Five years ago, I got a dog for the first time. He was rescued from a puppy mill up up in King City. He was shaved down from his first ever trip to the vet. Friends described his gaze as a thousand mile stare. Among his many medals was an odd gait from a broken leg in puppyhood that didn’t heal properly. Another was a series of scars on his chest. His tail had been cut off.
Over the first three days, he subsisted exclusively on treats and garbage that he stole when we weren’t looking while a bowl full of kibble sat untouched in our kitchen. The first time we turned on the sink in the tub, he created what we lovingly dubbed a poop circle in the living room.
In no particular order, things he’s found frightening are plastic bags, parking meters, a mattress unexpectedly perched on a table, white haired white people, men, smokers, buses, subways, my Mac, brooms, a tree he wasn’t expecting, a five pound puppy, a swing, feet, a loud fart, a squirrel that decided that it wasn’t going to run when given chase.
It’s been a few years. He is a much braver boy now. He doesn’t skitter when we try to step over him when we’re cooking. He loves my mom, who’s a smoker, and my father-in-law, a white man with white hair. He LOVES kibble, even if he prefers shrimp. He loves everything that moves for him, including subways and buses.
But he still can’t walk up on the metal stairs in a playground. He still freaks out at sudden noises and tall white men and has a cautious distrust of the broom. And this trauma didn’t have to happen. It didn’t. But it did, and it continues to happen to animals the planet over. And Ralph, while adorable, is the tip of a much larger problem.
When bill C-246 was being debated, people I spoke to, even those deeply committed to social justice, couldn’t understand why anyone would care about “some animal stuff” when there are “bigger issues” at stake. Some campaigned against it because Parliament shouldn’t debate this until other things were settled. The bill was handily defeated.
This is emblematic of a bigger trend I’ve noticed where there are “correct” things to worry about and the small potatoes that everyone else worries about #firstworldproblems. That sort of ideology is problematic on a number of levels, including the inference that one is only capable of worrying about one thing at a time. I don’t know about you, but I usually worry about 5-10 things minimum at any given time.
The biggest problem with this type of thinking though, is that it divides us. Those in power are united in their goals of retaining their power, increasingly at the cost of our rights and freedoms, at the cost of our already fragile democracies.
Meanwhile, we squabble amongst ourselves because for one person, standing up for animal welfare resonates most strongly, while for another it might be the eradication of a certain disease, upholding civil rights, defeating white supremacy, demanding a more equatable political system, undoing colonialism, protecting the environment, education reform, providing access to sexual health services, demanding gender equality, supporting the sciences, promoting your faith and the good works it requires, and on and on.
The fact is that for the most part, when decent people are exposed to an injustice, any injustice, they’ll probably say – “hey, that’s bullshit. Don’t do that.” There’s just only so much time in the day, and you’re generally most effective when you take on a small corner and keeps nipping at it till the needle moves. I think perhaps this need to create a hierarchy of suffering is a response to this desperate need to make sense of our beautiful, messed up world.
So there are a LOT of things that you might care about that you, for completely legitimate reasons, just don’t have the bandwidth to add to, and that’s okay. There are so many things that need fixing, and we can’t all do everything.
We can hold each other up. We can support each other. We can say, “this isn’t my baby, but it is an important thing nonetheless, and I am happy someone is working on it. When one injustice is addressed, it makes everyone else’s battle that much easier.”
The next few years are going to be difficult, frustrating, and scary. The list of things that need doing is enormous and grows daily, but we can get through it if we help each other out when we can, and get out of the way when we can’t. The sooner we realize that our goals are not in competition but in harmony, the stronger we will be.