Judy Hoy is a strange bird, you might say. But I have noticed over my lifetime that people who live and work very closely with animals end up being a bit strange, especially when viewed from the hardcore anthropocentric world view that has come to dominate these days. That is the world view in which animals are viewed as “dumb” by nature, as not just “other” than human, but significantly “less” than human. Ironically, it is now modern science that is helping to shatter this obsolete prejudice against the innate intelligence of other critters.
We read in National Geographic, for instance, from scientists that have “lived with” and studied the same pod of dolphins for over thirty years, that not only do dolphins speak to each other, they also speak about each other. They all have personal names and sometimes are talked about in their absence by other members of the pod. Not only that they have named each the friendly researchers who have insinuated themselves into the pod over all these years. They can talk about the divers in their absence as well. We know this because they have been recording the dolphins’ conversations all these years and analyzing them. Even more amazing is the prospect, using modern technology, of actually opening up conversation between the dolphins and the divers, in the dolphins’ own language.
Judy Hoy has been rescuing, raising, and rehabilitating Montana wildlife for almost 50 years. In that time, she, her husband, Bob, and her rehabber friends cared for thousands of different animals, the majority being birds. Bob is a wildlife biologist and worked until he retired, as a game warden for Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. They often go to National Parks and Wildlife Refuges to watch the wildlife interactions.
Having grown up on a cattle ranch, Hoy began interacting with domestic animals at a young age, raising and training horses, caring for and milking dairy cows and raising chickens, geese and other fowl. She also watched the wild animals on the ranch, learning all their names and where they lived. She began her adult career as an elementary school teacher and taught in grades 4 through 6 for 12 years. She also was a wildlife artist, until she began spending all of her spare time researching wildlife in 1996.
When Hoy told people about the amazing behaviors shown by birds and other animals, they often told her she should write a book, so she began keeping notes and after 50 years of experience and note taking, she has finally done it. It’s titled “Amazing Wildlife – True Stories About Wild Animals Who Demonstrated Intelligence, Adaptability, Friendship, Compassion and Individuality.”
What Judy and her colleagues saw and experienced predates but verifies recent findings by researchers which shows that, not just dolphins, but mammals, generally, as well as birds, reptiles, fish and other animals (including insects) act intelligently, often work with others, have friendships, are adaptable, exhibit compassion, and have individual personalities. These qualities, in research subjects and those animals whose stories are told in “Amazing Wildlife,” strongly indicate we have only begun to scratch the surface regarding the remarkable abilities of other species with whom we share the planet.
The animals demonstrated behaviors that many scientists claimed they don’t do or are incapable of doing. For example, the beautiful female Long-eared Owl who came back to ask her human mom for help when she had trouble catching enough mice for her youngsters, or the fledgling Red Crossbills who proved to science how they make their bills cross. There are also stories about adorable babies like a tiny badger with a white heart on her nose, the little fox with a broken leg and how she found help, and several darling bear cubs and their accomplishments. Many other animals did remarkable things as youngsters or after they grew up, as their stories show.
I had the pleasure of getting to know one of those critters, a starling named Arnie that lived with Hoy for about 15 years, I think.
He called himself a “pretty bird” unless he wasn’t, in which case he might call himself a “dirty bird.” He picked up a little English from listening to Hoy all the time and could even surprise her with some of his questions. You can read about it in her book. It’s a fascinating story about a very remarkable creature. The book is chockfull of fascinating, almost unbelievable, animal stories.
Hoy’s first book, “Changing Faces,” was written to help bring attention to the multiple birth defects and serious health effects now occurring on newborns of vertebrate and invertebrate species, especially human newborns. It tracks the growing body of evidence concerning the consequences of exposure to gene and thyroid disrupting toxins.
This, her second book, touches on some of the growing and changing threats to wildlife brought on by the production and spread of dangerous chemicals. But it primarily just displays and celebrates the incredible intelligence and compassion demonstrated by so many animals in their interactions, not only with their own kind, but with other species as well, even humans. If you ask Hoy, the dumbest animal on the face of the earth may be those humans who don’t seem to recognize intelligence when they see it.
This book is a must read for anyone who doesn’t think they can talk to animals. The trick, as Hoy shows us in a treasure trove of anecdotes, is to quit trying to talk to them and try talking with them instead. Hoy is indeed a scientist, biologist, naturalist, and wildlife rehabilitator and we could and should add artist and poet to that mix. Her book “Changing Faces,” though research based, is sprinkled with poems, mostly haiku.
You will find her multi-talented approach to animal education in her latest book both fun and amazing. She reminds us that it is with other animals as it is with humans. It is not so much how much you know about them that counts as how much you care. Hoy’s books, like her life, are a call to care for all the earth’s critters.
Her new book, “Amazing Wildlife,” can be purchased directly from her or off the shelves at Chapter One Bookstore, or Rainbow’s End Health Food Store in Hamilton, or at Stoneydale Press in Stevensville. A copy can also be found at local libraries.