Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Timbo and Chris Gallucci

I watched “Tusks and Tattoos” on the Animal Channel yesterday, a story about two social misfits who in a touching way saved each other. Timbo was a large male elephant known as a trouble-maker. He was very much in danger of being euthanized. Chris Gallucci was a tattooed biker who was in and out of prison. It was during a movie being made with Tippi Hedren that he came in contact with Timbu. After the movie many of the animals could not be returned; so Hedren set up an animal preserve she called Shambala. Gallucci stayed on to take care of Timbo – and took care of him for the next 30 years.

I was interested in the way Galluci “walked” Timbo. He would let him go wherever he liked on the Shambala animal preserve. He would just follow along to see what Timbo did. That is pretty much what I do when I walk Sage and Ginger at the river. I love watching the way they relate, especially when they are chasing each other, chasing a rabbit or coyote, or encountering a feral dog. Gallucci said he would let Timbo do whatever he liked, but I noticed he told him when it was time to go back to the compound. I don’t actually tell Sage and Ginger when it is time to go back to the Jeep, I just head back myself and they follow, ranging about, left and right still on the lookout for rabbits.

One of Gallucci’s crises occurred when Timbo broke a tusk and Gallucci’s father died shortly thereafter. He quotes his sister as telling him he “must come to the funeral.” But the area around where Timbo’s tusk had broken was infected and Gallucci had to administer medicine in that area three times a day. Timbo wouldn’t let anyone else do it; so Gallucci stayed with his elephant and missed his father’s funeral. I gather he suffered socially for his decision.

I am reminded of something similar, if less dramatic that happened long ago. Trooper injured himself seriously on a hike. He too had an infection. The vet sewed him up and said it was critical that he not be allowed to lick his stitches. As it happened, that very night we were expected at a friend’s birthday party. His wife did not understand why I made the decision to stay with Trooper. “He is only a dog,” she said; which forever demoted her in my estimation to “only a human.”

Timbo died in 2005, shortly after “Tusks and Tattoos” was made. Gallucci is quoted as saying Timbo’s death was the worst and best thing that had happened in his life. I can understand why it might be the “worst,” but the best? His explanation didn’t adequately justify that term, but upon thinking about it I thought I could understand how he might feel a certain satisfaction. We, some of us, make a commitment to our animals, but we know we are fallible. Gallucci with his experience must have been especially conscious of his own fallibility. He knew how much Timbo depended upon him. Perhaps Timbo wouldn’t even survive if he abandoned him, but he was fallible and could only hope he wouldn’t in some moment of weakness do something that might put him back in prison. So in 2005 when Timbo died, he had to feel satisfaction and relief that he hadn’t let him down. He had stayed with Timbo until the end.

Abandonment is part of our relationships. We will abandon our dogs, cats or elephants, or they will abandon us. We will die first, or they will. Who is to say which will be the greater mourning?

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