This morning I awoke abruptly from a dream in which I wanted to get a toy for my brother’s dog. In the dream, I entered a pet store that appeared to be the exact same pet store that’s in a town a few miles from my house, the same pet store I used to frequent when I was a kid. It’s where I got all the supplies for my first hamster and I always enjoyed looking at the birds and the fish and the dogs and cats.
But when I was that young I didn’t realize that the cats and dogs–well, really puppies and kittens–behind the glass, forced to sit and stand on jungle gym-grade chain and rubber, with nothing but water and piddle pads, had such shitty existences. I hadn’t been in that pet store for years until I went in last October, wanting to look at the fish. I think I had blocked out the kittens and puppies from my mind–the thought of seeing them never came to me until I walked inside. Near the entrance, a shaggy-haired puppy was on the floor, surrounded by a shallow gate. I bent down to pet the puppy, who was very excited, and I was quickly overcome with grief and guilt and I had to leave. I ended up going to a public restroom next door and crying.
In this dream, I entered that pet store and looked at the birds but the birds weren’t even in hanging wire cages–they were trapped in glass cages and there were far too many in each cage, and white bird shit was caked on the glass. I was sort of able to shrug that off but then I saw the puppies and kittens behind the glass and I felt distraught. I woke up and just felt overwhelmed with sadness and also anger for even having the dream in the first place–if I can’t even have unconsciousness as a space free from the soul-crushing realities of animal neglect and cruelty, where can I go?
Here’s my problem: I am an extremely empathetic person and, in general, I feel nearly everything on a very deep and profound level, particularly pain, grief, sadness, guilt, and hurt. This is especially true when it comes to animals. And, in all honesty, it’s become fucking exhausting.
I follow a few pages on Facebook that post lost pets, animals that need homes, and animal rescues. Same goes for Instagram. I want to help–I donate regularly to my local animal shelters (as well as occasionally donating to non-local rescues) and I share the posts of the lost animals and the animals in need of homes. I really want to help and ideally I would be helping in a much more tangible way. But the bombardment of these lost, sick, hurt, and lonely animals is tugging at my core more and more each day. My heart can only take so much.
So what do I do?
It would feel morally wrong to unfollow these pages. I mean, fuck, they’re only trying to help these animals and they’re in no way trying to guilt trip anyone. It’s like I somehow need to train my brain to still care but not let myself get swept up in my own guilt for not being able to do more, and to train my brain into not letting myself feel overwhelmed with sadness over situations I cannot fix.
It’s just become beyond exhausting to see these things and feel these emotions every time I see them (which is multiple times a day). It’s exhausting and a little absurd, admittedly, to cry when I watch videos of animals. I do love those parts of myself–the loving, empathetic, kind, nurturing, I-only-want-to-help, parts of myself–but it’s clear that I also need to work on creating a stronger, more resilient part of myself to save me from the inner madness.
If any of you reading this feel similarly or deal with similar situations, I would love to know your thoughts.