Animals, Captivity & Spiritual Freedom
By Allen and Linda Anderson



An article in the September 14, 2002 issue of the New York Times by Felicia R. Lee, “Shaping Na-ture’s Unnatural Homes,” posed some interesting questions. Carr wrote, “The now-familiar debate about zoos — from their design to the rationale for their very existence — is decades old. As many have observed, zoos are caught in an inherent contradiction: visitors go to experience nature in unnatural places. To what degree do zoos exist for the animals as opposed to the visitors? Is there something fundamentally wrong about using any animal for display and entertainment, or should zoos be seen as extensions of conservation efforts, much-needed protectors of vulnerable wildlife?”

After reading this article, we decided to pose the questions it raised to those who subscribe to our online Angel Animals Network Day Brightener Newsletter. We asked, “What do you think about zoos? Do you have a story about an experience with an animal in a zoo?”

We received many letters from people around the world. Most of our readers, being major animal lovers, found zoos to be upsetting even though some expressed appreciation for efforts to save dying species. But one letter offered unique insight into how the physical body can be in captivity, the emotions can be caged by fear, but the soul, the spirit, always has the freedom to soar beyond limitations.

Making a Difference
J. Blair’s letter offers an example of how to make a difference for an animal in captivity. “I’ve never liked zoos, even as a small child. My father and I have a running debate about zoos. He finds them a necessary part of animal conservation, and I maintain that if people did not encroach on animal’s spaces, we would not need the zoos. The only reason I would go to a zoo is when my love for the person wanting to go was greater than my distaste.

“On one of these occasions I found an amazing switch in my attitude. I stood in front of the antelope exhibit and instead of feeling anger at their living conditions; I felt a wave of love and compassion for the life they are living as souls and spiritual beings. It was a magical moment. Instantly my day brightened and I felt happy and excited to see the animals and to be able to silently send them love.

“While at this zoo, I wanted to see the silver-backed gorilla the most. When I arrived at the outside viewing area, I could hear several groups of people talking about how hard it was to see the gorilla. He didn’t like coming out. “I walked around the enclosure a few times, hoping to get a glimpse of him. I went to the inside viewing area, and there he sat with his back to the window. He was in a position that would cause us humans to feel teased by what we could see yet have to leave, still hoping to see more of him.

I was awed by the gorilla’s size and color. I knew he could hear the loud talking of the people waiting for him to turn around. I sensed that he was purposefully ignoring their knocks on his window. The only control he had of his life was whether he let people see him or not. “I decided to talk calmly to the gorilla in my mind. I told him I felt compassion for his living circumstances. I wished him well. I told him that I really wished I could see his face but respected what he wanted to do. I felt a flow of love for him.

Then I left the building to go stand at the wood rails outside his enclosure, wondering what he felt about his life. To my utter amazement the gorilla came walking out to a space right in front of me and sat down. We stared at each other for only a minute, but it felt like forever. I felt a wave of incredible strength come from him. His spirit was not diminished. I had a camera around my neck and picked it up to photograph the moment. I wanted proof later that I had experienced this. Before I could click, he walked away. This happened four years ago, yet I hold its memory in my heart as clearly as if I had the photograph I tried to take. My anger won’t change the fact that we have zoos, but my love just might make a difference in an animal’s day.”

Love Frees the Spirit
One day, Linda went to a zoo in Canada and had her usual bout of sadness upon feeling empathy for the animals in captivity. Some animals, not knowing anything else, didn’t seem as bothered as others. But one orangutan sat in the center of a glassed-in cage. A group of about twenty adults and children were gathered around, trying to get his attention. Linda stood at the edges of this group near the glass. She watched as the orangutan lowered his head and covered his eyes with his hands. He looked so depressed.

Linda closed her eyes and silently sang HU (pronounced like the word hue), an ancient love song to God that animals seem to recognize and respond to. She kept singing this song and filled herself with love for the orangutan. When she opened her eyes, the crowd of people was staring at her. She looked up and saw what had drawn their attention.

The depressed orangutan had left his tree stump and come over to where Linda stood. He was gazing at her with immense love in his big, brown, expressive eyes. Linda smiled back at him. Then the orangutan leaned forward and placed his lips on the other side of the glassed-in enclosure. Linda reciprocated by kissing him back from the outside of the glass. The crowd laughed and applauded, touched by this special expression of love.

These two experiences demonstrate the spiritual truth that all of us are in some form of captivity. We have mental, emotional, and physical cages. But the animals show us that love and love alone frees the spirit.

What would you like to do today to express your love for an animal or human?

Allen and Linda Anderson are co-editors of “Angel Animals: Exploring Our Spiritual Connection with Animals” (A Plume Book, 1999) in local and Internet bookstores and One Spirit Book Club classic. Get their free online newsletter by e-mailing . Story submissions for their next book, website, and articles are grate-fully accepted at P.O. Box 26354, Minneapolis, MN 55426 or you may e-mail them at . For more information call (952) 925-3309.  

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