The only animal that has a soul is a human…or so I thought. As a child I saw other animals to be insignificant to the world. Their intelligence could not compare to that of an average human being. They were merely creatures that provided humans with food, sustenance, protection, and experimental research. I always wondered why people like vegetarians, pet owners, and just plain animal lovers existed. Why wouldn’t you want to eat the delicious meat of those animals and why would you waste your hard earned money taking care of one? It made no sense to me until the age of twelve when I experienced my most traumatic event in my life to this date.
My first encounter with an animal took place in Nigeria, the place to which my parents were born. My mom wanted my brother and I to learn about our heritage. She decided the best way to do that was to spend one year living in Nigeria with her. I was eight at the time and did not know what to expect when I got there. After a long and nauseating trip on the airplane we finally got there. The first thing to greet me in Nigeria was the heat. I got a nice warm welcome from the sun that was enough to make me sweat a river. The second greeting that I received was from the wonderful people that lived there. Unfortunately, I could not comprehend a word that they were speaking because I couldn’t and still can’t speak Igbo. Igbo is one of the many languages in Nigeria and my parents never had the time to teach it to my siblings and I. It made life in Nigeria difficult for me because I could not communicate with anyone besides my mom and brother. Life in Nigeria was not easy for me at all. The electricity went out almost every day, sometimes we would have to bathe outside with rain water due to the low water supply, and worst of all was the fact that I had to learn how to take care of myself at such a young age. It ended up making me a lot more independent today, but at the time it just made my life miserable. I just realized that some of my worst and best memories lie within Nigeria.
One day after debating whether it was hotter inside or outside I heard a strange noise. The noise was unfamiliar to me, but I knew that it was not Igbo and not human. I followed the noise and saw one of those creatures that you always hear about, but never actually see in real life. It was a chicken! I kept my distance away from the chicken, but my curiosity brought me closer to it. I tiptoed my way towards the chicken like a cartoon detective. Suddenly, my aunt came out of nowhere and grabbed the chicken. Then she began to speak Igbo and came towards me aggressively. Imagine someone yelling at you with words that you can’t understand, while shoving an unusual creature in your face. I was beyond horrified and did what any other eight year old would do in this situation. I cried for my mom to come and save me from whatever was coming my way. Eventually, my mom came and started talking to my aunt in Igbo. They sure had a long conversation that contained laughter, while knowing very well that I was crying in the corner. Once they stopped talking, my mom basically translated what my aunt was trying to say to me. My aunt said that she wanted to give me the chicken as some kind of present. My response to my mom was, “Shouldn’t she cook it first or do people in Nigeria like to eat animals alive?” One slap later… I realized that my aunt gave me my very first pet. Who would have guessed that it would be a chicken?
I spent most of my time in Nigeria observing the chicken. I was too scared to play with it, but interested enough to watch it all day. Each day I kept wondering what went on in the mind of a chicken. It was smart enough to eat and run away when scared, yet it could not respond when I talked to it. The thing that puzzled me the most was what would happen to it when it died. Technically, we do not know what happens to anyone when they die, but being born into an extremely Catholic family made me believe that all good human beings will go to heaven. However, there was never any mention about the other animals. Are they inferior in the eyes of God? If so then why did he create them in the first place? Does their soul disappear as soon as they die? Do they even have a soul? Many questions with no answers… My brother eventually noticed my interest with the chicken and wanted to see me interact with it for his own amusement. So he dared me to touch the chicken for at least five seconds. I was hesitant, but it’s hard to be called chicken in the face of a chicken.
I had no clue how to handle animals as a child and no one told how important it is to remain calm with them. So being the hyperactive child I was… I ran towards the chicken the exact same way that baseball players run for home base. The chicken immediately saw me as either a threat or food and pecked my hand as though it was the tastiest grain it ever laid eyes on. My hand felt as though it was leaking and when I looked down I saw a massive amount of blood on my hand. After that I ran towards my mom for help while my brother ran away from her slap. My mom treated my hand and gave me a long talk about how I had to handle animals with care, but all I could think about was how deadly that chicken was. I initially did not care for animals, but now I feared them and I no longer acknowledged that thing as my pet. The remaining time that I had in Nigeria was spent watching television, sitting in front of the fan, and watching my brother play videogames all day. Now that I think back I don’t think I really learned much about my heritage that year.
