The Flaming Vegan

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Compassion Fatique
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Compassion Fatique

If you’re new to the whole animal rights thing, listen up and take some advice from a veteran ARA (animal rights activist). I became aware of the exploitation of animals in 1982 when an article in the now defunct New Woman magazine did an expose’ on vivisection. I was horrified beyond belief to learn that animals could be treated this way in a civilized world. Soon after, I read Diet for a New America by John Robbins and that book was a game-changer. These two events together caused a paradigm shift in my thinking and left a huge emotional scar. BR (before Robbins) I assumed animals were slaughtered humanely. AR (after Robbins) I knew better and became ashamed of my fellow humans.

I was about to transition to a vegetarian lifestyle when I met a neighbor who had adopted a vegetarian lifestyle long before I ever met her. Instead of being a mentor and friend to me, she adopted a judgmental, critical and disapproving stance at every turn. Some people, especially back in the 80s, began their vegan journey by giving up red meat, then white meat, then fish, then shellfish, then dairy. Leather, silk and cosmetics with animal products were also eschewed somewhere along the line. This was the journey I took. But apparently this approach wasn’t fast enough for this woman, and she needled, insulted and condemned my efforts. This only served to make me push back, and it wasn’t until I stopped seeing her that I was able to continue my journey unfettered. (Hey, believe in karma? She was murdered in a home invasion a few years later. By then, I had realized she was a gentle, compassionate soul who was just a little too enthusiastic and was speaking up for animals the only way she knew how and it broke my heart to think there was one less compassionate soul in the world.)

When we learn about the cruelty visited on animals in the name of entertainment, food and medical research, we who have adopted a plant-based lifestyle see red. We are not just saying we love animals, we’re living our convictions and it makes us crazy to think that someone could hurt an animal, let alone billions of animals every day. It’s enough to make you want to crawl into a bottle of Stoli and down more than a few Ambiens.

This tendency towards anger, depression and insomnia is not good for us, or for the animals. Compassion fatigue is a very real syndrome, similar to PTSD, and should be recognized for what it is. If you’re angry all the time, devastated at the devastation that is factory farming, you aren’t alone. But it’s important to keep a cool head. Try cognitive therapy: when you begin to despair about an issue, make that despair be a trigger for something more positive. For example, when I begin to obsess over animal cruelty I sing a few bars of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and it brings me out of it. Maybe mediation, going for a walk or consulting with your animal spirit guides would work for you.

It’s important to stay engaged and do everything you can when asked to do so in times when we all pull together to write our legislator, spread the word or attend a demo. But there are times, I confess, that I must pull back. I recognize the symptoms in myself and I know it’s time to take a break. During this time, I look at no graphic photos, read no graphic descriptions and generally, check out. If I didn’t, I would be far too tempted to check out for good, and that’s not good for anyone. The animals need every voice, and to silence even one is to lose a valuable advocate.

The Serenity Prayer applies here. We need serenity to accept that which we cannot change. We need courage to step up and do what we can. But most of all, we need the wisdom to know the difference, for it is that wisdom that will help us determine our next course of action. In AA’s 12 step program, alcoholics are advised that they “must live in a world filled with alcohol and find a way to do it.” ARA’s must live in a world filled with animal cruelty. Find your way, or “they” win.




*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.

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Michelle A. Rivera is the author of several books including HOSPICE HOUNDS, Animals and Healing at the Borders of Death (Lantern Books); CANINES IN THE CLASSROOM, Raising Humane Children through Interactions with Animals;(Lantern Books) DO DOGS HAVE BELLY BUTTONS? 100 Questions and Answers about Dogs(Adams Media); THE SIMPLE LITTLE VEGAN SLOW COOKER and THE SIMPLE LITTLE VEGAN DOG BOOK(Book Publishers, Inc.) and ON DOGS AND DYING (Purdue University Press). She is also an essayist and has been published in the vegetarian essay book “Voices from the Garden.” She is a freelance writer/editor and along with her Certified Therapy Dogs, a Humane Educator and R.E.A.D tutor. Michelle is a past blogger for and a writer for several online publications including eHow, Livestrong, Rachel Ray, The Daily Puppy, USA Today, Cracked and others. She has two Certified Delta Society Therapy Dogs: Murphy, a Golden Retriever, and Tabitha, a Standard Poodle; and two cats. All are rescued animals. Michelle lives in South Florida with her husband, John, an attorney, and is the proud grandmother of three lovely children, Austin, Alexander and Adrienne.

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