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The Elephants Are Kindly But They’re Dumb


I can’t handle visiting the zoo.

This may shock anyone whose been to my house and visited my own personal menagerie first hand, because it is completely obvious that my affection for animals often times rivals the affections I feel for people. Don’t believe me? I currently have living under my roof three cats, a dog, a leopard gecko, a rex rabbit, and a hedgehog. The number is only so low because we have recently taken a hiatus from fostering other animals for a local shelter in order to lessen the burden momentarily. Well, and Joey the Mean Hamster died shortly before Alex was born (no one was sad).

Before your mental picture of me turns into a person who happily has a revolving collection of fluffy kitten sweatshirts and drives a car with bumper stickers that read: The More People I Meet, The More I Love My Cat/Dog/Hedgehog/Rabbit, let me swear on all that is holy that aside from the ridiculous sweatshirt that my mother bought me several years ago that had a cat laying atop a pile of books and had the caption: “Books, Cats, Life is Good” (which was promptly donated to the Salvation Army, where I’m sure that it got a nice home with an old dotty woman who has doilies and knicknacks and a scrapbook devoted to her cats.), I haven’t worn a puffy kitten sweatshirt since the third grade (shut up. I also wore a banana clip AND french rolled my jeans. SO DID YOU!)

Needless to say (aside from my awesomely-awesome run-on sentence), I adore animals, and always have. The only reason that we don’t currently own a donkey or a goat is because we live in the city (well, and my husband might have me committed, even AFTER I assured him that the goat would function as a lawnmower), and it’s illegal here.

Maybe it’s the bleeding-heart part of me that cannot stand to see the animals confined to such small cages being pelted by rocks and hard candies by ignorant children, and knowing that this is the best it’s going to get for these poor creatures. It could be because it looks so damn boring sitting around their pens day in and day out no breaks except for eating and sleeping and crapping.

But I imagine that it’s something else entirely.

When I was about four or five, my family took a trip down to St. Louis to visit my aunt who teaches at the university down in that area. As part of the touristy stuff that we did (which did NOT include a trip to East St. Louis, I’m sad to say), we took an outing to the St. Louis Zoo. They have an amazing monkey house (no, literally here), and it was there where the adults began to jabber-jaw with each other, leaving me to sit down and drink a juice box in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows and wonder why on earth adults were so damn boring.

After a minute or two, I realized that although most of the primates were ignoring the slack-jawed pointing tourists, a small one, likely a child, had discovered me. She made her way over to me and sat down on the other side of the glass and began to gesture to me. I tried to give her a tug off the old juice box, but the glass blocked my way.

It was then when she (I am arbitrarily using “she” as my pronoun. I have no idea what the gender of my newfound friend was, and I was too young to do a penis check) and I began to play together. She’d stand up and jump up and down and when I did the same through the glass, she would clap her hands in delight. Because I was a child, I have no way of knowing how long she and I played together as it felt like forever, pantomiming each others’ movements, running back and forth along the glass. I already had it all planned out in my head, her name was Smurfette JUST LIKE MINE and she would come home and live with me, and sleep in my bed.

The adults watched in amazement, finally remembering that there was a child in their presence until they eventually had to pull me away from my new friend (as I was a late in life baby in our already teeny (even extended) family, there were never any other children for me to play with. Ever.). My dreams of having an ape for a sister were abruptly halted as the adults informed me that no matter what, I would not be able to take her with me. We tried to hug goodbye from either side of the glass, and she looked just as sad as I felt.

To say that I was devestated would be a grave disservice to my feelings, as I can never recall being quite so heartbroken again in my life. I wept on and off for the next couple of weeks, missing my new friend and saddened that she and I would never get to play together again, because she was in there and I was out here.

The zoo hasn’t been the same since, no matter what light I try to spin it in: the animals are happy and fed. They have no predators here, so they’re safe. The zoo is propigating the furthering of their species, who might have died out otherwise. I just can’t fool myself about it.

10 Comments to

“The Elephants Are Kindly But They’re Dumb”

  1. On November 15th, 2007 at 2:45 pm Chris Says:

    Dude, I know people who live closer to the city than you and they have Llamas.

  2. On November 15th, 2007 at 6:58 pm Kristin Says:

    My tour guide in Jamaica told me that goats are smarter than dogs. Go figure.

  3. On November 15th, 2007 at 6:55 pm becky Says:


    (somewhere, as per usual, Dave is weeping quietly).

  4. On November 15th, 2007 at 10:47 pm Melissa C Says:

    Sounds like my house… 2 cats, 2 leopard geckos, several fish tanks… and we’ve pared down! When I was a kid we ALWAYS had a fish tank, a dog (or couple of cats), a rodent of one description or another, 1 or 2 birds as the minimum menagerie. My dad was a game warden… so we also had everything from a lynx in the garage (I shit you not!) to various owls, wild mice, bats, turtles, insects and other critters. It was probably a good thing we lived too far north for farm animals!!!

  5. On November 16th, 2007 at 8:01 am Calliope Says:

    My Mother has that “books, cats, life is good” in a nightshirt and she just looooooooooves it. But of course my mother is just a few years away from being a crazy cat lady. I kid, I kid. (um, or not)

    Do you read Accident of Hope? There was just a post the other day about her daughter (who is a young toddler) having a similar zoo attachment.

  6. On November 16th, 2007 at 10:41 am bri Says:

    That cat sweatshirt is sold at every librarian conference everywhere.

    If Wes finds out you have a hedgehog, he may leave me for you.

    I love the primate story.

  7. On November 16th, 2007 at 12:38 pm Gail Says:

    Becks, I’m with you on the zoo thing. I HATE the zoo. For me, I think it’s a side effect of having lived in Kenya. Having seen so many of the most majestic animals in their natural habitates makes the zoo wildly depressing for me.

    Sadly, the rest of my family LOVES the zoo, and we have a membership so we go there A LOT. Bleh.

    We, on the other hand, are in danger of starting Noah’s ark at our house. Gabriel recently informed me that we have 2 Moms, 2 boys, 2 cats, AND ONLY ONE FISH!!! Luckily, (?) the fish died, so I don’t have to try to balance it out.

  8. On November 16th, 2007 at 12:02 pm becky Says:

    Melissa, your house sounds like heaven. Seriously. Maybe that’s what my next job will be. Lord knows, I make a terrible nurse.

    Cali, that’s hilarious. I didn’t know that the sweatshirt was so universal. Man, oh man.


  9. On November 16th, 2007 at 2:35 pm Gail Says:

    Becky, I think the cats would EAT the hedgehog. Also, there’s just the one. And that would bother Gabriel’s sense of symmetry.

  10. On November 16th, 2007 at 1:49 pm becky Says:

    Gail, that sucks that you have to go to the zoo. Ben is not interested whatsoever in animals, so I lucked out there, but Alex ADORES the animals. Just ADORES them. So I see many trips to the zoo in my future. Maybe we can all go together and you and I can go grab a drinky-poo while our families explore.

    Oh, and WANT A HEDGEHOG?

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