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Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Our Teacher, Nature

I have a great relationship with my cat. She greets me when I wake and when I come back home. She sleeps next to me at night and if I leave the room, she often follows. In 1996, a colleague of my dad’s sister had a cat that had given birth to several kittens. I had wanted a cat for a while, so my dad’s sister took one in for me. On November 10th, my parents and I went to her home in Etobicoke to meet this kitten. When I walked into the living room, there was this tiny, seven week old, grey and white kitten sleeping on my uncle’s chest. My uncle got up from his chair as I sat on the couch; he then gave her to me. She awoke for about a minute, then went back to sleep on my chest. That’s the way we sat for about half an hour before my mom called me into the kitchen for lunch. Due to how light her grey fur was then, I named her Misty.

When we brought her home, we read the note my aunt had included with the things we needed to care for Misty. She was only seven weeks old, but she already had a personality and mannerisms that were unique to her. She was independent, not incredibly affectionate (unless she wanted it), didn’t like closed doors and liked sleeping with us. It was always amusing to listen to her climb up the covers to join either my parents or me for the night. As we got to know her, we saw more traits reveal themselves. She didn’t use a scratching post (unless it was doused in catnip), and she couldn’t stand the feeling of fleece beneath her paws. She loved boxes, her grey mouse with a pouch for catnip, and she loved giving baths. She no longer has a scratching post, she still can’t stand fleece, she still loves jumping into empty boxes, playing with her grey mouse with the catnip pouch and she still gives me a bath every day. When she’s hungry, she sits in front of the fridge since she’s learned that that’s where my mom and I get our food (and occasionally hers) from. Oh, and she’s also a fairly lucid dreamer. But all of this got me thinking, not just of her, but of animals in general.

Is the Human race really the only “intelligent species?”

I often spend time just watching Misty. Sometimes we’re staring at each other, other times she’s playing with her old mouse, or maybe she’s sleeping. I love watching her dream; I wish I knew what was going on in her brain. Is she chasing mice? Is she chasing me in a game of tag? Is she just running around the house? What is she dreaming about? Well, if Misty can dream, it means there’s something happening in her brain, it means she’s thinking about something.

One of the things I love about living in Toronto is the wildlife that coexists alongside us. This has been an excellent year for hawks; I’ve lost count of how many I’ve seen in the last couple of months. The squirrels are always numerous and given the amount of road kill I’ve seen, it’s a good year for the raccoons too. These are just some of the animals I see all the time in my neighbourhood. Toronto is also home to woodpeckers, skunks, groundhogs, foxes, mice, snakes, ducks, swans… and, if I were to take a walk through the large wooded park about 5 minutes away, there’s a good chance I would encounter a deer. Maybe even a coyote.

Deer in Morningside Park; August 2011

All of the aforementioned animals have learned to adapt to Toronto being built all around them. They have learned to coexist with us. The key word here is, learned. The ability to learn means these animals have a certain level of intelligence. They already knew how to defend themselves from, and take advantage of, each other. I’ve seen tiny sparrows chase giant crows from their nests and a flock of pigeons fend off a hawk 3 times their size. The American Badger and the coyote often hunt together. The badger can’t really chase its prey but is able to dig out rodents hiding underground. The coyote can chase those rodents, but can’t dig them out. The prey ends up with no way out and both animals are happy. Now, many animals have had to learn how to shelter and defend themselves from us as well as take advantage of us. Who’s ever been sprayed by a skunk or bit by a snake? How many of us have been approached by hungry squirrels in autumn? Have you ever been watched intensely by a pigeon while enjoying a bagel outside? And some of those pigeons are quite brazen! All of this happens because they have learned to live with us. For this, I tip my hat to them.

I think we can learn something from the animals that surround us. We can learn a lot about love and loyalty from our pets and we can learn a lot about adapting and getting along from the squirrels, hawks and pigeons we share our neighbourhoods with. If the badger and the coyote can successfully help each other survive, why can’t we do the same? Why can’t we help each other regardless of race or skin colour? If these animals can learn to coexist with us, why can’t we coexist with them? If a coyote can successfully live within the ravines and forests of our city, why do we have to shoot it when we see it crossing the road? I understand the danger coyotes present to our pets, but what about the danger we present to it? The coyote was here a long time before we were. We are the ones who have moved in on their turf, not the other way around. I think we have a lot to learn from the animals we live with and I believe we can take what we learn from them and apply it to ourselves and the people we share cities with.