Animals and Me: It was never a choice

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Written by Becky Monroe

Life is always coming up with unexpected ways that require us to reflect on our surroundings. Recently, some personal things happened within my family that were upsetting and I found myself hugging my rescued Frenchie, Agatha.

Her squishy little rolls are so calming to gently squeeze and her soft coat is so soothing to pet. She laid there looking at me with those bulldog eyes and for a moment I could feel this sense of unconditional love staring back at me.

Animals have been my thing since I can remember. Lost ones, stray ones, hurt ones, they all seemed to fill a void I could never quite put my finger on. They gave me purpose and as I got older they became the essence of my passion for animal welfare.

Today, though, it was just my dog healing my wound.

People often criticize animal advocates for choosing animals over people. I am not here to argue that, though I can’t help but reiterate Mahatma Gandhi’s quote, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Which to me means, if you are treating animals right, you are treating people right, too.

I don’t think it is a choice one or the other. I just think that for many people like me, who find solace and love in relationships with animals, it is a matter of never being let down by animals and also finding purpose in our own pain to ease the pain and suffering for them.

Of course not all animal advocates have childhoods to heal or painful experiences they bury in rescued animals, but I think there is something about advocating for animals and physically transforming their lives that transforms our own. 

How many times have we heard “man’s best friend?” Or, have heard how humans experience hundreds of relationships in a day, but a dog only has you. Or, the simple moment you return home from a ten minute errand and your dog comes running at you, tail wagging as if you were gone forever and he missed you more than life itself? 

There is just something about loving an animal and feeling the way it loves you back that is unlike any other relationship .

Animals rarely let us down. Sure they have accidents. They might eat the sofa or our favorite shoes, but they don’t hurt us in the way people do.

They get bored somedays and once in a while they just need to really go to the bathroom, but they don’t intentionally choose to make us mad.

We become their world. In the best situations that means comfy beds, yummy food, fun walks, and a safe, loving home. That is what people like me hope for all domestic animals.

And, when that isn’t the case and instead they have suffered in the hands of humans, people, like me are the first to scoop them up and hold them close and do everything we can to erase the past and give them a new future.

I have done that more times than I can count – though I can practically recall each animal, each story and each transformation.

No, not all animal rescuers have shattered pasts or broken hearts, but perhaps those who do find peace in helping animals as a way of giving something that they never had: unconditional love. They know all too well what it feels like to live without it and so they pursue the most neglected, unwanted animal in hopes of making them whole and healing their own hearts along the way.

Animals never judge. They don’t discriminate. They are just as content living on the street as they are living in a mansion – as long as they have their human and are loved.

Since I can recall, I have always looked at animals as if they had souls. I mean long before I even understood that premise. I believed my whole life that animals felt the same things I did. When I was 12 years old, I wrote a letter to the editor of a science magazine that they published asking the question, “If rabbits are so much like humans that we use them to test makeup on, doesn’t that mean they would feel pain, too?”

Advocating for species who cannot be their own voice seems to me the essence of advocacy altogether.

In the opening of my book, I describe this moment, “I am like two or three years old and my mom bought a donkey piñata for my birthday party. It is my turn as the birthday girl to go first and whack the donkey. I start crying hysterically because I don’t want to hurt the donkey.”

The picture in my photo album of that birthday is of me all blotchy faced from crying.

I would argue I never chose animals. I feel like I was born this way with this love and compassion for animals and ultimately, as I got older I realized that having them in my life was essential to my well-being and maybe that was THE plan all along.

When I think about my 50 years on this planet and the ups and downs I have faced, I do believe it was my entourage of animals who helped me get through the tough times. Whether it was my first dog, Spunky or my guinea pigs, Muffet, Muffin and Skunkers; my gerbils, Raggedy Ann and Andy; my ducks, Donald and Daisy; my first dog, Kailey when I got married or the dog who changed everything, Thorp – animals have been the presence in my life that made the difference. I think between the lessons they taught me and their love they made me a stronger person and a better human.

Not only were they there to snuggle or confide in, but later in life they literally led me down the path to make a life out of doing what I love.

I guess the thing about choosing animals or being chosen by them is that it is not a choice. I can’t think of a single animal advocate who would ever say, “I chose to rescue animals.” All of us have these stories about loving stuffed animals more than dolls, or saving stuffed animals at garage sales or playing school using stuffed animals, the list goes on and on.

I don’t think many of us a remember a specific day or moment where we chose animals.

There is just something inherent in our nature and in our hearts. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

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