Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to know lots of interesting animals. Horses, Dogs, Cats, Wildlife… If they liked people, I had a knack of getting to know them pretty well. When I started my career as an artist, animals were a natural subject for me to explore, and, growing up in Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County farm country, animals — and people who love them — were all around me.
It would be great if we could grow up with a crystal ball and see what life holds for us. It would be fun if we had a friend who could tell us the future. That being said, as I look back on it, even an animal lover like me would shake his head in amusement and dismay if anybody told him there would be not one or two, but many special animals in his life — and he would hear stories of many more from other people who raise, care for and are inspired by animals, too. It’s enough to make us believe that animals and people have a lot more going on than scientists and scholars ever thought… or would like to admit.
I like passion and I like creativity. I certainly like to feel my emotions (good or bad) and I like to explore every natural sense with which we’re born (or which we are able to develop). Watching animals, touching them, playing with them, feeding them, listening to them, looking into their eyes, I feel… truly feel… that their hearts are “in tune” with the rest of themselves. And that’s healthy!
Animals don’t speak a language of words, but, for those who observe and listen, they do very well showing us what they mean. Why would scholars and scientists want us to believe animals aren’t intelligent? I don’t know the answer to that. I do know there are different kinds of intelligence and I know from experience that a “paper degree” we pay for and frame to hang on a wall isn’t the measure of them. It is a measure of our ability to gather and organize information, yes, I would agree with that, and it’s also a measure of our ability to pay for the privilege of getting a diploma in the first place. But, isn’t gathering information and knowing how to apply it the basis of intelligence for even the smallest living cell?
The debate over intelligence seems to be more important to those trying to prove they’ve got it, rather than from those who are secure in themselves. Animals don’t doubt who they are, why they’re here, or where they are going, like we do. Animals just “are”… they’re born mastering the principle of “Be here now” that students of yoga and psychology are struggling to figure out.
When it comes to emotion, animals are honest. When they mate, it’s with all the passion and fire in them. When they mourn, it’s with the sadness of all the heavens and all the earth. When they fear or fight, they give it their all. Animals don’t complicate their lives with politically correct terminology that confuses or denies honest, powerful drives and feelings. They don’t pretend or deceive.
It is often said that we resemble the animals to which we are attracted. Most of us have seen pictures of people and their pets, showing remarkable resemblances of expression, or hair color, or shape. Even though I get around to many public events like horse shows, dog shows, pet expos and things of that nature, I don’t often see much evidence of that. What I do see, however (and I see it often) is a similarity of personality, or spirit, between animals and the people who love them. Every species of animal, and every specialized breed within it, can be described by certain traits or characteristics. If you study the breed standards, you’ll find that different breeds are known for their nobility, or their tenacity, or for their herding, retrieving, or their hunting instincts for example. People who love them are quite often the same. If this is true, then does “something familiar about” the animal attract people who already possess this quality in themselves — or is the characteristic acquired by taking such an animal into their lives?
Many readers know that I raise Collies and the kennel was founded in the early 1940’s. No, I’m not a hundred years old. I inherited the kennel from a wonderful friend who took me under her wing and taught me about animal husbandry. One of the things she insisted upon was that I join as many dog organizations and associations as possible. As I was filling out an application for the Collie Club in our region of Pennsylvania, there was a question: “Why Collies?” I remember my answer very well: “Because they are always happy. They have a positive outlook on life.” It’s pretty tough to be down in the dumps when you’ve got a dog wanting to romp and play with you.
Should we take a tip from the animals we love? Maybe that’s not a bad idea.
If we aspire to better ourselves, to become true of heart and true to our deepest emotions, animals are the most genuine and unaffected examples for us to follow. Few people can show us the way to our own hearts because so few of us are permitted to discover our real selves in today’s society. We live in a social system designed to get us through school and into the tax-paying work force for dead-end jobs as soon as possible. Increasingly (and in spite of the principles of freedom pioneered by Baby Boomers), we don’t live in a system that generally encourages freedom of thought and expression any more. In the past twenty years or so, creative leaders and innovators have been lost to us from bizarre and sinister diseases that no one ever thought possible or disgraced and trampled in the media. As they fall — like trees being cut down in a forest — their places are filled by others less brilliant. The result is mediocrity in literature, the arts, music and movies… in laws, politics, and education.
When leaders are lost, their secrets and inner light are taken with them. Never again do we hear their voices or bask in their example of life being lived to the fullest. What remains is our search for something greater… a nameless yearning for something emotionally and intellectually real… A need for something to keep our emotions rolling, our souls laughing and our hearts alive. Something that we matter to — anywhere, anyone — in a world becoming more and more difficult for reasonable people to understand.
What remains unchanged — for those who let them speak — is the love of animals.