What do you want to be when you grow up?
I wonder how many times I’ve been asked this question over the course of my childhood. There probably isn’t a little kid out there who doesn’t like answering that question. In fact, having the whole world at their fingertips and an imagination ready to fly makes it really easy. I remember my answer to this question and how it stayed the same for several years. Actually, until my senior year I was convinced that I wanted to be a veterinarian. What changed? Well, reality knocked on my door and shut down the ambitions I had towards that profession. Apparently the concept and definition I had built in my mind were a product of my imagination, or rather what I had hoped it to be. The idea to care, provide, cure, help, nurture and comfort animals on a daily basis seemed extremely attractive. My father had encouraged me to be a doctor instead. I recall asking him, if humans didn’t feel the need to help their own, who would be there for the animals?
When I was 16-years-old, my mother had arranged a volunteer position for me at an animal clinic during the summer. I assisted the veterinarian in his daily praxis, leaning the basic duties in the profession and comforting the pets during the time they were kept at the office. Everything I had experienced until that point was exactly how I imagined myself to be in the future, until I started accompanying them to the local pet-shelter. The veterinarian was a volunteer himself, helping the organization with hundreds of dogs and cats on a weekly basis. These abandoned animals needed urgent medical care and the basic needs had to be provided, in order to keep them alive. Even though most of the animals were perfectly healthy and taken care of, the nightmare – both for the animals and the veterinarians – didn’t end there. Most of these beautiful creatures would never be adopted and every day more and more would arrive at the shelter. Therefore, every week dogs, and cats were euthanized and I witnessed it with an angry but yet saddened heart. There was nothing I could do about it and that made me feel extremely powerless. I remember lashing out at the veterinarian team, not understanding how they murdered these animals when they were supposed to love and help them. It didn’t take me long to comprehend, how this was as heart breaking for them as it was for me.
In order to be a veterinarian, you have to love animals. It is not a lucrative profession neither an easy one, and putting down healthy animals is definitely not what they sign up for. While the idea to care, provide, cure, help, nurture and comfort animals is correct, the list doesn’t end there. Veterinarians have to deal with animals that have been mistreated, mutilated, abandoned, abused, and neglected too. Pet owners who just see their pure-breed puppies as a goldmine aren’t uncommon either. Even when pets are brought in, to get medical assistance, comments like “I can’t pay for the treatment. How much would it cost to just put it down instead?” isn’t a foreign language. Neither is it atypical to find a pet at the shelter, which had been previously owned and treated at the pet clinic. In the end, veterinarians can only do so much to create awareness and provide guidelines on how to treat animals properly. The reality dictates that not everybody will follow these principles and behave responsibly. Even if these bad owners were confronted, there aren’t enough laws to protect the animals and back up the veterinarian’s concerns. This leads to silencing their voices because their hands are tied up.
It was clear to me, that I couldn’t and wouldn’t put myself in that position. The love I feel for animals is very strong and I wouldn’t keep my mouth shut when I’d see injustice happening. The thought of dealing with the results of inhuman behavior towards animals on a daily basis breaks my heart. If I had chosen to become a veterinarian, I would have voluntarily embarked on a life of unhappiness, which eventually could have broken me from inside out. There are definitely other options I gave a thought to, rather than working at a private practice or pet hospital. None of these options seemed appealing to me though. For example, working for animal farms, in which animals are raised to be killed, insuring that the animals are healthy while all the companies really care about is for the animal’s meat to fall into food guidelines. Or working at a zoo, where animals have been taken from their natural habitat to serve as a show clown to curious people. These wild animals had hectares of land, endless skies or immense oceans to travel. No zoological facility is ever going to provide them with a close replication of the freedom that has been involuntarily taken away from them.
Throughout the years I have cared, provided, cured, helped, nurtured and comforted animals without a veterinarian credential. Not only have I owned my own miniature zoo at home, driving my parents crazy, but also rescuing animals in need. Every time I see animals suspiciously by themselves, I get out of my way to make sure that I fix the situation somehow. The other day, two dogs were running around the neighborhood and I noticed there wasn’t anyone nearby. I started observing them and walking towards them. I thought it was very bizarre, because the dogs were acting healthy and they had collars on. I was worried though, as someone could drive over them or they could end up on the main street. I called them to me and started walking around the neighborhood, until I noticed a house with the main door cracked open. The dogs didn’t hesitate to run straight inside the house. I rang the bell and a young man came out with a surprised facial expression. His girlfriend had walked inside the house, leaving the door open, allowing the dogs to run away.
Back in my hometown I remember taking the trash out and noticing a weird noise. I ran home and told my mother, that I saw a moving black bag inside the garbage can. She immediately came outside with me and pulled the bag out. There were eleven newborn blind kittens inside of the sealed plastic bag. Three of them were already dead, while the rest were soaked in their own sweat, breathing hard for their lives. I remember the vet saying that they most probably would die without a mother. My mother and I bottle fed the babies and gave them as much love as we could. Even our dog allowed them to sleep in her bed, acting as if she was their mother. All eight kittens survived and we kept them until they were 4 months old and ready to move to their new homes. My mother had paired up with the veterinarian to find some loving families for the cats.
There are many stories I can and would love to write about, but this essay would turn into a book. I am very passionate about animals. I care for them as if they are children. When I see an animal or a child, my eyes light up. Whether it’s feeding a street dog, adopting a shelter cat, helping a bird with a broken wing or making sure that a lost pet finds their way back home, I am always concerned and willing to do something about it. I have to in order to find peace of mind, otherwise the “unknown” and “what if’s” would eat me alive. That’s just who I am, I can’t help it. I often wonder, what if my dogs would run away. Would somebody stop what they are doing and look after them? I remember Balu, my beautiful black Angola cat I had adopted from the shelter, who had decided to go for a walk without my consent. As soon as I noticed he was gone, I walked around the neighborhood calling his name for hours, like a crazy person. I returned home with a face full of tears, feeling defeated. I can’t even tell how many times I looked outside the window to check if he found his way back home. The next day, after a sleepless night, I heard a noise at the doorsteps. I ran downstairs and there he was, scratching at the door and shacking in fear. The weight that I felt falling off my shoulders is indescribable.
Most of the times I’m not worried about my pets leaving my side, but concerned about the fact that a big number of people aren’t exemplary citizens. I guess I could make a direct comparison with children and how parents worry about what other people could do to them. One of the most tragic things I know about human nature, is that all of us tend to put off living. “Man can now fly in the air like a bird, swim under the ocean like a fish and he can burrow into the ground like a mole. Now, if only he could walk the earth like a man, this would be paradise” (Tommy Douglas). The sad reality, that humans aren’t humane enough to care for their own kind and even harm each other, proves that animals are at higher risk. If we are considered the most intelligent species on the planet, which in my opinion is a questionable statement, we should be able to respect nature. Instead of acting on innocent species with violence and cruelty, we should provide a safe environment and give a voice to those who can’t talk for themselves.