How to Navigate the World As an Empath (Without Losing Your Mind)

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” ― Jane Goodall

If you’ve been a regular reader of my blog, you probably noticed that right around the 2016 election I fell silent – for over three years. In the aftermath of election night, I knew without a doubt that the new administration was going to be devastating for animal welfare and the environment, providing journalists like me with plenty of fodder to write about. But in the days and weeks that followed, I became so deeply depressed that I lost all desire to continue my animal welfare writing. I told myself that I wouldn’t have anything original to say and would only be repeating what myriad other journalists – many of whom were far more prolific than I am – were already reporting.

Sure, I could undoubtedly rage on and on about every single affront to animals rights that began snowballing almost immediately after inauguration day, but nothing was going to change the fact that we had an animal-hating, science-denying sociopath at the helm of our country who would not be swayed by the condemnation of activists like me. It was going to be a very long, agonizing four years, so I braced myself for what was to come and decided to detach from the chaos in order to protect my emotional wellbeing. Selfish perhaps, but it felt like the healthiest thing to do at the time.

It has been said that the greatest antidote to depression is action, but withdrawing from all the negative news (only staying as informed as-needed), taking a break from my volunteer rescue work and putting my blog on hold was exactly what my heart needed. I was emotionally exhausted after covering the dog and cat meat trade and the many other forms of violence that humans were continuing to perpetrate against animals. I’d also become incredibly disillusioned by so-called “activists” who claimed to be fighting on behalf of animals but were really just seeking publicity while quietly lining their own pockets. Maybe a more courageous and dedicated investigative journalist wouldn’t have blinked an eye, running head-first into the storm with an unflagging determination to report the truth. So if I could be silenced so easily, was I even a real activist at all or just a weak fraud posing as one?

The fact is, I’m an empath. To the world I may appear confident, strong and comfortable in my own skin, but that’s simply a persona I learned to adopt as a young girl to protect my soft, vulnerable heart from petty, hateful people whose cruel motivations to harm me never ceased to mystify me. But beneath my carefully crafted suit of armor, I experience my emotions and those of the people I care about very deeply. I am incredibly intuitive and sensitive to the energy of my surroundings, can “read” others uncannily well, easily see through hypocrisies and lies, and I can’t witness anyone – especially animals – in pain without wanting to jump in and “save” them. While I wouldn’t change who I am for anything, my hyper-sensitivity combined with my introverted personality means I can only handle so much negative stimuli before I start to unravel and need to isolate myself. Only then can I replenish, recharge and reinforce my protective exterior once again.

i-meditate-i-do-yoga-and-i-still-wanna-smack-someone

There will always be cruel people in the world who will want to hurt the weak and the voiceless in order to make themselves bigger, stronger and richer. We who volunteer our time and energy in animal rescue and activism know this. I was bullied as a child, so nothing motivates my desire to fight back harder than mean people using their positions of power to hurt and exploit others. I imagine that this passion to protect and fight back is what motivates most animal rescuers and activists – we identify with the vulnerability and pure-heartedness of animals, so we channel our protective rage into defending their rights and creating change.

But how can we as animal-loving empaths protect our personal wellbeing while exposing ourselves to so much cruelty and suffering? Here are some techniques that have helped me tremendously over the past three years:

Self-protect and set boundaries: create an energy shield or mental barrier that allows you to let in what you wish while deflecting anything negative (for example, imagine yourself surrounded by a bubble of protective light). Get into the habit of saying “no” more often, and whenever possible, remove yourself from draining and/or toxic situations, places and people who sap your energy.

Observe your thoughts and process your emotions: If you find yourself thinking angry or negative thoughts, begin a dialogue in your mind to figure out what they’re are trying to tell you and find a solution. Allow yourself to feel your emotions when they’re at their strongest but don’t let them rule you or try to block them.

