy life. I am posting below photos a few important teachers I have had the privilege of meeting. Even if we only met for a brief moment, or if I knew them for a lifetime, I am ever grateful for what these special creatures have taught me.

I would love for you to share some of the important lessons you have learned from an animal or animals. Please comment below.

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esther and me

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Melissa with a deer

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Melissa with a dolphin in Mexico

my familiar

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Whether or Not the Cat’s Away, The Gerbil Will Play

When I was about twelve years old I had several pets.  My mother luckily allowed me to have almost any animals that I wanted and there was usually a menagerie of sorts around the house.

I had pet hamsters before, but for some reason I decided that a gerbil may be more fun and I asked my mom if I could have one.  She agreed.  My mom let me pick out a gerbil and I picked out a gorgeous shiny black male gerbil who had a white stripe down the front of his face and chest.   We brought him home and he lived in a plastic habitat about the size of a ten gallon aquarium.  His habitat was custom made for hamsters and gerbils and it had a few tunnels that led him to other small attachment rooms from which he could view his domain.  I thought the habitat was really cool and looked really fun.  I envisioned all the fun I could have if I were a gerbil in the habitat, climbing through tunnels and going to different areas of my house.  However, the gerbil didn’t seem to appreciate his fancy digs and he spent his time scratching frantically from within a small “turret” attachment attempting to dig his way out of the cage.  In my mind this was very funny because it seemed to me that even though he had the fanciest home I could possibly imagine, all he wanted to do was get out of it.  I wanted to name him “Stupid.”  My mom firmly forbid me to name him “Stupid,” and instead I named the black furry creature with a white stripe down his face and chest “Zorro.”

This was my gerbil "Pipsqueak" and me as a kid.  I don't actually have a photo of Zorro, so Pipsqueak will have to suffice as a "stand in"

This was my gerbil “Pipsqueak” and me as a kid. I don’t actually have a photo of Zorro, so Pipsqueak will have to suffice as a “stand in”

This is me with my hamster "Fluffy Chumpster"  Fluffy Chumpster was pregnant when I got her from the petstore (surprise!) and he had several babies which were fun and a bunch of my friends in grade school adopted them.

This is me with my hamster “Fluffy Chumpster” Fluffy Chumpster was pregnant when I got her from the petstore (surprise!) and he had several babies which were fun and a bunch of my friends in grade school adopted them.

I also had a cat named Muff who was absolutely fascinated with Zorro.  Muff would sit next to Zorro’s cage staring with wide eyes, positioning his face about one inch from where Zorro stood scratching and attempting to escape.  Muff’s tail would twitch with excitement as he stared at Zorro.  Again, I thought this was funny.  I also thought it gave me some credibility for my idea to name the gerbil “Stupid,” because he didn’t seem to understand the fact that where he was frantically trying to escape to was directly into the clutches of a cat, but again my mom nixed the “Stupid” idea, and I supposed it really was too mean of a name for an animal that I liked anyway.

Zorro was a cute little guy and I really did like him.  He wasn’t very playful and didn’t really seem to want to spend a lot of time with me.  Every time I tried to play with him he tried to run away.  I had a “hamster ball,” which is a clear, or at least see-through, plastic sphere enclosure for a hamster or gerbil to be locked inside of.  A hamster or gerbil can then walk around the house by walking inside of the ball and rolling it around.  Of course the benefit to a hamster ball is that your pet can run around and explore, but would not be able to escape forever under your bed or behind a dresser.  The hamster ball prevented the possibility of your pet escaping freely into the house, making nests in the walls, pooping all over, chewing wires, etc.  It was mother approved.  The hamster ball turned out to be the best play item for Zorro.  It was difficult to play with him without it because he always wanted to run away.  He was pretty fast little guy and challenging to hold onto.  Besides, I always had to be careful to lock Muff out of the room if Zorro was going to be out of his cage and not in the hamster ball.  Zorro used the hamster ball and ran around a lot in it.  Sometimes he would poop and pee in the ball as he ran around and little turds would stick to the inside of the ball and rotate around him as he explored the world of the floor.  Since Muff also enjoyed watching Zorro in the hamster ball, I thought it was a good way to play with both pets at the same time.  After excursions in the ball I would put Zorro back in his house, and even with all the rooms and tunnels of his house and possibilities to explore, he inevitably would climb directly back into his turret and resume rapid and frantic scratching attempts to escape.

