Brody: Being a voice for animals

Do you remember roadside zoos?

I sincerely hope they have been outlawed by now because they were inhumane and terrible. They would often have a bobcat, a deer or two, a black bear cub, a couple of coyotes and a few exotic birds.

They all lived in little cages stacked on top of each other.

People would stop their cars on the road and gawk at those poor animals.

On the many trips my family would make between Atlanta and St. Simons Island, we always passed one of these road side zoos and I always wanted to stop.

My mother refused because she said it would make me sad.

One day, however, she finally gave into my pleas. We stopped and walked over to the stacked cages.

I do not know how I remember this so vividly being just 5 years old at the time, but I do. I thought my heart would break.

Pulling my hand from my mother, I ran to the cages. A little bear cub immediately pushed her nose against the cage and I instinctively put my small hand through the chain link to touch her.

Mother tired to pull my hand out but I had connected with that pathetic, soft, wet nose and believe it or not, at that moment, I knew somehow my life purpose would be to protect and be the voice for all animals.

I even recall saying to my mother, “She won’t hurt me. She trusts me.” Today I still believe trust is the connection between animals and humans and trust must go both ways.

My life purpose has never changed.

After graduating from Washington University with a double degree in journalism and psychology, and after teaching for many years, I went back to graduate school to study animal behavior.

Remember Joy Adamson who wrote all the Elsa books? They were her true experiences of living with Elsa the lioness and her cubs in Africa.

I became friends with her while serving on an environmental board of directors.

One day, while staying in my home during the conference, Joy asked to visit the St. Louis Zoo.

I knew it was risky because many of the animals were in cages and TV reporters and newspaper photographers were accompanying us on our zoo visit.

I vowed to keep her away at least from the big cat cages but alas, she slipped away from me.

When I found her, she was standing in front of the lion cages tears coursing down her face.

She grabbed my arm and passionately she declared, “This shall never be again. I will write a new book and all of the proceeds will go to create what we’ll call ‘Big Cat Country’ in Elsa’s honor. There will never be a caged big cat in this zoo again.”

She did just that.

I organized youth groups across Missouri to raise money to contribute to Big Cat Country projects.

It is famous today for giving acres, not cages, to zoo animals and Joy and I are very proud of this.

You know, that little 5-year-old girl who found her passion for animal welfare was correct when she said trust was the first step based on equality between humans and animals.

How did we ever get the idea we are better than animals? Different, sure, but better?

I believe they are here for a Godly purpose and are supposed to teach us basic rules of living with one another by demonstration.

Did you know the number of people in this country who have pets has changed a lot? Why? When I did research on this subject, I found the primary reason for the sharp increase is the evidence of what pets do for you and your life.

Service dogs, therapy dogs and other specially-trained animals can be and are life saving but the regular little canine or feline in your life can make the difference between a person or family having more love and play and feeling of responsibility. They become part of the family.

Many people treat their pets just like another family member and cannot love them more, but there are others who still feel superior to them.

They can’t possibly learn lessons of love and trust and loyalty and forgiveness from their pet if they feel better than him or her.

To me, all children, if possible, should grow up with a family pet. It’s the best way to learn these life lessons.

Let me tell you a true story.

Way back in the 1960s, I had an emergency surgery to remove my gall bladder. I came through the surgery fine but trouble started when it was way past time for me to wake up and I had not.

Nothing worked so finally, the surgeon who did the work and knew me and my passionate work with animals asked a friend of mine and his to immediately bring my dog to the hospital and into the recovery room.

My dog stood in the door way and when he saw me in the bed, her body quivered. She wanted more than anything to run to me but our deep connection told her exactly what to do.

Slowly, carefully, she crossed the room and gently leapt on to my bed with amazing gentleness. She positioned her little body as close to mine as possible and then she licked my face.

Within a few minutes I apparently reached for her, took a deep breath and opened my eyes. I was back. True story. Smart doctor.

Yes, God made the animals just like He made us and I believe they too come to us with a life purpose.

To quote my hero, Mother Theresa, “Anyone who has not loved an animal has an incomplete soul.” You could be missing something wonderful.

The view from the mountain is wondrous.

Jean Brody is a passionate animal lover and mother. She previously lived in Winchester, but now resides in Littleton, Colorado. Her column has appeared in the Sun for more than 25 years.