For seventeen years, I shared my life with an African serval cat named Deaken (‘Dea’ in honor of his mother Rhodesia’s nickname, and ‘ken’ in honor of his father’s full name, Kenya).
One of the most frequently-asked questions, when people discovered I had him, was, “What do people think when you walk him around on a leash in public?”
My response always was, “I don’t walk him around on a leash in public.”
Their response was usually, “Then why even have him?”
If you’re thinking “Seriously?!” now, I hope it’s because you fully understood my response, and not the response that these people gave me. Because if it is, you “get” why sharing your life with any animal isn’t about status, showing off, or becoming the talk of the town.
Getting an animal is about loving that animal and wanting the best for him or her.
There were other statements that let me know where people were coming from, too…
Deaken lived for a while up at Shambala, Tippi Hedren’s wildlife preserve, while I was establishing myself in Hollywood so I could reliably get a place to live and work and bring him home to live in a rental with me. During this time, he was on display during Shambala weekends. That is, I went out and sat with him in the long grass or in a big open-ended barrel so visitors to the event could ask me questions about servals.
One man (an arrogant SOB) asked me how much I’d take for him. I told him he wasn’t for sale.
“Oh, come on, ” he countered like some Snidley Whiplash; “If I offered you thirty acres and $30,000, you’d take it.”
I looked him right in the eye: “No. I wouldn’t.”
“Everybody has their price.”
He walked away, shaking his head, thinking I was a complete fool…or a liar.
Another time, a cadre of folks from Hugh Hefner’s mansion came by for a private tour. I brought Deaken out to sit with him and answer questions about him and about servals in general.
One of the women asked me, “Where can I get one?”
I responded, “Here in California, they’re not allowed as pets. They have to be either performing animals, research animals or zoological specimens.”
She haw-hawed at that, indicating that Hugh Hefner could get anything he (or his harem) damn-well pleased. And I have no doubt that not long after, this woman had a serval. (Rich people get perks, you see. Grease someone’s palm well enough and voila! the rules can change.)
But the question that got to me most came from my own mother! As we were sitting in my backyard admiring him one sunny afternoon, she suggested, “He’s such a beautiful animal. Why don’t you have a taxidermist prepare him when he dies so you’ll always have him with you? I know how much you love him.”
I just looked at her, incredulous. I was floored! (My own mother!) I finally responded, “Mom, I love you, too–beyond Antares and back–but I’m not going to have you stuffed and pop you in a corner when you die!” Perhaps it was at that moment that she finally (finally) realized he was as precious to me as a human being and that stuffing him was just not something I was going to do!
I have never figured out how other people can categorize animals as interchangeable (“what will you take for him?”), buy-able (“everybody has a price”; “rich people can get them no matter what the regulations are”) and posable (“I know how much you love him; why don’t you have him stuffed?”)
To me, animals are unique spirits. It’s their inner essence that I cherish, not their outward appearance (like people!). They aren’t interchangeable or here to display (alive or dead) for selfish or self-promotional reasons. They’re here to love, take care of, learn from, and share good times with.
I took Deaken to the beach (un-populated beaches) and to the forest (un-populated areas) for long walks. We were buds. I wasn’t out to exploit him or cause him stress in any way, shape or form. Very few people even knew I had him, and they knew only because they needed to. (They visited me in my home, where Deaken also lived.)
Have you heard comments about animals that left you shaking your head? Please share them,if so!