If an optimist sees the world through rose-colored glasses, then an individual involved in rescue- whether it be human or animal- will eventually start to see the world through black iridium (that’s the darkest lens Oakley makes, by the way, for those who do not live a few blocks from the Oakley headquarters).
When faced with the worst that humanity has to offer day-in and day-out, it’s difficult to be optimistic about the world. Many rescuers (as well as social workers, nurses, etc.) suffer from compassion fatigue, a condition that can cause depression, cynicism and even make people physically ill. When a person gives of him or herself so much without seeing the good in the world, it is difficult not to become cynical; it is difficult not to see the world in a negative light.
It is important, however, to force ourselves not to focus on the negative, but to dwell on the positive, instead. While that may seem overly simplified, the truth is, it is anything but. I am a high school teacher, and discussing the history of the world, including genocide, war, racism, etc. definitely makes me cynical towards humanity in general. When I see the scars, both physical and emotional on the horses we get in, my heart hurts a little for them. When I get messages from individuals who are making me aware about abuses, my heart hurts for those horses as well. When I read about horses who are abused out in the world, whether they are tortured for saddleseat competitions, or killed at the track because they are raced too young, or worked so hard that they break down, my heart aches. Add to the fact that I get messages about other animals who are mistreated, my poor heart is about done. At this point, just watching the news will upset me. The truth is that humans are capable of horrible, horrible things.
But that thought is not helpful; that thought will not encourage me to help more horses, or people or whatever. That thought merely sets up a negative spiral which drags me down along with the rest of the apathetic group who has, by not doing anything, by default allowed these horrible things to occur. So what to do?
As usual, the answer came very simply from a very lovely source. No, not my horses, at least on this occasion. This time, inspiration came from two of my three very silly dogs, who have never really had a bad day in their lives (if you forget the day when they were spayed/neutered, and the occasional tummy ache). They were loved and adored from the moment they were born. I brought them home at seven weeks old, and as they are brother and sister, they have never spent a day apart from each other in their lives. They have never gone a day without food; they have never spent a night outside, scared and cold and lonely. They have never been in a shelter, never been tied up, and have never been beaten. Every human they have ever known has been kind to them. The harshest word ever directed at them was “naughty.” They are, quite literally, the sweetest things on four little legs ever.
This also means that they have almost no guilt complex, and see nothing wrong with going to the bathroom on an $800 rug, because, well, it was there, and that meant that they didn’t have to walk all the way outside. But I digress.
My point, if there is one in here to be found, is that I was able to shelter these adorable creatures from the harsh realities of the world. We can try to an extent to do as much with our children, but as humans, they are going to have to deal with some of those realities themselves, even if it means trying to help us combat them. My silly dogs, however, have no such agenda. Their job is to love me and look cute. They do both with aplomb.
What fills my heart up when it is depleted from the negatives in the world is to know that there is still love and innocence in the world. It is possible, even if it is on a small scale, to create pockets of love and kindness in the harsh reality in which much of humanity exists. Not only is it still possible, but I have two examples sitting right in front of me. (Well, one is on my lap at the moment, the other is next to me. OK, no, I can’t put you both on my lap… I can… not… type… this way… how about I get you guys a cookie and you can eat it on your bed? Sounds good? No, just one cookie. Fine, two. Then I have to go back to work. OK, three, and that’s it.)
I have just been reminded by a 70-pound German Shepherd that I should not neglect to mention my third dog, Zoe, who is also a sweet thing and I love her to death as well. She did not come into my life, however, until she was almost a year old, and it took several years for her to deal with the trauma she suffered as a puppy. She reminds me that love can help overcome neglect and abuse. And cookies help, too.
Where was I? Besides the fact that I have three outrageously spoiled dogs, the point is that we cannot dwell on what others have done and, unfortunately, are going to do. Focusing on what abuses have occurred are only helpful when we are concentrating on trying to prevent them in the future; dwelling on them merely directs our attention back to the abuser, and not the abused. We need to promote our energies on creating more of these pockets of love in the world, places where we can affect change, as opposed to lamenting what we cannot. One of the factors in compassion fatigue is a feeling of a lack of control compounded with the feeling that one’s efforts are all for naught, no matter how much one does. Creating these pockets of love gives us an aspect of control back over our lives; we may not be able to affect change globally, but we can on a smaller level.
I know that there are several people out there who have pets who are just as spoiled… er… loved as mine are. To the majority of people in the world who have pets, thank you for taking excellent care of them. Thank you for creating small pockets of love in this world.
To that effect, I thought it would be fitting to give a thank you to those people from the animals. I would like to say that my dogs helped me write it, but at the moment one is sleeping, one is rummaging for cookie crumbs, and the other is eating a bone, so I will have to muddle through on my own:
1. Thank you for loving me, feeding me, and sheltering me.
2. Thank you for teaching me good manners and socializing me so I can be safe around you and others.
3. Thank you for including me in your life. I love being with you, and the more time I get to spend with you, the happier I am.
4. Thank you for your patience when I sometimes do naughty things.
5. Thank you for caring for me throughout my entire life. I love you just as much now as I did when I was young. Maybe even more.
6. Thank you for making me a part of your family.
Many thanks to all of those individuals and animals who have helped to make the world a better place. Perhaps one day our pockets will overlap to blanket the world.