There are lots of things you can learn here at DHV, but some of my best teachers are our non-human staff members. I try to apply their life lessons every day.
Our sheep, Winston, Starbuck and MaBelle, frequently demonstrate the dangers of panicking under pressure. They are cute, and friendly, and make nice wool, but their limited brains are focused on food and avoiding death. They fear everything. Their only weapons are fleeing and staying together. Any sudden movement, however benign, and they close ranks and run–sometimes in exactly the wrong direction. They spend too much of their time suffering from unnecessary anxiety, and I now watch myself to avoid the pitfall of needless fretting.
Chicken brains are a lot like sheep brains, only smaller. They also know safety lies in the flock, but they have a very Darwinian outlook. If one gets sick, her flock-mates don’t bring her soothing chicken soup. They peck her, and step on her, and I bet some of those clucks are cutting insults. She has become a weak link in the flock’s constant vigilance against hawks, dogs, and Colonel Sanders. There is a little chicken in all of us, a natural
revulsion against the weak who threaten to drain our resources. But my brain is bigger than a chicken’s, and somewhat more complex. If I can’t always feel sympathy, I can at least understand that the weak can get stronger-and fight back!
Our donkeys, Nip and Tuck, have few fears in life. Watch them with visitors and see how friendly they can be. They are completely unafraid to appear in public with silly hats on their heads. While I do not advise biting your brother when he annoys you, they are otherwise shining examples of how to put aside ego and get along with others, while never compromising your donkey dignity. They are also poster children for the benefits of a high-fiber diet. They are extremely regular, (just ask Bonnie, who cleans their pen) and munch half the day away while maintaining their figures. Try some hay.
The museum cats, too numerous to list, maintain a sophisticated society based on individuality. Most of us introverts like cats for this reason. Cinderella and Mama Cat, identical twin sisters, are happy to spend their lives together. Clover and Sylvia are “frenemies,” hunting together yet ever ready to turn on the other. And then there is Tom, the Curatorial Cat, my cat. He appeared here when he was about one year old. He immediately set about establishing two key positions to solidify his place in the museum. First, he lured me with his cute whiskers and meows, wrapped me around his little paw, and now enjoys daily Fancy Feast, naps in the curator’s library, and getting his ears scratched while I type with one hand. To the other cats, he offered only tooth and claw, rapidly establishing himself as top cat through vicious fights and random attacks on innocent nappers.
It worked for a while, but at three years old he is slowing with age. Last week, he was seen ignominiously running away after losing a battle with Snowball, a recently arrived, younger rival. Tom may have to rethink his life strategy. As his body ages, he should focus on developing his mental abilities. He should also stop eating six meals a day. Snowball hates Tom for having made the socially-
responsible decision to not contribute to the population of unwanted kittens. I drove Tom to the SPCA low-cost spay-neuter clinic, and I will do the same for Snowball. Yes, he will poop in my truck, forcing me to stick my head out the open window to breath, but he will receive life-saving shots for rabies and distemper, and the surgeons will fix him—they’ll fix him good.
Postscript: Seriously folks, all animosity against Snowball aside, neutering is the humane thing to do for him. Unaltered males fight viciously for access to females, and can be killed or maimed in the process. Lust would make him roam from the safe confines of our grounds, exposed to the dangers of cars and dogs. Tom has lived long enough to face the terrors of middle age because I had him neutered.