The hazards of doing this work (outreach and education on our relationship with other species) are constant….daily. Mostly they are emotional hazards. A dear friend of mine in Maine has told me that she cannot watch the videos or look at the pictures of the worst abuses going on every minute on the planet. I understand that. I tell her that I have no problem with people not being willing to see the images as long as their lives are not contributing to those industries. If, for instance, someone is consuming a particular product created with sweatshop labor and supporting it with their dollars, but they are not willing to witness the painful reality of how that item is produced, I don’t have much respect for that. We can so easily ask someone else to do our dirty work and then happily pick up a product without having to know its true cost.
I figure it this way: If the humans or non-humans can endure the suffering for their entire lives, then those who contribute to the suffering with their dollars should be at least willing to witness it for a few minutes. If someone cannot witness the reality, then it is a good indicator that they should not be supporting that industry.
But I really do understand not wanting to witness these realities…..because once you do, they can, and usually do, haunt you on a daily basis.
Here are just a few snippets of how these hazards of my work show up:
-This morning I woke up and looked at our rescued dog, Bean, in the bed next to me. It was not a very chilly night, but she wants to be warm. She is covered in a fleece blanket and with just her dark nose sticking out. While looking at her desire for warmth, I remember the visual of every short-haired dog I have seen on the end of a chain sitting outside in the winter day and night……I remember my friend Adena telling me the details of rescuing dogs in the Detroit area who are just skin hanging on bones and never come inside or even have straw during cold Detroit winters. They are chained outside houses and apartments and ignored. No food, no water, no love. She has even found them dead and frozen solid. So, I cannot even just look at my warm happy dog without the contrast coming up in my mind instantly.
-Yesterday I was doing research for the book I am finishing up. For the section on animals in entertainment, I had to find a photo of a muzzled bear being forced to ride a bicycle. I came across photos showing the brutality used to force them to do this. And, I came across photos of bears being forced to ride horses and, of course, horses being forced to ride with bears on their backs. My dreams last night were filled with these images.
-I was going by farm fields yesterday. I cannot just pass a field of newborn beef cattle and their mothers and not think of what they are destined to go through in the trucking and slaughter stages they will go through in the next year. The images of what I have witnessed in this industry flash through my mind the instant I see them in the field.
-I passed by a goat dairy farm. I thought of all the times that people have told me they just drink goat milk because it is so much smaller an industry...that it is kinder. Or people telling me that they just buy “local, humane” dairy. I stop and watch as a mother goat is trying to get to her two babies. But they are separated by two fences with some land between the fences. The goat kids keep leaping at the fence trying to get to the mother who is pushing against the fence toward the kids. They cannot be together because the mother’s milk will be taken for people. I also look at those kids and know that the males will be slaughtered for meat in less than a year. This is the reality for all dairy farms. I don’t watch for long….
-At the end of the day I was driving home from yoga. I saw a huge gopher tortoise crossing the road. People would see him at the last second and they swerve around his big body. The highway was packed with rush hour traffic going 65 mph. I pulled over, put my flashers on and picked the big guy up and brought him to the side of the road he was walking toward. I took him way off the road and he continued on his way. His size told me he was probably about 30 years old.
These are just a few examples from a period of less than 24 hours…..hazards of this work…..Not being able to look at a pastoral scene without seeing beyond the beauty of the green fields and the beautiful animals to the ugly realities of the industry…..Not being able to look at a warm dog in my bed without thinking of the contrast going on every minute of every day in the world.
And, I realize there is no turning back. You don’t open the door on this awareness and then close the door. And, I remember the moment I really opened that door wide…The moment I noticed that I was surrounded by relatives, my animal family. The following moments when I realized that they were treated as things, not beings. It is an awareness that comes with mental pain…..visual images that do not leave you even when you are sleeping….It separates you from people who think you are extreme when you care so much about non-humans.
It is also an awareness that comes with the potential to make a difference in even a small area of that suffering. And all I can do is keep planting little seeds of compassion while I remember the words of the Buddha: “We must embrace the 10,000 joys and the 10,000 sorrows of this world.”