Practice self-care: Nourish your body with healthy food, get plenty of exercise and rest, and stay hydrated. You’ll be much better able to cope with the stresses and challenges around you if you maintain your personal health and wellbeing, so give yourself plenty of “me time” to do just that.

Find ways to recharge and experience joy: Whether it’s getting out in nature, walking or playing your dog, working out, spending time with friends or pursuing your favorite hobby, find something that you love to do and make it a regular part of your life. For me, ballroom dancing is my solace and I’m never happier and more “in the moment” than when I’m moving my body to music.

Develop a daily practice that brings you peace: Whether it’s doing yoga, meditating, repeating positive affirmations or just breathing deeply and mindfully, start each day with something to help quiet your mind and focus your energy so you can move forward feeling centered and calm.

At the end of the day, we empaths have a choice: to live in this imperfect world and commit to being part of humanity or to divorce ourselves from it. We have no power to change anyone, only our reactions to them. At the same time, we must come face-to-face with our own dysfunctional parts, taking responsibility for and embracing what we can or can’t change about ourselves. Lately I’ve been working really hard to be kind to those I have a hard time relating to, although I find it very challenging at times. The willful ignorance and hard-heartedness of some people on the opposite side of the political spectrum has been a harsh reality check for me, to say the least. Sure, maybe I’ll change one heart or two and maybe I won’t, but shutting down and numbing myself isn’t the answer – I’ve tried that. So I’m learning to embrace life for what it is, rather than constantly trying to change it to the way I want it to be. I must be an emotional warrior, as corny as that sounds. “Illegitimi non carborundum” has become my new mantra.

As an energetic healer once said to me, “Be the light and let it shine.” I will take that advice and try to be a force for good while accepting that the world may never change. Our societies appear to be on the precipice of collapse – the warning signs are there and they are screaming at us to pay attention. We are in the throes of the sixth mass extinction, destroying the natural world of which we are a part. Still, I have hope that more and more of us will choose to tune into our higher selves and work collectively to heal our broken world rather than continuing along our selfish path to destruction.

Many like to say we are destroying the planet, but that’s not true. We are destroying our environment and thus, ourselves, but in reality, the Earth will be just fine without us. She will eventually heal and flourish on her own, relishing the quiet of our silenced voices.

What about you? Have you been feeling challenged to stay the course with your animal advocacy recently? What are you doing to take care of yourself when feeling overwhelmed or burned out? Please share in the comments below!

 

The Struggle Is Real – Confessions of a Lapsed Vegan

Okay, I admit it, I’m a failed vegan. Over the past eight years, I’ve tried multiple times to give up all animal products, yet I continue to relapse, again and again. It’s not for lack of trying, or that I don’t love animals enough to shift my food choices, or that I even particularly like the taste of cooked flesh. I gave up eating all land animals seven years ago, and thanks to all the books I’ve read and the videos I’ve watched (I still can’t un-see what I witnessed in the documentary “Earthlings,” no matter how hard I try), I have no problem keeping their tortured bodies off of my plate.

But when my husband went on the Keto diet and I “slipped” and started eating pasture-raised eggs and wild-caught salmon again, I noticed almost immediately how much better I was feeling. I’d been taking tons of vitamins and supplements for years, so it wasn’t like I wasn’t trying my hardest to make sure I could get everything I needed from non-animal sources. Still, as I began loosening my dietary restrictions, my energy and muscle tone improved, and I felt healthier and stronger. Great on the one hand, but upsetting on the other.

