Countless times throughout our lives, we’re presented with a choice to help another soul. Rescuing Ladybugs: Inspirational Encounters with Animals That Changed the World by Jennifer Skiff highlights the true stories of remarkable people — leaders in the compassion movement — who didn’t look away from seemingly impossible-to-change situations and instead worked to save animals. Prepare to be transported to Borneo to release orangutans, Brazil to protect jaguars, Africa to connect with chimpanzees and elephants, the Maldives to free mantas, and Indonesia, the only place where dragons still exist in the wild.
We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt of the book’s introduction, in which Skiff describes her life-changing encounter with bears in Laos.
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When we were all children, the ladybug and butterfly stirred feelings of delight, puppies were heavenly, and farm animals made us happy. Our parents taught us that the ladybug — the tiny, red-shelled animal with black spots — brought good luck when she landed on you and that we should gently blow her away so that she could return safely to her family. The story nourished our natural empathy and set us on a path to feel compassion for all animals. We were being taught one of the greatest lessons in life: that kindness for others has rewards.
In 1998, I had an experience with a bear that confirmed that lesson and changed my life. I was in Asia, in the country of Laos, conducting research for a book I wanted to write. Most of the people in Laos are Buddhists, and I became immersed in the teachings of Buddhism. The religion — sometimes considered a philosophy — suggests that when people do good things, good consequences will return to them, and when people do bad things, bad things will happen. Karma. Buddhism also teaches compassion and instructs people to live in a nonharmful way, never killing or causing another being to suffer.
I felt clarity finding a spiritual practice based on compassion. But I was soon reminded that religious teachings don’t guarantee enlightened ways, when I stumbled upon a merciless situation in a cultural park.
I was slowly making my way down a dirt trail at the park, having stopped to read a plaque about Buddha, when my boyfriend yelled, “Jenny, don’t come down this path.” Of course, I did. What I saw weakened my faith in humanity. Black-and-white Asiatic bears, identifiable by the trademark cream-colored collar across their chest, were imprisoned in five cages placed around a statue. Set on concrete slabs, the bell-shaped chambers were constructed of thick iron bars reaching six feet high and four feet wide. They were so small that the bears’ bodies were pushing through the spaces between the bars. There was no protection from the glaring sun, no trees to offer shade. The bears were confined in metal straitjackets, forced upright with nowhere to turn.
I walked up and stood before one of the bears. He was crying and rocking, with one paw pushed completely into his mouth. Our eyes locked and we connected. In that moment, I felt his suffering. That’s when he reached for me, extending his arm beyond his iron prison. He showed me his paws, blistered from cigarette burns.
The sadness grew louder. All around me, the bears were crying. I turned in a circle, my heart racing. They were in hell, all screaming for help. My knees buckled and I grabbed a handrail. That’s when my boyfriend said, “Let’s go, Jenny. There’s nothing to be done here. You can’t save every mistreated animal in the world.” I understood what he was saying. But something in me irrevocably changed. In fact, I experienced an epiphany, a profound spiritual realization that, not only could I do something, but I must.
There are countless times throughout our lives when we’re presented with a choice to help another soul. My experience with the bears, whose complete story I tell in chapter 1, was the first of many situations in remote parts of the world where I was shown suffering and chose not to look away. I’m not alone. Many of us are confronted with injustice every day and choose not to look away. This book tells the stories of people who had an experience with another animal that affected them so profoundly it caused them to act.
I wanted to write this book for several reasons: to profile the good work being done by people to help other species, to inspire others to act, to document the current state of exploitation of animals, and to illuminate the interconnectedness of all species.
These extraordinary people — most of whom I’m lucky enough to call friends, whose unexpected encounters and nonverbal communication with other species motivated them to action — are leaders in what I call the compassion movement: the collective quest to alleviate suffering for all forms of life. Rescuing Ladybugs will take you around the world to experience the awe-inspiring and enlightening connections these leaders have had with animals of all shapes and sizes, from the nearly invisible pteropod to the savanna elephant. You’ll learn how empathy motivated them to create sweeping changes that have ultimately benefited all species — including ours. All the stories are true. Some may be difficult to read, describing injustices, but I hope they fuel your compassion. My hope is that the stories will inspire and support your own intuitive guidance to do what’s right when confronted by wrong.
This anonymous quote, often attributed to Martin Luther King, speaks to that idea: “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” I believe that we know instinctively what’s right, and when we act on that instinct, we feel good; acting compassionately creates happiness in our own life.
The process involved in creating this book was challenging. My Australian publisher stipulated that, as part of a two-book deal, this had to be a memoir. It took me a year to figure out how to write a memoir that was meaningful, entertaining, and important. Throughout Rescuing Ladybugs, I share my personal journey with animals and tell some of the stories that have inspired me to action; these encounters often led to my connections with the amazing heroes in this book. As for how this book was put together, with a few exceptions, all the first-person stories were told to me directly through a combination of in-person, Skype, and email interviews, which I edited into single accounts. In a couple of stories, I combine my interviews with reprinted, previously published statements from other sources (and I cite those additions). In only one case is a personal account entirely from another source (Guy Stevens, from his book Manta). Every profile is introduced by a short story about how I met the person, and each includes a biography of the person’s work, followed by a question-and-answer with them. Every story has been fact-checked by the person who is profiled.
Rescuing Ladybugs is about our collective journey to create positive change in the world for all species by breaking the barriers that cage and separate us. It’s about the love that unites all species and shows how nurturing that connection helps all creatures to thrive. When we allow ourselves to experience this connection, we raise our consciousness, ignite our purpose, and become a force for good. The result is the awakening of our soul and the gift of an enlightened happiness that cannot be broken by the cruelty of a few.
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Jennifer Skiff is the author of Rescuing Ladybugs and an award-winning journalist who traveled the globe as a correspondent for CNN for more than a decade. Passionate about animals and their welfare, she serves as a trustee, adviser, and spokesperson for charities around the world while working with lawmakers to create positive change.
Excerpted from the book Rescuing Ladybugs. Copyright © 2018 by Jennifer Skiff.