One morning I woke up to find the turret of Zorro’s cage knocked out of place and fallen off of his cage.  Zorro wasn’t in his cage.  My bedroom door had been open during the night and I really had no idea when or to where Zorro may have escaped.  He could be anywhere.  I figured he was probably under a couch or dresser or under some other piece of furniture, so I grabbed a flashlight and started looking around.  It was amazing to me how big the house suddenly seemed when I thought of all the places that a gerbil could hide.  I started with my room, and after looking everywhere I made my way down the hall and to the living room.  I searched under the couch and under the bookshelf and I was walking to inspect in and around the piano when I stepped on a small ball.

I rolled the ball a little bit under my bare foot and looked at it.  This happened to be around the same time in my life when I needed glasses, but as a stubborn child I never admitted to my parents that I couldn’t see well.   I hadn’t actually gotten glasses yet.  I looked down at the ball and it looked like a small marble.  I thought it was strange because I didn’t have marbles and I didn’t think my brother had any either.  It sure looked like a black marble with streaks of white and red throughout it.  Feeling it under my foot, it didn’t seem as cold or as round as I imagined it should be.  I rolled it under my foot for a moment more.  Then I bent down to look at it closer and with absolute surprise and horror discovered that it was no marble, but it was Zorro’s severed head!  The red color was the stump of his bloody neck and of course the black and white color was his fur.  His little head had his whiskers fully intact and I noticed his rodent teeth looking the same as usual and his eyes were half closed.  I suddenly realized that Muff ate him.  Muff. ATE. Him.  And I supposed Muff probably left his head because it was too bony and didn’t taste as good.

I dropped the flashlight and started screaming.  I ran into my mother’s room and woke her up by screaming and crying and jumping all over her bed.  She probably couldn’t understand me for several minutes, I’m fairly sure I was babbling things that were unintelligible.  Eventually I was crying and sobbing and repeating “He ATE him, he ATE him” over and over.  In my twelve year old mind, the thought that Muff would actually eat Zorro was unfathomable to me.  I was absolutely surprised and shocked.  How could Muff do this to Zorro?  How could Muff do this to me?  Surely he understood how much I liked Zorro.  Zorro was a member of the family.  I knew Muff understood that.  Muff knew that I loved Zorro and he knew that Zorro was my pet, just like Muff was my pet.  The absolute worst thing I ever had imagined might happen if Muff got ahold of Zorro was that he may catch him and play with him.  I never ever, ever thought that Muff might EAT him.  Oh, I couldn’t believe that this was actually happening, it just couldn’t be true.

My poor mother felt very sorry for me.  She tried her best to calm me down.  I think I remember that at one point she even said to me “Well, what did you think Muff would do?” and I remember feeling betrayed.  My mom knew Muff would eat Zorro if he had the chance?  How could that be true?

Yes, this is an actual photo of Muff, my cat.  I created my own MEME

Yes, this is an actual photo of Muff, my cat. I created my own MEME

It was a hard lesson for a twelve year old girl.  Poor Zorro was the casualty of life’s lessons learned.  It was a cruel and difficult step during the journey from childhood to adulthood.  I began to learn some harsh realities of life.  I began to learn some lessons about death.  I started to realize that I needed to stop seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses.  In fact, I needed to trade them in for some real glasses.

