Did you know that if you visit the Zoo frequently enough, some of the animals may actually recognize you? Some even go beyond simple recognition and want to interact with you. Don’t just take our word for it, though. Ask Dallas Zoo member Joe Barentine and his partner, David Bacon.
“One time Joe came home and said ‘I have a new friend at the Zoo,’” said Bacon. “It was giraffe Tebogo. Joe said Tebogo followed him around, but I didn’t believe him at first.”
Until he saw it for himself.
Joe had been walking at least two days a week at the Zoo since 1991. Over the course of his routine walks, Tebogo started recognizing him. Of course when the same man walks by the same habitat at the same time of day multiple times a week, some animals—like Tebogo—pick up on it. So when David started joining Joe on his Zoo walks, he saw Tebogo spot Joe from across the mixed species habitat, walk over to him, and let Joe pet his nose, a moment he specially calls “communion.”
This isn’t the only interaction he’s had with our animals. He’s had moments range from the humorous—like when one monkey started recognizing Joe, and it tried to startle him every week by jumping out at him in its habitat—to the cathartic, like when he would look into the eyes of former hippo Papa.
“It was like he was a telepath,” said Barentine. “He could interrupt my thoughts if I had bad ones. He could very easily re-arrange my thinking. It was really therapeutic.”
What started out as exercise for Joe quickly turned into something more. Twenty-seven years ago when he found the Zoo, he just wanted a safe place in Oak Cliff to walk.
“Oak Cliff today is not the same place it was by any means,” said Barentine. “I lived close to the Zoo, so I thought ‘Why not walk at the Zoo?’ It’s got terrain, it’s safe; it has water, restrooms, and animals!”
Walking at the Zoo is now a meditative experience for Joe. As a member of the Zoo, he has the opportunity to enjoy our nature, our animals, and all it may bring multiple times a week with his partner, David. In fact, walking at the Zoo is the second longest practice Joe has had in his life.
For 30 years, Joe was involved in the practice of law. However, now that Joe is retired, that practice has come to an end. In just three more years, walking at the Dallas Zoo will be the longest single thing he will have done in his life. And from the types of experiences he’s had here, it’s easy to guess that he wouldn’t have it any other way.