Lew Jenkins, former lightweight boxing champion of the world, had a color TV.
Lew was our neighbor and had a heart of gold, which meant he invited his good friend, my Pop, along with his brood of kids, to watch color television on Saturday evenings.
Jackie Gleason, so they would watch “The Great One” together on Saturday nights. Preceding the Gleason show, though, was “Flipper,” which Lew would let us kids watch on his color TV because Lew knew, as did we, that “Flipper” just wasn’t the same on a black and white.
That was when my lifelong fascination with dolphins began. Dolphins were brilliant and beautiful, sweet and fun-loving. I decided I wanted to be a marine biologist, mainly to swim with dolphins. That dream lasted until about the eighth grade, when I found out science wasn’t exactly my cup of Malt-O-Meal.
I’ve witnessed dolphins in natural habitats on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. But one of my life’s great thrills was swimming in the Atlantic off Hilton Head Island in early October and finding myself surrounded by a pod of dolphins. What I remember most of the breathtaking — literally — experience is that dolphins, up close, were bigger and more powerful than I’d expected.
All of this is prelude to writing about a wonderful little movie called “Dolphin Tale” I saw this weekend but also a prelude to writing about why some of us love animals so deeply.
“Dolphin Tale,” based on a true story, is about a young dolphin who gets caught in a fishing trap and is soon beached, then rescued by humans. She shortly thereafter has to have her horrifically damaged tail amputated. This is particularly tragic because dolphins swim with their tails, and it is thought without a tail she will drown.
The dolphin, named Winter, soon learns to propel herself by moving like a snake, shocking her caregivers. That would make a wonderfully inspiring tale, but the heartbreaking truth is the snake-like motion starts affecting her spine to the point where she faces paralysis.
Eventually she is fitted with a prosthetic tail, but she violently rejects the early prototypes. Finally she is fixed with one she likes. Winter thrives to this day.
Add some sweet, cute and inspiring stuff and you have a real tearjerker, one that definitely jerked my tears. It’s not a great movie but it is a truly good movie because it is about people doing true good.
I may have been particularly susceptible to “Dolphin Tale” because I have a brilliant, devoted and sweet dog who has his own disability, that being epilepsy. After a year of robust, seizure-free health thanks to a new combination of meds, he had a horrific cluster of grand mal seizures recently.
Many people have told me over the last few years that I should put Flynn down, that he is “just an animal,” to which I sometimes have to refrain from retorting, “And so are you.” Winter faced the same mindset from many, who insisted spending such time, effort and money to save a single dolphin was unwise.
Those of us who love animals know, though, they have certain nobility and devotion to those in their lives that many people don’t have. There also is a purity of their essence that is harder to find in humans.
Not being able to be around brilliant dolphins, I guess I’ve substituted by owning the smartest dogs I can find. Not surprisingly, I’m happiest when my smart dogs are swimming right next to me.
It’s not exactly “Flipper,” but it’s not bad.
Bret Kofford teaches writing at San Diego State University-Imperial Valley Campus. His opinions don’t necessarily reflect those of SDSU or its employees. Kofford can be reached at Kofford@roadrunner.com