Animal Tales

When it rains, birds cluster themselves in the thick branches of an evergreen or underneath the sheltering leaves of a maple.

Cats, if they are feral, duck under protruding flaps of cardboard boxes in alleyways lined with dumpsters and metal trashcans.

Dogs tend to enjoy the rain at first—they run and lap at the water falling from the sky before they get drenched and sulk away.

Forest animals are spared the full brunt of the rain due to the canopies they have, thus it's not uncommon to see the outlines of deer grazing in a forest during a downpour, as if nothing was happening at all. Similarly, it's tough to say if fish or other sea creatures even notice the rain unless the winds and swells become so strong that they find themselves washed up on some beach in a foreign land.

The most pleasurable raining experience belongs to the sheltering animals: rabbits stay safe and warm in their burrows as the rain pounds the soil above; bears sit in their dens, looking out with the confused faces they are known to have; humans, too, will stand on covered porches with arms wrapped around each other and watch the rain come down on cement, on cars, and on grass.

All animals love the sun. They love lying in it, playing in it, waking up with it, waiting for it to go away before heading to bed. The few animals who don't live in the sun worship the moonlight in the same way. Rarer still are the animals who spend their lives underground or in caves and never see the sun or the moon.

Snow brings some animals together—they huddle up for warmth for either the full winter, like bears, or just for the night, as observed in wolves. Predators love how quiet they are in the snow. Prey love how hard it is to be found in it.

How appropriate for winter to come after fall. The natural world explodes with color and commotion only to dissolve into the clean and silent pallet of a powdered winter landscape. Animals must love it. If they could stop and consider for a moment, they would marvel at the order of the weather. Although, if they could marvel at the seasons, the animals might notice how many of their kind the weather takes when it is cruel. Then it all might not seem so natural.

It is with sadness and anxiety, then, that the world plunges further into this cruelty—the lives taken by weather are more arbitrary and more frequent. Animals perish in ways previously not thought possible: humble Irish cows blown away in hurricanes, penguins flattening under the angry sun, springy robins frozen with worm still in mouth, cicadas suffocating each other, heaps of shriveled elephants next to barren watering holes, skinny gorillas too weak to climb.

Before the Europeans first arrived in America, it was said passenger pigeons were so populous they would cloud the sky in a black miasma when they flew by. Today, they are all gone, lost to hunting and sport. It is doubtful any 19th century man went to bed thinking they had seen the last passenger pigeon they ever would see that day. But it is doubtless that many went to bed unaware of this condition.

Another danger of animal awareness is they will know the things humans have done to them and their homes for reasons no longer remembered.

Birds are nearly unique in their adeptness at dying, even when death is not directly willed upon them. Their pink baby bodies on the ground below their nests, their mark left on the clean window, their eggs satiating a naughty squirrel, their life between the talons of a bigger and stronger bird, their blood tainted by a mosquito, their wings clipped by giant windmills, their entirety sucked into jet engines. Nothing, though, is a bigger threat to the bird than the common house cat.

A man reading a periodical is surprised to learn certain animal rights organizations advocate a ban on outdoor cats and suggest euthanasia for all strays. It makes no sense, but he reads on.

Natural born hunters, cats kill birds at a rate of extinction, as they kill not just for food, but to simply kill. A study found a single cat is capable of killing more than 20 birds in a single afternoon. Taking into account all of the cats and all of the afternoons they are outside, the numbers are heavily against the favor of the birds.

He lives in the city now, but when he was a young boy, he did not. His family owned a house in the meadowlands next to a large group of trees and wild plants the boy’s sister said was named Black Witch Forest. Due to his sister and his chronic sickliness, all of the windows of the house were kept closed to prevent drafts and witches.

One night, he awoke to a scratch at the window. When he peered out from under the cover, he saw it was not evil that awaited him, but a buck itching his nose on the brick of the house, his antlers rubbing against the window made the scratching noise. After this, the boy began to crack the window open and leave salt licks on the sill. The

buck and sometimes a doe would stick their heads in at night which would calm the boy whenever he woke up from a nightmare.

Birdsong began to enter the boy’s room in the mornings, cacophonous and noisy, sometimes ugly, sometimes beautiful. It was so loud, his open window alone was enough for the sound to fill the house. The family adored the music even with it’s flaws. His mother danced to the birdsong in her own way while she cooked. His father learned to distinguish each individual bird in the mess. His sister told him the forest actually had no name. Their lifted spirits carried them into town to the local pet store whereupon they bought a cat.

