The Flaming Vegan

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Fighting Compassion Fatigue
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Fighting Compassion Fatigue

I bought a toy for my grandson a few years back that featured a train that would move along a track that he drew with a special marker. I don’t understand how that worked, but then again, I don’t understand how enormous ships float and huge airplanes fly and why contact lenses don’t hurt. But the big question I have is this: How can some people be so blithely unaware of what’s going on around them while the rest of us are silently screaming from the hilltop that something is very wrong?

When I’m at a restaurant and I see people casually chowing down on steak, tearing chicken flesh from bone or cracking the perfectly constructed and beautiful-in-its-design claw of a dead lobster, I don’t get it. I may smile and act normal, whatever that is, but on the inside, I’m cringing. As vegans, we face a multitude of challenges like this every single day. The other day I was wearing my HSUS “Stop Puppy Mills” t-shirt when I went out to meet a woman I barely know. She was wearing a full-length mink coat.


Catch that?

I’m in a t-shirt. She's wearing a full-length mink coat. We live in South Florida where the temperature dropped to a chilly 68 degrees.

Her: "I love your t-shirt."

Me: "I hate your coat."

Her: "I know, but I think it’s okay because the minks are raised on a farm for this purpose."

Me: "That doesn’t mean they suffer any less. Their captivity and slaughter is all very painful."

Her: "I don’t believe that. Anyway, you eat steak, don’t you, you wear leather, right?"

Me: "Actually, no, I don’t do either of those things. I took off my shoe that I bought from MooShoes and showed her the “vegetarian shoe” label on the inside."

Her: "Well, I guess you’re a better person than I am."

Oddly enough, this entire time, we were standing next to my car which has an “I AM VEG,” vanity state license plate and a “Vegan” magnet on the tailgate. Here’s the problem: This woman is very wealthy, and I’m starting a new animal shelter. She was there to see if she wanted to invest her $90,000 into the enterprise.

Quite the dilemma, no? I don't know if she'll still come through, or denounce me as some animal rights nut. But I ask you, if you were going to invest in an animal shelter, wouldn't you want a passionate vegan running it?

How is it that some of us are so sensitive that we have to turn to all kinds of wacky ways to deal with our hurt when we see animal suffering, and others are blind to it all, going about their day as if all was right with the world? To help cope, some of us turn to yoga, meditation, medication, sometimes even lashing out in fits of rage, having meaningless sex, drinking, or smoking some South of the Border wacky tobaccy. Some even turn to religion just to get through the day, while others do all those things just for fun.

My loving spouse was watching a Western on T.V the other night. I loathe Western movies because I know how the horses were treated back in the day, and it wasn’t good at all. While he watched the movie, I studied the horses, their faces, the way they were jerked around and made to do all kinds of maneuvers because there was an enormous piece of metal jammed into their jaws. Seeing their wild eyes, the terror and the pain, was all too much for me. I started to leave the room when the scene changed to a little town in Mexico. There were roosters and chickens all around and I waited to see what was happening with them. I was horrified to see young boys snatching these birds by the neck, and then burying them in the dirt up to their necks so just their heads were sticking up out of the makeshift grave. Then, the “game” started. Men on horses rode back and forth over the chicken’s heads, and the object of the game was to snatch one up by the head and hold it high for all to see. I was so upset by this scene that I cried for three hours. My husband had the good sense to turn it off when he realized what was happening (he had dozed off and didn’t see the scene until the game was over). He woke up when I shouted "WHAT THE F*CK?!" at the screen and stormed out of the room. The movie was entitled "Cowboy"; a 1958 film starring Jack Lemmon and Glenn Ford. 

I knew the scene was real. It looked real, and I don’t see how, back in ’58, it could have been done with computer graphics. The sad part is that this movie was nominated for two major awards, including an Oscar. Some people just don't care. There isn’t enough tequila in the world that would erase that terrible scene from my mind.

As a movement, I believe we are moving forward. But the progress is slow, and the path is steep. I have not seen the fabled promised land of which Dr. King spoke so eloquently, but I believe it’s there, somewhere, for the animals and the people who are fighting so hard to keep them from harm. Those of us who have been in the animal rights movement for decades and who draw inspiration from Peter Singer, Wayne Pacelle, Ingrid Newkirk, Jane Goodall and Captain Paul Watson suffer from compassion fatigue sometimes, when the pain in the pit of our stomachs becomes just too excruciating to bear.

So I wonder from time to time, is our compassion for animals a curse, or a blessing?




*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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  1. Veganara
    Vote no 2. Awesome blog! You sound just like me. I often wonder how some of us feel the suffering of other species so deeply, and some just don't care at all. Compassion does often feel like a curse in this cruel world. :-(
  2. Erin Rohne
    Erin Rohne
    This is a great post. I have to make a concentrated effort to turn my compassion off, if you will, because if I listened to that little voice in my head all the time, it would be really hard for me to get through the day. You articulated that perfectly. Thank you!
  3. flygirl04
    I can relate to this article. If I see a picture or hear a news story about animals who are suffering, I cannot control my tears. I cannot forget. I go through the day trying not to think about it but I can't stop. Animals who are suffering, homeless, etc., just breaks my heart. Going to the shelter, donating and told myself before I went in not to go take a look at the animals. But, I did. Now I suffer with sadness the rest of the day.
  4. Marcia Mueller
    Boy, do I understand this blog! I feel the same so much of the time, desperately sad at knowing what the animals on this earth are going through and furious that so many people do not care or actually participate in the cruelty. Unfortunately, Religion, which is supposed to be concerned with morality and decent behavior has excluded animals from the circle of concern. Those parroting the Bible and the dogma that animals are here to serve us do not even ask what kind of a God could create people, supposedly the crown of creation, and not condemn the brutality. This, keep in mind, is claimed to be an all-knowing, all-just, and all-compassionate God! Breaking through those beliefs and the centuries of culture that uphold them is so very difficult. We work to pass laws, only to discover that if laws are passed they are usually so full of loopholes that they are virtually useless. Of course, the laws may be allocated no funding for enforcement or the agencies involved will not act. People guilty of terrible acts of cruelty may receive a slap on the wrist, if that much. Undercover investigators reveal the barbaric behavior of those working on factory farms, and rather than being outraged and determined to stop the abuse, the perpetrators want ag-gag laws passed to criminalize the whisetleblowers. Personally, I cannot and will not quit trying, but the frustration is enormous. As for one of the blogs today that some people believe vegans like animals better than people--if people try that accusation with me, I just say, yes, I'm with the animals!


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