Issue 499 | Correspondence | The Sun Magazine


Al Kesselheim’s interview with Joe Hutto [“A Walk on the Wild Side,” May 2017] makes me think of my family: My brother because he kept piranhas, an iguana, gerbils, hamsters, Guinea pigs, mice, salamanders, saltwater fish, spiders, and more as pets. My mother because she accommodated us by caring for rescued birds, a stray turtle, or a baby bunny. My grandfather because he taught me how to cajole a feral cat out of hiding by ignoring the cat while slowly walking with a piece of twine tied to my ankle. My grandmother because she always knew where to find the latest litter of kittens, treated the cows as gently as she did her grandchildren, and once shared my sense of wonder as we watched a chicken lay an egg.

Michele Thorne Wilmette, Illinois

The interview with Joe Hutto affected me profoundly. I have always known that animals are at least our equals. The most loving and respectful relationship I ever had was with a dog. I have also had close relationships with horses, rabbits, cats, and humans. And I have swum with sea turtles and manta rays. I am grateful for these opportunities for intimacy.

I remember once sitting on a high cliff overlooking the ocean. As I enjoyed the feelings evoked by the beautiful view of water and sky, my dog sat next to me, also gazing out into that expanse for a long time. I imagine he was having a similar experience.

Deborah Ramsay St. John
Virgin Islands

As someone who has spent the bulk of her career communicating about natural-resource management, I found Al Kesselheim’s interview with Joe Hutto to be a page turner. It neglected, however, to touch upon the downsides of human-animal interactions.

Baby bison in Yellowstone and baby seals on the West Coast have been euthanized after humans attempted unnecessarily to “rescue” them. People have been killed while taking photos of themselves with wild animals. Curious humans have disrupted the resting, feeding, or mating behaviors of sea life. Well-meaning people have fed wild animals until they have become conditioned not to forage or hunt for themselves.

Unless you’re a research biologist like Hutto, keep wildlife “wild” by admiring it from a distance.

K. Carnes Portland, Oregon

Joe Hutto’s stories about his life with animals were mesmerizing. I loved getting a glimpse into the world of this deeply compassionate ethologist. I have two questions for Hutto. We find out that, as a boy, he brought home young animals to raise, but we never learn whether these were orphans or babies he took from their families. If they were the latter, does Hutto regret capturing them, since he talks about the grief experienced by animals who lose loved ones? I also wondered whether his empathy for prey animals extends to farmed animals. In other words, is he vegan?

Zoe Weil Surry, Maine
Joe Hutto responds:

To Michele Thorne: You’re right; all creatures provide us a glimpse into the wonders of life — when we pay attention.

To Deborah Ramsay: I agree that humans and other living things are capable of some shared vision of our common membership in the ineffable complexities of life.

To K. Carnes: No question about it. As admirers of wildlife and the natural world, our involvement with wild things can come with certain liabilities for all. We need to be vigilant and responsible in our interactions and relationships with other creatures.

To Zoe Weil: As a child I was often indiscriminate in how I gained access to wildlife and to young animals in particular. I did exercise some restraint, except when rescuing orphans. In those days it was still considered appropriate to collect “specimens” with so-called killing jars, and I’m sad to say I had a comprehensive butterfly collection. Still, I’m grateful for the rocky path that brought me to a better perspective.

In response to your second question, I am concerned about the plight of creatures raised for food. Naturally I have become hypersensitive (oversensitive, some might say) about the killing of any living thing. I have had personal relationships with certain fish, and I know fish think and feel, so I am conflicted about the wild seafood I continue to eat.

Mark Ross’s photo essay “Animal Shelter” [May 2017] reminded me of when I went to an Oklahoma City humane shelter to get a kitten for my son and ended up leaving with an overweight two-year-old cat. The people at the shelter told me she was supposed to have been put down the day before, but they couldn’t bring themselves to do it, because she’d purred when touched. They extended her life for one more day. I kept her until she died at the age of sixteen.