Besides being an animal activist, I’m a competitive ballroom dancer, yoga practitioner and overall fitness addict who trains at least 15 hours per week. So while I have legitimate reasons (some might say “rationalizations”) for slipping back into the vegetarian zone, I feel bad about it. Like a failure who has let the animals down. A total hypocrite. I used to have no problem sharing information (as opposed to preaching) with anyone who asked why I eat this way (“but how do you get your protein?” Ugh!), about the suffering farm animals endure in intensive farming systems, and how we humans can live perfectly healthy lives without harming anyone. Since I believed that to be true for me, why shouldn’t it be true for everyone else? I assumed that people who claimed they had tried and failed to give up animal products were just rationalizing their unwillingness to give up the foods they enjoyed.

cow

But here I am, right in that same camp, feeling like a judgmental, hypocritical jerk. What right did I have to judge anyone, and was I really going to “convert” someone to veganism by making them feel guilty about their food choices? Probably not. All I did was alienate people, particularly those who didn’t want to be “enlightened.” Although you have to admit, willfully ignorant people can be incredibly triggering for those of us who give a damn…

Anyway, as someone who believes that animals have a right to their own lives, admitting that veganism doesn’t “work” for me has been a horrible realization fraught with many difficult emotions. Our diets directly affect the lives of non-human animals, who, like us, are highly complex, sentient and social individuals capable of experiencing joy and suffering. The animal agriculture industry would like us to ignore this fact, but when I began looking at the terrible realities that farm animals face, it became clear to me that adopting a vegan diet was the only genuinely humane choice for me. I no longer wished to be complicit in the torture and murder of 72 billion land animals and more than 1.2 trillion aquatic animals per year. So while there are clear environmental and health benefits to veganism, for me, the most compelling argument for removing animal products from my diet was an ethical one.

It’s such a quandary: I choose to be enlightened about where my food comes from so I can make responsible and humane dietary choices, but at the same time, I have to think about my health and make sure I get the nourishment that my body needs to thrive. Some people – even athletes like me – can do extremely well on a strict vegan diet, but I guess I’m not one of them, as painful as that is to admit. Although I’m not one who likes labels, I guess “flexitarian” could best define my eating habits now.

chickens

So what’s a passionate animal lover to do? How do you still show that you care about animal welfare if being vegan isn’t realistic for you? How do you support the end of factory farming and the humane treatment of all living creatures, while supporting your own wellbeing at the same time? And must they be mutually exclusive? I certainly don’t have all the answers, but here are a few ideas for cutting back on meat if you’re not ready (or able) to go full-on vegan.

These three practices have worked well for me:

  1. Becoming a “reducetarian.” Since I fell off the vegan wagon, I make sure to eat a very limited amount of animal products, and very infrequently. For example, I eat maybe about four pasture-raised eggs per week, a small piece of wild-caught salmon twice per month, and a teaspoon of ghee (clarified butter) in my coffee every morning.
  2. Slowly eliminating one animal product at a time. Do this while simultaneously bumping up your consumption of plant-based foods. Start with the easiest and leave “barrier foods,” i.e., the ones you will likely have the hardest time giving up, to the end. Continue until you’ve eliminated all (or most) animal products from your diet. And don’t worry about going hungry or feeling deprived – there are tons of amazingly delicious and satisfying vegan products in the marketplace now that can help you adapt to eating fewer animals.
  3. Making more “humane” product choices. I read labels to find out where the item came from, then do my research to make sure that those farms are certified by a legitimate certifying body and that they’re actually doing for the animals what they claim to be doing. Check out this great article to help you navigate all the confusing labels out there and what they mean (and no, there is no such thing as “humane slaughter” – there is nothing “humane” about killing someone who doesn’t want to die).

If all else fails, I am doing my best to be the most compassionate, ethical human being I can possibly be. No one (unless you’re a sociopath) wants to be a “bad person” inadvertently harming others. So maybe the best approach to this whole conundrum is to not try to be “perfect.” Maybe being an animal-loving human who isn’t able to take animals off their plate completely comes down to eating as consciously and responsibly as possible, keeping animal products at a minimum, and just doing your best. Because at the end of the day, aren’t we all just doing the best we can with what we know? I think most of us are, at least, I hope so. The animals need us to care, no matter how hard it hurts to give a damn.

happy pig

Have you struggled with maintaining a vegan diet? How are you balancing your dietary needs with your animal activism and advocacy? If they’re constructive and positive, please feel free to share your thoughts – I’d love to hear from you!

