The other day I saw a post from a friend that was so familiar and yet so strange. Familiar as I could have written the words. Probably not as kindly but the sentiment was my own. Strange as the writer of them is not one that I would expect to feel such doubt and uncertainty. And while I could take solace in the fact that in her uncertainty I might not feel so alone in my own, I don’t wish what I feel on anyone. It makes me incredibly sad for her and others who after years of certainty of purpose find themselves wondering. Or is it wandering?
The doubt is in her ability to continue on as she has been doing for many years in the animal welfare arena. Burnout? Compassion fatigue? Simple exhaustion? Probably some of all three. As this friend is not someone who stops in at the shelter once a week and walks a dog or two and then goes on with their normal life. Helping animals in need and the shelter where she volunteers is a HUGE part of her life. One of her top priorities. It’s not her hobby or a free time filler when everything else she wants to do is done. She is as committed to it as any full time job and probably more purposeful and responsible than most paid employees. I know this woman. I know what she’s made of and how valuable she is to this organization and more importantly the animals that she fosters and walks and takes to events or to the park or for a burger. I know she is saving lives through her efforts and deep down inside of her, I know she knows it too.
She doesn’t do this unselfishly, as she knows this is not just all about the animals. It is about fulfilling a need within herself. And it does not go unrewarded, as in this tireless effort there is infinite joy to be found too. Or maybe it is finite after all.
Without talking to her lately, I suspect that she’s seen crap that just wears away at her passion. I know she’s seen animals mistreated in unimaginable ways that breaks the strongest of hearts. I know too she’s seen animals linger in the shelter for months if not years waiting for a chance that may never come. All the while knowing what amazing creatures they are on the inside but appear to be something else on the outside. I know that she has seen the worst of people and how hateful and cruel they can be to the innocent victims of their voracity. And I suspect she has also seen the worst of people who can be equally hateful and cruel to people as well.
I suspect she’s seen the irresponsible and uncaring to the point that you stop trusting in most and expect the worst as a self-defense against being caught off guard. I suspect she’s seen how simple irresponsibility and uncaring can do such harm to not only the animals in their care but to entire organizations. I’m sure she’s seen how money can sway and move an organization in directions that you never thought it would go. And in a no-kill shelter environment where she resides, I know too well that sometimes the biggest problems are not the lack of funds, but the presence of them. And the power that is presumed to accompany the same. I suspect she’s seen the well-meaning become the most destructive in their ignorance to the reality.
I am sure at times she’s felt helpless to help. Helpless to change the direction an animal was going…watching them deteriorate in the shelter environment despite her and other’s best efforts. Watching an animal languish without even a glance by a prospective adopter when knowing what an incredible family member they would make. Oh, how frustrating that is. Watching while others buy and others die because they want what only money and a name or title can offer them.
In as much as I want to believe that I have some limitless supply of energy…like a spring that bubbles fresh water from deeply hidden well to the surface in endless quantities, even I realize the seemingly endless supply is not so limitless. It cannot only run dry but in its constant expulsion it can become tainted little by little through its exposure to the elements it touches on its way to the surface. Whatever the nature of the exposure, it simply can’t be pure forever. Our excitement, our passion, our desire to make positive change cannot go unscarred after so many battles. That isn’t reasonable to expect, no matter how deep the well or how pure the water.
I suppose few would even know the difference between the pristine water of the past and that which surfaces now, but for those that have tasted each, it can be as dissimilar as putting a bottle of sparkling water to your lips or slurping from a mud puddle. Both may sustain you through drought, but suggesting they are both the same is asking more of my imagination than I’m willing to offer.
Years ago I recall reading a study on shelter workers and the lifespan of such being somewhere in the range of seven years. Notwithstanding the fact I’ve never actually “worked” in the shelter, I’m going to lump myself into the category just because I can. I’ve lasted twice that norm but bear the scars of that duration. At times I think exceedingly well. I still care deeply for the animals themselves. Still cry happy tears for their adoptions and weep for their loss. I still worry about what will come in the spring or what will become of the long line of unwanted breeds that fill our kennels. I anguish over how to help more people with limited incomes who want to do the responsible things for their pets but are lacking. And I lament the loss of people who really do care but lose hope and faith that their caring can make a difference.
But I no longer trust as I did before. Strangers will lie to me for no apparent benefit. And sometimes and sadly so, even those who aren’t strangers will betray you. Worst yet is when your own intuition betrays you. That may be the hardest to swallow. I no longer see people as just victims of circumstance as I may have once. And least of all, no longer believe that everyone has compassion within them. There are greedy, ignorant, uncaring, selfish people in the world who cannot or will not see beyond themselves. As such it is not the animals or their challenges or their numbers that sadden me any longer. It is the people.
They are like poisonous plants along the path of that spring fed stream that slowly infuses it with their toxicity. And no matter how pure the water or how fast the current as it travels, it still cannot avoid these dangerous elements. Whether slowing swirling around each plant or swiftly passing, it’s destroying the water little by little.
And that is how it feels to me sometimes. And I suspect it is how it feels to others that do this thing they love without protection from the elements.
It has taken some time and distance to realize that I can no sooner stop the water than I can stop the plants from growing along its route. But maybe, just maybe I can change the course of the stream.
And my friend, who I respect like few others, I too hope you can find a way to change your course so that you too can flow free and unbridled again as well.
Categories: Shelter Facts