Making New Friends: How to Befriend Animals
I’ve gone where few have gone before (I guess that’s what I get for putting on the years): I’ve had a pigeon land on my shoulder, I befriended a dog that was barking at me while he stood menacingly beyond a “Beware of Dog” sign, I’ve had a strange raccoon lick me in the face, I fed a seagull and a duck from my hand, a parrot accepted my help, I had a calf suck my fingers, and a wild cat turned its belly up to me.
Here’s how it all happened:
Pigeon Department: I can’t take much credit for the pigeon; he was probably quite tame and was curious about what I was doing, which was painting a house. I only mentioned it to show why I claim to have gone down virgin paths.
Dog Department: I was asked by my clergyman (bishop) to deliver a message to a member of the Church. When I arrived at the address given me, I saw that the house was enclosed within a chain link fence, complete with a big barking and snarling dog. In case I didn’t get the picture, there was a sign on the fence that said “Beware of Dog.”
Well, I didn’t really get the picture, even with the sign, because I didn’t turn tail and run. I was thinking: “I was asked by someone who I think represents God, to deliver a message. So I think I better do just that, if possible.”
I looked at the dog, who seemed pretty clear about the message he was sending me. I moved toward the gate, and stood in front of the gap you normally find between the gate and the post that hosts the fence. You know: where the latch is. I showed the dog the palm of my hand through that gap. He stopped barking and I saw the trace of a wag in his tail. I put my hand closer, to let him smell it. I was prepared to jerk it away, just in case. The big dog came to sniff my hand, and his tail moved more.
Slowly, I lifted the latch, and put my leg in the widening gap. At each step, the dog seemed to approve. I showed my hand to the dog again, and offered a fingertip against his chops. He seemed to like that, too, so I eased myself in, offering to pet the dog. He was putty in my hands, now.
I closed the gate, and - together - we went to the front door. He sat beside me, facing the door as I rang the doorbell. When the man of the house opened the door, his jaw literally dropped. He didn’t say anything, but I think I knew what he was thinking. He let me in, and accepted the message I had for him.
Another time, I was invited to a house for a party, which was to take place in the back yard. There was a dog back there, tied to a chain and barking at me. After introductions, the next thing was food. After I got my plate, I and an associate walked toward the barking dog. I suggested we sit “over there” on the lawn, which was just out of the dog’s reach. As I ate and conversed with my friend, I sat as close as possible to the dog, my back to him. I even sat just barely inside his reach, thinking it would be hard for him to get a big chunk out of me, at least. Once or twice I laid down on the grass (sorry I didn’t use “lie;” I don’t much like that word) so to not appear very menacing to the dog. Basically I ignored him, letting him know he wasn’t making any progress.
Finally, after about 10 or 15 minutes, the dog whined once and laid down on his stomach, looking at me. I showed him the palm of my hand, and he wagged his tail. That was the turning point in our friendship, and every time he saw me after that, he indicated he wanted more attention.
Raccoon Department: I went to visit another family with a similar message from the bishop. When I got there, there was a raccoon in a small tree near the house, whimpering, because his leash, which was connected to a stake in the ground, was wound around a few branches, and he couldn’t move. I knocked on the door, and the woman inside invited me in with a verbal signal, because she was wheel-chair bound. I told her about the raccoon, and she said it was her son’s, but she didn’t know where he was.
I went outside, feeling sorry for the raccoon, because he seemed to be suffering. When I got closer, he was shaking, and looking at me, whimpering like a dog. I tested his leash, and it was so tight, that it felt like a piece of wood. This was an adult raccoon, and I took note of his long and sharp claws. Nevertheless, I couldn’t leave this animal to this fate, so I began to help.
I tried to disconnect the leash from his collar, but it was so tight, there was no hope of doing that. So I went around the tree to pull out the stake. Then, I threaded the leash through the branches to free up the raccoon. I now began to wonder how much of my arms were going to be slashed, as this raccoon didn’t know me, nor I it. But I continued to take up the slack. When the raccoon was able to move, I tried grabbing him in a way so as to protect myself, and keep him from hanging by his neck at the same time. I was surprised when he wiggled around and began to profusely lick my face with his hard tongue. He was still whimpering, but now with seeming relief, and desperate eyes that showed eagerness to thank.
At this point, his owner showed up and lowered him out of the tree.
Seagulls and Ducks Department: Again, this isn’t too much of a feat, as these birds are used to being fed by humans. I thought I’d mention, though, my experience with the seagulls, as this one happened only once in my life:
I was in Corpus Christi, Texas, waiting for my next gig doing caricatures. I went to the beach to check things out, and I saw this strange sight: Seagulls (I think they were Franklin) were floating in a line, and not moving, as they hovered in front of a row of parked cars. Their wings weren’t flapping, but occasionally twitching to stay in place. I soon discovered they were doing this, because people were throwing them food from their cars. I also noted that there was a constant, firm wind coming in from the gulf, which helped to keep the gulls in the air.
So I found an empty spot and got ready to join in. The gulls seemed to know what I was planning, and hovered in front of me. I produced some cold cuts and began throwing. They were pretty good at catching things in mid-air. Once in a while I didn’t throw so good, so the gulls dived to recover the grounded pieces. When several gulls tried for the same piece, only one, of course, was the winner. When that happened, the winner usually let out a series of caws, slowing down in frequency near the end. Then, just when you thought you heard the last “caw,” he raised his head skyward, and let out one more big one, as if to say “So there!”
Me, being the animal experimenter that I am, decided to try out something. So I put a piece of baloney in the palm of my hand, put it out the window, and above my head. I did this so that most of my body wouldn’t be visible, in case they were intimidated by my ugly face. It took a while before they noticed what I was doing (or, to gather courage). Then, Wham! - one of them flew by, scooping the piece up into his beak. I say “wham,” because that’s what it was: a very firm peck to snap up the morsel. My hand was a little red in that spot, but that was all.
Parrot Department: While in Mexico, I was visiting someone who had a parrot. It was a comical experience to see a parrot talking good Spanish. At one time, the parrot was slowly making his way up a table leg. When he got near the top, he began to slowly move his head back and forth, as if trying to determine how he might make it to the table surface. I pushed my finger against the side of the tabletop, hoping against hope I would not lose my finger. But he gently grasped it with his beak, and used that leverage to get himself to the top of the table.
Calf Department: Any time you have a fairly new calf, you’ll find that it will always interpret a finger, or anything that looks like it’s mother’s teat, as its lunch. I used two fingers, and when the calf eagerly sucked them into its toothless mouth, I could feel the blood collecting in the tips of my fingers.
Wild Cat Department: I may be exaggerating when I use the word “wild.” I used it to add drama to my claim. (Well, at least I didn’t say “saber-tooth,” or something.) As near as I could determine, the back outside corner of my mother’s garage was home to at least one neighborhood cat. Sometimes I saw two at a time. They seemed to act shy when I came around, so one day I plopped myself down on the patio concrete, and stayed there talking to them and acting calm. I could tell they were cautiously approaching from behind and smelling me. But I did nothing to let on I knew that. Finally, one of them let out a purring meow and plopped down in front of me, exposing its belly to me. If you know cats, you know that’s a sign of great trust. I pet the cat, and chalked another friend up to my collection.
I’ve had more interactions, two or three being the rescue of birds (one such is here, called “Language of Life.” (I’ll probably change the name to something like “Man Rescues Bird,” later on)), but I could easily drag things on and reduce appeal, so I think I’ll stop here.
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