 

In the Company of Creatures Great and Small

I couldn’t have imagined a better way to spend my birthday. I’d been wanting to volunteer at a farm animal sanctuary for quite some time, especially since I’d started following Farm Sanctuary and Edgar’s Mission on social media (in case you haven’t heard of these wonderful organizations, they are two incredible non-profit farm animal sanctuaries located in the U.S. and Australia, respectively). As a devoted dog mom who hasn’t lived without a canine in over 28 years, and as a volunteer with a local pet rescue, I am constantly around companion animals but have rarely had the chance to interact with pigs, sheep, chickens or cows – those creatures our society views as food, not friends. So when I stumbled upon Sweet Olive Farm Animal Rescue, a sanctuary located in Athens, GA, right outside of my hometown of Atlanta, I promptly reached out and made plans to spend the day lending a hand and hanging out with the animals. I was so excited!

The place was beyond amazing. Nestled on 18 acres of rolling hills and green pastures, the charming little farm is home to over 100 rescued animals, from pigs, sheep, donkeys and alpacas to horses, turkeys, chickens and goats. Complete with a beautiful, turn-of-the-century farmhouse and rustic, 100-year-old barn, it’s a storybook kind of place, the type of boutique farm I’d always dreamed of living on when I was a child. Besides several rescue dogs and two very affectionate Great Pyrenees (whose job it is to guard the sanctuary’s more vulnerable residents against predators), the menagerie also includes three grumpy geese, a friendly llama, two giant hogs and four adorable mini horses with shaggy manes. The only animals missing were cows (I admit I have a “thing” for cows). Still, I was in heaven!

 

Barn

The heartbeat of the sanctuary, the beautifully restored antique barn, all sealed up for the winter. Photo credit: Chris Savas

Within minutes of our arrival, I was making fast friends with the toothy alpacas and Culprit, an incredibly friendly donkey made even more sociable thanks to my large bag of carrots. Meanwhile, my husband Chris went about unpacking his camera equipment, happily anticipating his myriad photo opportunities. Several volunteers bustled about, cheerfully cleaning paddocks, adjusting fences and moving a feeding trough under the watchful guidance of Hope Wehunt, the sanctuary’s full-time farmhand, who greeted Chris and me with a bright, welcoming smile.

Soon we were joined by the brainchildren of the place, partners Kat Howkins and Susan Pritchett, two successful Atlanta businesswomen who originally started Sweet Olive Farm five years ago to accommodate their sizable pack of rescue dogs. Longtime vegans, the Georgia natives have been together for 11 years and share a tremendous passion for animals large and small.

Always in motion, whether attending to the animals, talking to workers or assisting the volunteers with different projects, Susan and Kat appeared to be women on a non-stop mission, so I felt quite privileged to have the chance to sit down with them and hear their story. Because really, how does one start such an ambitious operation?

Kat&Susan-2

Kat and Susan, living it up in their peaceable kingdom. Photo credit: Chris Savas

“We were living in Ansley Park in Atlanta and our neighbors weren’t too crazy about all of our dogs, so they called animal control on us,” explained Kat in her soft southern drawl, squinting at me from under the brim of her straw cowboy hat. “Around that time we’d been looking for a place because we knew our dogs were driving our neighbors crazy and that we had to find somewhere to take them, at least on weekends. So we rented this property and then a Fulton County Animal Control officer asked us, ‘hey, y’all want a pig?’ He was scheduled for euthanasia and I was rushing around, trying to build some fences so we could get him here. And that’s sort of how it all started.”

Before long, the couple not only had the aforementioned Mr. Thelma, the first of what would eventually become their robust army of 10 rescued pot-bellied pigs, but also a rooster, a neglected llama, an elderly peacock and a grumpy chestnut mare who’d been rejected by a local petting zoo for biting children. More creatures would quickly follow, animals either rescued from dire circumstances, found as strays or simply unwanted by their owners. Some would have died or been eaten if Kat and Susan hadn’t swept in and delivered them to safety.

