The following article was first written on my personal blog more than six years ago. Upon rediscovering it, I knew I had to publish it here.
If there was ever a moment when I wished I had a camera, it was last Friday, when I found myself emotionally bonding with an unkempt bovine named Chief at the Turtleback Zoo in Livingston, NJ.
My affinity for animals has caused some of my friends to express surprise. One saw fit to comment on my tendency to put pictures of interesting critters on my Facebook profile; others have marveled at the trivia I can spout off on zoological specimens from canines and bears to elephants and pangolins. On those occasions when someone inquires as to the origin of my interest, I find myself in an uncommon position – i.e, one in which I have no idea what to say.
What I do know is that, when I reached my arm into that pen and saw Chief – a massive, unkempt, black-and-white bovine – shamble up to me, a tiny part of my soul giggled with joy. When he tentatively leaned his massive mug against my hand, and had his eyes loll to one side as I scratched him on just the right spot of his chin, I felt an unmitigated joy that exists without parallel elsewhere in my life. The copious quantities of drool that poured onto my sweater and the scratchy feeling of his tongue against my arm were not merely rendered acceptable, but made all the more worth it from the experience. The fact that logical explanations eluded me then – and still elude me now – was irrelevant. I was happy.
Perhaps, despite my earlier reservations about offering an explanation for my feelings, one can be found in this anecdote from a biography of Senator Daniel Webster. Although the political views of the legendary orator were in many respects vastly different from my own, we certainly would have seen eye-to-eye on the unique pleasures to be had in relating to the animal kingdom.
A friend who was often with him tells how he enjoyed his cattle, and how, on one occasion, after each animal was secured in his place, Mr. Webster amused himself by feeding them with ears of corn from an unhusked pile lying on the barn floor. As his son was trying to keep warm by playing with the dog, he said:
“You do not seem, my son, to take much interest in this; but, for my part” (and here he broke an ear and fed the pieces to the oxen on his right and left, and watched them as they crunched it), “I like it. I would rather be here than in the Senate,” adding, with a smile which showed all his white teeth, “I think it better company.”