If I could walk with the animals, they’d probably mostly be jerks

First Posted: 9:26 pm - July 31st, 2015

Ben There, Done That - Ben Hohenstatt

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Recently, I watched a documentary called “Animal Odd Couples,” which despite what its title might lead you to believe, is not a gritty expose documenting the alarming prevalence of human trafficking. It was actually a breezy film depicting several mismatched pairs of animals that got along surprisingly well.

A coyote was on inexplicable amicable terms with a lion. A dog and a cheetah were an inseparable duo. A goat guided a blind horse, serving as the horse’s eyes and faithful companion. A goose confusingly believed it had mated, for life no less, with a large tortoise and defended its be-shelled love’s personal space.

There was also some footage of an owl and cat getting along, and that’s what was really thought provoking. Seeing one set of unlikely interspecies buddies after another, I had to think, “Which odd animals would be easiest to befriend?” Naturally, my list devolved into a numerical ranking, and I thought if I wrote a long preamble introducing the concept, it’d make a fantastic column.

Here are 10 unconventional animals ranked in order of how easy I believe they would be to befriend:

10) Sharks: Sharks are glass-eyed aquatic murder machines. They are bloodlusting-finned tubes with rows upon rows of teeth. These animals clearly are not wired in a way conducive to hanging out, because if sharks stop moving, they stop breathing. Furthermore, sharks breathe water, and most people, including me, do not. This would make friendship a remote possibility at best.

9) Opossums: Opossums are more commonly known by the name chosen to hide their shameful Irish heritage — possums. Opossums are one of the only marsupials indigenous to North America. They resemble the banjo-playing child from Deliverance and are primarily nocturnal. Opossums are best described as a cross between a hissing nightmare and a house cat. House cats are impossible to befriend. This definitively rules the opossum out.

8) Tarantulas: Tarantulas are large spiders. This is not inherently a bad thing. A little bit of Googling reveals testimony of owners who swear the large and not particularly dangerous spiders come to recognize their owners, just like pets with more appropriate numbers of limbs. Tarantulas seem fine — almost charming really, but you really don’t want to be the guy who’s friends with large, hairy spiders. I’d like to think I’m a big enough person to move past an arachnophobic society, but I’m not. Sorry tarantulas, it’s not you — it’s me and the society that formed me.

7) All birds of prey: I once had an opportunity to tour an aviary where rehabbing raptors were kept. I was told to keep close to the walls, because some of the birds had cataracts and could be a bit hostile. It’s then I realized that fast-flying, vision-impaired animals who eat animals roughly the size of my supple, unravaged face didn’t sound like animals I wanted to be around. You also notice they’re sort of loud, smelly and not particularly intelligent, which unfortunately describes so many in my social circle that birds of prey are effectively ruled out.

6) Bears: Bears seem sort of laid-back and oafish in a charming way. They hang out in the woods. They eat whatever. They sleep for months on end. Sometimes, they’re circus performers and walk on their hind legs. Our ursine co-occupants of Earth have long, matted hair and probably score tickets to Burning Man. Bears seem OK. However, they just seem OK. If I learned anything from “Grizzly Man” it’s that Werner Herzog mournfully listening to an audio recording is not a powerful way to end a film.

5) Octopi: Octopi are so intelligent they’re considered honorary vertebrates. I’ve often been accused of being an honorary vertebrate. Their gardens come highly recommended by my good, personal friend Ringo Starr. Here’s the rub though: much like sharks, octopi live in the ocean, and most of the time, I live on land. While octopi can open bottles and solve puzzles, which would suggest the capability to both operate a cellphone and beat Candy Crush, cellphones aren’t waterproof or tentacle friendly. We’d never stay in touch. This is a 50-50 proposition at best, which makes it perfect for the No. 5 slot.

4) Non-dog canines: Wolves, coyotes, foxes, etc. I’m not really stepping out on a limb, as dogs are tried and true animal friends, and I’d have to think this would be more of the same. The obvious caveat is that to attempt to befriend a wild animal, I would prefer it be a cub of some kind, so I can introduce it to our society’s standards. Also, there are apparently some breeders who claim to have mostly domesticated foxes, so I feel pretty good about this ranking.

3) Elephants: Elephants are soulful creatures, who live in highly social groups with complex methods of communicating. One time, I ordered a pizza online, and believe I completed the transaction using nothing but grunts. Elephants will be slumming by hanging out with me, but the viral video of the painting elephant that made the rounds a few years ago leads me to believe elephants like art and other unmarketable liberal arts skills, so we’d get along fine.

2) Sea Lions: I’ve often said sea lions should be called sea dogs. Honestly, ask my friends and family, and they’ll tell you this is seriously an opinion I express with regularity. Dogs have wet noses, so do sea lions. Dogs bark, so do sea lions. Dogs like playing with a ball, so do sea lions. Dogs can be trained to do tricks, and sea lions are natural performers.

A little research shows that male sea lions are very territorial. I can handle passive-aggressive milk carton notes, but attacking surfers sort of toes the line of territorial behavior I’m willing to accept from friends. I think friendship is more likely than not, and probably super easy to maintain as long as I keep a bucket of dead fish around, and I already always do.

1) Slow Lorises: Slow lorises are sort of an obscure animal, but they are essentially a mixture of a sloth, a bush baby and a monkey. We’re not so different the slow lorises and me. Slow Lorises are actually several species of animal native to Bangladesh, Northeast India, the Philippines and China. I’ve often been accused of being several species of animal, notably a pig, dog, slug and jackass.

There are some minimal differences, but the similarities abound. Whereas Slow Lorises are nocturnal primates found in Southeast Asia, I am primarily found in North America. Slow Lorises are some of the only mammals capable of delivering a toxic bite, I am also perhaps best described as a toxic mammal. The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List classifies the slow loris as vulnerable, and I’d classify myself as pretty vulnerable.

I know how you feel Slow Loris, I know how you feel.


Ben There, Done That

Ben Hohenstatt

Ben Hohenstatt is a staff writer for The Herald Independent and can be reached at bhohenstatt@civitasmedia.com. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.


Ben Hohenstatt is a staff writer for The Herald Independent and can be reached at bhohenstatt@civitasmedia.com. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.

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