November 18, 2010

Animal Antics

As long as I can recall, I have loved animals and felt a strong connection with them. One of my earliest memories is of desiring to be friends with everyone and every living creature I came in contact with.

Some may find it difficult to believe how strongly introverted I was growing up, but it was reflected in my rich imagination. One of my earliest memories was pedaling my tricycle around the back yard, narrating my own stories out loud as I rode. At one time I found a paper wasps’ nest on the fence and had developed an imaginary friendship with the insects. Each day I would ride over and have a chat, asking the queen how her day was going.

Suddenly, after a few weeks and without provocation, the wasps suddenly swarmed out and attacked me, stinging my face severely. While I was physically hurt from the onslaught, I remember mostly being hurt by their rejection of my friendship, and the confusion I felt at their betrayal.

A year or so later, our family went along to a visiting circus, and outside one of the tents, we found a spider-monkey tied up to the outside of a cage. It was the cutest little creature, and I fell instantly in love with it. Not much bigger than the monkey myself, I sat across from it chatting away merrily. 

Probably cheesed off at the world, and less than impressed at the noisy human who was free to leave whenever she wanted, the monkey leaned over and bit me on the big toe.

Shrieking with fright and indignation, I leaned over to inspect the damage to my toe, and the monkey took the opportunity to reach up and pull my hair. Bursting into tears at the unwarranted attack, I was more astounded by its treachery than by the physical pain.

Perhaps it was because of this or that I couldn’t have a pet of my own, that a few years later I found a tortoise as my new animal friend – a fake pet tortoise.

My family had been down to one of our favourite spots on the river bank, and I picked up a hard seed pod that looked to my childlike mind to be a tortoise. This little guy was small enough to travel with me in my pocket, was unlikely to hurt me as it had no teeth or stings, and was incredibly forgiving if I forgot to feed it. He turned out to be an ideal companion.

After several month though, I noticed that tortoise was looking very sad, and I realised he was missing his family and must have been longing for a swim in the river. So I nagged my Dad until he took us for a trip down to the riverbank again, and there I tearfully released tortoise, thankful for his short friendship.

I received some pet mice when I was about 11, and before I knew it there were 27 of the little rodents. Unfortunately, in-breeding resulted in the birth of a three-legged mouse, who despite his deformity, was quite a happy little guy. Around that time, there was a local pet show on, and one of the segments was for unusual pets, so I took little Max the mouse along. 

The judge (who should not have been allowed anywhere children) looked askance at Max and me and said with a sneer, “You chopped off it’s leg so you could enter this competition didn’t you!”

I was mortified and horrified at this adult’s awful and unthinkable accusation. He dismissed Max and me, and I remember wanting to scream out at the unfairness and horribleness of his claim. If only I’d had a spider monkey as a pet, I would have made it bite him on the big toe.

While some of my other contacts with creatures over the years have also include a close encounter with a 2m brown snake, a freaked-out flying fox, various revolting cane-toads, and an albino, mutant kamikaze cockroach, I am grateful that I have not had the experience of someone I know.

After the family cat had its tail accidentally run over by the family car, the poor feline went around rather forlornly for a few weeks, its sore tail drooping. One day, my friend’s small daughter came to her talking to her about the cat’s tail. Glancing up, my friend stared in horror at her daughter who was clutching the hairy remains of the cat’s tail in her hand - the offending body bit had fallen off. Revolted at the find, the tail was dumped into the rubbish bin.

Later that day though, my friend noticed that a neighbourhood dog had managed to scavenge the furry item from the bin and was last seen running up the street with it in its mouth.

Can you imagine the dog owners finding their canine companion, and wondering if their dog had eaten someone’s cat?!

In comparison, perhaps my creature experiences were not so bad after all.

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