Monday, January 14, 2008

Finding Your Center

Working with animals can sometimes be an overwhelming career. Whether we are in a hands-on position as caretakers or working behind the scenes in an administrative position, we work tirelessly trying to get our jobs done all the while making sure the animals we are serving get the most of our attention. We get to work early, forfeit our lunch breaks, opting instead to eat at our desk or snack on a dried out sandwich in between walking dogs and cleaning cages, leave work well past the end of our regularly scheduled shift, never seeing daylight and often times miss out on the Friday friends night of fun because we are just too exhausted to join them. Plus, most of our friends are already either foster homes or have been guilt-ed into adopting some death row dog or flea bitten cat, so why bother spending time with friends who can’t help the animals more than they already have anyhow?

We drag ourselves home, eat bad takeout or leftover food, only after we’ve fed our menagerie of collected critters that were rejected by society in general and turn on the television, just to fill the empty air. We collapse in bed that is, if we can make it off the couch, just to obsess over the days activities and which animal did or did not get their needs met. We dream about how tomorrow will be different and how we will dedicate more time and even more effort to finding that fear aggressive dog or semi feral cat a forever home. We awaken with the never enough rest hangover and start the day all over again.

At the end of all of this, what is left for ‘self’?

For me, I was never able to help as many animals as I thought I could in any given day. Though it wasn’t from lack of trying, that’s for sure. Ask any of my friends from my old ‘dog catching days’. They could tell you how I virtually disappeared into the world of too much work for not enough pay. They will tell you how my conversations always included some sad story of an abused and mangy kitten called Whiskers or some homeless three legged half blind dog named Lucky.
There was never a night that went by without my house filled with kitten mews or puppy poop. My own furry residents resigned themselves to a rotation of temporary tenants, these animals were in and out quicker than my house mates could hide their toys or gulp down their kibble.

I lived in a state of deprivation. Never feeding my soul, but hanging out the ‘free for the taking sign’ on my heart. I gave until there was no more to give. Then I gave some more.
I remember the sleepless nights and the fears that I wasn’t doing enough to make a difference on behalf of the animals. I almost couldn’t stop myself from over giving. I was
exhausted. There were lots little signals all along the way that told me to stop and take a breath. But I didn’t listen.
It took a number of failures (only now do I see they were fail forwards) until I finally realized that doing good for the animals wasn’t doing good for me. Don’t ask me how, because to this very day I still don’t know how, but I stopped. I can’t say exactly when I had that moment of Zen, but I did. I knew my life was on a path of emotional destruction, to an end with no means of escape. I took a deep breath and just stopped.

I haven’t stopped helping animals, but I have stopped engaging in behavior which doesn’t benefit me, and I don’t feel selfish. I do what I can, if and when I can. I say ‘no’ more often than I ever did in my whole life and I actually feel refreshed and better balanced and more equipped to help the animals. I now do what I can and let go of what I can’t.

For me I now believe that it’s about helping the people who help the animals, not just shelter workers, or animal caretakers, but anyone who has compassion and a willingness to be open to sharing this planet with other sentient beings. That, in part, is my new mission on behalf of animals.
I hope, if you find yourself in the midst of your own internal battles, that you too can find your center.

CherylAnn Fernandes

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