Petting Big Cats, A Strengths Spotting Pause, But The Hogs Almost Won!


What’s on your fun bucket list for 2016?

Maybe you’re like me. Do you need to sit work on the curb and free up more time to play?

I had been wanting to go back to the Puerto Vallarta Zoo for several years. I remember five years ago holding and playing with a baby tiger. That unique experience conjuring up every one of Barbara Fredrickson’s 10 positive emotions. Not to mention positive reminiscing. Yes, to live the NOW is great, but there are times in life when viewing a photo from the past helps add zest to your present moment happiness.

I decided it was time to create new memories at the zoo. My dear friend, Alina Carron, like a daughter to me, was visiting Vallarta. Despite previously living here for years, she had never been to the zoo. Goody. I had a travel partner and a game photographer, too. My goal? To pet the big cat babies again. Little did I know “cub babies” would not quite describe my ensuing enchanted experience. “A Paw-full Challenge” might be a better phrase.

We arrived in the morning, registered and  bought food to feed many of the hungry critters as we traipsed our way though the zoo. To add to the suspense, I kept till last my appointment to pet the “baby” Cats. Alina and I had frivolous fun play along the way. The hungry giraffe, hippo, toucan, ostrich, and macaw appreciated their treats. In our food bag, there were instructions on the many packets of food types and what food to feed to each animal. What a creative method to keep the animals healthy and happy. And did they ever chow down!


We were almost finished with our jaunt up and own the mountainside when we beheld mammoth hogs. I think they are from Africa, or they should be. I had plenty of food left, so the porkers were in luck. With one huge heave, I tossed my last carrot. But wait… Oh no! Out of the corner of my eye, I spied it. Along with the carrot, in tandem slow motion, I watched in horror as my silver gem ring unceremoniously flew through the air!  Crap. Wondering if the hogs would eat my ring along with the carrot, I eyeballed the huge enclosure pen, scanning for my ring’s landing site. Eureka! Glistening its whereabouts in shining GPS glory, amidst the muck, there it was.

Ever the optimist, and my motivation in high gear, I related my plan to Alina. I asked her if she would distract these huge dudes. I was going to climb over the concrete wall and rescue my ring. Alina, knowing I was nuts, piped up with, “You are not really going to do that, are you?” In forward motion, I already had one foot high up on the wall. I knew I could dart in and out quick as a flash. She kindly began to distract the hogs, but to no avail. Then it happened. With no alert, the two-ton porkers decided to have a siren-snorting nasty fight! Two hogs in attack mode is no joke. Ok, ok, I get the message. Wiser now, I thought, “No way am I headed into this foray!”

I still had my eyeball on my ring as kind Alina scampered down the hill to score a zoo keeper. He arrived with a grin plastered on his face. As soon as the hogs turned away, in a flash, he jumped into the pen. Proudly, and bare-handed, he rescued my ring out of a soggy puddle of you-know-what. Odor or no odor, that ring will forever have its survival story. Gingerly, I put it in one of my empty feed bags. All was well! And hilarious. I was reminded of Lucy and Ethel and their escapades. I had a chance to slosh in the slop, but thank goodness I stopped.

Zoo Ring

Creating memories with a friend. It doesn’t get much better in life than that.

Alina and I had thought adoring the cat cubs would be the highlight of our trip. Our hog-heaven story just goes to show you, life gives you opportunities you never expect. It opens your cage doors to more shared meaning and loving connection. Always remind yourself to look for the good. And to ask yourself, “What Went Well?”

As you can see from Alina’s photos, a few of the “baby big cats” might better be named “Junior”. Some of the larger-than-expected critters seemed to be eye-balling me as potential lunch. A couple was having a blast laughing and joking at my antics. I think they took bets on who would win the wrestling matches. The panther and lion weighed more than I did! Motivated for fun, after watching me make a happy fool of myself, they decided to pay their “petting fee” and accept the challenge. They’d need good luck and stronger arms than mine to get those cats to hold still. Petting the animals is pure joy. The extra petting fee supports the zoo. Don’t you love a win-win?

The cats have a back-story, too. They love Puerto Vallarta’s climate and tropical paradise. It’s very conducive to mating and animal thriving. The zoo folks export these wonderful big cats to counties such as India where some of the cats are endangered. Talk about a positivity plus.

After I got home, ever the positive psychology strengths coach, I decided to see how many strengths I could spot on our zoo escapade.

Here goes:

1.  Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence ~ The lovely animals, every color of the rainbow, enthralled.

2.  Gratitude ~ We appreciated seeing the animals enjoy their food treats. Another win, we shared our joy with human visitors, too.

3.  Humor ~ Hope you laughed along with me after reading this blog!

4.  Kindness ~ Every step of our way, we were open to warm, fuzzy feelings. Alina was so kind to get a zoo keeper to rescue me.

5.  Capacity to Love and Be Loved ~ What’s not to love at the zoo? We had empathy they were caged, but we nurtured them.

6.  Curiosity ~ Every step of the way, we enjoyed the NOW, but we also openly anticipated exploring what was around the bend.

7.  Bravery ~ I WAS going to go into the hog pen!

8.  Wisdom ~ I didn’t jump into the hog pen!

9.  Persistence ~ I was going to find a way to get back my ring! I did.

10. Spirituality ~ I was praying as I was headed into the hog pen, and again, when the pig stepped on my ring. It was AOK.

11. Self-regulation ~ I smile at this one, not my strong suit anywhere adventure awaits, but I did reign myself in with the hogs.

12. Fairness ~ I tried to feed as many animals as I could and make sure each got a treat.

13. Teamwork
~ Alina and I really worked together trying to distract those big porkers!

14. Zest ~ You bet we were happily energetic and enthused at every step of our zoo jaunt.

15. Creativity ~ We created our memory-making adventure. We also noted the original paintings around the zoo.

16. Hope/Optimism ~ Our joyful journey surpassed expectations. Not just a trip to the zoo, we savored positive resonance, too.

How about you? Did you spot any other strengths?

How about a coaching challenge. See how many strengths you can joyfully spot on your next journey.

Don’t you love it when your everyday plans morph into never-to-be-forgotten memories, made all the better because you shared them with a friend?

I am forever grateful to lovely Alina for taking these cherished photos.

Happy travels and wishing you well-being, no matter where life takes you,


PS: This blog reminds me of my trip to Cuba several years ago, as per my Mom’s dream for me. Her only vacation with my dad, over 50 years prior, was an unexpected trip to Cuba. She wanted us to have the opportunity to share our journeys. My Cuba trip morphed into an Amazon best-selling coaching strengths book. I wrote it in her honor. Unreal when I look back on it. Take a peek if you want more strengths spotting fun. It presents 24 Values in Action (VIA) strengths stories with tons of photos. See kind, resourceful Cuban folks living those strengths. Many thanks!