Involvement with animal advocacy brings with it the inevitability of passionate discourse, strong opinions, commitment, involvement and often, a crushing obsession. It seems to be the reality that those of us who battle for those without a human voice, are compelled to immerse ourselves in defending and championing what to us, is so glaringly, critically, obviously wrong. Yet, animal advocacy also brings with it the inevitability of zealots; individuals and organizations that paint the rest of us with flavours of obsession and madness that are undeserved.
Animal advocacy has provided a rich, fecund environment for fraudsters, who gleefully fleece well-meaning people with bogus accounts supporting non-existent animals in need. It provides sustenance also to those with the best of intentions but misguided goals and the inability to follow through on grandiose dreams of saving needy creatures. In short, hoarders are sometimes created and flourish – all with the best of intentions and simply the inability to see things objectively and realistically.
Negotiating the twists and turns of animal husbandry without falling into the more radical elements of radicalism and maintaining a rational understanding of what is morally right but also realistically attainable is always challenging. I continue to believe, however, it is possible.
There is great need out there. There are suffering animals of every stamp – from our marine creatures living lives of pain, degradation and despair in places like Marineland, to farm animals who are denied basic rights of dignity, freedom from pain and even a semblance of life, and of course, the cover portraits for animal advocacy - our “domestic” dogs, cats, rabbits and other animals with whom many of us share our homes.
A moral compass is a necessary component of animal advocacy, yet for each of us, the needle can vary widely. All I know is that we have to remain true to our own convictions; that trying to compromise the basic tenets of what we believe is “right” is not something that you can internalize on an ongoing basis. Maintaining a rational mind is also crucial; more so because to do the best for the animals we purport to battle for means being effective and persuasive orators that can sway and convince the uninformed and the sceptical.
In many ways, we animal advocates are dreamers; Don Quixote’s who continue to tilt at windmills and believe in the inevitable triumph of right. If we did not, then it would almost impossible to drag ourselves out of bed every morning, to face the barrage of emails, the deluge of information and gird our loins (as it were) to pick up the standard and go forth to battle yet again.
I don’t think there is an animal advocate out there that has not, at some point, been almost mortally wounded by a betrayal of a cause that they had embraced passionately and totally. I know that I have had my share of wounding, almost debilitating betrayals that linger for years in the recess of mind and heart. For each carries with it an intrinsic and unshakeable conviction that we should have seen the reality of the situation, been more aware, been more proactive, done something or noticed something ...
Several years ago, I experienced just such a terrible revelation with a group I had been passionately involved with that rescued unwanted, abandoned and rejected german shepherds. The reverberations of that particular situation still linger, have seeped into skin and bone and become an intrinsic part of who I am today. I often feel I lost a chunk of my soul when the reality (and tragedy) of that situation was revealed – but it provided me also with a fierce and unwavering conviction to guard against any such future betrayal (inasmuch as I could).
Which brings me to my current decision – to leave my long-term volunteering position with the Toronto Humane Society. My reasons are my own. I do want to emphasize that it is not in any way related to my belief the THS is an awful place, because it is not. The animals within its walls are healthy, happy, well exercised, entertained and taken care of. But after my last experience, I have learned to live with my instinct, to listen to that “gut” feeling and unless I can 100% support a place, unless I can concur and feel content with its policies, then I need to walk away.
The bottom line is that my philosophy and that of the THS show no sign of converging at any immediate or future junction any time soon. In fact, in the year I have been back (after a rather debilitating accident), I find indeed that our concept of what the Shelter means diverge even more markedly.
As such, I made the decision to leave and voluntarily resigned on good terms. They are going in the direction their Board and staff feel best suits their mandate and I am now a volunteer without a place. I am, of course, still heavily involved with pursuing animal rights, transporting dogs and a myriad of other causes that remain my passion and feed my soul, but for the interim, I will miss my THS and cherish the lessons I learned in the often tumultuous years I volunteered.
The one (sad) thing I know. There will always be animals to rescue.