published Thursday, June 20th, 2013

Upton: Dealing with animal realities

Animals are wonderful. Some can fly, others change colors, run fast or go months without eating. It's as if they have their own super powers. The most intelligent ones can be trained to do acrobatics, dance and perform other amazing feats.

When I was a child, my family always had dogs and chickens, but the only pets I've taken care of as an adult were fish, and I didn't do so well with them. They seemed to always be getting a disease, or having their bowls accidentally turned over, causing them to flop on the floor and, of course, later getting another disease and having to be flushed down the toilet.

That aside, I've still been fascinated by interesting living creatures.

Recently, however, I've had to face some unpleasant truths about some of my favorite animals and their lifestyles. For the longest time, I've wanted a pet miniature pig. I have a screen saver on my computer of an adorable black-and-white micro-mini pig with hot-pink painted toes and colorful beads around her neck.

She was my inspiration, and the only reason I didn't order her from the Internet was that she cost over $800. Instead, I watched fun videos about mini pigs swimming, learning to climb stairs and oink around the houses of their delighted owners.

And then I learned a startling possibility. Though these pigs start out very mini, according to how much they eat and their general genetics, they can still grow to about 80 pounds. Now that's miniature compared to large hogs that can tip the scales at over 500 pounds, but still. Even at 80 pounds, that's a hard creature to curl up to at night. I've since dropped the idea and moved on to exotic goats.

And then there was the disturbing information about dolphins. I have always loved them for being so smart, free spirited and always wearing a smile.

But I've recently learned that they can be aggressive toward smaller porpoises, sometimes tossing them around in the water and biting them for the fun of it. In more extreme cases, they have been known to kill these genetic cousins for no reason at all.

They have also been observed kidnapping and violating female dolphins. I've always wanted to swim with dolphins, but now I'm concerned the bullies of the species may try to drown me.

My last "wild kingdom" story occurred on my front porch last week. Because I love hanging ferns, I'm used to birds building nests in them. I don't always see eggs or baby birds, and sometimes I pluck the nests out before they can lay (I'm no saint).

But this year each fern held several eggs each in their nests. They hatched at around the same time. I proudly showed off my babies to my visitors. One woman almost cried when the mama and daddy birds showed up to feed their chirping offspring while we sat chatting.

Well, the very next day I got up and went to the window to observe. Immediately I could see that one fern was pressed down on one side. I knew something was wrong. I went out to look. Sure enough, all the birds were gone, the nest had been tossed aside, and a of couple feathers lay on the ground below. I was genuinely sad that they had apparently been eaten by a cat (according to my brother) or an owl (my father's hypothesis).

At this point, I think I'll just focus on gardening.

Tabi Upton is a local counselor, workshop leader and freelance writer. Contact her at tabiupton@bellsouth.net.

about Tabi Upton...

Tabi Upton, MA-LPC is a therapist at New Beginnings Counseling Center.

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