The dogs and I watched “Life of Pi” tonight, a movie about a 16-year-old Indian boy on a ship full of zoo animals that sinks in a storm who ends up on a lifeboat with, among other animals, an adult Bengal tiger.
I don’t recall the book being anything more than an entertaining yarn, not especially profound or disturbing, although certainly thought-provoking. The film, on the other hand, pretty much ripped my heart out. Not for the boy or the loss of his family or any other human emotion or suffering portrayed, but for the animals. I almost couldn’t make it through, and wouldn’t have if I hadn’t read the book and known how things turned out.
Pi’s father, a zookeeper, warns him when he is young that it is a mistake to consider any animal his friend, and that when one looks into an animal’s eyes, one sees only one’s own emotions reflected back, nothing more. But as the shipwreck scene unfolded followed by the swift establishment of dominance and savagery among the animals on the lifeboat, I wrapped my arms around both my dogs and tried without success to fight back tears every time an animal suffered—including the hapless rat who became a snack for the tiger.
A crippled zebra, a mournful orangutan separated from her baby, a frightened tiger stuck in the water, even a seasick hyena all compelled my sympathy to a far greater degree than the boy himself. Funny how that is. Perhaps I’ve become so jaded from watching people suffer in the movies that it can’t touch me anymore. But watching an animal suffer always makes me cry. Because when I look in their eyes, I see my own two little dogs, and my heart goes out to them. Every animal, every time.
I can’t say whether animals have souls as we do, but I know they have consciousness and intelligence as we do, and that some can form powerful bonds with their own kind as well as with other species, including us. Sometimes, actually, I think they bond with one another and with us more easily than we humans do with one another. And when they bond, they do so authentically and in many cases, permanently. That’s another thing we humans have trouble with.
I have an exceptional regard for the life of animals. Not more than for the life of people, but close. Very close.