Last week I wrote some thoughts about zoos, critiquing their existence. To summarize – I believe having animals in cages against their will is unnecessary.

Just as Costa Rica has demonstrated, we would all survive if zoos became obsolete. Really! There is no need to keep non-human animals confined only to give people pleasure.

I make this bold statement mainly because it’s the message I receive when I tune in to many* animals who live in zoos / aquariums / amusement parks / etc. But also, there are so many ways to experience intimacy with animals besides these places!

Here are seven ideas to connect with animals besides at zoos or aquariums.

1. Visit an Un-Zoo

Go to a Sanctuary Farm! What could be more fun than a day spent with animals in a safe haven? 

The stories of the animals at sanctuaries are extraordinary- some evading law enforcement after escaping from slaughterhouses! Clearly there are some determined souls that make their way there.

A great directory for finding a sanctuary farm near you is the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. They provide accreditation for fulfilling certain standards, and also list a number of Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers.

No matter where you might visit, remember to breathe deep as you learn about the animal’s stories. They can be heavy, but important to learn about.

2. Visit a Working Farm

Another option for animal interaction would be to visit a small farm. If you consume meat, eggs, or dairy, why not go visit a place to meet animals you might later eat?

I’m totally serious! I understand the vast majority of people consume animal products. So I’m a proponent of knowing where your food comes from, and connecting to it. Why not find a farm nearby that sells what you eat on site, and ask for a tour?

I encourage anyone who consumes animal products to face the reality of what you’re endorsing. And know that if you buy from anyone besides the small farmer you meet, the conditions of the animals are going to be way worse. Food for thought!

3. Sit Outside for 30 Minutes

Can you remember the last time you sat alone outside? I dare you to find a private spot in a park, cemetery, or the woods, and just sit!

Put your cell phone on silent, (maybe set a half hour timer so you aren’t worrying about the time), and then the magic can begin. By sitting without a book or screen, or another person, you can start to observe all the life around you!

Think of it as nature mindfulness. You don’t have the goal of exercising or getting somewhere. You just need to pay attention to what you notice. Keep your eyes and ears wide open, and you’ll be surprised how many animals you see!

If you do this in the same place every day, you can call it your sit spot. Read “What the Robin Knows” for more insights into this powerful practice!

4. Volunteer at a Rescue Center

Along with animal sanctuaries and wildlife rehabilitation centers, there’s a huge opportunity to interact with animals in person if you volunteer.

Do you have a deep love for parrots, horses, or pit bulls? Unfortunately, chances are there’s place nearby that has your favorite species in need of support. Search your area and see what places need volunteer shifts filled – or, if there are opportunities for fostering animals.

Making this sort of commitment is an act of personal development that will absolutely shift your life. If you think you “can’t do it” because you are too sensitive to seeing animals in less-than-ideal situations, then I invite you to say this phrase each time before you go into the shelter: “I am protected by white light.”

Animals can feel your heart, so if you can maintain a sense of hopefulness and joy it will radiate out towards them. Your time together will really change their world, too!

5. Watch YouTube…

Or Netflix! I’m totally serious. Who hasn’t enjoyed a good cat video thanks to the internet? I love letting myself be pulled into laughter by some animal memes! It’s animal medicine, for our modern times.

And have you seen some of the incredible shows and documentaries they have on Netflix? I am learning sooooo much from the BBC “Life” series.

So even if you are depressed and alone, with no motivation to go to your 30 minute sit spot, let some animal medicine cheer your spirit. Start with these short films about Henri the cat.

6. Go Camping

If you have the time and a small camping fund, go travel! Getting away to the wilderness in North America or anywhere in the world is a great way to experience animals.

Make sure you are prepared and know what to do if you encounter a large, (or small), animal you aren’t familiar with. Walk gently on the earth and ask for signs of animals.

7. Learn Animal Communication

Well, of course! Getting in touch with your capacity to listen to other animals is a powerful way to connect. By opening up and trusting yourself in this way, you can learn so much.

Animals have so much to say to us, if we only stop to listen.

If you are curious to learn more about animal communication or host a workshop, I’m excited to chat anytime!

*Some animals are totally into living life in captivity, and see their role as helping people learn about wildlife and inspiring conservation, etc. But they are the minority.

Photo credit: Aria Everts – My friend Topher, at the Giraffe Center in Nairobi, Kenya, focused on bringing back the endangered rothschild giraffe population through a breeding program that releases giraffes back to the wild