With the number of self-professed saints and prophets working in animal welfare, I’d expect more miracles. But while the seven deadly sins are as well represented among those working in animal welfare as any industry, the pre-eminent one must be pride and its sub-sin, vainglory or vanity.
Chances are you’ve met a few of these saints who don’t hesitate to remind you of how tirelessly they work for animals, how passionately they feel, how many animals have died in their arms, or how knee deep in dog crap they have waded. But it’s not about them, it’s about the animals. Actually, it’s often about vanity as far as I can discern.
And you can tell because all too often these protestations of animal loving piety are broken out as soon as the person is criticized or challenged for their actions and for saying something stupid (and don’t look at me- I will readily admit I say stupid things routinely, I lay no claim to saintliness, and I avoid dog crap whenever I can). One might think the go-to response to a challenge would be a defense of the rightness of the action or the soundness of the statement. But it isn’t. So many times it goes straight to something along the lines of, “I work so hard, I love so much”. Unstated: And you don’t, now screw off.
I think they do this because when they are challenged on actions or statements it causes a fluttering in the self-absorbed mirror into which they gaze. When so many in animal welfare look into their mirror they see themselves through a Vaseline filtered, rosy lens, in a slow-motion montage in which they whisk grateful animals to safety amidst a soundtrack of Sarah McLachlan. When they speak they hear soothing sounds emanating from that heart-felt internal video, with McLachlan softly playing beneath their narration, words which are supposed to inspire us to melt and say, “Ohhhhhh, that person is wonderful and right and I wish I could be like him/her.”
So when someone actually says to them, “What are you talking about? That makes no sense at all, it is totally unsupported by evidence, it is factually untrue,” their mirror goes all green smoky and a scary face tells them they are not the most fair and compassionate of all.
That is not to say that many of these saintly folks don’t truly care about animals, aren’t compassionate, aren’t dedicated and devoted. I truly believe most are and that they really believe in what they do and what they spout off, even if it’s patently wrong at times. But they have fallen victim to vanity and they have learned that the animal loving piety card trumps most hands. It is a magic dagger which, when plunged into the hearts of others, both wins acolytes and vanquishes opponents. But like all magic weapons, its power is an illusion and its spell broken as quickly as someone can say, “Yeah, I get you work tirelessly and you smell like dog poop but what you just said is wrong and I’ll prove it.”
We can’t all be saints; otherwise, what is the point of having them? If everyone was a miracle worker we wouldn’t all be saints, we’d all be gods. Not that some animal welfare workers wouldn’t lay claim to that but it’s a harder slog since if they were gods they’d just snap their fingers and actually solve all these problems facing animals or make that voodoo math add up. As far as I know, two plus two still equals four. No one has made it equal “all the pit bulls get adopted”.
The first thing they should do is admit they have a problem. Maybe what they need is a twelve step program. Wait, that won’t work, it requires acknowledging that there’s a power greater than them and they’ve pretty firmly established their personal primacy in the universe. Perhaps we just need to tell them that we appreciate what they do, even if we won’t worship what they do. They don’t have to be a saint. They don’t have to be infallible. They don’t even have to be right. And we don’t have to be wrong just because we disagree with them.
So to the self-sainted I say: Allow me to welcome you back to the ranks of the normal, hardworking, animal welfare community. Back to the ranks of the mere human. Join us, join me. I truly care about animals and work hard to help them. But I still go home to the kids at night and try to enjoy my weekends. I think I have some pretty damn good ideas on how to fix things and I think some of yours are pretty stupid. But I’ve been wrong before and I’m willing to hear you out. I’ve been doing this a long, long time but maybe you’ve been doing it longer- and even if you’re new to it, it doesn’t mean you might not have something to teach me. I’ll dish it out but I’ll try to take, too, and with as much good humor as I can muster, if you’ll do the same. After all, we’re only human.
I’m no sinner but I sure as hell am not a saint, nor a prophet. And neither are you. We don’t have to work miracles together, we just have to work together.