Wednesday, November 19, 2014

NaBloPoMo: Animal Bonding

This week in my Autobiographical Literacies class, we read Stacey O'Brien's Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl. The writing prompt for this memoir: "Share your responses about who Wesley was to O'Brien. Give quotes from the text to support your views. Describe a deep bond you too have shared with an animal during your lifetime."

Clearly Wesley’s development was central to O’Brien’s personal life. There are indications that O’Brien feels that since she tamed him, she owed him her life, perhaps as a sense of social responsibility to care for him (indeed, chapters two and 15 focus on that, and are reflected in the chapter titles). She notes that Wesley was completely dependent on her, and in such a fashion it could be understood that “maintaining” him: “He would be completely dependent upon me physically and emotionally, and if I were ever to abandon him, I could doom him to die from fear, confusion, and grief...[yet she’d] never felt so protective of anything” in [her] life (18). I got the impression that Wesley added elements of consistency through O’Brien’s life in a way that a spouse/long-term partner or especially children might have provided; Wesley fulfills an emotional need. The sense of responsibility that comes from taming such a young animal strikes me as similar to raising a newborn (although the newborn becomes independent fairly quickly in relative terms to the constant and prolonged care that a baby animal would need).

O’Brien’s need to care for Wesley comes nearly at the expense to her ability to recognize the level of care she needed for herself, especially as explained in a later chapter in which she explains the extreme health issues that began plaguing her in her late 30s. The mentality of wanting to be sent home because it was “no big deal” so that she could continue caring for Wesley speaks to their bond, but nearly at the expense of her ability to make prudent decisions (as exemplified in chapter 15 – “Twilight: He Whom I Tamed Saves My Life”). Yet it is also possible that when she does recognize that she is unable to care for Wesley without assistance, she is able to recognize that Wesley’s dependence on her is what prevents her from committing suicide, and taking him along with her (211). It seems as though Wesley saved her in this regard – or at least she believes he did – thereby continuing their dependence on each other. I do see this as a type of dependence, although not necessarily in any sort of negative way. If Wesley was able to provide O’Brien with a reason for life, as she implies at the end of the chapter: “I looked into the eyes of the owl, found the way of God there, and decided to live” (211). I’m not sure that she had this type of bond with a person. Wesley appears to have been central to O’Brien’s mental and emotional development. While one might argue that Wesley allowed her to bond with her co-workers and other animal-lover friends, Wesley could be seen as an inhibitor when it came to bonding with romantic partners. Perhaps this was a self-fulfilling prophecy; O’Brien emotionally depended on Wesley despite looking for a long-term partner who could not fulfill her needs because of her bond with the owl.

I've been struggling with other blog/discussion board posts, but this one may be, in fact, the most difficult, for the simple reason that I've never bonded with an animal. When I was little, I had rabbits that lived in an outdoor pen; I don't remember what happened to them, but I'm told they ran away. (I don't think the pen was a great one, although I would not dismiss the idea that my brother or I left the door open). I think I may have had an occasional hamster or gerbil, neither of which is known for their long lives. I briefly inherited a can from a friend, but the cat ran away (and this time I can say with certainty it's because the front door was left open). I'm about as interested in having a pet as I am in going on a cruise - which is to say, not at all. I don't understand the appeal of pet ownership, although I've had folks try to explain their bonds with their pets over the years ("They're like my children!" "People have been hurtful and I can't trust any person anymore. I can only trust animals!" etc. Pet parents drive me up the proverbial wall.). I simply don't bond with pets or animals; I'm ambivalent about them, and like babies, I have trouble getting excited about them or wanting one. I can't say, then, that I've ever had any bond with an animal.

Because of my own interests and apathy towards pet ownership (which you are entirely welcome to question and disparage), I had trouble with Wesley the Owl; the interesting parts to me were the ways in which Wesley affected O'Brien's life and relationships. Her work as a biologist interested me; Wesley's bowel movements and physical development did not.

Work Cited 
O’Brien, Stacey. Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl. New York: Free Press, 2008. Print.

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