Animals Can Be Ambassadors for Forgiveness, Generosity, Peace, Trust, and Hope

Here is a fantastic article by Prof. Marc Bekoff, which was originally published in Psychology Today.  I have enormous respect for Prof. Bekoff and his work observing animal behavior—in his own “backyard” of Colorado and in more exotic locations around the world. In this article, Bekoff tells the story of Jasper, a moon bear, and the valuable lessons that we can learn from him. Don’t forget to share his great work with your friends, or print it and tack it up on a bulletin board. Here is part one—and part two.

Jasper is a moon bear. I try to practice what he teaches. Jethro was my long-time companion dog, and I also try to incorporate his lessons about compassion and love into my life. Jasper, Jethro, and many other amazing animal beings teach us numerous lessons about forgiveness, generosity, dignity, peace, trust, and love. We must listen to them carefully and incorporate them into our lives.

Jasper arrived at the Moon Bear Rescue Centre outside of Chengdu, China in 2000 and given the name he proudly carries. Jill Robinson MBE (founder of Animals Asia; and the wonderful humans who work with her receive bears from bear farms after the bears are no longer useful to the farmers. Bears usually arrive in horrible condition, suffering from serious physical and psychological trauma. Each bear is given a complete physical and a psychological evaluation. Many need surgery because of their physical condition (missing paws, worn down teeth, or liver cancer). After they’ve acclimated to the center some bears have to be kept alone, whereas others can be introduced to other bears (click here for details about bear farming and bear rescue).

Here’s why Jasper is such an inspiring bear being. He’s a true survivor. I’m sure he and his friends remind of us the dogs, cats, and other animals to whom we give care. For fifteen years Jasper’s home was a tiny, filthy “crush cage” in which he couldn’t move on a bear farm in China. Jasper was continually squashed to the bottom of his filthy cage to squeeze out his bile. Imagine being pinned in a phone booth for even fifteen minutes and all you could do was turn your head to drink water and eat. As if this wasn’t enough, Jasper also had a rusty metal catheter inserted into his gall bladder so that his bile could be collected to treat various ailments in the spurious name of traditional Chinese medicine. Despite it all, Jasper survived and his story must be told and shared widely.

Jethro and Jasper: Exemplars of Compassion and Empathy

I met Jethro in June 1989 at the Boulder (Colorado) Humane Society. When I first met Jasper he immediately reminded me of Jethro — kind and gentle with big brown eyes that stared right into my heart. Each had a tan stripe across his chest; for Jasper the tan crescent is the reason he’s called a moon bear. I’m sure it was Jasper’s and Jethro’s optimistic spirit and trust that’s allowed them to thrive. At the humane society Jethro had the reputation for liking all the other animals, including the ducks, geese, and goats he occasionally met in the outdoor run. Jethro came home with me, kept me happy and healthy, rescued injured birds and bunnies around my mountain home, and taught me many important life lessons. Jasper’s and Jethro’s spiritual  path is as an inspirational lesson for how we can all be healthy, alive, and connected, and recover from untold and unimaginable trauma. Each of these individuals also displayed unbounded empathy for others.

When I first met Jasper I could feel his gentle kindness. The same for Jethro. Their omniscient eyes say, “All’s well, the past is past, let go and move on.” Jasper’s gait was slow and smooth as he approached me as I fed him peaches out of a bucket. I then gave Jasper peanut butter and his long and wiry tongue glided out of his mouth and he gently lapped the tasty treat from my fingers. Jill Robinson best describes Jasper’s softness, his kind disposition: “Touching the back of his paw one day I saw his head turn towards me, soft brown eyes blinking with trust and I knew that Jasper was going to be a special friend.”

Jasper knew that things were going to get better and that he would recover. Jasper tells people and other bears “All will be okay, trust me.” Likewise, when I was having a bad day Jethro also reminded me to look on the bright side of things. When Jasper was finally released from his recovery cage at the rescue centre he was delighted to be free. Jill watched him approach a bear on the other side of the bars separating them and reach out as if to shake paws with the stranger who was to become his best friend. The other bear, Delaney, AKA Aussie, sniffed Jasper’s paw and then put his paws through the bars so that Jasper could return the favor. Jasper and Aussie remain close friends and I’ve had the pleasure—I might say a delightful treat and honor—of watching them play, rest together, and perhaps share stories of the their horrible pasts and the wonderful humans with whom they’re lucky to live with now.