One of my favorite animal sanctuaries is the Gentle Barn in California. They rescue and provide lives of health, comfort, and dignity to creatures who would, on any other day, be eaten. By people. For the most part, they do take in animals who have been in horrible, suffering situations; abused dairy cows, sick veal-crated calves, neglected captives of backyard butchers: all victims of someone’s demand for cheap meat. For every individual, it is salvation from torture and torment. But as has been pointed out to me, they are plain old domestic animals, nothing endangered or more exotic than an escaped peacock who saw a good thing. In the USA, it is their fate to be slaughtered and enter the food chain. Couldn’t all that money which goes for veterinary care, feed, and housing be better put to use for a grander cause? Saving habitats, fighting for clean air and water, prosecution of the Big Baddies out there?
Maybe. But it takes passion and drive to do those things, too. We don’t get to choose what breaks our hearts, what lights that fire to make a difference. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, that is to have succeeded.” Perhaps Emerson sets the bar too low. There is so much suffering in the world that it is sadly easy to find a life to whom one may provide comfort. How many of us do? Daily? Weekly? When was the last time you gave something of yourself to a suffering soul?
The people at Gentle Barn do it every day for about one hundred and seventy creatures who otherwise would have suffered and died long ago.* Stopping another ton of steaks and burgers from reaching American plates won’t save the world or a species or, really, anyone but that steer. But their hearts broke for a miserable, sick, and dying calf, so they gave him … and so many other plain old animals… a life worth living. Humans aren’t endangered by any means; 7,000,000,000 and rising. We are plain old animals, too. But we have all the power.
We can salvage devastated habitats. We can stop pouring filth into the air and water we all need to survive. We can fight the evil and greed in the system. But center stage isn’t everybody’s calling. We are only effective where we are driven to be, where our personal passions take us. Yet, the cynic in me says it’s only going to get worse. There is no turning around for the human race. But it is still in my power to give comfort to some. Thank you, Mr. Emerson, for believing in a success that I can achieve.
As I write this, I mourn the passing of a little old lady cat today. She was at the end of a long life, well lived and well loved. She was here at CatCamp just two weeks ago. It wasn’t an easy session for any of us. Her kidney failure made her poor frail body rank. Every time she fell asleep, I feared she wouldn’t wake. I might even have seen the Rainbow Bridge over her shoulder. In the middle of a night, dimly by the streetlight that shines rudely through the bedroom window, I saw in her face the kitten she must have been so many years ago. It was my honor to care for her, a plain old calico cat, to do those mundane things that let her breathe easier. I am called to small things and small things do matter.
*Gentle Barn also has programs for underprivileged and at-risk youth. They visit the sanctuary, learn about the animals’ stories, and make compassionate connections to other beings who were dealt lousy hands, too, but have learned to trust and become themselves after all.