Reflecting now, the man recalls the birdsong disappearing remarkably fast. The deer, too, for after the cat began to leave dead birds for the family outside each window and door like a private ritual, the deer stopped showing up. The magic the birds brought to the home with their song never returned, but no one ever complained. He still talks to his mother now and the cat only comes up in fondness. It was so loved by the family.


A woman is permitted to accompany her partner on their business trip to the city of Rome. After days, she has exhausted all she can do: the canal has been walked, the pasta has been eaten, the Vatican has been visited, the ruins have been roamed. Desperate, she asks the hotel concierge what else can possibly be done. Quiet and in a whisper, he tells her there is one thing she can do. Something he normally doesn’t recommend but personally loves.
p>Around the corner is a building set against many others, distinguishable only by it’s glass door. He does not tell her anything else, ignoring her pleas, assuring her it is better to be surprised.

Around the corner and through the glass door, the woman gazes at the crumbling and chipped ceiling hundreds of years older than the white tile floor and the light fixtures that make the lobby soft and calm. Beyond an unoccupied shiny desk lie another set of glass doors that say pull in Italian.

Through those doors is a giant round room with an open glass ceiling mirroring the Coliseum. In the room are 100 cats, if not more. The woman smiles. There are no cages, only beds strewn about. Food, water, and toys are arranged carefully and thoughtfully. An old woman and a young man sit on two chairs against a wall, looking serene. A cat brushes by the woman’s leg on its way to a water bowl. As it walks, it lurches and makes giant steps as if the ground were covered in cacti. How funny.

Another cat plays with a toy. As it chases the stuffed mouse, it doesn’t lift it’s legs, just shuffles it’s feet like it were stuck in sand. Two cats nearby lay together, both of their mouths drooping low and their ears constantly moving as if searching for a sound. An orange cat methodically chews it’s tail. A Persian takes food from one bowl with it’s mouth, puts some on the ground, and carries the rest to the litter box. Some cats meow with odd movements and their vocals chords sound serrated. One lay with it’s legs straight up in the air, like rigor mortis, but the woman can see it breathing. Another flips water bowls over and drinks the water off the ground. They all walk strange.

The two serene people are volunteers. The center is for the neurologically damaged cats of Rome. A virus infects strays that eat spoiled eggs. Cars hit cats too agile

for their own good. Humans are known to inflict pain on the animals. All of the cats brains are ruined in some degree and it is all irreversible and degenerative. Many of the cats are not long for this world. People brought them to the shelter when they could, but otherwise the cats just ended up here somehow. It is funded by small donations from local pet stores and private individuals, but neither volunteer knows how the rent is paid.

It is not exactly common that visitors like the woman came by, but the cats have each other and plenty of toys to play with. Each volunteer has their favorites, the ones they give the most attention to and the ones they like to pet. If she wanted to bring one home, the woman could not, as the cats are not up for adoption.


Roads cut through forests because they need to. Over history, humans settled in areas where resources were abundant, where rivers converged, in rich valleys, or on bountiful coastlines. It wasn’t until later they needed to get from place to place and not until much later they needed to do so quickly. There is an aunt in this town someone needs to see before they go to the neon-sign maker in that town before finally going all the way to this town to get the chile relleno just the way they like it, crisscrossing forests the entire way, although it is hardly noticeable with forests having retreated as far away from the roads as they have, frightened by the noise.

It is only in parts of the planet untouched by neon signs and restaurant variety that the forest is not afraid. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is a fine example.

Between small towns so small that most people would call them outposts are vast stretches of forest which show no sign of shrinking anytime soon. Driving along, especially on a grey day turning into night, one’s car feels squeezed by the trees hugging the dirt road. When there is a small gap in the forest for a lake or bog, crows can be seen taking off from the tops of trees in the distance, cawing like maniacs and flying every which way. Once night falls, if one is still driving and not from the area, they would have to be a bit mad to not be scared, even if it is uncertain what the object of fear should be. Spirits? Pure evil? A deranged killer? Maybe.

But it would be most practical to be wary of animals, especially should the car break down or run out of gas with no civilization in sight. Bears live in areas such as these, as do wolves. Both species are likely to leave stranded drivers alone, provided they stay in their car and do not leave food about. But there is no reason the animals have to leave the drivers alone. Bears are mighty, fierce, and hefty. They can smash through glass windows like it is a game. Wolves are cunning and roam in packs. It is hard to believe they could not get inside a car if they truly wanted to. Thankfully, bears and wolves don’t usually want to get inside cars. They want to be left alone to eat the berries, fish, deer, and livestock they desire.

