Day 75: Is caring for animals a bit mental??
Do people that care intensely for animals have something missing from their lives?
I think maybe I do…
I have spent two days and three nights feeling crap about leaving that little dog behind in the dust and darkness. It’s glinting eyes are still burning a hole through my heart. If only I had quickly climbed over the fence, if only I had been braver then by now it would be on the way to Germany and a better life. My moment of indecision was it’s lifetime of misery. This seems a sorry exchange.
But why do I feel this strongly?
I’m perfectly capable of a good night’s sleep after turning off the late night news when it shows humans dying in some awful middle eastern conflict but somehow I’m not when I’ve failed to save a random dog . It’s not that I’m unsympathetic to human suffering – far from it, I do work for many human charities too – but it does raise the question of whether this degree of caring for animals is somehow….misplaced.
I’ve met a lot of people on this journey of compassion who do incredible work with animals and although many show extreme resilience it seems that often their work fills a psychological need.
Volunteers talk about using their work to get over a low point in their lives, others have had breakdowns, others say that animals can be trusted in ways that humans can’t be. ‘Animals don’t judge us’ is a phrase I’ve heard a few times over. In other instances I’ve seen extreme animal rights campaigners who show a passion that seems closer to violence than compassion. Of course many others are totally normal and balanced.
All this reminds me a little of my prolonged flirtation with Buddhism a few years back. I got strangely irritated with all the people in the meditation hall who seemed needy and self-conscious. They kept on baking me gluten free cakes and touching me on the arm. ‘Get off!’ I felt like saying, I wanted to flying yogis not wet hippies. But before long I realised I too went to meditation because I felt something was missing inside.
I talked to Marjorie, who runs the sanctuary in the south of Corfu, about my experiences of depression.
She admitted to similar issues and said to me ‘helping these dogs is a way of getting some self-esteem back. I’ve always suffered terribly from a lack of self-esteem. My work with animals is something to do with identifying with those that are weakest. Helping dogs has helped me, I suppose’
I’ve spent enough years lining therapist’s pockets to know that my own anxiety and depression comes from a time in my early childhood of extreme uncertainty. And it’s is no coincidence that round about the same time I became fascinated with animals. I identified with a rawness and vulnerability that I saw in myself.
So, yes, it may be true that some people that care intensely for animals are driven by an inner lack. But does this mean that somehow they shouldn’t care for animals? Or that their compassion for animals is a lesser compassion than that for humans?
Being a little bit broken inside is not a weakness but a strength. It allows us to identify with what is broken outside us, and through understanding that pain make a difference. . Human’s relationship to animals is so often broken – we kill, we control and we slaughter. Animals don’t have a voice and it’s down to those of us that hear something inside our vulnerable hearts to go out and help. A person that has never had an injury wouldn’t do a good job administering a bandage. A person that has broken a few bones would do a much better job.