No matter how many new years we have ushered in during our lifetimes, Jan. 1 never seems to lose its allure as the ultimate chance for a fresh start.

I usually make a few resolutions -- watch my diet, exercise, stop annoying my co-workers with bad jokes. This year I'm making a resolution to take one photo a day. You can watch my progress on my "2013, One Day at a Time" Pinterest board (Pinterest.com/gardenjoan). We'll all see how good I am at keeping those resolutions. I never seem to keep that one about bothering my co-workers, much to their dismay.

We still have a lot of winter left so perhaps we should emulate these mourning doves by fluffing up and sticking together.Courtesy of Rich Cordes
We still have a lot of winter left so perhaps we should emulate these mourning doves by fluffing up and sticking together. Courtesy of Rich Cordes ( Rich Cordes )

In addition to looking forward on New Year's Eve, I also like to take a look back for perspective. What in my world changed in the previous 12 months? What good things happened and what bad things can I avoid the next year?

I have a lot to write in the "good things" category, most of which start and end with this column.

In early August, I began writing "Animal Life," following in the footsteps of my good friend Gary Bogue, who retired after 42 years of being the pets and wildlife columnist. I had always dreamed of being a full-time columnist, but I never dared to think of succeeding Gary.

Every day when I sit down to read my mail and write the column, I am filled with complete happiness. I never knew hunting for answers -- and learning a lot in return -- could be so outrageously fun.

It's been a long time since I've been this happy doing my job, and I thank all of the readers and my bosses for making that happen.

As with anything in life, there have been a few surprises in writing "Animal Life." For one, I get a lot of letters that contain the words "shame on you."

When I was editing the Home & Garden section, no one every shamed me for recommending mulching and composting. Gardeners are a pretty cheery lot. We want to know how to grow plants and if we don't like the advice we get, we just ignore it and carry on.

It's not that gardeners lack passion, but animal lovers are filled to brimming with it. When I've written something you don't like, you aren't shy about letting me know.

I don't take offense at these recriminations; I try to learn from them. Many times the writers are addressing concerns I hadn't thought about or angles I didn't consider.

I am an advocate for all animals, but I'm also a journalist, so I try to present all sides of the story and let people make an informed decision. Sometimes the choice is pretty clear, other times not. I don't advocate killing any wildlife, but I believe people need to make their own choices about what they can and can't tolerate in their homes and yards.

I don't like making people angry with me, but I actually hope I continue to get those types of letters in 2013. They help me expand my world. But feel free to write nonshaming letters, too.

Another surprise that came with writing an animal column is the amount of poo involved. I get what I consider an inordinate number of letters on the subject. I try to not to take it personally.

I suppose this wouldn't be a true New Year's Eve column without some resolutions to share. I'll be working on these, and I hope you'll join me.

  • I resolve to think more about how my actions affect wildlife.

  • I resolve to help shelter pets find loving homes.

  • I resolve to spread the word that all living things have value and should be respected.

  • I resolve to never miss an opportunity to watch wildlife at work and play.

  • I resolve to keep learning from pets and animals, and humans, too.

    Contact Joan Morris at jmorris@bayareanewsgroup.com; or P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.