However, in 1868 in the Upper Peninsula, there was one bear not satisfied with a grueling life of berries and fish. It wreaked terror upon a town for 3 straight days before running into the night, never to be seen again.

The town was Munising, a port along Lake Superior on the cusp of becoming a city. The lumber boom was bringing immigrants and money to the city, with restaurants and hotels popping up faster than the forest fell around them. One night in late

September, just as the weather was starting to turn, the residents on Marquette street awoke to horrific screams.

The wives put on their elegant nightgowns and the husbands donned their luxurious top hats and stepped into the yard to see the commotion, the last and worst decision of their lives for many of them.

Down at the end of the block was the McGregor’s house, what sounded to be the source of the screams. As the fashionable couples craned their necks and took tepid steps toward the direction of the house, a fully grown bear burst through the sitting room window and ran toward the crowded lawns of the other residents, muzzle stained red, eyes ablaze with anger, kitchen knife sticking from its rump. By the time the bear made it to the end of Marquette Street and ran into the forest, 23 people were dead.

The next night, it happened again, only at the other end of town. A posse went out searching for the bear and the whole forest was covered, so it’s unknown how the bear arrived on Lisieux Street. Some speculated it braved the early winter waters of the lake. The victims this time were nine modest Swedes, foundry workers sharing a meal of pickled herring. Their deaths were swift and silent—no one knew until the following morning.

The posse grew, but that left those unarmed even more vulnerable. The third and final attack took two recently married young lovers on a picnic. Someone in the posse saw the bear run into the woods after the attack and that was the last anyone ever saw of the animal.

In all, the Munising Bear Rampage saw 34 lives lost directly to the bear and 4 later passed due to injuries. A memorial service was eventually held for the victims. One

>mother spoke. She said it was nearly impossible to look out into the woods or gaze into the lake without feeling fear, resentment, or anger. But everyday she still tried to look at something nice like the woods or the lake because it was necessary.

The lumber boom continued, but never again did the area see an attack quite like that of 1868.


A popular souvenir for those visiting Moscow or St. Petersburg is a big fat severed bear paw from the Russian Taiga. The paw comes wrapped in an oiled pouch tied with cord that includes a small blue card that gives the owner some information about the bear. It may seem macabre, but the price of one bear paw is a great amount to those living in the remote reaches of the Taiga and tourists are always willing to pay the frankly exorbitant price.

Generally speaking, the people of the Taiga have a healthy relationship with the bear except when the animal comes into their villages hungry for dog. Then, the villagers will kill the bear and either rejoice or mourn over the condition of their dog.

Every blue card says the bear died either while attacking somebody’s dog or from old age. Those with intimate knowledge of the situation say this is impossible, there are too many bear paws and not enough dogs for the figures to square. They say the villagers shrug when pressured with this conundrum and truthfully point toward the rising costs of necessary living expenses in their harsh environment. No accurate study has been

conducted on the bear population and some tourists have recently complained about the disappointing size of their souvenir bear paw.
br> Every county in the United States typically has an animal adoption center with large cities tending to have multiple. Each center has cats and usually an alcove reserved for rabbits and hamsters. If the staff is properly trained and funded, they will have reptiles, too. It is doubtful fish are ever accommodated at shelters.

Dogs are by far the most popular animal at adoption centers. Kept in narrow kennels slotted next to each other, dogs of every breed, age, and ailment will greet the prospective owner as they walk into the room. Some dogs will rise with their tail wagging, others will pull their ears back and deliver a ferocious bark, while others will not even deign to rise from their dirty beds, knowing their time is near.

A solitary young man is looking at dogs, a rarity for this particular shelter. He is most interested in an older beagle that has a pouch belly and a fading face. The dog’s name is Opie. Someone who works at the shelter asks the young man if he would like to meet this dog.

He would, but he wonders why the dog is here, as it is close to 15 years old. Did the owner die? Did something happen? The intake form just says ‘other.’

Well, it’s an odd story, the worker tells him. Opie lumbers out of his bed and sticks his snout between the chain link and attempts to lick the young man’s extended fingers.

Someone else who works at the shelter was driving down Washington Road in Romeo one day. A storm the night prior had taken branches from trees and cleaved

potholes into the dirt road, so normally private homes were exposed by diminished trees and subject to a more extended glance from the cars driving slow. On the front porch of one of these homes, Opie sat with his back to the door and stared out into the road with empty eyes. Above him in the front doorway, a teenage boy, fully exposed, was taking a pee on Opie.

Even from the road, the worker could see the urine hitting Opie’s back and splashing back onto the teenager’s shins, yet he did not stop peeing. The strangest part was, the other worker relayed, was the boy did not look mischievous or angry, but just as empty as Opie did, starring out into the road.

