The Incorrigible Empath

The gift and curse of feeling too much in animal welfare

Ingela Canis
Oct 14, 2019 · 8 min read

“We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.” ― Anaïs Nin

There are two kinds of people in this world:
Those who feel everything deeply and are often incapable of differentiating between their own pain and that of others, and those who feel very little or nothing for the struggles of others.

The difference is empathy.

Those who have little to none are presumably baffled by the illogical drive of the “empaths” (Merriam-Webster definition: one who experiences the emotions of others: a person who has empathy for others). These peculiar people will stop at nothing to help a fellow being, be it human or other life form.
Life is life, suffering is suffering, and we feel it with every fiber of our being.
Isn’t this to our own detriment? Indeed it is.

So why not just stop doing that? Well, that’s just not possible. How far will you go to stop your own pain?
If this matter seems foreign to you, here is the best way for me to explain this phenomenon:
Your pain is my pain. We are all connected. Whether you are able to feel it or not, that is my world. The difference… is all heart.

Doesn’t that just mean that empaths are weak?

Photo by Heather Ford on Unsplash

It might certainly seem that way, but imagine yourself going through your daily life forever bombarded with overwhelming feelings that you can’t find a logical reason for. You feel stuff that doesn’t necessarily match up with your current mood or circumstances.

In the beginning, this phenomenon is utterly baffling. And debilitating.
Pushing it aside doesn’t work any more than it would if you were preoccupied with your own personal mental or physical anguish.

Many tend to take for granted that kindness is weakness. Let me assure you; it is not. Ours is an exhausting existence and we have to be exceptionally resilient to just be able to function day to day.

It’s often a lonely existence as well, as we are at best viewed as kind of eccentric and at worst flat out weird. Many of us spend our lives trying to fit into a mold that just won’t contain us.

Superficial things like reality TV, chasing the latest gadgets, gossip and keeping up with whomever are all completely irrelevant in our world. We require purpose, thought and depth. When we don’t get it we feel alienated and our whole existence starts to crumble.

Many of us super-feelers have over time become deeply immersed in animal advocacy. It’s simply a logical place for us. We feel, we think, we suffer and we are compelled to improve things. For everybody. We simply cannot stand seeing anyone in pain.

I for one have never been about taking sides. To me, animal welfare is all about working together for a common goal: to end suffering. But that assumption turned out to be a huge mistake on my part.
We now find ourselves up against a brand new adversary: the “socially conscious sheltering” movement. This term boils down to a bunch of exceptionally well paid people insisting that “shelters” should have no silly rules imposed upon them. Things such as how many animals are killed, for what reason, how and when, are all irrelevant…

The average person donating time and money to this cause is often mislead, and simply believes the carefully spun narrative proclaiming that it’s mean and irresponsible to keep animals in cages for more than a couple of days.
Apparently they’re better off dead because… suffering?

The rescuers and empaths are left to wonder why a well run and compassionate shelter environment would be so bad.
Every situation requires an adjustment. That’s just the nature of things. When you move to a new place you feel a bit off for a while. How long that feeling lasts is highly personal. A shelter environment shouldn’t be any different, should it?

How did we end up with a society that actually condones indiscriminate killing?

If your pet somehow manages to wander off and ends up in one of these “Socially Conscious Shelters”, he is allowed to be killed more or less immediately if he doesn’t appear “adoptable”.

Now, this “adoptability factor” is by default enormously subjective. You will not find many rescuers agreeing with the behavior specialists’ assessments.
The mandatory “stray hold” (designed to allow the owner of a stray enough time to find the animal before s/he is killed, transferred or adopted out) of five days is actually often ignored through various clever workarounds.

In this horrifying scenario Fido can be immediately put to death simply for:
looking scruffy from being lost outside in a storm,
being stressed from the loud and unfamiliar jail he suddenly finds himself in,
enthusiastically going after his food simply because he’s starving,
being slightly older than the young “adoptable” fluffball in the next kennel,
or having any medical issue that would cost money to treat.
Or — simply for having a square looking head. The awful misconception being that a squarish head shape equals “pit pull” which then equals aggression and absolute unadoptability.

The list goes on.

I see this all around me and I am deeply saddened, perplexed and consumed with both fury and hopelessness. I am not alone.

