The first time I became consciously aware of the gratefulness of an animal was when I was 18 years old. I had my first holiday in France with a girlfriend after our graduation. We were sweating in a pedal boat when I found an ordinary sparrow in the water. At first I thought it was dead from drowning but then I saw a little movement. We went ashore and I sat for hours in the shade of a tree with this wet bird in a towel on my lap. I remember my right foot got totally burned in the sun. After some time this bird slowly dried up, came alive and recovered. Then I brought it to the other side of the boulevard, where I spotted a public garden. There I let it go. The sparrow flew up straight forward, then turned around, plunged down and flew a few centimeters over my head away to freedom. And I knew it showed me its gratitude for rescuing it.
The second time happened in Tanzania. I was staying for ten days in the village Endonyowas in Ngorongoro five years ago. I was giving a workshop in modernising traditional Masaï jewelry with the womengroup. It was an inspiring, creative proces together and I was sleeping in a traditional Masaï house inside a boma. One day I was returning to my “cottage” when I saw the neighbours children beating a dog. The dog was sobbing and its tail was between the legs.
I got so angry that I shouted at them: “come here”! I called my interpreter, looked at the scared children and explained to them the nature of a dog. “A dog is your friend. He will give his life for you. When hyena, lion or leopard comes this dog,even when you have beaten him, will fight for your life. This dog is the best friend you will ever have”. So treat him with respect and kindness. He deserves that”. Meanwhile I was caressing the dog who was relaxing a little bit.
I clapped my hands and the children darted away, still scared because the white woman was cleary discontent about their behaviour.
Six days later, the evening before I was flying home and everybody in the village had come by to say goodbye, I was sitting in meditation outside to reflect the past days and my feelings about leaving this beautiful land and the villagers.
Then I heard something on my right side. When I opened my eyes I saw the dog standing there in the full moonlight. I felt he knew I was leaving and slowly and carefully he came closer to me. When he reached me I opened my hand to him and he shove his wet nose in my hand. Then he turned around and walked away leaving me touched and grateful for his way to thank me.
During my next visit the Masaï told me the whole village had stopped beating their dogs. I hope so but I am not sure it is true. But I have to say I never saw a beating again in the years that followed.
On the picture: Chito who rescued a heavily wounded crocodile, who refused to leave him ever since.