by Lexie Greer
Every other week I volunteer a few hours at a local animal sanctuary near my house. It allows me to reconnect with the land and animals in a roll-your-sleeves-up-and-get-your-hands-dirty kind of way. Last fall the sanctuary took in more than 200 cats, so most of my work consists of cleaning horse trough-sized litter boxes, wiping down climbing apparatuses, and mopping up wayward hairballs.
Recently the sanctuary took in a horse who had been used as a work horse. The piecemeal story I was told suggested she came by way of a heavy-handed Amish farm in Pennsylvania. Since I have a long-held, deep affinity for horses, I was anxious to meet her.
After my cat chores were finished, I headed down the dirt path to the paddocks which a handful of other rescued horses and donkeys call home. As soon as I came over the hill, I saw her; she’s a large horse, not hard to miss. But what I saw brought my heart to my throat and filled my eyes with an overwhelming ache of liquid grief.
In front of me stood the shadow of a once magnificent animal: matted hair, overgrown hooves, and most strikingly, her emaciated skeleton-like body. Writing this now brings up that same achy sensation all over again. Standing in front of her low-hung head, I swallowed the growing lump in my throat and spoke soft, quiet words of love to her. Ever so gently, I caressed her muzzle, being careful not to move too quickly for fear of startling her. Her body had already given out from under her twice since she arrived, and I wanted nothing to do with causing her any more misery.
As I spoke to her, I began to think about the person(s) who had done this to her. How is it that the human heart has the capacity to swell well beyond its own margins and hold such deep, deep love and yet also have the ability to shut off and participate in such horrendous acts of cruelty? Beyond everything I know, how is this possible?
As a humane educator, I feel that it is my job to know and understand this “how”, to explore the deep recesses of human capability and come out the other end where I always land upon my resolve that the answer to a more just, humane, and peaceful world is rooted in education.
And so, before leaving this beautiful animal’s side, I made a solemn promise to her, to myself, to the sleeping world afar: this is my life’s work, to educate others about ubiquitous cruelty; to bring compassion, love, and understanding to all; to illuminate entrenched, myopic thinking; and to shine light and knowledge on interconnected and invisible systems.
I don’t know if this sweet girl will make it; her body and spirit have been through so much. But her suffering is my suffering, and my heart will not rest until systems of cruelty have been uncovered and transformed.