Be careful how you interpret the world–it is like that. Erich Heller
I’ve been thinking a lot about animals and the concepts of innocence and helplessness. Many of us extend ourselves to homeless pets and there’s a certain amount of powerless language involved.
After all, they were “abandoned”. We learn that they were “neglected”, or “abused”. We “rescue” them. Even if we adopt a loving, carefree dog from the pound it’s easy to ask ourselves, darkly, “What kind of person gives up such a nice animal?” As if there’s a sub-group of characters whose whole deal is to wander around collecting puppies and treated them poorly.
There are all kinds of reasons that people have to give up pets and why can’t some of them be good? Our newest cat’s paperwork was matter of fact but it told me her previous person “saw” her. That she was loved. That she was an easy cat and circumstances prevented them from keeping her.
As we soon discovered, Gem had licked herself bald in areas and it had been going on since before she was relinquished. Her fur has filled in and I think, that household was under a lot of stress. Gem needed to find a new home and may in fact have facilitated that move by making it clear she was unhappy.
Again, there’s the idea that pets have some power over their own lives, which is a theme I examine again and again.
My husband once worked within the wildlife activist community. I happened to notice a sub-group that appeared to believe that humanity was out to destroy nature and even though it was a losing battle, the activists were going to educate the entire planet. One human at a time.
It wasn’t possible to make small talk about . . . I don’t know, anything, without the conversation turning to all the terrible choices they assumed I–or anyone for that matter–was making, every day. You couldn’t talk about new babies or the weather without being reminded that we’re all doomed.
Of course these were pretty extreme characters but that was who I had to learn it from. There are calm, balanced animal activists but they had nothing to teach me.
Soon I recognized myself. Even though I felt helpless to intercede and I kept my thoughts to myself, I realized that I too saw the animal kingdom as powerless. Then I began to see the trouble with that mindset: you never run out of Tragic animals! They dart out in front of your car. Your next-door neighbor has one. If you’re really good at this, you have one.
They show up in the paper, busily failing to thrive at the zoo. They show up over there, half-dead in the mouth of a certain badly-behaved dog. DID YOU HEAR? HE WASN’T ON A LEASH. They panic from the bottom of your window well, but only after 5:00 on a Friday. They forget to migrate.
You glance out the window, just in time to see a crippled animal lurching past. You don’t even have to try; if there’s a way for the Troubled and Tragic to die on your front lawn, they will find it. How do I know? Because when you’re chronically anxious about (fill in the blank), the Universe serves it up everywhere.
Now it wasn’t automatic and it wasn’t easy, but I began to think differently. I regained my sense of humor. I don’t see animals suffering everywhere like I used to. I can visit pets up for adoption and see their power and potential. I can work with clients whose pets are dying, and it’s natural and appropriate instead of an emergency.
You can’t communicate with animals if you can’t be relaxed and neutral–you’ll spend half your time trying to clear your own pain out of the conversation.