Disclaimer: After reading this post you may be all… Um, this girl is really weird.
I really am a nut. But, it comes from a very good place; although a crazy-making place.
There are animal lovers, advocates, PETA, veterinarians etc., … then there’s weirdo me. And, I know I can’t really automatically separate myself from the aforementioned types as if I stand out or am different from their feelings but I just wonder sometimes if I actually need to see a therapist about this because I think I have a real problem. Er, problem probably isn’t the right word. It’s more of an … issue, maybe.
For example, I could never be in any kind of position where I may come across an animal in fear and/or suffering, even if I’d be in that position to help them. I will go the long way around live fish tanks in grocery stores because if I see them crammed in there I start to get this very subtle sense of claustrophobia or anxiousness. I fantasize sometimes about Super Andrea (!!) raiding a puppymill… guns a blazin’! And… and… rescue all those poor, suffering puppies and mama and papa dogs. Instead, I avoid walking by butchers with chickens hanging in the display window because I can’t get past the fact they may very well not be actual chickens. If I hear dogs barking or cats meowing around alleyways where there are several back entrances of restaurants I wonder if they’re trapped in crates in the basements.
I can only wish to be strong enough to just get a frigging grip. But, like any humanitarian who could never be a surgeon – even if it meant saving lives – because they can’t stand the sight of blood, I cannot get right in there and save these suffering animals with my bare hands. The sentiment is the same. Or, in discussion with my fellow humans, I know that my cat/dog/restaurant wonderment is akin to them passing by forested areas and wondering if there are dead bodies from murders that have been thrown there.
What? You don’t think that way? Don’t tell me they’re the only ones…
This is all coming from an email my dad sent me over the weekend with a YouTube link to the Battle at Kruger. The body of the email describes the video like this:
Wow, this is truly incredible. A group of lions attack a baby buffalo, then engage in and win a tug-of-war with a crocodile over the buffalo, only to lose in the end to a herd of buffalo who return to defend the baby. And, the baby walks away having lived through it.
Now, I know my dad knows how sensitive I am to animals so I was a little confused over why he’d send his video to me, so before watching it I emailed him to ask:
Dad, are you SURE I should be watching this? I can’t even handle seeing lobsters and crabs in grocery store tanks.
To which he responded:
This is a happy ending… but it is a little rough. I like how the buffaloes decided to protect their baby against all these lions.
So I sat on it. Then, I read up on it. What goes down in this amateur video was so monumental that Time Magazine actually featured an article about it and National Geographic produced a documentary about it. I certainly read enough to intrigue me and bring me really close to wanting to watch it. But, my fear was around what kind of post-symptom I would suffer after it was all over. That’s where things get complicated for me.
I’ve learned that I cannot bear seeing animals in any kind of panicked, pained, or defenseless state. That if I can see their faces of fear, or hear their grunts of panic and distress, or see their bodies writhing to escape, that it most definitely will affect me for days later, sometimes even months. I know this, I’ve learned this. This could even be a snapshot on an animal cruelty ad. I used to hate logging into my Hotmail because of that image of the bear in chains behind bars. I know that was the intent of the campaign; to be impacting and affecting, but for me, I see the face and the eyes and I almost feel its fear and helplessness and then it might as well be me in that position. It can debilitate me.
Sometimes the image is enough to actually make me feel stomach sick and I will often transition into feelings of anger toward the image, or whoever is behind posting the image, especially when it catches me off guard or I am not prepared for it because I know that now I’m going to hang on to it for longer than was probably intended. It wouldn’t be uncommon for me to have nightmares of animals in states of pain and suffering for a few days afterward which makes for pretty awful and distressing sleeps.
I know that if I see a video like the one my dad sent me - in as powerful, beautiful, amazing, and interesting as I know it is - the only thing that could very well stay with me after it is the terrified, helpless animal in pain. Especially with this particular type of terror. The buffalo calf, completely defenseless, with a pack of lions all over it then a crocodile, then back to the lions. Even though I know the video ends with it getting up and walking into the herd of adult buffalo, the only part that concerns me is the part where it endures fear and pain. Then, even though it gets up, I will convince myself that it will bleed to death anyway.
I mean, how depressing, eh? The thing is, I can’t think myself out of it. I’ve tried. So, I just wait for the sadness to subside and the image to leave my head.
I’m pretty sure it would be categorised under some of the signs of PTSD.
