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American Annals of the Deaf

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My Life with Kangaroos: A Deaf Woman’s Remarkable Story
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MG: You mean in the sense that, finally, the kangaroos ‘chose’ you as Eukala said? Perhaps you were ‘guided’ to them as a child?

DH: Perhaps.

MG: Have you ever asked whether the kangaroo in some way could have something to do with your hearing problem? I am thinking, you see, of a ‘soul guide’ or a mediator between you and nature.

DH: Oh, certainly; that’s quite possible. But, in all sobriety, I’d also like to say that if I had been born without a disability, my life would have turned out quite differently. But I’m repeating myself. Perhaps we should not say anything more about the matter. A life without a link to nature and to kangaroos is inconceivable for me. I can only view this from the standpoint of my personal life: I was born without hearing and had both – kangaroos and this link with nature.

MG: Your last remark, dear Doris, brings me inevitably to the question of whether in your case the kangaroo plays the role or carries the function of what one might call a ‘totem’? If I understand you correctly, there is a kind of secret agreement, that is to say, a kind of mysterious, mutual understanding between you and the kangaroo. Perhaps one can see it that way. This means in effect that you lovingly and devotedly protect the interests of animals, and that they, in their turn ‘protect’ you in their own mysterious way. They do this in that they give you a spiritual balance and a sense of safety in this world – one might even go so far as to say, a purpose in it. This would more or less correspond to the protective function of a totem animal. What do you think?

DH: Well now, that’s a really complicated question! I’ll try to answer it step by step, but first of all, a question to you: What actually do you mean by a ‘secret agreement’?

MG: You know what a totem is. I believe I’ve already written to you to the effect that a tribal totem is regarded as sacred and inviolable. Every member of the tribe feels awe in its presence. The totem, however, gives something back to the tribe. It is there to ‘protect’ the tribal members from bad or unfavourable influences.

DH: Aha, that’s the way I understood it. I think I can say that there is something of a ‘protective influence’ that I can confirm. Think how many times I have threaded my way unharmed through traffic, and do so even today. However, I don’t want to mention who the ‘guardian angel’ was in all this. Basically, we can’t recognize these things, but only feel them. Nevertheless, there is one thing which remains indisputable and that is that at the time, colleagues at work were mobbing me dreadfully for many months. I often dreamed of kangaroos. It can be that this was the expression of a deep longing for harmony and security. Anyway, they helped me by their presence in my dreams to regain my self-confidence and stability. I often thought of them very deeply; that’s right. And there’s another thing that I won’t keep from you, a curiosity if you like. The grasses that thrived on kangaroo ordure and which had a place on my balcony gave me added strength and joy, so that in the end I could give notice myself. I know that this sounds really odd, but that’s how it was. Taken together, it might well seem that the kangaroos have occasionally saved me from spiritual collapse!

In what way these animals have protected my soul has been described in the book.

MG: Are there other examples perhaps? I’m thinking here of the many human contacts and friendships you’ve won through your interest in kangaroos.

DH: Yes, exactly. I am very glad about the fact that I have been able to create such a lively interest for kangaroos among so many friends and acquaintances. We’ve become a veritable ‘kangaroo community’! There are other people, though, who were unknown to me and who have read some of my work, and who have immediately taken an interest in kangaroos. They have written to me about it. For some time, for example, I was in email contact with a Swiss person who owned wallabies. These are a small variety of kangaroo that is impervious to cold winters. There were questions as to how they were to be kept professionally and in this I’m pretty well informed. So I’m happy to know that I’m not the only ‘kangaroo fan’ in this world!

MG: Dear Doris, up to now we have spoken more about kangaroos than people. Let’s for a moment leave the subject of kangaroos, which has been so important to you in life and turn to the question of whether there were certain persons in your life that have been an example to you. By this I mean people that you would have wished to emulate.

DH: Oh, that’s a nice question! Well, in the first place, there was Konrad Lorenz, the researcher and Nobel Prize-winner, whose books fascinated me. For a time, he was a kind of ‘divine personage’ for me. I wanted to do something like him at all costs. His works have indeed shown me the way to my life as a researcher. But there were also wonderful examples, yes, I can almost say ‘idols’. I can’t name them all here. One of these was the internationally known Professor Hedinger, who was once director of Basel Zoo and also of Zurich Zoo. I had opportunity from time to time to speak and write to him. For me, these contacts were very fruitful. He died ten years ago, I still miss him very much. Then there was Dr. Schloeth from Basel. He was my teacher in behavioral research and encouraged me greatly in my personal endeavors. I owe these three people many thanks for their kindness.

MG: I would like to ask you in this connection what for you are the most important human characteristics.

DH: Open-mindedness in all things; kindness, honesty, tolerance – and above all, respect.

MG: To return for the last time to the subject of kangaroos. You have sometimes mentioned that these animals not only possess agreeable, loving attributes, but, as is sometimes the case with the males, they can be aggressive and frightening. Moreover, there are frequent cases of the older males killing small animals of their own kind and of cannibalism.

How can you fit this ‘sinister side’ of kangaroo nature into your personal view of them?

DH: Yes it’s right what you say. I have experienced this kind of thing myself and have heard of many other cases by report. It’s disturbing and I admit to a time when I tried, so to speak, to brush this ‘sinister side’ as you put it, under the carpet. Yet: cannibalism is a fact among kangaroos, even though it is a rare phenomenon. It is not only the males that eat small pouch ‘residents’, but the mothers, too, and other females. There are many reasons for this. Yes, there is cannibalism, to be sure, but there are other disagreeable features about these animals as well. Since the kangaroo mothers don’t tolerate young animals other than their own, they often badly injure them. These young animals have to be ready for this kind of thing and when it comes to it scamper off to safety in time!

Whenever I heard of these things or saw them for myself, I always felt ill. Then I was no longer the scientific researcher, but a human being. I lost the necessary distance at that moment. But I think this is understandable when one has such a deep feeling for these animals as I do.

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