“We just started getting animals and it organically turned into what it is now,” Susan told me in her soft, tinkling voice. “We didn’t realize that once we got animals here we’d have to be here all the time – they have to be looked after morning, noon and night. It’s all been an education for us because we didn’t really know anything about animal husbandry, so we’d go online and learn all about goats or all about sheep, etc. So we kind of evolved into it.”

Orwell&PrinceCharming

I have to admit I am completely besotted with pigs. Here I am with Orwell and Prince Charming, the happy recipients of my multiple carrot offerings. Photo credit: Chris Savas

Inspired by Edgar’s Mission in Australia, which the couple visited several years ago to serve as a model for Sweet Olive Farm, the sanctuary is indeed run like a well-oiled machine, with the animals at the very center of its universe. Looking around at all of these beautiful, funny and incredibly sentient creatures as they went about napping, eating, and interacting with humans and each other, I couldn’t help but notice how everyone seemed to get along so well (other than the occasional skirmishes between the turkeys and a couple of trouble-making roosters). How was that possible?

Kat explained that she and Susan make a practice of separating the animals into different interspecies groups according to who gets along best. For example, Culprit is scared of pigs and doesn’t like the male mini horses but he’s just fine living with the alpacas, while the pot-bellied pigs, goats, turkeys, chickens and sheep seem to enjoy coexisting in their own paddock. But regardless of their housing arrangements, everyone appeared healthy, well cared for and incredibly content. All their needs are met and they are safe and loved. Somehow, I think they understand how good they have it.

Geese

Sweet Olive Farm’s small but mighty flock of geese. The one on the far right was quite a force to be reckoned with! Photo credit: Chris Savas

Like Farm Sanctuary and Edgar’s Mission, Sweet Olive Farm appears to be part of a growing trend in farm sanctuaries popping up throughout the Western world, safe havens where barnyard species can live out their lives in peace and comfort without being exploited for their meat, eggs, milk or wool. Instead of living short, miserable existences on factory farms and facing the inevitable terror of slaughter, these creatures can actually enjoy their day-to-day lives, be with their own kind, engage in natural behaviors, experience human love and compassion and grow old. In essence, they are allowed to be who they are.

As humans continue to recognize the sentience of farm animals and begin to make more humane food and lifestyle choices, I hope we will see more and more places like Sweet Olive Farm. Still, a more compassionate world can’t happen without public awareness, and that’s why Sweet Olive Farm is also evolving into a place of learning where groups of local schoolchildren can come to the farm, meet the animals and learn about animal husbandry and farm animal welfare. Susan and Kat hope that as more young children are exposed to farm animals, the more understanding and compassion they will develop and carry with them into their adult lives.

Volunteers&Chloe

Volunteering at the sanctuary wouldn’t be complete without stopping to give Chloe, the matriarch of the farm’s pot-bellied pigs, a belly rub. Photo credit: Chris Savas

“The kids are our main mission, teaching social responsibility and compassion education,” Kat said. “We tell them we don’t eat meat…(but) I don’t try to tell kids to be vegetarian. I’m just trying to show them that these are animals, and I’ll say thing like, ‘do you really want to eat that turkey after you’ve been here and been around him several times?’ So our goal is really to lead by example rather than being political.”

Running a sanctuary with over 100 animals is not just a full-time, life-consuming venture, it’s also an incredibly expensive one, as Kat and Susan can attest to. With their 501c3 non-profit status soon to be finalized, the couple is looking forward to taking Sweet Olive Farm to the next level through active fundraising efforts that will allow them to increase their volunteer network; build more fences and barns; create an onsite volunteer center; host special events and become a major part of the farm animal rescue community. With two such ambitious, can-do women at the helm of this sanctuary, I have no doubt they will make all of those dreams a reality, and soon.

Turkeys

Like chickens, turkeys possess strong personalities, form friendships and have a range of interests. I found these guys absolutely fascinating! Photo credit: Chris Savas

Volunteering at a farm sanctuary is a great way to give back while spending time with animals you don’t normally get to interact with on a day-to-day basis. For me, it only reaffirmed my decision to live a meat-free life and to continue moving in a cruelty-free direction. Here are some other great reasons to visit one:

It’s good for the soul: Whether you just want to take a tour or volunteer, visiting a farm animal sanctuary is such an amazing experience. You can see how farm animals live with each other and relate to humans, learn their stories and be amazed by their different personalities. Who knows, maybe you’ll even end up sponsoring an animal? Plus, you’ll come away with unforgettable stories to tell!

You can give back: The staff who run these sanctuaries work tirelessly in all kinds of weather and will be extremely grateful for an extra pair of hands. By volunteering, you can help them with a variety of tasks including cleaning, painting and general farm maintenance, or even grant research, event planning and fundraising. Then there’s the extra perk of being able to socialize with the animals!

You might learn some vegan culinary skills: More and more farm animal sanctuaries are offering cooking classes that can introduce you to as well as help you maintain a healthful, plant-based diet. Check the website of the farm sanctuary you’re planning to visit to see if they offer cooking classes and make sure to sign up well in advance.

It’s inspiring and motivating: Being surrounded by so many wonderful farm animals might just inspire you to take action. Volunteering at a particular sanctuary can become a regular hobby or you can reach out to your local and federal legislators on behalf of the millions of animals who aren’t as lucky as the ones you’ve met at a sanctuary. There are so many great ways to help, and there’s no better place to learn how you can be a voice for change.

Tumbleweed

This is Tumbleweed, one of the sanctuary’s three resident goats. Here he is taking a break from chasing Chloe the pig, who didn’t seem to appreciate his very frequent, amorous advances. Poor, confused guy! Photo credit: Chris Savas

When it comes to different animals species, human beings are guilty of playing favorites, designating some animals friends while others food. Due to our societal conditioning, we have maintained a serious disconnect between the way we view the animals we eat and the animals we welcome into our homes and families. Most of us see our dogs and cats as family members, as complex, self-aware individuals who have emotions, are capable of suffering and feel pain. But barnyard animals are no different. So why can’t we view them the same way we view dogs and cats?

I believe that if more people knew, understood and empathized with farm animals the way they do with dogs and cats, most of them would give up animal products for good. I want to believe that if they learned (or wanted to learn) the truth about factory farming and the inherent cruelty of industries that exploit animals, they might make more compassionate lifestyle choices. Contrary to what the meat and dairy industries have brainwashed you to believe, it is possible to live a very healthy life without consuming animal products. And while it’s easy to not let yourself think about where that hunk of meat on your plate came from, in reality, it was a living, breathing being who was intelligent, self-aware and didn’t want to die.

The information is out there, and it’s up to all of us to educate ourselves and make choices in alignment with our own morals and principles. To do otherwise is dishonest and unethical. Because in the end, it is hypocritical to claim you love animals and yet continue to eat them. And as I can attest from my experience at Sweet Olive Farm, farm animals are no different from those we call our “pets.” They are amazing, funny, complex individuals who deserve to live out their lives free from harm. We are their caretakers, so it is up to us to create a more merciful world for them. In doing so, we create a kinder world for ourselves.

With the ponies

Surrounded by friendly equines. This, my friends, is what heaven looks like for a lifelong horse-crazy girl! Photo credit: Chris Savas

If you live in the Atlanta area and would like to help the wonderful animals (and humans) at Sweet Olive Farm, please visit their website.

If you live elsewhere, never fear, here are some great websites to help you locate a farm sanctuary near you:

http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/farm-sanctuaries-in-the-u-s-that-are-great-for-volunteering/

http://www.sanctuaries.org

http://www.compassionatefarming.org/sanctuaries.html

“Animals are my friends, and I don’t eat my friends.” – George Bernard Shaw

Why I Care Like I Do

Blame it all on Facebook. There I was, innocently scrolling through my morning news feed, sipping coffee and catching up with what my friends were doing, when I stumbled upon a photograph that changed my life.