Back to the video… I asked Nick to preview it for me. I think he’s getting a better sense of just how serious my animal sensitivities are so he watched it for me first. He said it was a bit grim during the attack but fascinating and that ultimately the buffalo calf manages to get up and walk away. All well and good, but I also need to know if there is a writhing struggle, can you see the look of fear in the calf’s eyes, can you hear its terrified screaming? He answered my questions honestly and I made the decision to watch it. This was not without the volume turned way down and my mouse on the FF button in the event I catch glimpse of a moment that may traumatise me later.
I admit I FF’d through the attack and subsequent tug-of-war with a crocodile. I watched pretty well the first five minutes in broken groupings of seconds, but when that buffalo herd came to the rescue of one of their own I got that kind of relief I rarely see, and that is of someone or something coming to the immediate aid of a defenseless animal while the attack is actually taking place.
I have analysed the possible reasons for this extreme hypersensitivity toward animals and have my own, personal ideas. But with respect to how my mind interprets the information, why is it specifically the terrifying emotions that I seem to take on. Like, why can’t I watch a video like this and not see the beauty and fascination of nature at work and appreciate it for what it is?
I used to joke with people that I could never go on a safari ride because I’d be the one jumping out of the Jeep to run and rescue the gazelle before the lion gets it. That everyone who stayed behind would have photos of me running through the tall grass, arms flailing and not of the captured power and agility behind the lion or how beautiful a gazelle looks when it’s running for its life.
When people first meet me, their first introduction to my animal sensitivity might come when they begin to tell a story about an animal and I actually have to stop them mid-sentence, just as the story is meant to become interesting and I need them to tell me whether or not the animal gets hurt, suffers, or dies. If they say yes, then I say “I’m sorry, but I can’t hear your story.” This usually gives them a terrible first impression of me because I will no longer allow the story to continue to be told to me, but over time they seem to become quite endeared this weirdness and I take comfort in that. Love you guyssss.
Some people’s reactions will be to remind me that this is life, that the predators need to eat, too. This is of very little consequence to me because I know that. I would be just as upset over an emaciated lion who is too injured to hunt and is just waiting out its last days alone in a state of helpless starvation. It really boils right down to me absorbing the feeling of doom, fear, terror, suffering of the animal. I wish I could get through an entire episode of The Nature of Things, for example, but I’ve learned to listen for queues in changes in the mood of the music or in David Suzuki’s tone. I know that the style of shows like this are to illustrate and portray the beauty of the animal, its biology, how it survives and lives in the wild, so by the time the part of the show comes where we get a sense of what kind of predators it has to protect itself from, I’ve already fallen deeply in love with this beautiful animal that I have to now face the fact that it is going to be hunted and maybe even killed by the end of the episode, so I change the channel.
I once watched this documentary called “The Little Prince” which followed the birth of a male fawn up to the first year of his life. I was so captivated by how beautiful they are against nature and the relationship between doe and her fawn. Her attentiveness, her attunement, and her instinct, it was all so remarkably portrayed until…
The producers just had to get into how fragile their lives are against mother nature’s wrath. Enter the winter season, almost a year after The Little Prince was born. The doe is pregnant again, however, she and her Little Prince maintain their connection. The tone of the narrator’s voice is now deliberate and concerned. The doe and her fawn traipse along the frozen terrain, all the nourishment that the warm, summer ground offered is now frozen over, they must survive by walking for miles a day eating shoots of dry grass that pop from the frozen earth. The doe is dehydrated, weak, and with very little energy as all the nourishment she must ingest is absorbed by the developing foetus inside her. She walks very slowly and carefully as the ground is frozen and slippery. Oh how unforgiving the harsh winter is upon the doe and her Little Prince.
I watch on…
We see a shot of the doe and Little Prince grazing and nibbling the frozen shoots. The camera view changes to a young family snowshoeing through the back country off in the distance. They are laughing, joyous, binoculars swing from dad’s neck. The doe jerks her head up immediately and her ears twist. Her fight or flight instinct kicks in as she immediately recognises that she, Little Prince, and the unborn fawn are in danger. She darts, Little Prince follows close behind… the ground is slippery, mom is weak, every stride she makes sends pain through her weakened body, but her instinct to protect her babies takes over and they run, run, run, until she skids, and trips and there’s a hill and…
I changed the channel at that very moment and went back to it after about 180 Mississippis and the doe has died. The fall was too much for her to bear and her foetus has subsequently also perished. The Little Prince is now grazing in a field all alone after having witnessed the fall of his mother. He was still too young to have been integrated into the herd independent of his mother, however, now his very survival depends on whether they will accept or banish him. Banishing him will be certain death. By this time, I am basically rocking myself like a lump of the sofa with the sleeves of my sweater pulled over my hands. One for wiping my tears, the other for my snotty nose. I felt as though I had lost my own darn mother!
