Diving into the world of animals which live in close relationship with humans can bring up as much anger, sadness and deep enquiry about life as it can bring happiness, fulfillment and joy in moments of connectedness and situations of true, caring animal husbandry. Shared silence, genuine play, letting go of expectations, and being open to what life and an animal companion have to offer to us, rather than what we want from them – under these circumstances our needs are met, often without much effort. This is a big topic. Let’s dig into it.
Starting mid-November I have spent one month volunteering with Vrouva Animal Sanctuary on the Greek island of Aegina, 20km from Athens. This is, by the way, where the photos in this blog post were taken. What a deep time that was. Vrouva is a place for old, abandoned and previously abused work and stray animals – horses, donkeys, cats, dogs, chicken, goats, sheep, 2 pigs, a cow, rabbits and a pigeon. I shared a property with about 150 animals day and night, and a small community of fellow volunteers. Much of what I am writing today is a sharing of insights from these 4 weeks – the conversations we had, the stories of pet and work animals in Greece and abroad, moments of incredible connectedness, shared silence and joy as well as reflections on euthanasia, sterilisation, quality of life, topics which we were directly confronted with.
Animals – living beings or commodity
For true animal husbandry to happen we will have to rethink our language and the ways in which we connect with animals, live in relationship with them, and separate from them. Today many people purchase a pet in exchange for a certain amount of money, then call themselves owners of this pet. The animal is expected to function in a particular way which suits the owner’s needs and situation, and may even be disposed of by abandoning it on the street, in a forest, at a rubbish dump, or at the next animal shelter if the relationship does not work out.
Work animals such as horses and donkeys are often fed, watered and cleaned – covering the most basic needs only – as long as they function. Once their job is done, the animals are either abandoned, or killed and disposed of somewhere, or sent to a slaughter house to be processed for human consumption. The animals might even be neglected and abused for a large variety of reasons. In many places this is harsh reality. Similarly the killing of unwanted roosters and hens that no longer lay eggs is common practice. We have to ask ourselves, what does it mean to respect life? Is a living being something we should exchange for money? Can a financial value ever represent true companionship or the gift of life itself? Of course not.
What about the animal’s right to decide about his/her life or death? What about his or her true needs? Who are we to believe that our needs and solutions are better than, and above nature’s ways? Are animals a resource, or a wonder of materialisation of the essence of this universe into form – the same essence, material, music and light that we are made of? Exchanging life for money is slavery. For how much longer will we tolerate slavery on this planet?
Projecting our needs, emotions and obsession with safety on animals
Humans have an obsession with safety which is rooted in disconnect from nature and trust in life. If we can’t hear ourselves because we are run by societal and other patterns rather than our own wisdom, then we will likely encounter injury, disease or other forms of harm. Our natural means of taking care of ourselves are lost and need to be replaced by external rules, structures, insurances etc. which limit and control our lives and possibilities massively, and will never be able to mimic true safety. When humans are humans, fully functional, they tap into skill sets which we have forgotten about and no obsession with safety is needed.
Unfortunately external means of creating a fake version of safety have been adopted as normal not only for ourselves, but these apparent needs are also projected on our animal companions. If you are able to hear an animal, able to connect with him or her, you have likely realised that animals do not have thoughts like we do, and do not function in ways which prioritise safety. They live authentically and in the moment without the limitations of worry about what may go wrong and feelings of regret when something unexpected happened that may be labeled as negative by us. Who are we to interfere and decide for them?
For example, at Vrouva Animal Sanctuary someone told me a story of how he took a blind, young and hence small cat from the street to the shelter to provide a safer home as this little being seemed so vulnerable. Clearly he must be scared and unable to take care of himself, having little chance to survive. The shelter was far away form the place on the street where the cat had been picked up and yet the cat left the shelter and was found back in his original place a few days later. He was so determined (and skilled) that, even though blind, he navigated his way back. He had a completely different perception of his situation, and a completely different preference with regard to his environment than the loving person who wanted to take care of him.
While esp. in urban environments certain ways of supporting pets in navigating there surroundings can be healthy and necessary, such support needs to come from a place of connectedness with ourselves, not from the patterns we have been indoctrinated with. The same is true for needs and emotions in general. There is so much projection of what is happening for us and how we perceive this world onto pets. It’s a disconnect from reality which does not improve our relationships with our animal companions.
It is incredible how we meet many of the same challenges when engaging with animals that we also encounter with fellow human beings. Setting boundaries is so important. Sharing a space with animals requires structure, clear communication of what is OK and what is not, and a sticking with these boundaries. Otherwise community turns into chaos, animals (or humans) are confused and misunderstandings and conflicts prevail. If our loved cats are not allowed on the dinner table, then this rule needs to be adhered to with determination, to give a classic example. The stories around the difficulty of human beings to set boundaries can easily fill a book.
