Some of us are born with bleeding hearts.
We are the kind of people that stop to help the mama duck and her little, freshly feathered babies cross the road. The kind that keep a sparrow in a padded box in our living rooms after it flew into the window. That love the abandoned baby raccoon into adolescence until its teenage fury force its release back to the wild. The kind that, like me, loved my baby chicks to death as a child when I fed them as many slugs and worms as I could find in the garden – that was their favorite treat, right?
We are the people, hearts bleeding. who will stop short of nothing to save another creature.
We are also the people who shed a tear at every cry for the injustices happening to animals around the world. We are ready to raise our voices against the wrongdoings, to chose the plights we want to fight for, the animals we want to stand up for until the wrongs have been righted. Our bleeding hearts makes us steadfast warriors, protecting the innocent.
But sometimes I find myself wondering “is it really helpful? Can I really make a difference?”
I have sat on both sides of the fence, from one extreme of the animal industry to the other. I have been the one to sound the alarm at some horrific event against animals, to openly attack the hurtful actions and people that are responsible. I have been the staunch vegetarian, anti-animal cruelty, anti-animals in entertainment, “adopt don’t shop”, animal saving, bleeding heart advocate.
Far on the other side of the spectrum, I have also lived and worked on a commercial beef and pork operation. I have listened to the stories from a woman who dedicated years of her life to performance elephants at a casino in Nevada. I have worked on the back side of a racetrack, and I have toured some of the greatest racehorse farms in the US. I have participated in Greyhound racing, from the breeding and raising of race dogs to the training, care, rehabilitation, retirement… and everything in between.
I have worked side by side with a professional, training hunting dogs, watching them develop their natural instinct to track their prey. I have purposefully put myself on the back side the of many animal professions for my own education and for my love of animals, and I have come under attack more than once for what I do.
Despite what others may think, there is not a single aspect of my life with animals that I feel ashamed of. There is not one action that I have taken nor one moment where I have questioned my role in the life of an animal. Not once.
Why? Because everything I have ever participated in has been with that love and bleeding heart for animals that made me start this journey in the first place. It has been with the understanding that many animals in this world have a purpose – from the butterflies aiding the fertilization of plants, to the scent hound designed to hunt, and the Thoroughbred who loves to run.
We fight to protect the right of the bees to pollinate, the fish to swim upstream to reproduce, the habitats of millions of animals across the earth in order for them to live and survive how they are meant to, but the minute we aim to preserve the speed and grace of a racehorse – what is innate in their DNA too – it is all of a sudden not worthy of protecting. To deny animals their right to do what they are meant to do is equally unethical in my books.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m the first one to admit it’s not all roses and rainbows all the time. I have seen and heard my share of things I cannot agree with, where the humans take advantage of their caretaker position or neglect to fix the issues that need addressed. I will be screaming alongside all the other voices when animals are not receiving the protection they deserve, but I recognize that there is good, too. The media has cracked open and revealed those people who do not take their role as guardians of animals as they should, and for that they have done their job. But that’s where it starts to all go awry.
Extremists aim to systematically shut down all aspects of all animal industries altogether. It’s easy to get caught up believing in their delicately crafted, perfectly delivered messages in fierce opposition of these industries, yet seldom do we stop to think about the consequences of that action.
Think about this: What happens when we shut down the farmers raising their beef or pork? What happens to the farmers and their families when we no longer feed the world?
What happens when there are no elephants in captivity in zoos or wildlife parks? When their plight becomes too far away, too disconnected from our environment, to be worthy of protecting?
When you shut down Sea World who is left to educate the public and assist in the rehabilitation of the sea life? Who is let to protect our oceans and remind us of the impact we are having on the rest of the world we so conventionally turn a blind eye to?
When you promote and support those who aim to wipe out horse racing, what happens to all the horses left behind? Or all the people who no longer have a means to feed their families, to raise their children? What happens to the Thoroughbred as we know it today?
These kind of extremes make no sense in the long term, but I see an alternate answer.
Instead of wiping out these industries, which causes more harm than good, the logical answer is to enforce rules and regulations to ensure the protection of all animals. There are laws in place to protect animals, but how often do we see a trainer, once found guilty of breaking the law, eventually return to racing? An abuse case ending with a slap on the wrist and fine? A drug violation resulting in a short suspension before the wrongdoer returns to the sport? A death in a zoo that is quietly swept under the rug after the initial outcry?
Instead, it makes more sense to take a page out of the handbooks of those who are doing it right – to replicate their standards for the whole industry and eliminate those people and institutions that are not in it for the protection and betterment of the animal, for good. In doing so the bar is raised for a whole industry, and it is based on a tried and true system that works. Is that tough on any given industry while it goes through this major revision? Yes. Would it take a massive amount of work? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely.
It is up to us, if we love the animals, to learn about the benefits of the industries we may not understand. To learn about the use of their tools and methods. To understand the role they play in the preservation of a breed or a species and their place in our world as it exists today. When we seek out those who ethically participate in their industry, we often find the real issues that need to be addressed. The people who uphold the highest standards, who are responsible for the lives of of the animals in their keep, and who understand the issues within their industry will be the first to determine and support the areas for reform. Why? Because they are bleeding hearts too. They are the first to want the change. And as a group of animal loving people, we CAN make a difference as the most effective use of a bleeding heart is in reform – in logical and educated reform.
Next time something comes into your email, or across your Facebook that aims to smear a whole industry, stop and ask yourself: who is it really helping? Where will your money end up? What are the consequences if you support this group, this agenda, this post, this Tweet? Does it resolve the bigger issue?
Then do the research and find where your bleeding heart is most helpful.
No one bears the responsibility of animal rights and welfare more than the people in this industry itself. They are the bleeding hearts who carry every pain, every injury, every heartache, and every loss. They have seen the worst, but also the best, and they are the ones who know and understand what needs to be done to protect the animals in their keep better than anyone else.
For the rest of us, it is our job to listen with empathy, to understand with clarity, and to learn wholeheartedly from the people who know best and then, collectively, put our bleeding hearts to work.
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