Happiness as an Animal? Meet the Quokka

A writing friend sent me some writing prompts. One in particular caught my eye: “Compare happiness to an animal.”

My animal-loving son sat nearby as I read her email. I love animals, you may love animals, many of us love animals. My son takes loving animals to a whole different level. Like to an animal whisperer, animals emerge from the tall grass when he’s nearby so they can share an encounter. It’s a rare moment when I witness him learning about an animal he’s never heard of before. He can correctly name animals that have been misidentified elsewhere, for example, on a TV show. Once he even accurately described why an animal had been mislabeled in a natural history museum.

So I read the prompt to him. I expected he’d talk glowingly about his Bullseye Tabby cat, Phoebe. About the particular smell of her fur and its calming effect on him. The way she naps during the day on his pillow. How her belly wobbles side-to-side as she limp-toes through the house on arthritic legs. How she follows him room-to-room to be near him, like a dog.

He could also have talked about our three rescue dogs, particularly Rudy, who he calls Big Chicken for his large eyes that grow even wider when startled. Especially when he passes gas and jumps, looking accusingly at whoever is closest.

He might have talked about his ball python collection, or his newest snake-pet, a beautiful Reticulated Python he named Rhea because all his animals have mythological names. Rhea means “flowing” in Greek; in mythology she was the mother of Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, and Demeter. His Rhea will eventually grow to 25 feet in length, hopefully long after he has moved out on his own.

He might have described the simple lazy joy of a lizard basking in the radiant heat from a summer warmed rock. Instead, he repeated the prompt. “Happiness as an animal? Quokka.”

When I didn’t understand, he insisted that I look up quokka on my phone. He had to spell it for me.

Wikipedia was the first site to pop up. I summarized: “Oh, a quokka is a wallaby, specifically a short-tailed scrub wallaby!” I have long been familiar with wallabies from our many trips to the San Diego Zoo and from all the animal documentaries we’ve watched together.

He protested. “No, not a wallaby. Look at its face!” I glanced at the image again and shrugged. I supposed the quokka’s face might be different from other wallabies but I was looking at a side view and not a quokka version of a profile picture. I showed him the Wiki site and he got frustrated. He took my phone and searched for images, then flipped my phone around to show me one photo after another. He handed back my phone and I continued looking at images, flipping my phone towards him so we could laugh at picture after picture. We laughed so hard we almost cried.

Quokkas look like an adorably happy cartoon character. They smile for the camera, and their bright and shiny black eyes look delighted to see whomever is taking their picture. The size of a house cat, they stand on their back legs like a kangaroo which leaves their front paws available to reach out to you in what resembles a welcoming hug. They’re also available to receive a eucalyptus leaf on offer, or to hold your water bottle while they take a sip. In some pictures they appear inquisitive, like they’ve just asked what adventures lie ahead for you today and can they tag along? Or maybe they’ve just told you a joke and they’re giggling at their funny little selves. The joke might even have been a teensy bit dirty. They’ll never turn down your request for a selfie.

Photo by Natalie Su on Unsplash

We looked at pictures of quokkas and belly laughed till our sides ached. At one point in the night, I woke myself up laughing about quokkas. We’re still laughing about them today. I even followed an Instagram account dedicated to quokka photos and art that will continue to provide opportunities to smile in response to these darling creatures.

We have a small menagerie of pets that adds joy to our lives, cats and dogs, snakes and a rabbit. At this moment, an animal lounges in just about every room in our house and we couldn’t imagine it any other way. However, since reading aloud that writing prompt last night, quokkas have definitely increased the happiness quotient under our roof. We haven’t even met one in person … something to add to our life adventure list.

Cover image by Tracey Wong from Pixabay

What Animal Are You?

The Chinese have zodiac animals (rooster).
Native Americans have spirit animals (snake).
Even Harry Potter has a patronus (no idea).

Humans seem to like identifying their character traits with animals. What animal would you be?

I’ve always shared the same answer: a cat. I can sit quietly with my own thoughts forever. Sleeping is my superpower, especially napping in sun puddles. I’m affectionate with those I like. I can be playful and flat-out weird. And I’ll show you my claws if you come at me.

