I heard a story months ago about the outrageous number of pets that are being abandoned during this time of economic crisis. Municipal shelters and private rescues are overwhelmed, and the United States is on track to euthanize 6,000,000 pets including nearly 1,000,000 Chihuahuas and small dogs. One hundred Chihuahuas a day are showing up at shelters in California.
I keep thinking about the Chihuahuas. These tiny little animals – affectionate, intelligent and prone to being high strung – are being tossed out of pink snakeskin purses and into shelters or onto the street because they require a high level of care that owners realize, as an afterthought, they don’t have the time, money or patience for. Given the pop-culture parading of these dogs by way of Paris Hilton, “Legally Blond” and the ad campaign for Taco Bell, people think of Chihuahuas as trendy accessories rather than living beings.
I find myself imagining all these Chihuahuas in the shelters, quivering endlessly and wondering what happened, where the love went and what will become of their little lives.
Perhaps I am thinking a lot about the Chihuahua because I can in some way relate to them as opposed to something like a black grizzly bear. I am just over 4’10”, weigh about 94 pounds, and I can be high strung when I’m anxious. Depending on where I am in my menstrual cycle, I can also get a tad snippy about small things. However, unlike Chihuahuas, I don’t have those cute big ears to soften the experience for those around me (my family pack) who are subject to my snippiness.
Now, some people may not give a rat’s ass about Chihuahuas. This leads me to ask myself in greater depth why I do care, beyond the above shared behavior. After all, I grew up in a petless household with two parents who were born and raised in New York City and never had pets themselves. I suppose there were the pill bugs I played with in the backyard when I was a handful of years old. I would talk to them as I gently touched their shells so they’d curl up into a ball, which I would then roll about on the brick patio. (I can’t imagine this is much fun for the pill bugs.) Oh, and there was the goldfish.
When I was in middle school my family did acquire a goldfish, which I’m guessing came from a local fair. Engaged in the art of goldfish maintenance, my mother, brother and I were cleaning its fishbowl. We had put the goldfish temporarily in the bathroom sink with some water and somehow one of us accidentally hit the drain stopper. The drain opened up and the fish went swiftly down the unintended opening.
We were horrified. My mother bravely lifted the stopper out of the sink, and there was the fish, caught on a metal piece, its mouth opening and closing. We were all screaming and frantic, and again my mother bravely reached in, got the fish and squeamishly threw it into the toilet. We stared into the bowl, hoping it would be able to regain its well being in there, but alas, it began to float to the surface again and again until it finally died. We felt so sad for this little fish (though we did laugh at the level of hysteria we displayed). After this pet incident, it was clear to us we were done with goldfish in our house.
Now, some people may not give a rat’s ass about goldfish. But the truth is they are living beings with little fish personalities and an appreciation for a happy and healthy environment. They have an interior life. Is it as complicated as a human’s? Of course not. Does that render them pointless? No.
Goldfish are an expression of life and have a small yet meaningful place in our world. They are often a child’s first pet, giving children the opportunity to learn to care for something that is living. They can calm us down swimming about in an aquarium when we take the time to stop and watch. And they can be a child’s first encounter with death, providing an opening into this dimension of existence.
What my mother, brother and I were responding to was a living being losing its breath of life, reaching the end of its life before our very eyes. This last breath is a common thread all living beings share.
Having spoken of abandoned Chihuahuas, I find myself somehow drifting in thought to the U.S. soldiers who have fought in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I am thinking of the many soldiers returning to this country alive and wounded. Many have visible physical injuries; many more have injuries to the human psyche that cannot be easily seen.
Life for most troops will never be the same after their war torn experiences, and I see them quivering like Chihuahuas on the inside, wondering where the love went and what will become of their lives. Clearly, we care deeply about the lives of these soldiers. The question is whether the United States will step up and make sure they get the extensive care and attention they need to recover from the inhumane experiences inherent in war. It often seems Congress is willing to fund a war regardless of cost, but fails to deliver on dealing with the costs of war.
Let me state clearly that U.S. soldiers are far more important than Chihuahuas. But the consequences of abandonment apply to both situations. Both situations reflect an irresponsibility to tend to the sacred interiority of a living being. And though we give priority to a human life, it is critical to understand that all life is sacred.
If this overarching perspective on life were to saturate human behavior, our world would be quite different. Forests would remain intact, sheltering the diverse community of life within and purifying the air we breath. Toxic dumping and over fishing would be unacceptable, as the thriving life of the sea would take priority. People would be against irresponsible breeding of any animal for the sake of fashionable trends. And war would not be waged but in the direst of circumstances because humans would realize that to wage war on another country or people is to wage war on oneself.
One self. Every spiritual and philosophical tradition outside of Western thought makes clear the ultimate premise that we are all one. And from that one comes the many expressions of life, from the Chihauhua to the goldfish to the soldier returning from war to his mother or wife or child waiting with every cell of their being to embrace him. From the mountains, to the prairies, to the ocean white with foam. All life is sacred and interconnected, an ancient truth that must come round again to permeate the hearts and minds of human beings. Otherwise, we will all find ourselves shivering and on the way out, wondering where the love went.