One of my friends shared a photo on FaceBook today that really upset me.
No, of course it wasn’t the one at the top of this post. That’s a cute kitten, it’s a sweet, happy photo, and it’s there to provide a stark and shocking contrast to what I’m about to write.
Upsetting words. If you’re an animal lover, you may not want to read them. Unfortunately, I’m not so lucky, because I saw the photo and I can’t get that sickening image out of my head.
The photo was taken outside a restaurant in China. People were sitting at tables, waiting to eat, and a woman had hung a live cat up by a hook in its neck, and was cooking it with a blowtorch. The cat didn’t look alive, so I only had the description below the photo to go on Perhaps it was dead – I’d love to believe it was dead – but this was China, so it was probably alive. The woman was holding it tight by its tail, stretching it out straight, and it couldn’t move. It was a white cat, rather like this one.
Now you’re feeling sick, I’d like to offer some perspective.
As you read this, there are animals all around the world suffering from the actions of humans. It might be dogs and cats in China, Thailand or other parts of the Far East being tortured to death for their flesh or fur. It might be a lion (yes, like Cecil) wounded in an illegal – or even a legal – hunt and tracked for hours, or even days, injured and in pain, before finally being killed and having bits hacked off as trophies. It might even be someone’s beloved pet, given “free to a good home” that fell into the hands of the wrong people and ended up as bait to train fighting dogs. Stray cats fall victim to that here in Spain, except they don’t even bother trapping them. They just take their dogs to wherever the feral colonies are, and encourage them to rip the kittens to pieces.
Every second of every minute of every day, there is an animal suffering. (We could say the same of human suffering, but that isn’t what this post is about.) Even the most dedicated animal rescuer can’t help them all. Even the efforts of all the animal welfare groups around the world can only make a tiny difference to the overwhelming amount of suffering.
This realisation doesn’t make me feel defeated; it makes me feel better. It wouldn’t be possible for one person to save them all, so it’s OK for me to do what I can and deliberately turn away from the rest. It was OK for me to glance at the post my friend shared this morning and think, It’s just a photo. There’s no link, no petition to sign, no article to share. It’s just a photo, intended to shock and upset. So, I moved on.
A cat suffered and died in agony. That’s happening all the time. Sitting at my computer and crying over that photo will change nothing. It’s better that I scroll past it as quickly as possible, before the image becomes imprinted so deeply into my brain that I can never stop seeing it.
I’m not religious, but this is how I try to live my life:
Today, I realised something else.
Suffering is temporary.
Many times since I’ve lived in Spain, I’ve interrupted a cycle ride to move the body of a cat or dog from the road. I try to put them somewhere nice, in grass or flowers, or at least away from the tarmac and concrete creations of the humans who killed them. Before I go on with my ride, I kneel for a few seconds, with one hand on the body. I try to think about flying, about a spirit flying away to a better place, even though I’m still not completely certain what I believe, but what I most often think about is an end to pain.
There is always an end to suffering. It isn’t forever.