Where The Red Fern Grows

September 16, 2008 at 11:35 am (2008)

A couple of weeks ago, a kennel owner in my state shot and killed 80 dogs because, according to a local news article, he didn’t want to surrender his animals to a rescue shelter. This prompted their community to organize a candlelight vigil where, according to the same article, people gathered and brought biscuits in memory of the slain dogs.

I hadn’t heard about this until this past Sunday where there was a front page article in the paper entitled “Too many tears for animals, not enough for kids?” Apparently, many were outraged that this vigil took place, arguing that people are wrongly caring more for animals than for children and that rarely do you see this kind of community support when similar horrors happen to human beings.

I stared at this article for a good five minutes after reading it, incredulous that people could have this kind of reaction. Really? Is this really what we’re fighting about now? In a world where there is war and rising poverty and neglect and crime, are we really going to take sides about which group of suffering we care about more? Does this even make sense anymore?

I’m an animal lover — I get all fuzzy inside whenever my mom sends me a cute video, I root for the animals in movies à la Daylight and Twister, and I cry at the Pedigree dog commercials. While I sympathize with and care for people, I empathize more with animals because that’s what moves me. So what.

I don’t think we ever know why things affect us like they do, or why we react and relate so strongly to something over another. But it doesn’t have to be this great divide — it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Parents don’t favor one kid over another, they love each one differently, independently. So why can’t we apply the same practice when it comes to compassion? Why do people insist that we care more for one than the other? Empathy has many forms, and if something, anything, moves you as a cause, then that should be applauded, not reprimanded.

Personally, my love for animals is a huge part of who I am. But general compassion is also a large part of me, and I will never for one second ignore one form of suffering for the other; I will stand up for what I believe in, but I will never choose a side or insist that one group deserves more than another. To say that having compassion for one cancels out compassion for another is mind-numbing and completely eliminates the purpose.

And I think that’s what angers me the most — the fact that people believe that we should care about one more than the other, that we need to take sides, that there even needs to be this divide. That’s not what compassion is supposed to be about. We should be better than that.

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