No one goes into animal rescue thinking that it will be easy. But no one also knows just how hard it can be, how many past emotions can get stirred up, and how some days you feel like your own guilt will consume you. What kind of guilt? Guilt for animals in your past, guilt for animals in your life now. Guilt for animals in your future.
My grandmother was the master of guilt! I watched her as a child second guessing every decision she made, past decisions, and what others would think of her decisions. I followed her example, questioning my own life decisions, was I doing a good job, and in the process, I neglected myself. This follows me to this day. Did I look up to my grandmother? I did and I still do. But sometimes I wonder. What more could I have accomplished in life without the guilt? She didn’t seem happy. And I admit, sometimes, I would like to be a lot happier.
Guilt is a heavy load to carry when you are trying to get things done, isn’t it? For me, traveling to 48 states and 48 rescues the past two years wasn’t always hard. When I kept a positive attitude on the animals that we helped network to good homes, or when we encouraged the volunteers at the rescues we visited, I felt a little optimistic. But every time, in the back of my mind, I seemed to think of a little guinea pig I had as a pet when I was a child. And that optimism? It was washed away with the guilt factor.
When I was little I had a guinea pig named Pee Wee. I remember going to a pet store and picking her out. I don’t remember why I wanted a guinea pig. I was too young to remember that part. But as the days and the weeks went by with Pee Wee, I found out that it wasn’t so easy to take care of a guinea pig. It wasn’t so easy to bathe a guinea pig, feed a guinea pig. And as more months and years went by with Pee Wee, I think back now, and I realize. I should have spent more time with Pee Wee. I did not do a good job. I am not going to say that I did. Because I didn’t. And I think of Pee Wee every. Darn. Day. And I deserve to. For Boy Person, a dog named Digby that he wished he had spent more time with as a kid is his guilt factor. And so that is why our Digby now is named after him. So that he would never forget his errors and time that should have been spent with his dog.
Is it shocking to you that two persons like us with two rescue dogs who have dedicated our time, resources, energy and finances to animal rescue have guilt about past pets and family members? I hope not. Because the honest truth is, and I try to tell myself this…we all can learn from our mistakes. Guilt may be a heavy load to carry, but sometimes, we deserve it. However, it is how we use the load we are carrying to help others. BUT, if the guilt is an unwarranted load and if you tried your best, and only you know this, you must throw that guilt off. It is hindering you from helping other animals that need all of the energy you can give.
What I am saying is that sometimes we need the guilt factor in animal rescue and sometimes we don’t. For us, we could never do enough in our opinion to make up for the two lives we feel that we could have done better for. But if we let it paralyze us, that means the guilt factor isn’t helpful. However, if we don’t feel any guilt, that is disrespectful to those two lives, so some measure of guilt is needed to keep propelling us forward.
In animal rescue, not a day goes by for many shelters or rescues where they don’t have to turn an animal way for lack of resources or fosters or funds. And we know that the guilt in that can be overwhelming. How could it not be? Not one life is more important than another. But sometimes, animal rescue comes down to a business decision. It is unfortunate, but the reality. And until more people step up to help and educate, there will not be an end to the guilt. And that is not fair. But it is the truth.
As we have always said, people saved our dogs and that is why we give back. And that is true.
The people that saved Brickle and Digby showed us a good example, a loving example. And for them, although we may never know their names, and who took our dogs to the shelters where we could find them and bring them into our lives, they still mean the world to us. Do we care about the mistakes in their past? No. All we see and feel towards them is the one deed they did to help our dogs. And that is enough. And one day, I hope I can feel that about myself too. Until then, I will use my guilt factor for the good.
-Rachael Johnson, Girl Person and Owner of 2 Traveling Dogs