I just received the following by email:
I am an animal rights supporter from early childhood. Yet I don't work in a field to eliminate these horrors as I can't bear the details, the images, the thought of an animal (even a rattlesnake) being tortured. So I try to give money where I can and do what I can to rescue dogs from fates worse than death.
My question to you is this: How do you deal with the thoughts and images that many of these stories bring with them? The wild animals in Ohio, a recent article about a moron who killed his girlfriend's three dogs by torture, these are among the stories that I try not to dwell on but am compelled to read. How do you and your staff handle these things?
The easy one word answer would be "bourbon," and while there is some truth and probably some short-term value in self-medicating to a limited point, it is of course much more complicated than that. I can't speak for everyone in my field, but I think my own formula for survival is actually pretty typical.
While it is certainly true that we see many examples of the worst in human behavior (and the intentional cruelty inflicted on animals), we also see many examples of the very best in people. I don't need to swap horror stories here, but let me give one simple example of this best-of/worst-of phenomenon. Among my worst memories, I dealt with a case of some hideous sadist who went around duct-taping kittens to highway off-ramps. And at the same time this knuckle-walking monster was doing his worst, quite a few wonderfully angelic motorists were searching the roadways, stopping their cars and putting themselves at considerable personal risk, to save these little animals before they became the next victims.
We all know the cliché that the world is made up of shades of gray rather than black and white. From my perspective, however, black and white is quite often the real story. We see the worst and we also see the very best in people. And it is the latter which helps me deal with the former.
Perhaps it's just the way I am cut but while I see the horrors -- up close and with very clear eyes -- I am also able to focus on the good. Right now, PHS/SPCA is attempting to find the person who tied a metal weight to a cat and drowned the animal in what was an obviously slow, frightening way to die. Black. At the same time, as a response to the media attention of our efforts to find someone who might know details leading to an arrest and conviction of this felony cruelty, dozens of people have come forward to donate resources to help us fight this and so many other cases of abuse. White.
And finally: it is always one animal at a time. This one animal, the one we can help right now. Focus on that animal, celebrate the success, and then move onto the next.
Every day, I walk through my shelter and see people giving love and attention to the animals. Volunteers, staff, adopters, and just caring visitors. And I see the animals who are made well and find homes as the result. Better than bourbon, these are the ways we get through it.
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