When I first read the overwhelming essay “How Could You?” like everyone else with a soul I cried. And cried. If you’ve read it then you’ve cried too. I know you have or you wouldn’t be reading this blog.
Then I said to myself, “I have to find out more about the person behind this moving piece.” So I contacted Jim Willis and asked him to share his life and passions with all of us.
Jim is an author as well as a rescuer. He’s never been afraid to stand up for what he believes even if he gets roughed up for doing so.
BTW, this lovely boy with Jim in the picture is his rescue Weim, Zinn.
Please join me for this five-part interview. Meanwhile, you can check out Jim’s best-selling book, “Pieces of My Heart.” I promise you’ll be crying again.
Joy: How did you get involved with animals?
Jim: As a child, I was not allowed to have furred pets. My parents were physically handicapped and didnt want the responsibility. I made do with turtles, fish and sea monkeys, but I constantly complained that I wanted a dog or cat. When I was 14, my mother convinced a local shelter director in Pittsburgh to take me on as a volunteer. I worked there every weekend and school holiday for a couple of years.
Unfortunately, it was a kill shelter with a gas chamber. I fell madly in love with countless animals until most of them went to the back room for the last time. The experience took an emotional toll on me and my parents were concerned, but I refused to quit. I knew that whatever else I did in life that I would have a lifelong commitment to speaking out for animals. It is ironic that 30 years later that very same shelter asked me to take a senior Basset Hound scheduled for euthanasia; I named her Holly Golightly, and she is the dog who inspired me to write my best-known essay, How Could You?
My earliest memories are of animals. As a toddler, I carried around a plush Dalmatian, Spot, and was inconsolable if I misplaced him. On a trip to the zoo, I crawled under the outdoor enclosure for the rhinos and the male rhino marked me with urine as the crowd screamed. I had to be taken to the first-aid station and the nurse gave me a bath in the sink. If my family visited anyone with a dog, I cried when I had to leave the dog. On a trip to a farm, I fell into a pile of chicken guano. Wherever we went, if I disappeared, my dad would ask if there were any animals around, and if the hosts said, Theres a dog next door, my dad would say, Go get Jimmy.
Joy: Looking back at your childhood, what do you think it is about animals that drew you to them?
Jim: Like animals, all children are born innocent, and I believe they have a natural affinity for each other. Nursery rhymes and childrens books amuse and teach us, and the animal characters are usually sweet and loving. With the exception of the big, bad wolf which might have something to do with why I became a wolf rescuer later in life! And as we grow up, children learn that the world is not always a happy place and that love is not always unconditional. As the child of handicapped parents, I had to come to that realization earlier than some children. So, I know that animals gave me comfort and always showed me unconditional love. Today, I love to see children grow up with animals, but as an animal rescuer, I also want animals placed responsibly, treated as a true family member, with age-appropriate considerations about the children.
Joy: Did you read and study about animals as a child?
Jim: Constantly. I learned to read before I started school and consumed books about animals. I watched everything on television that had to do with animals and pretended I was Tarzan & Janes Boy. I got in trouble at a pre-school Sunday School class because the teacher was showing us the animals on Noahs Ark, held up a picture of a cheetah and said This is a leopard.
No its not! I yelled. Thats a cheetah, you idiot. My impeccably polite parents werent too happy with me. To this day, Ive never figured out how Noah got both lions and tigers on his ark, when they derive from two different continents.
I used to check books out of the Carnegie Library that were far advanced for my age. I carried one huge one around for a while and read the whole thing. Family friends would ask me what I was reading and Id reply, The Territorial Imperative. Im sure they rolled their eyes.
Check back tomorrow for the next installment of this online visit with rescuer and author Jim Willis.