Today I want to share about a subject close to my heart: compassionate conservation. Not too many people talk about this peaceful approach to conservation (though I hope they start), but recent heartbreaking stories in the news remind me, yet again, just how desperately all animals need better protections worldwide.
Managing wildlife populations is complicated; I get that. But the international field of compassionate conservation helps us to stay true to our ethics when it comes to solving problems where killing healthy animals in the name of conservation or cost concerns seems to be the only viable answer (case in point: the 44,000 captive wild horses the Bureau of Land Management just voted to kill). The foundational principle behind compassionate conservation is “first do no harm.” Imagine if more governments and agencies let this belief guide them in situations of human-animal conflict—more animal lives might be saved!
Today I want to share with you the story of a very special dog named Bailey, who found his way from the mean streets of Taiwan to the world’s leading holistic sanctuary for special needs animals. Bailey has inspired me and so many countless others with his courage and gratitude.
It was a heartwrenching diagnosis: “He’s paralyzed and incontinent. We might as well put him down.” The words of the vet filled the hearts of Bailey’s rescuers with sadness.
The abandoned Keeshond mix with fur as soft as a rabbit looked up at his rescuers with loving eyes. Could it be possible that this puppy, who somehow survived courageously on his own—even though severely injured—would now, although finally rescued, be euthanized in a vet clinic?
Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage. —Anais Nin
Some of my most difficult sleepless nights have been spent attempting to follow the Reiki precept “do not worry.” But as I have since discovered, this Reiki precept actually inspires us to find our courage.
It’s not easy to let go of worry when something is wrong with an animal we love. But fear does not serve animals well at all. When we live in fear, life becomes very small, as our thoughts focus on what is “wrong” It’s like a microscope that focuses in on worst-case scenarios and what might happen. And then we start going through many negative possibilities in our minds. Animals will often mirror our fear, becoming fearful or taking on neurotic habits. We all want to help our animals, but our fear gets in the way.
When we are afraid, it’s hard to connect to our animals because we build a wall around ourselves. Sometimes this wall is the fear itself causing us to withdraw, but sometimes this wall has a different label. We try to justify our fear by surrounding ourselves with “protection”—but in reality we are simply highlighting and nurturing our separation from the very animals we want to help. How can we truly connect if we are putting all of our energy into walls?
On the other hand, when we practice courage, we can expand beyond the limitations of fear. I find meditating with the Reiki precept “do not worry” to be very helpful with this. In meditating on this precept, I find my thoughts coming to rest in the space of courage. With courage, we face and walk through our fears to the space beyond them. Practicing courage doesn’t mean that we aren’t afraid; it just means that we are going to “lean into” our fear, rather than try to avoid it.
Practicing courage doesn’t mean that we aren’t afraid.
Let’s take the example of volunteering Reiki with shelter or sanctuary animals. We might be afraid to do this for many reasons. We might be afraid that we may see and/or hear an animal suffering. Maybe we are afraid we will want to take every single animal home with us. These fears may cause us to avoid shelter volunteering altogether. If we stay in that space of fear, then the shelter itself can become a monster in our minds.
On the other hand, if we push through that fear and go into the shelter, we can see many positive benefits: We can support animals to find stress relief and healing through our Reiki sessions; we can support the staff and other human caretakers through Reiki as well, so they can help the animals from a much better space (as we know, caregiver burnout is so high in shelters); we can also meet the animals one on one. In making personal connections with each animal, we will see courage in action: an abandoned cat that still loves people, an abused dog that is gentle and trusting, or a traumatized horse that seeks out human kindness.
In seeing the gratitude and peaceful responses of the animals, we can experience the healing power of love and compassion firsthand. By acting with courage, even when we are afraid, the shelter or sanctuary becomes a healing place that we look forward to going to, and fear loses its power.
What fears have you faced to help animals?