She remembers when she was little: the blue sky, the wide plains and open spaces of her home, the support and comfort of her family. She remembers that startling day that the men came and took her on a ship and crossed the large ocean. The men named her Shirley. She remembers joining the others of her kind, traveling with them, working for the strange men, exhausted from hauling lumber, pulling ropes, but not allowed to rest. Rather, being dressed in bright costumes and performing for the crowds. But, it wasn’t so bad, because she wasn’t alone. She had her new family; others of her kind, that looked out for each other…cared for each other, like her new friend, Jenny. She help teach Jenny how to get along; how to survive. She remembers that terrible day what one of her kind went slightly mad; screaming his rage and attacking any who came near him. That was the day it all changed again. That was the day her leg was broken…and her life shifted. For two more years, she struggled to work, but she could no longer lift and pull….and no one wanted to watch her perform when all she could do was stumble. She had to leave all she knew, again.
She was sent to a new place. It wasn’t a bad place. She no longer had to haul or pull. She no longer had to wear bright costumes, or perform. She was fed and cared for….but she was alone. There were no others of her kind there… no one to understand her, none of her kind for her to care for… for more than twenty years she was alone.
Then it all changed again. They put a chain around her leg and told her to board a big truck. The truck traveled for 14 hours. When it stopped, the doors opened, and it was another world. She saw green fields and blue skies. The men removed the chains from her leg. She wasn’t sure what to expect. Life had taught her to be cautious; disappointments could appear quickly.
As the day drew to a close, she caught the scent of something familiar. She heard a sound she remembered from long ago. She looked up, and there was someone standing in the doorway that looked just like her! As she looked on in amazement, Tara came over to welcome Shirley to her new home. As night fell, others of her kind entered the shelter of the building. Shirley’s joy was complete when Jenny walked in, her friend from over 20 ago. Jenny gave a loud cry of delight and raced over to touch and caress her. To be touched again – to be caressed by someone – to know that you are no longer alone.
This is the story of Shirley the elephant, and I believe it is a true story. If you want to view it, PBS has produced two short videos (Go ahead, take a look at them, they are beautifully done. The first is five minutes long and the second is seven).
The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee was founded in 1995 and has been home to 24 elephants. If you want to know more about Shirley or Jenny, or about this wonderful place, go to http://www.elephants.com.
If you are interested in learning more about elephants (did you know that they mourn their dead, they care for their infirmed, and can actually cry with joy), then check out these two websites: