Backyard to the Universe
Ministry With Dawgs - That's It!
The Unitarian Univeralist affirmation of the interdependent web of the universe of which we are all a part jumped out at me this morning. I was talking with staff at the shelter about the need to euthanize a very sick dog last week. He had had a some joy in the yard at the shelter, and, being a husky, had really seemed to like the cold. That is one of the gifts that shelters give to animals - attention and love as well as warmth, food, and a sense of structure (read as security), and appreciation of individual characteristics - and the gift is being present in a caring manner at the end of life.
It is also very frustrating and saddening when animals come in as "strays" and there is a sense that maybe the owner did not want to have to deal with the hard decisions around a pet's health. Don't people understand that taking on a pet is for life? Yes, with all good intentions. But a person may not able to deal with the sadness and the emotion when things are not going well. It is easier to dump than to deal, to let someone else make the hard decisions. I find that my anger at people for not being there for pets in time of illness has turned to sadness. People are not able to be fully present and give the greatest gift - a death with love, a release from pain, and the gift of dealing with death well.
I have realized the subtle difference between surrendering a pet to bringing it in with the claim that it is a "stray." The surrender recognizes the status of the situation: "I cannot care for this animal anymore (for whatever reason)." The shelter then can begin to address the needs of the animal. I have accompanied several friends in taking cats to shelters because they were no longer able to care for them, and felt badly about being in that situation. Most of the cats were adopted, but a couple were too sick to respond to treatment. The shelter let them (the people) know that they did what they could, and by the way they dealt with the people, provided comfort.
When a pet comes in as a stray, there is a waiting period when they can be reclaimed. And the services that a shelter can provide are more limited. This could mean that an animal may suffer more than it would otherwise. This is a sadness for the shelter staff, the helplessness of not being able to act.
But what really became clear to me this morning when I was talking with shelter staff was the theological grounding for how we treat animals. Considering animals as lesser than humans, we may tend be more dismissive of their needs. It is when we understand the interdependent web of life that our relationship and responsibilities to our pets becomes very clear. This relationship moves beyond being "good stewards" of a "lesser" species to being a companion through life. There is the appreciation of the gifts that each gives and receives. (I even became a bit emotional when I was defining this difference of perspective. It is real, it is powerful, and it is a manifestation of my theological basis.)
This is a major shift for me over the years from my Judeo-Christian teachings of human supremacy to interconnectedness from the earth-based traditions. And from that change in basis, I have new understanding of the teaching I grew up with. Thanks for the lesson of the day!
February 4, 2013