BOOKS: First Light: Animal Voices in Concert

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2006:

First Light:
Animal Voices in Concert
by Ardeth DeVries
Publishing Works (c/o Revolution Booksellers,
60 Winter St., Exeter, NH 03833), October 2006
186 pages, paperback. $15.00.

First Light is a collection of short stories about dogs and
an African elephant named Sonny, who was orphaned by herd-culling in
Zimbabwe circa 1980, was sold to a zoo in New Mexico, was
eventually deemed incorrigible, and was sent to the Popcorn Park
Zoo, a rescue facility run by the Associated Humane Societies of New
Jersey, in 1989. He died in early 2001.
The stories are told largely through the mouths of the
animals themselves, including Zippy, a little terrier who rescues
birds and finds time to teach inter-species communication, and
Angus, a blind shelter dog whose caring guardian was able to give
him the gift of sight. Angus lives with author Ardeth DeVries and
joins DeVries at benefits for animal charities near their home in
Coupevlle, Wasington.

There is adventure, pain, laughter, and tears on every
page. But there is substance to this book. It is not a mere litany
of animal rescues. The animals display marked understanding and
wisdom. Portraying the dogs as enlightened highlights the sad truth
that most of their human friends are not.
Soft and sentimental, unashamedly anthropomorphic, there is
almost a Disney character about the stories, in that although the
adventures are inspired by actual events, much of the book consists
of conversations with and between animals. The tales are imbued with
an atmosphere of respect for animals that makes them ideal bedtime
reading for children to whom one wishes to impart an ethic of
DeVries’s stories reveal a deep knowledge of animal behavior
and care. At one point, she describes giving CPR to a small bird that
had been stunned. Breathing into a small bird’s beak after it has
flown into a window is something we ourselves have to do from time to
time–and it works. Similarly, DeVries relates how she sang to one
shelter dog in order to reassure her. This too is a device that we
have used with success in rehabbing wild animals. Hearing a human
voice going on and on seems to have a calming effect on even wild
animals, and there are many jackals and caracals now roaming the
Kalahari who are well versed in the poetry of Longfellow.
This is a charming little book, which could well be used in
humane education.
The title refers to a spiritual awakening that a practitioner
of Zen might call satori, namely a realization that all beings are
connected and that all are part of a greater whole. DeVries believes
that if we are sensitive enough, contact and communication with
animals can help us to find this form of enlightenment. Although the
message is deeply spiritual, the stories themselves are simple,
well-written, and delightful.
All proceeds earned by Ardeth DeVries from sales of First
Light will be donated to animal welfare organizations, including the
Whidbey Animal Improvement Foundation, Associated Humane Societies,
and Broken Arrow, a foundation DeVries operates to help the pets of
impoverished humans in the Puget Sound region.
–Chris Mercer
South Africa

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