I recently had a chance to visit some folks I had not seen in four years. They live on a quiet street in a three bedroom mobile home that houses three children, eight teens/adults, four dogs, three cats, and two turtles. Seven people in the home are of working age. Two are unable to work due to physical condition. One is employed. When we arrived to visit the 3 year old and 4 year old kids, we saw the largest of the four dogs in a crate. He had sad, defeated eyes. He had been bad, we were told. I suspected he had not been taken on a walk in a long time.
We took the kids to the park. There, I talked with the kids about their dog.
"Does doggie go on walks?"
"Do you think he's bored?"
"Do you think he was bad because he doesn't have the words to say he's bored?"
"When we get home, do you want to take doggie on a walk?"
I was worried doggie might not have a leash, but he did. When we arrived back at the house, the kids asked the adults if we could take doggie on a walk. He's bad on the leash, I was told. I promised to hold his leash myself. We grabbed a plastic bag to clean up after doggie, and off we ran! I went into a full sprint but couldn't keep up. He pulled me up and down the block for nearly an hour. I used all my strength to keep my hold on the leash. The kids watched doggie blast past them and cheered. Doggie was elated! No one had ever seen doggie panting before.
The 3 year old boy wanted to run with doggie too, so we held the leash together and doggie and I slowed our pace significantly. I asked the little boy:
"When you grow up, are you going to be a good runner?"
"Are you going to take your doggies on runs?"
"Are you going to take your doggies on runs everyday!?"
"Good for you! Doggies need to go on runs everyday to be happy!"
After our short outing, we brought doggie in and we proclaimed to the room how much doggie loved going on walks!
I left for the airport to head home.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals launched a new campaign this year called "Never Be Silent." It is an inspiring campaign that calls on us to say something whenever we see abuse or exploitation of animals. It seems like a simple enough request, but it is exceedingly difficult. Will I say the right thing? What if I make it worse? Am I being a rude guest? Will I damage a relationship?
I have had a few opportunities to "Never Be Silent" this year, and I have not been able to rise to the challenge. In this case, I didn't say much of anything to the adults. I didn't know what to say, or how it would go over. But I did manage to talk to the two children. And I feel like that was a very important first step for me. And at the very least, doggie had one moment of sheer joy instead of one more hour of endless boredom in a dark, crowded house.
Everyday, we are faced with instances of injustice and cruelty. And we get to decide how we will respond. Will you be silent, paralyzed by fear or social convention, and do nothing? Or will you say something, however small and imperfect that "something" might be? I want to become a person who responds effectively where ever I find injustice and cruelty. My guess is I will never become that person like I have arrived at a destination. I suspect I will have to continue becoming that person is a lifelong pursuit that is honed and crafted over time.
My response was not perfect, but it was better than no response. Because I couldn't find the courage to politely talk with the adults, I left the animals to count on two preschoolers. I hope they can rise to the challenge where I did not.