Adele Marshall Chino Valley, Arizona

David Rutschman’s story “The Donkey at the Gates of the Kingdom of Heaven” [April 2017] resonated with me and others in my community. Rutschman’s insight combines a deadly serious view of humanity with genuine humor. Even if I am occasionally an ass braying out of tune, all is unimaginably well.

Michael Flynn Victoria, British Columbia

In the early 1970s I taught in an elementary school where my responsibilities included playground, dismissal, and bus-loading supervision. I became acquainted with a fourth-grader who didn’t interact much with his classmates during recess. Our school offered no special-education programs or individualized education plans, like the ones Steve Silberman describes in “Misdiagnosed and Misunderstood” [interview by Mark Leviton, March 2017]. Terms like autism and Asperger’s had yet to enter the lexicon of teaching programs.

I also conducted the annual spelling bee. Participants were given three pages of words to study. The night of the competition, I was surprised to see the fourth-grader among the mostly older contestants. When given a word, many students asked to have it repeated, used in a sentence, or defined. When given his word, the fourth-grader would simply ask, “What page is it on?” I would tell him, and he would then methodically deliver the correct spelling. I soon realized he could “see” the word on the page in his head. He came away with the top prize.

T.M. Johnson Monroe, Washington

Edward Bradshaw’s essay “Bella” [March 2017] nearly brought me to tears. I work for a federally funded Head Start program where, for the last decade, I have encountered preschool-aged children like Bella. I have been kicked, bitten, and punched. I have had furniture thrown at me. And I have cried and prayed a lot.

Mental-health consultants tell my colleagues and me to use stickers to reward good behavior, even though these children couldn’t care less about stickers. We try to be patient, caring, and comforting, but we are not trained to deal with these extreme cases. Many of these children have been shuffled through the foster-care system, while others have parents who are too immersed in their own suffering to deal with their child. I go home upset every day, but there is nothing else I would rather do for a living.

Tina Ruzzo Ocean Gate, New Jersey

In Alison Clement’s “Girls like Her” [March 2017] we come to understand the world of the story a little at a time, the way we do in real life. I hope Clement keeps writing stories as compelling as this one.

Barbara Child Nashville, Indiana

As an inmate, I was moved by Szymon Barylski’s pictures of Syrian refugees [“On the Border,” February 2017]. I recognized the razor-wire fences and the sullen resignation of those being held. The difference between them and me is that I did something to earn imprisonment. It breaks my heart to see children and families subject to such conditions simply because they sought to escape the violence and chaos of war. And it makes me angry that so many of us lack the compassion to help our neighbors, no matter where they come from.

Robert Dziekan Raiford, Florida

I often think the nuggets of wisdom in your Sunbeams section are reactions to current events, only to realize that some were expressed many years ago. Yvon Chouinard’s quote about not being able to change the government unless we change ourselves first [February 2017] explains why we have so many problems. If we don’t take our heads out of our asses, those problems will continue to plague us.

Wayne Pearce Show Low, Arizona

Many Americans, including myself, are frustrated and anxious about the political situation we are in. Without being strident or antagonistic, The Sun quietly reaffirms these emotions. Additionally your magazine features people of differing backgrounds and ages, so that readers can find new perspectives.

All of this could not be done any better, in my estimation.

Sue Allmart Mexico, Missouri


This may be the most overdue correction we have ever run, but it’s never too late to set the record straight.

A letter in our September 2014 Correspondence contained inaccuracies regarding John Catanzarite, a contributor to our March 2014 Readers Write on “Being Alone.” The letter writer said Catanzarite, who is serving a fifty-year prison sentence in California, “spent a year traveling through five states raping, assaulting, and terrorizing women.” Though he did pass through five states while fleeing prosecution, he was not charged with any sex-related crimes during that time. Of the seventy-three convictions he received in California, one was for rape. Elsewhere in the letter it was implied that he was in solitary confinement due to his involvement in a prison hostage situation in 2000. In fact, Catanzarite received just twenty-seven months in solitary for that offense but continued to be held in solitary on other charges. He contested his isolation placement and was released from solitary in 2014.

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