He looked down, she just gave him a little lick, and suddenly I couldn’t stop him from crying

Zereeseis Player, age 12: “They taught me how to be respectful, they taught me how to listen, they’ve taught me not to be disobedient to others, and treat people like they want to be treated.”
Farrah Akbar, age 8:  “I would say, if you’ve never seen a horse or touched a horse, just touch it. Because if you touch it, then you’ll feel the soul.”

At equine-therapy programs like Compton Jr. Posse in Los Angeles, inner-city adolescents find a refuge from drugs and street-gang culture by developing equestrian skills and learning to regard the knowing gazes of 1,000-plus-pound horses and guide their beguiling power. In return for striving in school, the program’s participants, ranging in age from 8 to 18, are taught to ride horses, groom them and clean their stables. These experiences keep them within the horse’s “personal circle.” Horses have a profound effect on humans. “Whether they have a physical handicap or an emotional handicap or a mental handicap, when you’re around a horse,” Akbar says, “the energy is so powerful that it tunes the body up…

Something extraordinary occurs when we’re in the presence of a fellow sentient being. When we let go of language’s tacit conceptual constraints and judgments, we allow ourselves a kind of time travel toward our own inner animal. Science is revealing the ways that the physiology of our psychology can be found across species: the common neuronal structures and attendant nerve wirings that we share in varying measures with a startling array of both vertebrates and invertebrates, including fellow primates, elephants, whales, parrots, bees and fruit flies. Animal therapy makes us aware of this cross-species interconnectivity on the purest, subconscious level…It has been established that the tactile element alone in animal therapy releases endorphins, so called feel-good hormones that counteract the trauma hormones of adrenaline and cortisol.

…therapists involved in such programs speculate that their benefits actually derive from shutting down for a time some of our brain’s higher and sometimes cacophonous cognitive functions…Rather than augmenting higher-level consciousness, a substance like psilocybin actually shuts down our brain’s ego center, which, under duress, can confer crippling fear, guilt and insecurity, and instead allows people access to their unfettered emotions and sense of childlike wonder. Allows them, in other words, a mind-altering walk in the wood with no names…

“He looked down,” Martin recalls, “and she just gave him a little lick, and suddenly I couldn’t stop him from crying. Just that connection set free all of this stuff inside of him. She was the catalyst. There’s that ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ thing that happens. That’s real.”

~ Charles Siebert, excerpts from Why Close Encounters With Animals Soothe Us (NY Times, May 18, 2017)

 

Sunday Morning: We have an imperative. A duty.

little-swift-bird

Helen Macdonald teaches at the University of Cambridge and her most recent bestselling book, ‘‘H Is for Hawk,’’ has won numerous awards. In this week’s NY Magazine, she writes about Judith Wakelam who rescues baby common swifts, “birds so exquisitely aerial that they eat, sleep and mate on the wing and spend the first two or three years of their lives migrating between Europe and Africa in continuous flight.”  Macdonald calls on wildlife rehab experts to explain why people rescue wildlife:  “…there’s something inside humans when they’re faced with a helpless creature. We have an imperative. A duty…I believe most people, especially children, simply cannot see an animal suffer…The Lindsay rehab center receives everything from bobcats to snakes, ducklings to songbirds, brought in by concerned members of the public who have driven many miles to deliver them…rescuing animals draws out ‘‘raw emotions that unleash our deepest insecurities about our humanity, mortality and place in the natural world.’’ Macdonald then closes with an evocative description of Wakelam releasing rehabbed baby common swifts back into the wild:

It stares into the wind. Then it starts shivering. Nothing has visibly changed, but something is happening. On Wakelam’s open palm a creature whose home has been paper towels and plastic boxes is turning into a different creature whose home is thousands of miles of air. It is as extraordinary a thing to witness as a dragonfly larva’s crawling out of the water and tearing itself out into a thing with wings. Then the swift decides. It hunches itself forward on its wings and drops from her flattened palm. ‘‘Up! Up! Up!’’ calls Wakelam. I’m terrified it will hit the ground. But it does not. For five or six seconds it flies with halting, unaccustomed wing beats a foot above the grass, then hitches and pulls into gear and starts to ascend, flickering upward until it becomes a remote pair of winnowing wings among all the other swifts up there. For weeks it has sat in a plastic box preening and snuggling with its foster siblings. Now it is gone, and Wakelam’s hand is its final memory of earth, the last thing it will touch for two years.

Don’t miss Helen Mcdonald’s full essay here: Rescuing Wildlife is Futile and Necessary


Image Source: Margaret Westrop – “Little Swift

%d bloggers like this: