It’s too much.
Maybe it’s time. To quit.
People quit all the time, right? Move on to a new job, say goodbye to a partner. Sell a house, escape to another city.
And in some instances, it’s easy and better for you in the long run. Get away. Try to forget about it. Take your life down a different track. Sometimes, that’s healthy. Sometimes for your own sanity, you just have to stop and move on.
And a surprising number of people say “I quit” at animal shelters. The turnover rate for employees at SPCAs and shelters across the country is sometimes staggering. There have been many days at the shelter where I have thought to myself, “I can’t do this anymore.”
When I see people treat animals no better than garbage. When people dump animals at this shelter because they “have no time” for them. Because the dog has grown bigger than they expected. Because they can’t seem to train the dog not to go to the bathroom inside the house, yet they are unwilling to try any of our suggestions.
We live in such a disposable society.
I get the feeling of “man, I’ve gotta get out of here” when I walk into the kennels and find a dog who has been bred so badly, his back legs can’t support his body. When I see an animal so thin and malnourished that every bone in her chest looks like it’s going to come out through her skin. When long-haired pure-bred cats come in to us as “strays” covered in so many mats, we have to use an electric razor to shave them to their skin so we can free them of the maggots living inside the huge balls of hair and fur.
And when you realize all of these problems are a result of human neglect, human cruelty and human indifference, I start to think to myself that I can no longer bear witness to it. Because I fear seeing it every day is taking small portions of my soul, a little bit at a time.
And I’ll think for my own sense of well-being, “I have to get out of here.”
But then, I’m taking an animal to an offsite event and the pup has to crawl on my lap because he’s not too sure about the whole car thing. He searches me out for comfort.
I walk through the kennels and all the eyes watch me, and they seem to say, “Please give me a chance.”
I go into cat adoption and find kittens playing in one of the larger cages and it’s almost like they’re asking me to join them, falling over each other, joy in their gorgeous eyes. The more I watch them, the more they act like goofballs, and I realize they’re “hamming it up” just for me. They seem to react to my chuckles and laughter.
A cat reaches for me through the slats of her cage as I walk past. Looking to me for a moment of contact, warmth, touch. And I give it to her. Willingly. Happily. I listen to her purr as I stroke her face and it lowers my blood pressure, calms me.
And I come to a realization. Why I can’t leave. Why I can’t stop. Because it’s not about me. It’s about them. These forgotten souls who did nothing wrong, but were discarded anyway. The only creatures on the planet to end up in a jail, of sorts, without committing any real crime.
It’s about the brown-eyed pup and the blue-eyed kitten searching, even after all they’ve been through, for the love that has been denied them.
And if some days I cry on the ride home for the sheer terror and agony so many of them have known, so be it. If I have nightmares about losing one of my own furry friends because of the stories I hear during the day, and the fear wakes me up in the middle of the night, I’ll deal with it. And if working at an animal shelter changes me irrevocably from now to the day I leave this world, maybe that’s OK.
Maybe I’m supposed to wrestle with this. Maybe I’m supposed to take a long, hard look at the bad stuff in the world because it makes me appreciate the good that much more. Maybe I’m supposed to plant myself like a tree, stand strong in the face of it and work through it.
Because maybe, just maybe, this cause is worth it.
I think of it as a battle. We’re waging a war here. We’re fighting apathy, insensitivity, and basic carelessness. Shelter staff and employees across the nation are the front lines and our supporters and adopters, the ones who give so generously of their time, money and homes, are our second defense. It’s going to be and is tough. And it will bring about the feelings of “this is too much” and “I want to quit.”
I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. I know there are people who see the photos online and on television of animal cruelty and neglect and think to themselves, I can’t keep witnessing this.
When it feels too hard and you’re ready to walk away because you’ve heard too much for too long, and you think there’s no hope for ending it, look to the friend at your feet or in your lap. And remember who it’s all about.
They have no voice.
So let’s give them ours.
I know I’m going to keep doing it. For as long as I have breath in my body.