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I Avoid Animal Cruelty Stories. Am I a Bad Person?

Reading about abuse leaves me feeling helpless and depressed -- I just can't click those headlines!

Pamela Mitchell  |  Apr 9th 2014

Editor’s note: I wrote this story back in 2013, after being a Dogster contributor for less than a year. Since then, I have written dozens of Monday Miracles, many of which involved acts of animal cruelty, and have joined the Dogster staff as Senior Editor. I no longer avoid these types of stories as a rule, but I do encourage our writers to look for the bright side of every dog’s tale. We’re rerunning this story in support of the ASPCA’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month.

The headline on the Dogster homepage read, “We Check In on Rosie the Inbred Chihuahua.” A click took me into the story, where it began, “It’s been a while since we talked about Rosie. Today, we check in with her and two other remarkable rescues. Warning: Some of these photos are harsh.” I immediately selected a different article to read.

When I joined Dogster as a contributor last year, I made clear my inability to report stories involving animal cruelty. Michael Leaverton, Chris Hall, and other writers who regularly take on these tough and important assignments have my utmost respect. My beat — pet parenting issues and the happy endings of rescues — best suits my overly sensitive nature.

My tastes as a reader also now run to the lighter side of Dogster. I once consumed our heavier fare, but I find myself avoiding graphic tales of animal abuse and neglect as a rule these days. A long think uncovered the reasons why.

I know myself pretty well. The few times I have been close enough to report a rescue story in person, it took every ounce of self-control to not leave with a new dog. Juno, whom I met when reporting on Arizona Cactus Corgi Rescue, proved a particular challenge.

When the sweet senior’s owner died, a neighbor brought her to an area shelter to be euthanized. ACCR took Juno in, and the group’s vet determined she had a broken skull bone, broken jaw, and an eye injury, all left untreated for more than a year.

I imagined Juno meeting my dogs, Dolly and Spot, as part of the adoption process. The thought of them reminded me that I barely have enough funds for our existing food and veterinary expenses, as Dolly requires quarterly chest X-rays and regular bump check by a pricey oncologist after beating two types of cancer last year.

Were I to read every heart-wrenching story on Dogster, the feelings of helplessness would leave me depressed or my self-control would disappear. As the only kibblewinner in our home, I cannot afford to make emotional and irresponsible decisions. I do make regular — albeit small — donations to national and local animal-welfare organizations.

I also know that my family situation factors into this avoidance. In the past few years, my only brother died unexpectedly, both of my parents battled cancer, and doctors diagnosed my father with Alzheimer’s. Providing emotional support for my family, including a young nephew, has left me drained.

I simply do not have the capacity to feel compassion for strangers, human or animal, and stay stable. I avoid sad movies and books, too, and the first note of a Sarah McLachlan song on the radio or TV has me switching the station. Watching one of her ASPCA commercials all the way through would leave me a sobbing mess.

Some may point to my current attitude toward stories about animal cruelty as a symptom of compassion fatigue, but that doesn’t sit well with me. The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project has this to say about the condition, “Day in, day out, workers struggle to function in caregiving environments that constantly present heart-wrenching, emotional challenges. Affecting positive change in society, a mission so vital to those passionate about caring for others, is perceived as elusive, if not impossible. This painful reality, coupled with firsthand knowledge of society’s flagrant disregard for the safety and well-being of the feeble and frail, takes its toll on everyone from full-time employees to part-time volunteers.”

Those who work and volunteer for animal welfare organizations, shelters, and veterinary offices certainly fall into the affected group. They must regularly see the pain and suffering of animals.

But I can simply choose not to click on a link, or I can change the channel.

So, let’s hear from you, readers. Do you think my avoiding stories about animal cruelty makes me a bad person? Or do you, too, have limits in terms of what you can take? Please share your thoughts, respectfully, in the comments.

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