Being involved in animal rescue, I see the absolute best and worst of people. The worst of people, of course, are the Michael Vicks of the world who are capable of the lowest, most reprehensible forms of animal cruelty. The best of humanity are those who clean up the mess the Vicks leave behind, such as the patient and kind people of Best Friends Animal Society who took in so many of the dogs he abused.
While my area of rescue is horses and farm animals, we deal with the same issues; animals arrive at our farm and hobble off their trailers beaten, starved and sick. I wonder how some people can look at themselves in the mirror every day as no animals deserve this treatment at the hands of humans.
Over and over again I hear people say that with all the starving children in the world, our focus should be on them rather than dogs, cats or farm animals, despite the fact that humans are the main cause of animal suffering.
The flip side of the coin are those who loudly declare that they like animals much better than people. In fact, I know many whom, after dealing with a particularly bad case of animal abuse, mutter under their breath, “I hate people, I hate people . . .” I suppose I’ve been guilty of the same on several occasions . . .
What I don’t understand is this: why does compassion have to be exclusive to either human beings or to animals? Why is it so difficult to have compassion for both? I can’t count how many times I've been told that I’m completely misguided in my efforts, and I should focus on rescuing human beings. But here’s the thing – people are terrible at being rescued, while animals are grateful and appreciative.
For example, we used to try to employ people from bad situations, hoping to help them turn their lives around. We once hired a young man from inner-city New Haven who promised to turn over a new leaf and learn farming inside out. He almost killed a few animals, destroyed our truck, trashed the apartment we let him live in, spent his afternoons getting stoned and when we threw him out after a month, he hired a free attorney through Yale to come after us for more money. Our attempt to “help” him cost us thousands and lost us our perfectly good farm truck. But, whenever we save an animal, once we have rehabilitated them they reward us with trust and kisses. Which would you rather rescue, I ask?
And yet . . . the most rewarding work I do is when I employ an animal to facilitate the rescue of a human being. I have watched horses reach out to emotionally battered children and draw them out of deep depressions and I’ve seen pigs encourage non-verbal autistic children to speak. After an evening of teaching special needs adults how to ride on our rescued horses, I am so high I feel like I could fly to the moon and back. My horse, Captain, who by anyone’s standards is a total juvenile delinquent, has breathed life and self-esteem back into children whom have been bullied for years by their classmates.
Animals are capable of reaching out to help people who are otherwise unreachable by another human being. And in the case of the animals on our farm, most of them have seen some pretty horrible treatment at the hands of humans; that these animals can not only forgive, but also show such great empathy and compassion for people simply defies logic.
So here’s my hope for the New Year and beyond . . . What if we lose the mutually exclusive, either/or mentality? What if we recognize that we all share a planet and our compassion not only can, but should extend to all life? I propose we obliterate the theory that we have to be either an “animal person” or a “people person” and that we should assume we can all lift each other to a higher level.
Perhaps I’m a dreamer, and perhaps what I’ve watched happen on our farm can’t be duplicated out in the real world. But then . . . if a horse like our Mary Catherine, who was starved as a baby out in a Canadian winter pasture for four months while wearing a nylon rope halter that gouged bloody ravines into her face as she outgrew it, arriving at our farm inches from death . . . if Mary can forgive humanity and embrace her job as a therapeutic riding horse the way she has . . . why can’t we learn to forgive, as well? Why can’t we find a way to rise above our hate and fear and work together to make this sloppy mess of a world a better place for people and animals?
If a horse like Mary can do it, why can’t we?