Animal Control was sent to investigate the incident, but family willingly gave Opie away before any investigation could take place. So now he sat here in the shelter, his rock bottom adoption fee on account of him not being long for this world as he is.

Interesting, the young man said.


Of course, some people get their dogs by others means. They pay breeders outrageous prices because their tastes allow only for a very specific kind of dog. Any other kind will not do. Many have varying opinions on the morality of dog breeders, but the truth is the majority of breeders love the dogs they craft. It is not their fault dogs are at the strange intersection of commerce and love.

On the east side of a rundown city, a young woman is dog sitting for a couple whose four dogs come exclusively from breeders. The dogs are, on the whole, smarter, more well-behaved, and more beautiful than the ones found at the pound, they insist.

Their house is a huge Victorian in an area that has been slow to gentrify. Six blocks away is a bakery and record store, but their house is one of the few on their block that is occupied. The couple bought the home now so it would be fully renovated by the time the market caught up to the area.

Because of their dogs’ intelligence, the back door could be left open and unlocked. The dogs let themselves out and in when they needed to use the restroom. It sounds unbelievable, but it’s true. The young woman saw the dogs jump up, push the door open, walk out, and pull it open when they needed to get inside. This meant they didn’t need to be walked and she only needed to stop by twice a day to feed them and make sure all was well.

On Tuesday, she has to cut her late afternoon visit short and run to the post office before it closed. In her haste, she forgets something very important to her at the house. An hour later, she comes in through the back door to retrieve it. In the kitchen, two of the dogs surround the largest one, a Tibetan Mastiff. The Mastiff is dead. She doesn’t know the dog is dead until she leans down and sees the blood dripping from it’s mouth, puts her hand to the rib cage and feels no breathing.

The smallest dog is missing. While looking for it, she sees the front hall closet door is open and the floor is covered in a pool of blood. In a panic, she runs back into the kitchen, but doesn’t see a trail of blood leading from the closet to the dog. She calls the couple before calling the police. They tell her to look around for the small dog once more before she leaves.

When the police arrive, they explain a special way of breaking a dog’s neck that lets all the blood at once, which is likely what happened to the Tibetan Mastiff. They

suspect the intruder was hiding in the closet or ran toward the closet when the dog attacked. It must have scared the intruder, for the only thing missing from the house was the smallest dog, but it may have just ran out the door after the intruder.

The couple came home early from the trip. They, like the young woman and the police, were flabbergasted by the whole thing. The young woman felt guilty, but mostly frightened. She was almost in the house when it happened. Or, even scarier, she was in the house while the intruder was hiding in the closet. The couple was sympathetic to this, paying her in full with a hefty bonus and offering apologies and assurances. However, a few months afterward, the couple began to text to young woman, promising to understand if she accidentally killed their dog and lost the other one. They just needed to know for closure.

br> Hokkaido, one of the northernmost islands of Japan, enjoys the widest and fullest breadth of the seasons in the archipelago. The summers scorch animals and citizens, causing them to languish. The autumns and springs are welcome respites—both seasons glow in transition with their green grasses, wildflowers, orange leaves, and gusts.

The winters are what the region is known for. Nowhere else in Japan do the snows fall like they do in Hokkaido. Festivals celebrating the season, such as the famous Sapporo Ice Festival, attract visitors from all over the world. Less famous, smaller festivals still command the full attention of the villages in which they take place. Every facet of life is altered to fit the season, from the fantastical (such as temporary hotels carved from ice and ice flow races that leave the streets frozen for weeks) to the mundane

(such as children eating daily snow cones with sweet or savory syrups and homes transforming to make the heater the focus of each room).

The animals have the same go at it—most are familiar with the poetic image of the crane taking off in the falling snow, tree branches bare behind it. Some are privy to the orcas breaching off the far coast of the island against a backdrop of ice and sky. But perhaps the most magical animal to see in the Hokkaido winter is the Japanese Macaque, more commonly known as the snow monkey.

It’s unknown when or how the monkey first came to the island, though the now submerged land bridge was most likely the means. They are red faced with tan fur and short, stubby tails. They live together in large groups and do most things communally. They eat together, groom each other, and sometimes fight to the death.

In the winter, the monkeys will come together with the intention of going to a hot spring. Passerby with binoculars can see a single filed line of the red-faced monkeys charging their way through the deep snow, alternating between walking on all fours or on two legs, like humans do. The hot springs are found in rocky areas not quite rugged enough to be called mountains, but treacherous enough where one misstep will send them tumbling. Once they arrive, they waste no time in jumping straight in and there they will sit for hours in solitude, interrupted only by brief spurts of playing and splashing with each other.

