I woke this morning to the blasting cacophony of gravel trucks on the highway and the screaming cries emanating from the flock of magpies invading our valley. After a restless night of graphic nightmares of dogs in the San Antonio shelter for the second night in a row, I felt as beleaguered as the magpies felt predatory on our barn swallow nestlings.
It’s been feeling impossible to help in situations over which I have no control, from which I feel removed geographically. And yet, I feel affected. Like all women (& enlightened men) in this rescue dog advocacy movement, my own love for dogs isn’t limited by loving just my own. Tapping into and being open to their love and vulnerability in a world at constant odds is what drives people into advocacy. In the process, while the heart and all its potential for wounding is at stake, the intrinsic risk and tormenting nightmares plague our realities.
Will the dog in harm’s way be saved by one of the seemingly endless rescues stepping up to save him or her, or will they fall victim to the ill-conceived policies born out of the cold constraints of our economically-driven, utilitarian society?
Quite simply, advocacy can be a painful place to live. One feels they are waiting in a kind of purgatory with a vulnerable animal condemned to die through no fault of his or her own. If we could crawl into the kennel and sit whining and barking along with them, I’ve no doubt many of us would. Being subject to the will of others who have fallen deaf to the calls for compassion or ignorant to new ways to see and treat a homeless animal can feel an exasperating pull on the tendrils of an aching, tender heart. What’s more, its effects are irreparable traumatizing to a mind already overwhelmed with a deluge of sociopolitical chaos and cultural turmoil.
The mind can only handle so much. Taking a break, however, can feel as essential as drinking a glass of water – just not for too long. Leaving off to tend to other needs in life, like relaxation and quiet, self-care and sustenance, can feel as though one is abandoning a helpless victim in the hour of need.
And yet, the need for a pause or a longer break is imperative in this movement. The heart needs time to process the emotional residue intrinsic to this kind of advocacy. The passion and love driving one through the front door, the frustration and helplessness in the waiting, the disappointment, anger and angst intrinsic in the loss. The stress and contempt arising for the people creating the situation, enforcing barbaric laws, or the sheer ignorance or worse, abuse, in which animals are nothing more than helpless victims.
I recently heard a dog trainer familiar with the dog shelter situation in California and clearly hardened through his own experience call women saving dogs at all costs psychologically disturbed. It’s the remark – delivered in the course of a Q&A for this trainer’s promotional video – that I felt deeply offended by. Not only for myself, but for the hundreds of women (and enlightened men) in this movement who feel nothing less in their hearts than love for animals in peril and an authentic need to save them. What’s more, having been at the receiving end of similar types of such misogynist insults, I felt the misunderstanding inherent in such a statement.
Affording him the benefit of the doubt, I understand what he was trying to say. That saving dogs must come with limitations and perspective. For certain, there is wisdom in observing such protections, for they expand our awareness of the possibilities for an older, overlooked, quieter dog in the corner, who may not get a chance when our attention is drawn to the more dramatically intense ones. Who speaks for them, then?
I believe there are enough people paying attention that they too, will find an advocate.
I digress. The point is, the heart gets tired, the mind, battle weary. When advocacy starts to feel like we’ve gotten into a civil war, it’s in the better part of our interests to take a health break and let the movement go on for a bit without one’s presence. Just for a little while. There are others – and there is also, let’s toss this one in – the phenomenon of faith. It feels severely absent in this movement, albeit for good reason. There is more harm and injury being done to the innocent and unprotected than any of us can remember.
Quite simply, it’s hard to do our best work when we feel beleaguered and assaulted by the deleterious effects of advocacy. We also stand the risk of incurring burnout and meltdown, not to mention an unhealthy dose of PTSD. When we feel so close to the edge, we must do everything we can to give ourselves the unconditional love and nurture that we heap upon these dogs in peril every day. We deserve such self-love, and our own voices of unworthiness must fall silent as we woo and coo ourselves into a more soothing, self-sustaining state of equanamity and peace of mind. To do anything less is to guarantee we will run out of the emotional and psychological wherewithal to sustain for the long-haul. And that becomes a loss not just to the movement, but to the dogs in need themselves.
Loving animals is, as anyone with such tender propensities will tell you, a blessing and a curse. Always, the same sensitivity opening us up to their needs travels the same road as the one that may deliver pain. There are times when it can feel like a head-on collision. And when that happens, we just have to step out of the car, look up at the expansive azure sky, and thank some divine presence for being here to help and lie witness to it all. We can thank fate and serendipity for uniting devoted hearts in the movement. Loving animals makes us more compassionate people sensitive to the needs of others, the trick of which is to always, first and foremost, love and include ourselves.
Namaste, and thank you for reading.