 

 

I Have Fucked Up Dreams When I Work A Lot

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I woke up this morning feeling as though I were in the pit of despair.  Then I remembered my dream (P.S. for those of you who may not know, I work in veterinary hospitals as a relief veterinarian):

I was at my mom’s house in the living room.  I had a large collection of squirrels that I had caught from the backyard.  I was sedating them, then killing them and then eating them.  After eating a few squirrels I discovered that I really liked to eat the ears and front legs the best.  They were crunchy and tasty.  I was munching on one squirrel’s front leg happily after I had already eaten off the ears and the other front leg and I was snacking down on the front limb as happily as Golem enjoying a fish in the movie, The Lord of the Rings. 

Suddenly the squirrel started squirming and moving and it jumped out of my hands and trying to run away on its back legs and half gnawed off stump-arm.  I ran after it and grabbed it quickly, horrified that it wasn’t in fact dead.  I clearly didn’t want the poor thing to suffer and I was appalled that I didn’t kill it properly before eating it.  I grabbed it and attempted to draw up sedating medications in a syringe.  It jumped away again and I grabbed it again.  I grabbed an anesthesia machine from the corner of my mom’s living room and turned the anesthesia on high and placed a mask on the squirrel’s face to get it to breathe in the anesthesia.  It was squirming and struggling as I held the mask to its face.  It again wriggled free and frantically started pushing itself across the floor with its back legs.  

My brother showed up with a syringe full of euthanasia solution to help.  I again caught the squirrel and held the anesthesia mask back to its face.  It struggled as I pinned it down and forced it to breathe through the mask.  My brother approached with the syringe of euthanasia solution and started poking wildly in the direction of the squirrel, nearly stabbing me several times.  I became angry with him and told him to wait.  He protested and told me that he never had the chance to euthanize an animal before and that I better let him do it because he wanted to.  

I turned and screamed at him as the squirrel still struggled under my hold, but with less strength than before.  “Just wait as second, you cannot stab this poor thing with a needle in its heart while it can still feel it, just wait for the anesthesia to work.  I promise I’ll let you do it and I’ll even show you how properly, but just fucking wait a minute.  Fuck!”  

At that moment my mom walked in and told me that I had the anesthesia machine hooked up wrong.  She fixed the tubes on the machine and walked away.  The squirrel began to struggle harder and again got loose and hopped away on its back legs, jumped over a baby gate that was blocking off the living room and then it ran into a crack in the wall, leaving a trail of blood from its severed front legs.  It was gone.  I laid on the floor and sobbed like a baby.  

I told my boyfriend about my dream this morning.  He told me “Shit, babe, you have seriously fucked up dreams.  I dreamt about women in their underwear”

The Green Tea Experiment

From left to right:  Ruby, Isabelle and Rosemary on my bookshelf

From left to right: Ruby, Isabelle and Rosemary on my bookshelf

I once unknowingly ran an experiment using rats and green tea.  I didn’t realize that I had run an experiment until after I had some results.  It wasn’t a very “scientific” experiment by any stretch of the imagination, but it meant something to me.

When I was about 20 years old my brother’s girlfriend at the time, Amber, had a pet snake.  Amber bought a live rat to feed her snake and the snake never ate the rat.  After about a week Amber decided to keep the rat in a separate cage.  The rat had babies.  Amber, my brother, and I all liked them and we loved to play with them all.  They were all really cute.  The babies were all very playful and they were very friendly.  They had a wheel to run on and they seemed to love it.  Also, for entertainment they jumped and ran all over the cage.  They would jump all over their mother and use her a launching board to jump through the air.  It looked like it was a great time for the babies, although no one was sure how much the mother rat liked it; she didn’t seem happy about it, but didn’t seem unhappy either.  She seemed to tolerate the babies‘ game.  The babies actually jumped on her so much that she lost hair over her back.

One of the baby rats

One of the baby rats

Amber wasn’t able to keep all of the rats and needed to find homes for them.  She decided that it would be more fun to keep a baby than keeping the mother and I agreed to take the mother and also one of the female baby rats.  Other friends took other babies and Amber kept one female baby and named her Isabelle.

