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December 24, 2022

A Street out of Reach: The Street of Too:Lessons in Advocacy from the Teachings of Stephen Covey

The morning is December cold. Two black-capped chickadees are pulling sunflower seeds from the porch feeders while pygmy nuthatches cluster on the suet. This Saturday it was fifty-five degrees, a respite from temperatures in the low teens.

It gives a chance for the body to warm and the mind to calm.

With all the happenings in the world, the mind needs a place to go for a while. To allow the energy to slow, the impacts of life to dissipate. My time in rescue dog advocacy elicits such needs.

As with any work we devote our hearts and minds to, we get clues when we need to take a pause. The past two weeks of breaking down in sobs and despair have informed it’s time to take another break.

I think of my favorite leadership-thinking author, the late Stephen Covey, who wrote of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, that the question one must ask of oneself in a meaningful situation is,

Can I do something about this? If yes — What?Does it lie in my circle of influence?

Or, as is more the case with animal welfare, Does it lie in my circle of concern, outside of my control, and something on which I will ruminate ad nauseum, driving myself down into that spiraling rabbit hole, until I disintegrate?

Where we put our energy is as crucial as how we relate to what’s happening. I still haven’t figured out a sustainable way for me to relate to the plight of rescue / homeless dogs. My feelings have always been that I have a responsibility to help as many as I can, that if a dog comes across my awareness, I must do something.

I suspect from reaching out to fellow advocates and animal lovers, that I am not alone. Animal lovers are forever helping where we can, feeling compelled to give voice in the silence, compassion to the suffering or honor to the lives fully lived.

Whether it’s to express their needs arising from the situation that they’re in from being in a culture failing or refusing to value their lives as they deserve, wanting to help those in dire medical need owing to occasions of cruelty or neglect, there is always emotion involved.

Helplessness is likely the strongest, the arising of which leads to deep, abiding despair.

And despair, at least for me, can lead to unbearable pain, thoughts of surrender and failure. Overwhelm, flooding.

And yes, even suicide, the ultimate giving up. In my life, I’ve become more familiar with such places of deep despair that I can name each of them as old friends. From trying too hard in volunteering at my local shelter to reaching too far to help in Texas, the place of Too becomes a familiar street I choose to walk down.

Psychologically and emotionally speaking, it’s the wrong street for a sensitive empath to walk down, a one-way avenue or even a cul-de-sac, promising no joyful or positive outcome. I become stuck on it, even stalled, expending more and more of the better components of myself, all of my joy and light falling away from me like parts of some old jalopy.

And then one day, after wandering down the street of Too, the old jalopy simply stops running.

Time and again, I’ve walked down that street. Each time, I get to know the houses a litter better. The yards become more familiar.

Is this house too deteriorated and worn to renovate, too expensive to warrant that kind of investment? How long will it take, and how much of an impact can I have?

Street dogs in Uganda? A far off, expensive proposition, far too much and out of reach, to make a difference. I’ll never get to walk inside, much less feel, the fur or warm breath of Kuriki, who succumbed to his infection at the ICU in Kampala, and I’ll never get to meet Kita and her pups, who all hopefully made it to the USPCA in Kampala.

So why did I even try? Modest resources spent to help dogs living halfway around the world.

I ask myself again, Why?

Because someone asked. A man named Sseguro, who is as in love with dogs as I, and living in a third-world country that treats them like vermin. Why should loving on animals be a privilege reserved for the developed world? Socioeconomic means have nothing to do with a sensitive heart, nor should loving and helping them be reserved like some elitist experience.

After due verification and ample video evidence, even What’s App chats, I felt compelled to help. This morning, I resist the self-judgment to make myself bad for doing so.

Instead, I’m just going to learn from the experience, which is important and relevant, because now, owing to the internet with a world exposing us to interminable need and a finite supply of modest means of me, more people are showing up with their hands out, pleading.

It all triggers my sense of over-responsibility. Now I’m not just walking down the street of Too, I’ve rolled out my sleeping bag and am setting up camp in a backyard. I think of my petsitting friend who had a panic attack in my living room one night owing to the trauma of rescuing sea turtles in Mexico. Locals there camped outside her tent to keep her inside, rifles visible, as others gathered sea turtle eggs.

I can still hear her wails, that life in animal welfare is replete with trauma and suffering.

Time and again, I’ve set up camp in yards on the street of Too. From the status of Spike at the shelter to the abandoned, paralyzed dog in the Rio Grande Valley to the dogs on San Antonio’s weekly death row to the twenty dogs the Southern rural Texas shelter just killed for want of homes to Kita and her pups in Uganda, they all come across my awareness like flashes in a lightning storm from which I cannot find safety.

I feel the emotional weight of all that need, the longing and the suffering and the love awaiting. My personal world darkens over like a microburst of pewter gray clouds pouring over the street of Too.

Then, I realize that once again, it’s time to roll up my sleeping bag, get up, and walk down a sunnier, lighter street, one that will lead to restoration and fulfillment.

And quite possibly, a street in closer proximity to my own home. I’ll be driving a mere hour to another local shelter come Saturday, sitting alongside my animal-loving husband in our Subaru packed with freshly-laundered blankets, Nubz treats and bone chews, and stopping along the way, to grab myself one of those expensive, foamy lattes.

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Denise Boehler  |  Contribution: 17,505