This I Believe

Joan - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Entered on October 29, 2006

This I believe: that animals can be good people and people can be good animals.

I had been Dean of Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine for 4 ½ months when our New Bolton Center campus became the focus for intense interest in the healing connection between animals and people. As a veterinarian, my life and work centers around animals, but the earnest, endearing and enduring good wishes of so many millions astonishes me. Through the ensuing 5 months I have been thinking ever more about the origins and importance of the human-animal bond.

I believe that the deepest connections are made without speaking. Even across species, a long-lashed gaze and a slow blink can presage warm contact: the buzzing resonance of a purr; the silky cheek of a horse; the velvet nuzzle of a dog. Beyond love being a warm puppy, happiness is fitting that warm puppy into your curled knees, onto your lap, into your arms.

I believe that we have a native urge to protect our own kind, but we also inherently gain warm depth when we connect to others. Some of our soulmates are not like us. When we care for animals, we discover more of and about ourselves. As working with children makes us younger, working with animals makes us more grounded and earthy, more profoundly linked to who we are and what we do.

I believe that the right way to care for our fellow creatures is to know about them, to respect their natural ways, to understand and learn from them. Even as they serve us, we can find the perfect setting for the farm creatures, service dogs, and lab animals. These discoveries strengthen us and inform us about ourselves.

I believe that we exult when we do what are intrinsically for. Dogs hunt, retrieve, herd, revere; cats play, hunt, purr, critique; horses bounce, race, stride; birds flick and swoop. Cows and pigs have their own dignity and presence.

I believe that there is gravity in each life, though it be brief and the live-er small. Sanctity can be a tiny fly’s effort or a human’s cosmic spiritual legacy. It can be a new baby, a dance in the field, an exactly right color, a race well-raced, food found, the perfectly curled sleeping posture.

I believe that we are extended and expanded when we connect through our good animals to our good animal selves.