But there’s another animal I have to see each time we visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Have you ever seen a leaping blenny?

These funny fish can live in or out of water. They hurl their tiny bodies, leaping from rock to rock along the tide pools and rocky coastlines where they live.

They aren’t all that attractive, but they are unexpected. And they make me laugh every time.

I don’t need to be the sparkliest rainbow fish in the sea. I don’t care about the competition, frankly. I just want to be me, someone a little off beat doing my own unexpected thing who might just make you laugh.

Thankful Thursday – Puppy Joy

Our neighbors moved away, and of course they took their darling black lab with them. But as we more or less co-parented our dogs, it felt like losing not just our friends but also our pet.

Izzy, who had never known life without her next door bestie, became depressed. Her appetite dropped off. Several times a day she’d walk outside and look toward the fence to see if her friend was coming. No matter how much we walked her and loved on her, it still wasn’t the same as having the love of two families.

So we began puppy discussions. Maybe spring, perhaps (definitely?) by summer, when life is more flexible.

But then Tween and I spent a weekend visiting Teen in college. During breakfast in the hotel, a woman holding a puppy walked through the lobby. Teen looked at me and ran. I looked at Tween and ran. Tween followed us both. In an instant all three of us had ditched breakfast in favor of sprawling across a lobby floor to let an eleven-week old dachshund/terrier mix jump and lick and love all over us.

Lowrider had the body of a dachshund and the chocolate-brindle coloring of a terrier. To sit, he scooted backward and did a funny twist-flop with his hindquarters. He was sweet and loveable–and we loved him. A “foster fail,” his mom arrived pregnant to foster care and she and all his siblings had been adopted, leaving him behind in his now-forever home.

Both my boys lit up with puppy joy. Teen’s had (so we’ve all had) a stressful, difficult college transition. Not enough joy in his life, which is so not what you want for your kid in their first semester of college. I thought, maybe puppy-time is now, for the boys, for Izzy, for all of us…

Petfinder.com is my go-to. Other than our four snakes, all our pets are adopted–from neighbors whose kids ‘outgrew’ their pet companions or from shelters. Just over eight years ago, Petfinder found us our darling Izzy.

Izzy was our dog from the moment we saw her sweet picture. Even when I had a middle-of-the-night panic attack, waking Guy to say I wasn’t sure I could do this, that I was afraid I’d be banished to the back deck, outside forevermore with a puppy who would otherwise stain our beautiful hardwood floors. He said, “Too late. We’re going to meet her in the morning. We’ll figure it out,” and we both went back to sleep.

He was right. We fell head-over-heels immediately. So I checked Petfinder, and found a chocolate-brindle version of Izzy. By the time we got home and discussed her with Guy, she’d been adopted. A few days later, I found another sweet face; and again, she was gone by that evening.

The puppy-hunt felt discouraging on top of a discouraging season. I couldn’t do it for long.

I didn’t have to.

After a quick Saturday conversation with our new neighbors, they texted us a puppy picture on Sunday. Within an hour, they had adopted a six-month old puppy and we had adopted a ten-week old puppy.

Meet Jasper, our boxer-shepherd.

He’s a big dog in the making who believes he’s a lap dog. The moment I took him in my arms, he snuggled into my arm pit and fell asleep–well, hello there! With a towel over his (cat carrier) crate, he sleeps through the night; and he’s learning to potty appropriately, though at ten weeks, it will take time.

He wants to play with Izzy, the cats (chasing is so much fun!), the rabbit (more chasing!). Initially, Izzy looked annoyed at Jasper, turning her head sideways with an I could step on him expression. Slowly, she is learning to play with him. The cats mostly hide in our bedroom, although even they, having grown up with two big dogs in the house, recognize he doesn’t pose too much of a threat. Our animal rescue will eventually again achieve equilibrium.

And when Jasper’s had all his shots, when Izzy has grown accustomed to another pet-love under our roof, we’ll re-open the fence and see if our old lady dog won’t mind teaching some younger pups how to be besties.