One thing I have never grown out of is my love and adoration for animals. As an adult with my own apartment and private bedroom, my bed is still graced by the presence of stuffed bears, dogs, and Hello Kitty toys. When Secret Santa time arrives in the wardrobe room, my co-workers know how ecstatic I am when a Hello Kitty or Snoopy toy finds its way to my desk. For a brief period I ate as a vegetarian and although I eat some meats, I was unable to finish a side dish of quail at The Fort because I kept picturing a quail flapping away as I ate a wing. My favorite part of Balboa Park is the dog park and I felt like I was in heaven strolling along Dog Beach as my friends filmed their 7-month-old French Poodle mix, Baylee, for a video contest. I can’t hide my excitement as I ask dog owners about their breeds in hopes of scouting out my next puppy. It’s no surprise then, that one of my coveted destinations is the San Diego Zoo.
You may think there’s not much that’s special about a zoo, and at first I hadn’t considered it to be important after my childhood experiences at Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City. However, my preconceived notions promptly changed as we waited in a large line at the entrance for the San Diego Zoo. One glance at the map and a ride on the Skyfari Aerial Tram and I knew I wasn’t in Hogle Zoo anymore. A desperate and at times confusing search for a tiger proved to me how complex everything was. As we made continuous loops and managed to get stuck returning to the same exhibits, eventually a sign pointed us into a forest and we followed a not-so Yellow Brick Road to our destination. To our disappointment, however, our orange and black striped friend is out for the count. As people huddle around the glass to watch him sleep, we all hope he’ll take in a deep breath, lift his head, and arise to see us, but there’s no such luck.
On this particular day, I forget two important ingredients: sunscreen and the quintessential San Diego accessory–my hat. I begin to wish I had a brain or at least one that would remember to check for everything under the sun. Every chance I have to get underneath a shaded tree, I pursue. One specific shaded area is the walkway for Panda Canyon. No doubt a popular section of the zoo, people are lined up and anxiously coo at a panda who reaches up to eat a stem of bamboo. The polar bears are yet another bear who entices everyone’s attention. One specifically knows how to put on a show as he plays in the water while people continue to crowd around the clear plastic walls intensely watching his every move. Upon exiting every bear exhibit, I turn my eyes to the ground, careful not to catch a glimpse of a cute grizzly teddy bear I might need to add to my collection.
Like pre-schoolers after lunch or recess, all of the animals seem to have a siesta after lunch. Most are hidden in the shade of a cave built into their cages, crashed on a pile of hay. The only active animals seem to be monkeys crawling on their cages like a jungle gym and birds chirping away. As the monkeys swing between tree branches and birds whistle in the background, I expect to hear: “Fly my pretties! Fly!” at any moment. Luckily I don’t have to wish for any courage as we pass through various cages and ponds, but while observing the giraffes, a white dog and cheetah walking in the street grabs everyone’s attention. People become silent, but everyone is careful not to approach. Apparently this is a common occurrence because of a buddy system developed in order to help animals adjust to the zoo. The friendship starts early when a young cheetah, leopard, or wolf is set-up with a dog to help them become acquainted with zoo life. Such a bond grows into a lifelong companionship I sometimes am only able to hope for. On this particular occasion the cheetah was on her way to a chiropractic exam; I’m beginning to think I need her benefits plan.
In fact as I watched and observed more animals I’ve decided being a zoo animal might not be so bad. A place to live would be provided for you and you wouldn’t have to clean up after yourself or have to pay a personal maid service. No matter what sort of test or appointment you had, you would always get treats after you. A bath, pedicure, and doctor’s appointments would all be arranged for you at no expense of your own. Although visitors may expect you to perform a trick or watch you peek your head over a rock, no one can stop you if all you want to do is sleep, eat, and sit around all day for them to look at. Most importantly you wouldn’t have to run any errands or make any decisions; now what could get better than that?
For now, I remain a human and I don’t really feel the need to find out if reincarnation is actually real. After spending a long day of walking, I click my heels three times and I’m home. As I load pictures on my computer I’m excited to see what develops from my new adventure. A phone call with my mom, however, proves that my journey may not have been something new to me. She recounts the last time we visited the zoo, complete with tourist sweater and memories of Pandas. The memory of my youth has failed me, but I find more often these days that revisiting a place is always a good way to get a fresh perspective. On this occasion I have found that I will always have a heart for animals because they manage to bring me back home.