Welcome to the Every Animal Project. We know that every animal–from the brave little minnow to the mighty elephant–has a story. Through photos and words, we’re conveying those journeys, filled with challenges, triumphs, and a little mischief. So let’s share a giggle and maybe even shed a few tears as we delve into the amazing and inspiring lives of the animals of our world.

Laura Lee Cascada - The Every Animal Project
Me with one of my dogs, Cinnamon

I’m Laura Lee Cascada, a writer, amateur photographer, and the founder of this blog. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love animals, which is why I have spent my life bettering theirs–through writing, advocacy, and doing my best to make compassionate choices. But my parents weren’t always so sure of the path that I would follow. When I was still in the womb, they worried over whether their dog, Wookie, a fluffball with a surprisingly powerful voice, would accept me into the family. He hadn’t taken too kindly to the neighborhood kids who taunted him from the other side of the fence, and maybe, in his eyes, I would be just another one of them. From the moment I dropped into the world, though, Wookie planted himself firmly by my side. As I sat in my high chair sending Cheerios flying across the room, he growled softly at the other two family dogs when they tiptoed too near. He somehow knew that I was important, that my parents saw something special in me. I never really understood why, but I was his girl–no doubt about it.

An old dog, Wookie passed away during my childhood. Today, the only remnants of him are a handful of photographs and, of course, a lifetime of memories. Over the years, I’ve kept those pieces of him close, along with those of the many other animals who have crossed my path, from a cockatoo whose guardian was forced to rehome him when his needs competed with her growing baby’s to a many-legged millipede named Eddie who brought hilarity to my teenage years and, more importantly, taught me that even bugs are full of character.

Like me, you’ve probably cherished the relationships you’ve had with animals who have woven their way into your life. And maybe you’ve also marveled at the young bird just learning to fly in your front yard, the manta ray who brushed past your leg during a late-night snorkel trip, or the injured squirrel nursed back to health by a tireless wildlife rehabilitator down the street. Perhaps you’ve even wondered about the hidden lives or feelings of animals you’ve never seen, like the pig on a farm or the mouse in a research lab.

Animals are like us in many ways–their ingenuity, their fear or excitement, their bonds–but we’re only just beginning to catch on. In The Emotional Lives of Animals, Dr. Marc Bekoff opens with a heart-wrenching story of four magpies who laid to rest a dead companion with a ceremony not too unlike our own funerals. And let’s not forget about the famed elephant Tarra, who visibly grieved the loss of her canine best friend, or the fish who made headlines in 2011 after being photographed using a rock as a tool to crack open his meal. Of course, we may chuckle at the dog who tries to carry a stick between two narrowly-spaced trees, reversing and repeating several times before finally tilting his head and getting it just right. But that dog, like us, is learning through trial and error.

Animals’ stories aren’t always happy, and they’re not always simple or clear-cut. Sometimes, they’re downright messy, heartbreaking, or even enraging. But every animal has one, a story. And through that story, as we laugh or cry, we will learn and grow. Consider a vampire bat who, after feasting on blood, notices another starving bat and regurgitates part of his meal to save his friend. Did he do so only out of the kindness of his heart? How far would he go to protect his friend? As it turns out, vampire bats are remarkably prone to sharing within intricate social networks. Could we say the same about ourselves?

Animals have a way of opening up the parts of us we never noticed before, of reminding us of both our similarities to them and our differences. The Every Animal Project aims to uncover and share the stories animals all over the world to awe, amuse, inspire, and challenge all of us to step just outside our world and into theirs. Please dive in and get to know the hooved, pawed, finned, scaled, and feathered beings who share our planet. Of course, if you have a story about a special animal you’d like to contribute, please get in touch.

–Laura Lee