But the general public seems to be accepting this policy as “humane”. More humane than the alternative — “No Kill” — which simply means doing your best to take care of every single healthy or treatable animal until a new home can be found. Simple, ethical, logical and really the only way for many of us.
But apparently not all…

Many rescuers are forced to give up because they can’t compete with the well-funded, sad-commercial-wielding PR machines, and are often attacked and penalized for even trying.

If people want puppies and kittens, there are literally millions of them readily available. But those are instead being killed for space. Meanwhile, commercial breeders are producing endless amounts for people to pay thousands of dollars for.

I am left to wonder why animal welfare and rescue feels like trash disposal. If that is all it is, then it is certainly no place for an empath.
We are drawn to it because it comes naturally for us to want to help. We simply cannot look away. But when we realize that rescuing an animal off the street may in fact mean its prompt demise, many of us tend to become defiant instead. Sometimes even openly hostile.

Photo by Christoph Peich on Unsplash

Let’s just find a way to agree on what “shelter” means, shall we?
According to it means “something that covers or affords protection”. This is the definition I always assumed applied to animal shelters. I believe most people assume that is what it means.

However, with the emergence of the big commercial places, this can no longer be neither assumed nor expected. Oftentimes the fresh strays from animal control are brought directly to the kill room without ever being given a chance.
Owner surrendered animals can, and very often are, killed as soon as the previous owner leaves the premises. No need to wait. It’s just another expense.

Another frequently misused word is “euthanasia”.
The actual meaning is “the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals (such as persons or domestic animals) in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy”.

For reasons of mercy.

That does NOT mean for convenience, for lack of space, or for made up reasons of “unadoptability”. There is a home for almost every single animal. Sometimes it takes a little longer than just a couple of days to locate, but it is out there. If we give up on this we have lost our humanity.

Photo by Thomas Park on Unsplash

There is a very sad development going on between “No-Kill” and “Pro-Kill”.
Rescuers (No Kill) are portrayed as sappy, unrealistic, weak, incapable and amateurish by the kill side. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The difference is one of empathy and never-ending work and commitment.
Rescuers are dynamos working around the clock for no pay and often dipping into their own savings to pay the vet to save the kitten that someone threw out the car window. Or the dog that someone shot in the face and left by the roadside somewhere.

The kill side is generally staffed by well paid people who tend to see the whole thing more as a numbers game than anything else. They are seemingly immune to suffering and shockingly often not even animal people at all. They crunch the numbers and promote and save the cute youngsters (who bring in money both through adoption fees and PR) while ignoring, hiding and putting to death the injured, sickly and undesirable ones. Nothing to see here, folks. Just a clean, efficient and “professional” process maximizing profits.

The rescuers see individuals.

Photo by Antón Jáuregui on Unsplash

They feel the suffering and they have the ability to read their fellow beings on a level that only those who actually possess that ability can understand.
They are horrified at the lack of compassion demonstrated by these “professionals” on a daily basis.

But aren’t the professionals more efficient? Depends on what you consider efficient. They are certainly more efficient at killing.
And as far as having things neat and clean and sparkly — yes, that is indeed much easier when your kennels are empty and helpless souls are being disposed of instead of treated.

Rescue is messy.
It’s heartbreaking.
It’s expensive and exhausting.
And it drains you of your faith in humanity.
You can’t un-see the things you see on a daily basis, and it will eventually turn you into an extreme cynic.

This brings me to The No Kill Movement. How in the world did convenience killing ever sneak into the equation of “humane sheltering”?
I get it, there are vast amounts of irresponsible pet owners who just bail on their companions at the drop of a hat. There are backyard breeders and puppy mills and cold-hearted jerks just looking for a quick buck at the expense of anyone and everyone else.

That still doesn’t justify animal shelters killing for space and convenience. Socially Conscious Sheltering IS Convenience Killing.

It’s not “euthanasia” if someone doesn’t want to die. (Let’s face it, anyone who is sick enough usually wants out).

And it’s not “sheltering” if you’re in fact — not.

And so I ask you, if your pet were to get lost, which side would you wish him or her found by?

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expressions of the human experience

Ingela Canis

Written by

Recovering naïve believer in genuine goodness. Finder of humor in the absurd. Introverted optimist navigating reality with the help of coffee.



expressions of the human experience

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