Thursday, April 29, 2010

Coping with Fatigue

Another week, more bad news for animals.

After last week's stunning Supreme Court decision to throw out the 1999 law banning crush videos and other videos depicting animal cruelty (U.S. v. Stevens), animal activists and animal lovers were stunned. If the filming of blatant (and illegal) acts of animal cruelty is now a protected form of free speech, then we can expect not only the revival of the crush video industry, but all manner of videos showing unbelievable cruelty. Luckily, just one day after the Supreme Court's ruling, Representatives Jim Moran and Elton Gallegly have introduced a new bill which would more narrowly focus on crush videos and thus not antagonize the hunting industry who sided with the Supreme Court's ruling.

Last week also saw the collapse of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana, which resulted in the deaths of eleven workers, and five thousand barrels of oil being leaked into the Gulf every day. While the Coast Guard has been attempting to burn off some of the oil to keep it from entering sensitive wetlands near Louisiana, officials have not yet been able to plug the leaks. Animals who live in the area and who will be impacted form the spill include sea turtles, whales, porpoises, dolphins, tuna, sharks, pelicans, oysters and crabs and a variety of migratory shore birds and song birds. Many of these animals are in the midst of their spawning and nesting seasons, which means that future generations of these animals could be lost as well.
Then of course, like every other week, new cases of animal cruelty keep appearing in local news, such as the two cats who were doused with gasoline this week in Quincy, Massachusetts, resulting in their deaths.

And those are just the news items for the week. Animal activists are burdened with information that is not reported in the news. We know, for example, that every year, 10 billion domesticated land animals are slaughtered for food in the United States, which breaks down to 27 million each and every day, approximately 20 million vertebrate animals are used (and most of them are ultimately killed) for medical research and testing in the US, which breaks down to about 55,000 animals per day, and that 30 million animals are slaughtered for their fur every year, or about 82,000 per day. In addition, the federal government kills about 2 million wild animals per year (about 5,500 per day) at the behest of hunters, property owners and cattle ranchers, and an unknown number of animals (also in the millions) are killed by hunters every year in this country alone. We're also aware of the fact that about 4 million former pets are killed at animal shelters every year, or about 11,000 per day.

Those are very big numbers, and that is a lot of killing. How can we deal with the enormity of these figures? How do we deal with it?

Obviously, many of us have made changes in our personal lives--we may no longer eat animals, wear them, or participate in activities that cause them harm. Countless others are involved in activism--in educating our friends and families, in writing letters and blogs and petitions, in pushing for meaningful social change. Many of us volunteer or work at the local level, in our animal shelters, for example, or have gotten involved in state or federal or international organizations that work to protect animals.

But it never seems like enough, honestly. And sometimes the fatigue of knowing how much suffering exists feels overwhelming. Known as "compassion fatigue," animal welfare workers, volunteers, and activists are all at risk for being overwhelmed and traumatized by the constant suffering, and the knowledge that what we do is never enough. Many of us are depressed, and deal with that depression in unhealthy ways. Many of us use food or alcohol or drugs to self-medicate.

But thankfully, many of us also take solace in the community of animal lovers and activists who share our values and our convictions. We find communion with others like us who put the lives of animals, and the protection of the planet, above our own needs. We form networks with like minded people, supporting each other, sharing stories, having fun together, and forming life-long bonds.

And we try to learn to take care of ourselves, through engaging in activities that bring us relief and happiness. Sometimes this is the hardest lesson to learn--when animals are suffering so much, why do I deserve some happiness? But it may be the most important thing we can do to ensure that we continue to help others. And sometimes this can be as simple as hopping over to your favorite cute animal website for a quick pickup. For me, that site is Pick your own, and visit it often. You deserve it.

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