I named the mother rat Rosemary.  Her baby that I kept and took with her I named Ruby.  They were so much fun.  I played with them every day and found them to be very intelligent, gentle and playful creatures with loads of personality.  They would come when I called them and ate food from my hands.  They ran around my room when I was home and would actually go back in their cage to use a particular corner in their cage as their “bathroom,” and didn’t poop around the house.

Ruby and Rosemary explore a drawer in my desk

Ruby and Rosemary explore a drawer in my desk

I had a lot of fun with them.  I’d hold them and pet them and sing them songs.  I liked to watch them run around the house.  Every day I would drink some green tea and quickly discovered that Rosemary and Ruby liked it too.  I would let them drink the left over tea from my cup every day.

After about a year, Amber needed to find a new home for her rat, Isabelle, because she couldn’t keep her anymore.  I eagerly agreed to take her.  I wasn’t sure how the rats would get along and I was a little nervous about introducing them to each other.  Even though Isabelle was Rosemary’s daughter and Ruby’s sister, I didn’t expect them to remember that fact and I didn’t really know if rats that were strangers would fight, or what would happen.

I took Isabelle home and was very surprised indeed by what happened when I introduced them.  I put Isabelle directly in the cage and stood back to watch.  Isabelle and Rosemary approached each other and Ruby stood in the corner and observed.  Isabelle and Rosemary sniffed each other for about 30 seconds.  Suddenly Isabelle started sniffing in a more excited manner, she started sniffing Rosemary all over her body.  Isabelle then started jumping in the air and spreading out her little legs when she jumped, as though she were jumping for joy and was happy.  She stopped for a moment to sniff Rosemary and touched her with her front legs and climbed on her.  The again Isabelle jumped up and down.  She then used Rosemary as a launching pad and jumped off of her back and through the air.  It was almost as though you could read Isabelle’s thoughts during the re-introduction to her mother.  “Hey it’s another rat, I haven’t seen one in a year.  I think I’ll go sniff her.  Wait just a minute, this rat seems familiar.  I think I’ve seen this rat before, I better sniff some more to be sure.  Could it be?  Yes!  Yes!  It is!  This rat is my mother!  I’m so happy!  I feel like jumping for joy!  I am so happy to see my mother again!”

The reunion of mother and daughter appeared so touching that it made me cry.  It truly appeared as though the rats remembered each other.  After joyous celebration (mostly on Isabelle’s part,) all three rats settled into comfortable life with each other.  They seemed to enjoy each other’s company when awake and later would sleep happily together in a pile in a little rat house in their cage.

Isabelle fit easily into life at my apartment.  She had just as much personality and charm as the other two and I enjoyed her very much as well.  She also would come when called and seemed to know her name.  She also became potty trained.  She also loved to eat food from me and would join in the daily drinking of green tea.

Having rats was so fun.  I enjoyed them every day that they shared their lives with me.  The saddest part about having rats is that they do not live very long.  Usually a rat doesn’t survive much longer than the age of three or so.

Isabelle was the first rat I lost.  She got big tumors on her body which grew very large.  One day she died in her sleep.  Ruby and Rosemary never got any visible tumors.  They lived about 6 months and a year longer than Isabelle, respectively.

It’s been over 10 years since I had them, but still fondly remember them as some of the most fun and cherished pets I’ve ever had.  I still miss them.

They say that green tea is supposed to help prevent cancer.  My experiment of three beloved animals seems to suggest that may have been true for them.  Isabelle went without green tea for a whole year while Ruby and Rosemary had it every day.  Both Ruby and Rosemary never got visible tumors while Isabelle grew large tumors all over her body and died much sooner than they did.

As someone who was educated in science, I am fully aware that my little experiment is complete bullshit.  It has no scientific basis or significance.  However, it’s enough to make me continue to want to drink green tea.  Besides, drinking green tea makes me remember the three beautiful souls that once shared my life and brought me joy.