Once we went back to America, my mom got a call from my aunt. She told my mom that she had some bad news for me. Apparently, the chicken accidentally got run over when my uncle was backing out of the garage. I did not know whether to laugh because of how comedic its death was or smile because I knew that it could no longer hurt me. I did neither because my mom expected me to have a sad expression. So I frowned and said, “Oh… that’s too bad mom.” Deep down I knew that I never wanted to be near a chicken ever again unless it was dead and cooked to perfection. After that incident I thought that I would never be involved with another animal again… but I thought wrong.
My brother had the hugest crush on his best friend, so when she asked him to take care of her pet German shepherd for a few days he agreed with no hesitation. By this point in time I was ten and still feared chickens, but did not know how to feel about dogs. I knew that they were huge and hairy creatures that people did not eat, but I always wondered how they tasted. My brother initially did not care for animals just like me, but he made a promise to his best friend and figured that taking care of her dog would make her fall in love with him. I watched him brush, feed, and play with the dog from a far distance. After watching him, I began to think that dogs are a lot better than chickens because they are just so friendly and loveable. I figured that nothing could go wrong… until my brother made a huge mistake. His best friend warned him to never run with food in his hand in front of her dog because it will think he is playing with it and attempt to bite the food from his hand. However, my brother acted on impulse and ran away from the dog with food in his hand. The dog then pounced on my brother and bit his hand as though it added flavor to its food. It was like one of those scenes from a horror movie where the black guy dies first. Luckily, my dad managed to get the dog off of my brother before it did too much damage. His hand looked a lot worse than my hand did from the chicken attack and he even needed stitches. I really thought that I would grow a liking to dogs, but this experience taught me that dogs are a lot more dangerous than chickens and I have no interest in owning one as a pet. After this incident my brother obtained a lifetime fear of dogs. He also avoided the girl he used like, thinking that the dog would attack him if he ever made a move on her.
At the age of twelve I promised myself that I would never go near any animal ever again… until my mom forced me to. My mom’s friend randomly asked if our family wanted one of her little kittens to have as a pet. You would think that my mom would realize how fearful my brother and I were of animals after those two incidents and decide that maybe it’s best to just remain pet-free, but I guess she did not want us to be fearful forever. My mom agreed to take the little kitten into our home even though my brother and I begged her not to. So in preparation of another disaster my brother and I looked up everything that we needed to know about cats by watching Animal Planet. The problem with that is that they typically only showed the deadly types of cats. They had one episode about the housecat, but it only showed how and when cats attack. I learned that cats not only have sharp and deadly teeth, but claws that could cut a person’s skin within seconds. My brother and I feared the worst… but it’s not like we could stop it from coming.
My mom came in one morning holding a giant box and I knew that it had to be the deadly scratcher. I hid behind the couch with my brother as my mom reached into the box. I did not expect to see such a little, delicate, and innocent creature emerge from the box. The little kitten looked a lot more scared of us than we did about it. In that moment I realized that animals don’t find pleasure in hurting humans. They only act on instinct and are just trying to survive like us. I calmly touched the little kitten and made sure that it knew that we were kind people who wanted to look after it. My brother did not want to be out shined by his little sister, so he came over and played with it as well. Eventually, the little kitten became a part of the family and I decided to name him Angel. He was the epitome of joy and delight. Whenever I felt down he was always there to sleep on my leg and cheer me up. I now understood why people loved pets so much. His presence made everyday worth waking up to and he caused the whole family to always be in high spirits.
Unfortunately, Angel became very sick one day and I figured that he would get better soon. He could barely move and looked so weak. It was incredibly painful for me just look at him and there was nothing that I could do to help him. We brought him to a vet only to later receive terrible news. Angel was gone… my little angel was gone. I never had a family member die before then and I just could not stop crying. My brother, who never shed a tear in his life, also started crying. I would take a peck to the hand from that chicken any day if it meant that I could have Angel back. After crying I immediately prayed to God, and begged him to take care of Angel. I can’t explain how, but I knew that deep inside my heart that Angel had a soul. My only question was whether God accepted him or not. I’m pretty sure that Angel was good enough to join God in heaven because I believe that he truly deserved it. I also prayed for the chicken that died years ago because I realized that he did not deserve to get run over. That chicken was a sign from God to make me realize just how significant animals are to this world. That dog was a sign from God to make my brother realize just how significant animals are to this world. God’s messages were received only after Angel’s death.
Animals were created for a reason and that reason is still unknown to the world. Regardless, I now see animals as creatures that deserve life alongside humans. I may not be a vegetarian, but I sure am a proud animal lover… or cat lover to be exact.