“Don’t read the comments…don’t read the comments,” I muttered to myself, as I angrily and helplessly perused a particularly gruesome article about a dog frozen solid on a Toledo, Ohio porch, just days after Christmas.
After all, everyone knows most online commenters crawl from the boggy swamp each morning and slither back into its putrid depths as even daylight flees their remonstrances.
It’s madness to entertain the notion of reading this swill.
I read the comments.
“WHY do I read the comments?” I muttered to myself, as the next wave of anger crawled up my gullet and lodged in my thyroid, causing the death of millions of necessary cells and an immediate need to increase my dose of levoxyl.
One might reason that no one could logically argue that a dog left to freeze to death, curled up on the porch of an abandoned home, was within the bounds of humane treatment.
Yet online commenters—suffering from an obvious lack of morality and compassion—would once again cause me to lower the bar on what I perceive as the most subhuman level of societal dreghood.
Besides the whole gamut of “It’s just a dog” comments, one particularly egregious human posited that—because people are so much more important than dogs—if the guy had run into financial troubles, it followed that he would choose himself over the dog.
This was met with an odious amount of agreement from the peanut gallery of her fellow bog-dwellers, and I was forced by my remaining unexploded blood vessels to comment that a moral obligation to take care of humans in no way precludes the very same moral obligation to care for the animals we’ve taken responsibility for.
I also told them they were sick people. Sick, sick people.
Because they are.
In truth, though, I almost envy these heartless beings. Might it not be nice to be entirely unmoved by the plight of others?
To not hurt for the dogs left outside in the cold winter months? To not feel the excruciating and needless death of this poor creature as a black mark on the collective soul of our society?
Sometimes I wish I didn’t care. It turns out that caring is exceedingly painful.
Last night it dropped to 11 degrees in Culpeper County, Virginia, and below zero in many areas of the country. It’s set to dip even lower as the week goes on.
What do I do with this pain?
Even before I officially began advocating for backyard dogs in 2002, I remember the heightened anxiety I experienced on cold winter nights, and the very real fears for the survival of chained and other dogs left outside to fend for themselves in temperatures that would freeze a human within moments.
Now that I’m off the front lines of animal rescue, I find myself continuing to experience extreme anxiety in the severe cold, the knowledge of what these dogs must survive never relinquishing the space it has carved into my spirit.
As I walked to my chilly bedroom last night, changed into my flannel jammies, and threw on my space heater for a few minutes to warm up the room, I tried to push the pain aside so I could free myself (and maybe them?) in dreamland.
I shivered at what I perceived as the frigid touch of my blankets, feeling immediate shame that I could tolerate so little cold while the dogs didn’t even have the luxury of losing themselves in sleep, spending their 14 hours of darkness locked in a battle for basic survival.
I put myself in their fur for just a moment, feeling the wrap of the chain around my neck, the cold metal flash-freezing to my exposed skin, my hopeless and fruitless search for someplace, anyplace, within the reach of my tether to provide even a moment’s escape from the subzero windchill. I would huddle in the corner of my drafty house, wishing for bedding that didn’t exist, and a kindness and empathy from my guardians that would not be forthcoming.
I was depressed, despondent, terrified of death’s approach.
But I was just a dog, after all.
I pulled myself from the vision. The air around my bed was heavy with suffering, both mine and theirs, and I was wrapped in a cloak of misery.
What do I do with this pain?
That, I still have no answer for.