A very wise Vet once told me that the bad days often outweigh the good, but the good outcomes always make the bad seem less.
Since moving to Chiang Mai, Thailand, to volunteer as a veterinary technician at The Elephant Nature Park, I’ve received messages, texts, and comments of pure envy of “my life”. Even through the utmost appreciation of such support being given to me, I can’t help but cringe a little while thinking the phrase,”Oh man, if only you knew”.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I live, breathe, and pour every last ounce of my being into animal welfare. And if you were to ask many others in the field, they would say the same. We are all in it for some reason, and I can most certainly tell you it’s not because it’s easy.
It was about a year ago when I first noticed this universal face mask that comes along with the job description of anyone working in the animal welfare field. Whether it be a shelter employee, a rescue founder, or veterinary hospital staff member, they all have one thing in common, masks. I became aware of the mask when I, myself started to wear one. I slapped on a smile at the dinner table as I listened to my boyfriend talk about his day at the office, all the while dreading my turn to talk about the events of my own day. Because no one wants to hear about the eleven dogs you euthanized at owners request. So, instead, you give the shortened version that only includes what you know they actually can bear to hear, all just so you don’t have to look them in the eyes as they search for the right words to say back to you.
I noticed the mask when the cute Labrador puppy I posted a picture of, got 72 “likes” on Instagram. I responded to comment after comment that gushed over the furry little guy with uplifting phrases and smiley emojis, knowing damn well his littermate died earlier that day of parvo. I posted the healthy puppy because I would never dare share with those closest to me that I had just spent the previous hour trying to save his sisters life. No one would be able to physically feel the defeat of a failed catheter on a dying puppy, knowing that if you didn’t place a patent one on their last available vein, they wouldn’t make it. So, as I drank my large glass of Cabernet, I posted the picture from the morning of his sibling, because there is no reason to bring everyone else an ounce of the pain and exhaustion you are feeling at that moment.
I noticed the mask the most when I would listen to friends complaints of their day. As they went on about drama at the workplace and how tired they were, I found myself physically unable to keep back the images of the older chihuahua that passed away on the surgery table after tireless efforts of CPR. I would hate myself for having my whole day filled with compassion, but couldn’t even begin to empathize with those I loved and respected.
I notice the mask now, a year later, as friends and family rave over how lucky I am to be doing what I am doing. They are right, I am, truly, so fortunate. But it’s sometimes hard to feel that “luck” when you are hunched over an ancient pup dying of kidney failure, replacing yet another Cather he has ripped out with tears streaming down your face. Or, trying to feel that luck when you are curled up in a spider ridden metal cage with a failing pup that was supposed to be leaving to be adopted in Colorado the following week. Most of all, I don’t feel a tinge of luck when I begin to selfishly question why the hell I willingly chose a career path that would lead to pain, heartache, and defeat.
And then, without even wasting a second, my mind is brought back to the first dog I rescued off the streets. The first foster I saw go to a forever loving home. My first day in surgery at the shelter, where 32 animals were sterilized and on their way to adoption. The first time I saw five puppies that I helped deliver and keep alive during a difficult labor, come back from the foster home to be adopted. The first time I witnessed veterinary surgeons do the impossible for one dog, and then another, and another. The first time I spent part of my night curled up on the cage floor with a scared shelter mutt, only to have her finally stop shaking and lick my face in thanks. I was reminded after seeing a dog saved from the floods of Hurricane Matthew, cry out in such joy when she was finally reunited with her owner.
So, to the rescue founder that works eighty hours a week because there is just no one else to do the job, and just when you think you can’t make it another day, you say yes to another dog to take in, thank you.
To the veterinary technician that is late getting home, once again, because a last minute emergency comes in the door, thank you.
To the municipal shelter manager that is lacking funds and resources and trying everything in their power to do right by the animals, only to get chastised by the public for being a “killer”, thank you.
To the veterinarian that has to stand strong in front of a broken hearted client who can’t afford treatment, and be told they surely must want their animal to die because they won’t do the surgery without payment, thank you.
To the transport drivers that spend more time in the car bringing animals across the country, than they do with their own families, thank you.
To the underpaid, under appreciated, and over worked that IS animal welfare, thank you.
To the face mask wearing, smile flaunting, laughing when you want to cry crew, you aren’t alone. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it, right?