This I Believe: Aislin Cole (2024)

My family has always seen pets as an important part of a happy life. We have eleven pets, and our most recent adventure has been with guinea pigs. 

A few years ago we adopted one hoping he could be a companion for the boy we already had. It turned out that not only was she a girl, but she was pregnant. We weren’t originally going to keep the babies, although once I held each tiny one in my hands, there was no way I was giving them up.

I have always had a passion for animals. They’ve preoccupied my interest over the course of my whole life. I was the one who asked for an arctic fox plushie for Christmas when I could barely even talk yet. I’ve had pets my whole life. They are not just an interest, but an integral part of who I am. They have taught me so much about responsibility and empathy. About life and death. They’ve also taught me patience. 

I’ll never forget the day we picked up my first rabbit. His name was Shadow. He was so small that when the woman who brought him went to hand him to me, I didn’t even realize she had been holding him in her mittens. 

We took him home, and I spent the whole next day trying to coax him out of his cage so I could play with him. When I finally managed to get him to come out, I was elated. I will be forever grateful for the experiences I got to have with Shadow. He was a big part of what fostered this passion I have for animals, and now, ten years later, remembering those moments with him just confirms it more.

The connection I have with my animals has a spiritual quality. They have been one thing in my life that has always been stable, even when few other things are. They give me safety when everything else in my life is vulnerable. The love and trust I have been able to give them, and they express back to me, is incomparable. 

About a day after our guinea pig, Robin, had given birth, she became overwhelmed by the four babies that were dependent on her. I decided to take her out of the cage to give her a break. Within five minutes she was asleep in my lap. For being a guinea pig that I had only owned for about a month, this was surprising to me. I did the same thing with her every night for about two weeks, and the same thing happened every time. To this day, the bond I have with Robin is very special. 

This attachment I have with my pets has always been important and unique, but it has felt even more so in the past few years. It has become so crucial because of my chronic illness. I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome which is a connective tissue disorder, and autonomic dysfunction which is, in basic terms, a nervous system that does not function properly. These conditions have uprooted most parts of my life, leaving me with ongoing grief and frustration.   

The isolation that comes with being chronically ill is profound. Because of how sick I have been over the past few years, I have also been predominantly homebound. I have spent the majority of my high school career completing work from the recliner chair in my living room. As much as this may sound nice, in reality, it’s extremely hard and I’ve struggled to have enough motivation to just take care of myself. 

Not only does this mean that school work has been unnecessarily complicated, but it also means that it is difficult to sustain relationships. I have lost many friends because I’m just simply not around. 

The one thing that helps me through this, though, is the companionship I still have at home with my animals. I am enough for them, even with my illness. My relationship with them is uncomplicated and unconditional. They calm the turbulent storm inside my head. On the days where I question if I have any purpose, they give me that purpose. 

The love I have for animals is not only a hobby, but it’s also something I want to make one of my life’s purposes. In Dr. Jane Goodall’s words, “The least I can do is speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves.” 

I would like to do just this, give back to the ones who have given me so much. Not only do I envision that I would feel fulfilled in a career of this sort, but it also feels like something I can do to give back. Animals are one of the biggest things in my life that has taught me to be responsible, and now I feel a responsibility to return the favor. 

This feels especially appropriate to me because of the current state of our earth. Animals all over the world are suffering as a result of climate change. Not only does this obviously affect their lives but in turn affects all of our ecosystems. 

If the animals are not thriving, the ecosystems cannot function. Saving the animals is a key part of saving the earth, and saving ourselves. In the seventh principle we are guided to have “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” 

Growing up Unitarian Universalist, and at WBUUC, has also taught me to value animals and the earth. Learning the principles and seeing the people around me live them has given me a guide for my life. As I’ve grown up, seeing the adults in our church take action for the things that they value has meant a lot to me. It is one thing that has shown me that I can have an impact on the world wherever I devote myself. 

I’ll take what I’ve learned at WBUUC with me next year to Mankato where I will be studying zoology. These values will continue to carry me through my life, the good times, and the hard, and I know I will always have a safe place in the UU church.