The image of a black pool surrounded by grey rocks and white snow and sky, littered with little red races with wide, dumb grins submerged beneath the water so only their eyes and nose are exposed and a faint, misty steam rising above it all is compelling. Occasionally, they monkeys will have visitors. When the intrepid and adventurous hiker

makes their way to the spring, strips naked and hops in, the monkeys do not fuss. They simply abide until it’s time for them to go, not even waving goodbye as their stubby tails get smaller down the trail.

It’s unusual for an animal to rely on a feature of their environment instead of adapting to it. So, while the snow monkeys fully enjoy their hot springs, it’s not clear they belong there. Although, they may have found the springs so long ago they never bothered to evolve at all.


Bugs in the jungle are a superb example of adaptation, though some insects are so unique and deft it’s hard to picture them in any earlier form, as they seem created so beautifully and perfectly. They look like things they are not, such as sticks or even other animals. They light up with different colors to lure prey or fend off predators. They emit smells and fluids that will burn eyes and skin. They become transparent and lay their eggs inside others bugs so their babies have a meal waiting for them when they hatch. They evolve in tandem with frogs so they can eat tadpoles. They evade capture. They latch onto backs of larger animals and clean then in return for protection. Or they kill them by way of disease and feast on their corpse.

The bugs learn to mimic strange sounds. They get confused when confronted with something unusual, like a new mushroom. They come in every color the human eye can see and some it can’t. They can fly and survive long periods of unlivable conditions. They adapt in these and other countless ways, all in the name of killing and dying.

Whales will kill seals in the sea and seals will kill penguins and birds in ruthless ways, but no one begrudges these animals. The whales are too large to begrudge and the seals, aside from being cute and dog-like, have suffered far worse at the hands of humans for far less vital ends. The bird, once again, finds itself on the bottom of the food chain and this time is not begrudged for it’s innocent stupidity.

In Iceland, where all of these animals can be found, the fulmar bird nests high in the cliffs that rise out of the tiny island. Inside the fulmar’s brain, there is a part that tells it to ride the rivers out into the sea when it is old enough to leave the nest. Tragically, when the young birds are of age, they will spread their wings and land softly in the dark paved roads the run around the country. It is not the fall that kills them, since they glide. The bird will sit patiently in the road, likely wondering why they are not moving or why it is taking so long to get to sea. They sit there until a driver going fast runs the bird over.

There are groups in Iceland trying to raise awareness of these poor bird’s plight, but some fear not enough can ever be done.


There is a butterfly migration pattern that flies across a great like from one state to another. Midway through this flight, the butterflies will take a violent 90-degree turn, fly some ways, then suddenly turn again and continue on their journey. This movement stumped the people who study these sorts of things until someone hypothesized the turn was to accommodate a glacier that had long ago melted and made the lake. The theory made sense and no one disputed it, but it raised many questions as to how the butterflies
knew when to make the turn, if they kept this knowledge as caterpillars, how many disastrous migrations there were when the glacier was still there, and if the butterflies would ever unlearn the pattern or replace it with something new.

It might be prudent to memorize how certain animals look.

In Berlin, there is a small park famously home to two rhinos. They live in a small hut with a yard on each for them to stand in and greet the public. The rhinos are remarkably small and, unsurprisingly, do not look very happy. To make matters worse, the rhinos do not even get many visitors anymore. They are considered relics of a bygone age or they make people too depressed. Thus, they find themselves stuck, not having any idea why they are there. Nor does the public. Nor does their keepers. Nor does the city magistrate who each month signs a check for their upkeep.

Boxes of wheat crackers line supermarket shelves. When the wheat for these treats is harvested, innumerable field mice lose their homes and their lives to the thresher. A grandmother learns this from a grandchild blubbering in a supermarket aisle. Between sobs, the grandchild describes a recent trip to a farm. The farmer complained about the pesky mice, but the grandchild saw joy in the rodents as they dashed between haystacks and tool piles. They saw dignity in the mice when they climbed the auburn stalks of wheat and the red setting sun silhouetted their miniscule frames. The mice had families
and they ingeniously evaded cats, snakes, and birds of prey. And the thresher was so anonymous, the grandchild said.

It’s said Saint Francis converted a wolf to the faith, but the level on which this is to be believed is unclear.

What a magnificent thing it is to be on the planet with animals, so similar to people, yet so dissimilar. If animals continue to hold any fascination and adoration for humans, it is not least on account of their purity.