All Creatures

Tyson & the Pigeons,
Brian May & the Badgers

Two former superstars found purpose and redemption in their relationship with animals, great and small. Tyson draws lessons of loyalty and transcendence in his connection with pigeons. May fulfills his sense of duty by caring for the animals he loves, including the badger. Both find ways for healing and regaining the humanity their fame and fortune almost stole from them. In no way either would exchange their current serenity and wisdom for their glorious past.
Having the billing of heavyweight champion of the world following his name may have helped Mike Tyson for the few years he was on the ring, dispatching adversaries as you would with most of your emails: swiftly and almost absentmindedly. That lasted less than 10 years.
But for the rest of his life, it has been more like a curse. It may have helped him forge a fierce public image, creating an aura of an irascible and vicious boxer, and the reputation of a man bent on charging the world for every bit of the cruelty and hardship of his childhood.
But it’s also attracted to his inner circle some of the shadiest characters from that same world, the leeches that stayed around until he was sucked dried, a parasitic circus of hangers-on and out there criminals.
The next chapter of his life, played on under the glare of an indifferent media, was as predictable as his early victories on the canvas used to be: He wound up in jail, broke and all but ready to be forgotten for those who profited from his glory days.
The Mike Tyson who walks among us, though, has little to do with that part of his biography. Unlike the wounded beast he personified during his years at the top of the world, he’s today a deeply gentle person, concerned only about his family and healing his life on his own terms.
And then there are the pigeons, an emotional connection established by a poor, black, troubled boy from Brooklyn, who soon enough realized they will always be there for him, unlike everything else he achieved and was taken away from him.
The New York Times ran a touching piece on his admiration for the animals most New Yorkers call “rats with wings,” and how he’s still dedicated to the various coops he tends to across the U.S. There’s no preaching, there’s no phony glorification of his relationship with the birds, no sign of anthropomorphizing of their qualities or even an attempt to use the word.
With all the deep gashes of his soul, one his soft voice would never be enough to disguise, this is Mike Tyson with more humanity on his pinky than most of us have accumulated our whole lives. Pigeons are lucky to count on such an ally.
Then, across the pond, there’s a rock guitar god who also reinvented himself as someone better known now as a scholar and an animal advocate. Brian May, lead guitarist of Queen, still resembles his old superstar self, but as Tyson these days, is a completely changed man.
The comparisons with the American boxer need to stop now. May didn’t have to smash his opponents to become extremely successful and write his name on history books, or at least, none that we know of. Some of his best work can still be heard throughout the world and his songs nurtured and helped raise a whole generation.
But he doesn’t want anything to do with that at the moment. An animal lover with a state-of-the-art animal rescue centre in his garden, the guitarist behind Britain’s biggest-selling album (Queen’s Greatest Hits) is currently nursing back to health 140 hedgehogs and half-a-dozen abandoned fox cubs, for starters.
When he heard that farmers pointed to badgers as the cause of a widespread type of bovine TB, he jumped into action and now is a sort of public face of the weasel relatives common in the U.K. The disease led to the slaughter of over 24 thousand cattle in England last year, costing close to $100 million, even without clear evidence that badgers pass TB to cattle (it is proven that cattle transmit it to badgers, though).
May is fighting the possibility the U.K. government authorizes farmers to trap and kill badgers, even before conclusive evidence about their role in the chain of contagion of the disease. If anyone, he’d be the one to take it all on a stride. After all, he’s very much used to charges of rock star megalomania as it is, and criticism about his actions get only so far with him.
“It’s a thing you have to fight,” he’d say, if you’d mention the hurtful commentary in the British press against his defense of animal rights. “It’s very uncomfortable to see into the minds of people who are so full of violence.”
Or as Tyson would put it, “the next time you pass a pigeon on the street and consider kicking it out of your way, be reminded of my story.” And that means us, New Yorkers.

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