05/05/2013 11:03 am ET Updated Jul 05, 2013

Finding Kindness: How to Put Compassion into Action


Back in 2000 when I was still living in the UK, I was involved in a terrible car accident. I was driving on a highway when all of a sudden a rabbit darted in front of my car out of nowhere. Instinct took over and I slammed on my brakes, giving the wayward bunny just enough time to escape certain doom. As I was about to breathe a sigh of relief for having spared the hare, the van traveling behind me smashed into the back of my car at full speed. Luckily, neither I nor the driver of the van was seriously injured (though I did have to climb out of my crumpled car). While I didn't tell the man the reason I tried to stop, I was forthcoming with my father, who then promptly asked the question that is probably on all of your minds at the moment: " Couldn't you have just hit it?"

I haven't thought of this story in years, but it popped into my head when I looked at the calendar and saw that May 5-12 is Be Kind to Animals Week.

Our actions, and our choices, affect the animals we share this planet with every single day. Are we showing them kindness? Are we acting on our instinct to protect the vulnerable from harm?

In preparation for Be Kind to Animals Week, I'd like to offer some simple suggestions for showing all living things compassion. Whether you'd cause a car wreck to rescue a rabbit, or you simply want to tip your hat to the animals you share your life with, here's some advice for being nice.

Help the Homeless
Right now, perfectly healthy animals in shelters across the country are being killed because there's no one to care for them. Help abandoned pets in your community by supporting your local shelter with a donation, by volunteering a few hours of your time, or by providing a foster home to a pet waiting for adoption. Put some of your professional skills or creative talents to work and offer to write animal adoption ads, take pets' photographs or help the fundraising department write thank you notes. A little advocacy can go a long way, and supporting organizations in your community that are making spay and neuter services accessible and affordable for everyone, and who are racing to get adoptable animals into new loving homes can have a huge impact.

Hone in on the Home Front
Another place to make an impact is with your very own pet. Sure, you show him or her kindness every day with belly rubs, chin scratches and treats, treats, treats, but have you had your pet checked at the vet recently? An annual examination is a must, especially for pets older than six. Do your dog or cat the kindness of getting him checked regularly at the vet and your chance of detecting disease in its earliest stages - and being able to effectively treat it - increases exponentially. Being kind to our pets isn't just about snuggling; taking proper care of health and wellness needs is just as important!

Make Compassion All-Inclusive
It's not just dogs and cats who deserve kindness; local wildlife needs a little love, too. You can make a few simple changes around your house and yard to help protect and provide for native creatures. Try putting a bird bath on your lawn to offer clean drinking and bathing water for birds. Limit the use of lawn chemicals and pesticides in your garden, which are harmful not only to your friendly neighborhood fauna, but also to your own household pets. And speaking of household pets, keep your cat indoors to protect unsuspecting small mammals, mice, birds and the like from the predatory instincts of your little hunter. Don't have a yard? Put some plants that provide food for butterflies on your balcony, rooftop deck or patio. My favorite story of compassion in action this week is this man, who made a life jacket for his disabled fish. It's a wonderful reminder that every life, no matter how tiny, is worthy of kindness.

Mahatma Gandhi is often quoted in the "pet world" in which I live and work. He said, "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."

Last month we treated one another with kindness, after an unthinkable act of cruelty shocked us all. During Be Kind to Animals Week, let's extend that same compassion to all living things - not just for the week, or the month, but for life. A few caring gestures on behalf of our furry friends can make all the difference. So love your pets, provide for wildlife and please... always break for bunnies.