I’m sure I sound completely nuts. I mean I must. Even serious animal lovers have been known to look at me strangely.
I don’t know what it is with faces, especially the eyes and body language, and it’s not only animals… I can be this way toward humans, too, if I pick up on certain energies or moods; but, for the most part I think my ache is channeled mostly toward animals. Why I pick up on this kind of energy, I’m not sure really. It’s not like I saw horrible things done to animals when I was a child. For as long as I remember I just had this connection toward anything I felt was vulnerable – human or animal. Old men eating alone in McDonald’s would make me feel like crying.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t used to unstick the struggling flies from the sticky tape and used Q-tips to get the goo off their wings and send them on their way. Does anyone else do things like that? There must be someone!
I found an abandoned Canada Goose nest once after the mother had been scared away by a mower, I knew that those eggs need to be rotated and kept at a certain temperature for the embryos to survive and had witnessed the nest unattended for hours too long. Would you believe me if I told you I collected all six eggs and turned my walk-in closet into an incubator complete with heat lamps, humidifiers, and a timer to remind me when to turn the eggs? I never knew what happened to them though because I brought them to the wild bird sanctuary after the weekend was over. I think in one way, I never followed up because I didn’t want to know that they turned out not to be viable. When I was a kid, I used to keep cages in my bedroom closet in the event that I came across a rodent that had survived a cat attack with minor injuries. It was basically a little infirmary I had created and I did actually have a few “patient” success stories. I even had a little mole once.
I remember a time when my dad’s cat caught a baby Blue Jay. Oscar …
This is Oscar:
… must have grown tired of his catch and left it lying in the grass in the backyard. My dad put it in a little shoebox and called Ace Ventura (that’s me) right away. I came over and we talked in the backyard where the shoebox with the baby Jay was. It was alert but ruffled and otherwise looked okay albeit with a bit of blood around its neck. What devastated me the most from that situation was the poor, anxious mother. She chirped and circled the patio table for as long as that box was sitting on top of it with her baby inside. We even walked away for a brief moment and witnessed her perch herself right on the edge of the box and feed her baby then just sit there and they chirped at each other. It nearly brought me to my knees right then and there; I was so upset. The whole situation was upsetting for me. I felt bad that it happened in the first place, I felt terrible for the poor mother, and I felt terrible that I had to take the box away to the bird sanctuary knowing that she knew her baby was in there. I received bad news two days later when I heard that that baby hung on for a solid 48 hours but for some reason by the afternoon of the 2nd day it just lay dead in its cage. The veterinarians thought it may have had internal bleeding. That entire scene cycled through my head for a very, very long time and it was a while before it became less vivid. I’m sure the vet tech never expected herself to be actually consoling me on the phone but I couldn’t help my tears. I kept bumbling over again about the mom and she was like, “You did the best you could, you really did.”
I’ve considered that what I do is apply my own human emotion to the animal and imagine that it is suffering the way I would as a human if I found myself in the same situation. The thing is I know animals feel fear and pain. You can see it in their eyes when they’re trying to outrun a predator. Watching something like that, for example, makes me have the same types of feelings that I would have if I was running for my life. It’s really like that. It comes to me in a physical form.
I guess this is a lot to take in. And I thought about it over the weekend with the whole buffalo video. Sometimes I wish I could get a link like that and watch it with fascination even while still keeping my love for animals within. Just like a lot of people can do. I mean I don’t look at Nick and figure he doesn’t love animals just because he can watch a video like that – I just long to draw from the same kind of… I guess it’s probably a measure of indifference and accepting it for what it is. He doesn’t absorb the emotions or feelings of the animal – and that’s because he’s a human. I don’t know how to do it that way.
Maybe I was an animal in my past life.
Anyway, does anyone else relate to this kind of feeling at all? Or, am I really as alien as I sometimes feel I am.