The image depicted several German shepherds on the back of a rickety-looking truck, packed in cages far too small for their large, long-legged bodies. In fact, the dogs were crammed in so tightly, their paws stuck out between the metal bars in awkward, seemingly painful positions. Languishing beneath a thin tarp that barely shielded them from the hot sun, they were clearly suffering, their mouths hanging open as they panted, their faces the epitome of stress and exhaustion. And there, leaning against the truck’s passenger side door stood the driver, a skinny Asian man smoking a cigarette with a blasé expression on his face, seemingly oblivious to the anguish of the animals in his care.

The scene hit me square in the heart. These poor canines could have been my shepherds, who at the time were dozing contentedly in their respective spots on my home office floor, their bellies full of breakfast. And as I read the photo’s caption my blood turned to ice. These beautiful, intelligent, emotional creatures weren’t headed to a shelter or anyplace where their suffering would be ended and eventually forgotten. These unfortunate dogs were headed to the live meat markets of Vietnam, where they would be slaughtered and eaten.

I felt as if my brain was about to explode. Did people in Asia really eat dog meat? Wasn’t that just an old joke? Maybe they had in the past, during times of desperation, of famine, but not now, not in the 21st century! I simply couldn’t believe what I was reading. I had to know more. I did a Google search and began to read and read and then read some more. And with every article, every website, every image, graphic or otherwise, my heart began to break into more and more pieces.

Yes, I discovered, people in Asia and even Africa eat dog (and cat) meat. In fact, pet meat is a multi-billion-dollar, unregulated trade, especially in parts of China, South Korea and Vietnam, where the flesh of companion animals is considered a delicacy and purported to have (unproven) health benefits. Approximately 10 million dogs and cats are eaten each year in China alone. But the worst part? These “humans” involved in this trade weren’t just killing these animals, they were torturing them first, living under the false belief that the adrenaline stimulated by intense fear and suffering makes a dog or cat’s meat more flavorful and beneficial to one’s health.

Suddenly my reality was no longer the same. I felt like Alice after she’d fallen down the rabbit hole, or Neo in “The Matrix” after he swallowed the red pill. I knew I couldn’t go back to being happily oblivious that this level of cruelty existed – those days were over. I would have to do something, and at that very moment, I decided that I would do what I did best – write. I would use my writing skills to let the world know that this horrible trade existed and must be stopped.

Mind you, my objective wasn’t to condemn any culture for its food choices but to stop this egregious cruelty. To “humanely” kill and then eat an animal is one thing, but to intentionally put it through prolonged, agonizing pain is another. That is simply barbaric and wrong.

I felt like I was on fire. I contacted the animal welfare organization that had posted the photo and volunteered my writing and editing services to them. I learned everything I could about the trade, its history, its economic impact, its players and the propaganda and fake medicine they tout to perpetuate the demand and thus, line their pockets. I forced myself to watch videos I now wish I hadn’t seen and cried out loud in horror and despair. What I was witnessing was raw barbarity. How could any human being do such things to another living creature?

My brain haunted with images I couldn’t shake, I lay awake at night, staring into the darkness and sobbing at the thought of all those innocent animals that were probably suffering right at that very moment, while I was powerless to stop it. Unable to halt my tears, I often awakened my poor husband, who wasn’t sure what to do but hold me until I cried myself to sleep.

I knew it was wrong to blame an entire culture, that there were many wonderful animal lovers and activists in these countries who cared about animals, despised this trade and were fighting to stop it, but I struggled with hateful, judgmental and racist thoughts nonetheless. Though I tried to remind myself that people involved in the dog and cat meat trade were most likely ignorant and desensitized individuals who were the product of an environment bereft of compassion and empathy, I hated them nonetheless.

