David Bruce: Animals Anecdotes

At one time, zoos kept large animals such as gorillas in small cages, but now zoos prefer to have larger, more open spaces—that resemble the animals’ habitat as much as possible—in which the animals can roam around. The open spaces make the viewing experience more pleasurable for the zoos’ visitors, and it makes the animals happier—and more likely to breed in captivity. The first person to design larger, more open spaces for the display and comfort of animals was Karl Hagenbeck, who in 1907 placed antelopes and lions near each other in the Hamburg Zoo in Germany—the lions were kept away from the antelopes by an impassible moat. Today, zoo workers go to great lengths to make the settings resemble the animals’ natural habitat. For example, animals in a tropical forest setting will be forced to take shelter a few times a day when zoo workers create artificial rain showers. During the showers, the zoo workers flash strobe lights for lightning and play recordings of thunder and the shrieks of howler monkeys and the calls of birds. All of these things make the animals feel more at home.

Following World War II, when Gary Paulsen, author of Hatchet, was a child, he lived with his parents in the Philippines. There, he and his dog, Snowball, wandered everywhere and saw many things. Together, they discovered a very poor Philippine family living under an overturned Jeep. Despite the family’s poverty, they offered young Gary and even Snowball a bit of food. Thereafter, Gary took food from home and brought it to them, and they shared meals of sardines and rice. Snowball once saved Gary’s life. Walking barefoot along a trail, Gary came across a pretty—but deadly—snake that was about to bite him. Snowball grabbed the snake, shook it, and broke its neck.

William Butler Yeats wrote some plays in the Japanese Noh style, including The Hawk’s Wells, which created a problem. The stage direction “The Girl gives the cry of the hawk” appears twice, but Yeats, choreographer/dancer Michio Ito, and costume/mask designer Edmund Dulac did not know what the cry of the hawk sounded like. They made a few trips to a zoo, but were unsuccessful in hearing the cry of a hawk, even though Mr. Dulac prodded a hawk with his umbrella. Finally, they decided that the Japanese word for hawk, taka, was onomatopoeic, and so when the Girl gave the cry of the hawk, she cried taka.

Once, a bear nearly killed Ruth Paulsen, the wife of popular children’s author Gary Paulsen. She had been weeding the garden when the bear approached her and prepared to attack, although she did the right things—she backed away from the bear, and she avoided eye contact with it. Fortunately, a tiny dog named Quincy saw what was happening, came running, jumped on the bear’s chest, bit down, and hung on. Mrs. Paulsen then did what she shouldn’t have—she ran toward the bear, grabbed Quincy, and ran away. Mr. Paulsen says that in doing this his wife used “all the good luck from the rest of her life,” for the bear turned around and went away.

Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, nicknamed Sodoma (1477-1549), who apparently enjoyed shocking people, once listed the inhabitants of his house as follows: “Item an owl to frighten witches, two peacocks, two dogs, two cats, a sparrow-hawk and other birds of prey, six fowls, eighteen chicks, two moor fowl and many other birds; to name all of which would only cause confusion. I have, besides these, three abominably wicked beasts, to wit, my three women.”

General George B. McClellan felt that President Abraham Lincoln was interfering when he requested to be kept better informed of activities in the field. Therefore, the general sent the president this sarcastic telegram: “Have just captured six cows. What shall we do with them?” President Lincoln was able to meet the challenge. He sent back this telegram: “Milk them.”

English actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell loved Pinkie Panky Poo, her pet Pekingese, and she wanted to take him with her whenever she traveled. She once bundled him under her cloak and tried to smuggle him past customs. Later, she told her friends, “Everything was going splendidly—until my bosom barked.”

When country comedian Jerry Clower was a boy, his family owned a bulldog named Mike. This bulldog looked out for the children of the family, and whenever Jerry’s mother wanted to spank him, first she had to lock up the bulldog, because if she didn’t, as soon as she started to spank Jerry, it would bite her.

The family of Quaker humorist Tom Mullen adopted a stray dog, which they named Terry. Terry was so well fed that she was overweight, and because she was overweight, her legs bowed. In addition, her tail wagged so much that one of the Mullen children called her “a story with a happy ending.”

During the 1970s, Mary Bacon worked as a woman jockey, and while doing her job her face used to be caked by the mud flying out from under the hooves of the racing horses. She once told the New York Daily News, “Some women shell out $25 for a mud pack and I get ’em for free.”

Rudolf Nureyev once watched a nature show during which a sheep carcass was thrown into the Everglades, where it was immediately devoured by frenzied alligators. Mr. Nureyev recognized the scene: “Ah, Paris Opéra.”

A bullfighter appearing on You Bet Your Life told Groucho Marx that in the ring he had met more than 300 bulls. Groucho replied, “You must be the envy of every cow in Mexico.”

Dogs can be trained to do strange tricks. A man in New York trained his dog well. Whenever he said, “Adolf Hitler,” the dog would raise its leg and pee.

George Jean Nathan once wrote about a performance of Uncle Tom’s Cabin: “The dogs were poorly supported by the cast.”

“A Christian should so live that he would not be afraid to sell the family parrot to the town gossip.”—Will Rogers.

Gay comedian Bob Smith says that his pet dog is half poodle and half pit bull: “Not a good attack dog but a vicious gossip.”

Sydney Fairbrother was an eccentric British actress long ago who used to suddenly pull out live mice from her sleeves or from her bosom.

“I’m not so sure that none of us have ever been loved by an earthly creature until we have been loved by a dog.”—Jerry Clower.

Life can be tenacious. At Antarctica, where the environment is brutal, lichens live just underneath the surface of rocks.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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Edgar Lee Masters: Henry Tripp (Spoon River Anthology)

THE bank broke and I lost my savings.
I was sick of the tiresome game in Spoon River
And I made up my mind to run away
And leave my place in life and my family;
But just as the midnight train pulled in,
Quick off the steps jumped Cully Green
And Martin Vise, and began to fight
To settle their ancient rivalry,
Striking each other with fists that sounded
Like the blows of knotted clubs.
Now it seemed to me that Cully was winning,
When his bloody face broke into a grin
Of sickly cowardice, leaning on Martin
And whining out “We’re good friends, Mart,
You know that I’m your friend.”
But a terrible punch from Martin knocked him
Around and around and into a heap.
And then they arrested me as a witness,
And I lost my train and staid in Spoon River
To wage my battle of life to the end.
Oh, Cully Green, you were my savior—
You, so ashamed and drooped for years,
Loitering listless about the streets,
And tying rags ’round your festering soul,
Who failed to fight it out.