It seemed that the more I learned, the angrier I became. I went through a very bitter, cynical period. I got irritated when someone would ask me what I was writing about and when I would try to tell them they’d make a face and cut me off with, “ugh, okay, stop, I don’t want to know!” I didn’t understand why people would rather be ostriches choosing to remain ignorant rather than become enlightened so they could either do something to stop this suffering or simply help to spread awareness, too.

Then I realized I was being a bit of a hypocrite – with my own eating habits. Here I was, consuming the meat of farm animals while at the same time judging other cultures for eating the meat of companion animals. What made the lives of pigs, chickens, cows, lambs and turkeys any less important than those of dogs and cats? No creature, be it human or non-human, wants to suffer and die. I knew I had to walk the walk if I was going to talk the talk, so I started reading everything I could about the evils of factory farming to help lose my taste for animal flesh, something I had always consumed in moderation but still enjoyed from time to time. I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals” and from cover to cover in two days. What a brilliant book. It opened my mind and did its job by ending my desire to eat meat forever. It’s been two years since I last tasted animal flesh and I’ve never looked back.

I felt good about not eating animals. I had been practicing yoga for almost 20 years and had always tried to live by the yamas and niyamas (the essential principles of a yogic life), one of the most important being ahimsa, or non-violence. But while I had stopped being violent in my eating habits, I was still being violent in my thoughts – toward people who either didn’t seem to care or “didn’t want to know.” I realized that harboring all this anger and resentment was only hurting my psyche and not solving anything, so I began to shift my thinking and my attitude. After all, did I really want to be one of those self-righteous vegans? Not really.

Sure, anyone with a compassionate (non-psychopathic) heart cares about animals, but I do believe there is such a thing as “compassion fatigue” in our society. Our world is riddled with so many problems, so much cruelty and pain, that I think most people feel helpless, overwhelmed and not sure what to do or where to even begin. So they shut down. I’ve certainly been there. And just because my eyes were open didn’t mean that everyone, even members of my own family, were interested in opening theirs.

I couldn’t blame some of my friends for saying they couldn’t read my Facebook posts anymore, which had become an outlet for my burgeoning animal activism. So what if they just wanted to see pictures of cute, fuzzy puppies with inspiring quotes to make them feel all warm and fuzzy inside? I knew I had to try to understand where most people were coming from so I could let go of my frustration with their lack of “likes” when I posted something I thought was really urgent and important. I knew I would find my “tribe” of fellow animal activists eventually, but meanwhile, it was time to find other platforms for my animal-centric writing and awareness efforts. And that’s when I began to write for Dogster.com and soon after, started this blog.

For thousands of years, humans have been exploiting animals for their own benefit. What right do we have to continue this tyranny, especially now that we know without a doubt that animals are sentient beings who have emotions and feel pain, just like us? Non-human species don’t have the ability to fight for their rights, tell their own stories, or change the systems that are harming, enslaving and murdering them. So I will tell their stories and be their voice and maybe, just maybe, I will get through to someone and they will feel inspired to help animals, too. Just imagine if everyone did one thing, big or small, to make a difference – what a safer, happier and more compassionate world we could co-create together!

So this blog is dedicated to the animals, to all the amazing, unique and inspiring individuals, past and present, who have touched my life, loved me unconditionally and always stood by me. I have been lucky enough to call many dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, goats and horses my closest friends, creatures who made me laugh, gave me love and asked for very little in return except to be taken care of and treated with kindness. They have been my greatest teachers, forever inspiring me to be a better person and a more loving caretaker. I can’t imagine who I would be or what my life would be like without them.

Me and my boys, Hugo (left) and Gizmo (right). Hugo has since traveled to the Rainbow Bridge. His mommy really misses him.

Me and my boys, Hugo (left) and Gizmo (right). Hugo has since traveled to the Rainbow Bridge. His mommy really misses him.

“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” – Martin Luther King Jr.