When we are genuinely connected with ourselves and free of patterns rooted in societal, educational and other programming, such as shame and guilt, then setting boundaries becomes natural, easy, is rooted in nature’s love, and creates a loving, nourishing relationship with animals, as clear messages can be understood and integrated. Collaboration with a professional, trustworthy pet/animal trainer can be a great way to connect more deeply with, and better understand our four-legged friends and ourselves. The two go together.
The importance of play
Play is something many types of animals engage in a lot when they are comfortable and their basic needs are met. This is esp. true for pets since their possibilities and needs to take care of themselves are much reduced compared to wild animals. Food and water are provided, the possibility of attracting a partner of the other gender, mating and raising young is rarely given, shelter is already there. Hence boredom and loneliness have become a major reason for suffering for our animal companions, esp. when we don’t have much time to share due to jobs and other responsibilities. It is therefore so important to create possibilities for play, not only for the animals but just as much for us. Play is something we have almost forgotten about as adult beings. It is something kids do according to educational programming. Really? No. Play is a huge and deep aspect of life, an opportunity to find back to ourselves. Here is where we can relearn our natural behaviour through animal companionship. Play is a means to connect with each other, to exercise and keep our bodies healthy, to be in the moment, taken out of our heads. Play can bring so much joy and many animals love it. It is a barometer for their happiness in homes, shelters and on the streets. It is a gift they love to give a lot.
Animal shelters are much needed and some of them are truly making a difference to the quality of animal life on this planet. But reality shows that many shelters and caring individuals, even when starting out with the best of intentions, often end up taking on more animals and responsibilities than can be handled, leading to overwhelm and the breakdown of the caring structure on many levels. As a result our animal friends find themselves in terrible conditions, sometimes worse than their original situation on the street. I have heard stories from reliable sources, and seen pictures of pets being rescued from small cages filled with excrements and urine to half of their hight – the animal half dead. This means the most basic needs of the animal have not been met. Healthy relationship involves much more than providing water, food and clean shelter. This exemplifies how far we have separated ourselves from true animal husbandry on this planet. What I have described here is not uncommon, not an extreme example. It happens regularly in countries and regions where stray animals are common and people try to improve the animals’ lives.
Our animal friends are not here to exist or somehow survive; they are here to thrive. The Earth in her natural state is a planet of health and abundance. And this is what we are currently reestablishing. Let’s not settle for anything less for our decisions in these times determine what will soon be our reality. Animal companionship can be extremely nourishing for both sides if there is mutual understanding and respect. Human beings are fully capable of deeply connecting and communicating with all life on this planet such that we are living in a web of mutual enhancement. What we can do together is beyond our imagination. This is the way we are headed as a result of current frequency changes on this planet.
Here are two positive examples of animal shelters in Greece both of which have volunteer programs and donation options:
- Vrouva Animal Sanctuary https://www.vrouvafarm.org where people truly and passionately care about animals to the best of their abilities, and work in this field because it genuinely is their path – it is what they are meant to do in these times.
- Takis Shelter https://takisshelter.org/our-story where you will find free running dogs on a large piece of land covered by olive groves, on the island of Crete. Have a look at the documentary. It is very much worth watching and gives insight into current realities and the difference we can make.
Crated dogs and broken societies
We often believe that pets are happy once they have found a home. Not so. Rather than understanding the animal’s needs, we often seek orientation for their treatment based on the practices of other pet ‘owners’. In healthy societies and communities, this may be a reasonable starting point. Our societies are far from healthy though. Here is an example. When living in different provinces of eastern Canada I repeatedly encountered the same situation of dogs being kept in crates not much bigger than the animal, all day long while their supposedly caring human companion was at work. When confronted with my pointing out of the cruelty of this practice the answer was always the same: “but everyone I know is doing it”. So this then justifies animal abuse? We have been programmed to disrespect and abuse life to the point of not even recognising such behaviour anymore. We have been programmed to not question our societies, institutions, governments – it all goes hand in hand. And it’s time to wake up.
Should animals ever be kept in a cage? Can it be ethical to keep a pet without access to the outdoors such as in city apartments? If we are truly connected with ourselves and our pet such that there is a relationship of mutual understanding, would it be necessary to walk our dog on a leash, or is that a sign of the disconnect between human and animal beings? Just asking…
Quality of life and euthanasia
When at Vrouva I was unexpectedly confronted with deep existential questions similar to those I was facing years ago when taking care of elderly people who were not aging happily or healthily. When we take animals out of their natural environment and expose them to urban habitats which are marked by heavy technology influences (electric power grids, wifi etc.), they do not necessarily die when they naturally would. Like humans, animals may end up in situations when their quality of life is much reduced due to old age, disease and unhappiness. These are difficult situations to navigate. Since these animals depend on our decisions to a large extent we have a responsibility to take care of their needs incl. the need to pass on. And yet I see so much abuse related to this topic where euthanasia is either aggressively rejected as cruel for religious, spiritual, or other reasons disconnected form nature, or it is carried out by veterinarians as a standard protocol as soon as a more difficult disease or injury is diagnosed. When we are connected to ourselves, to the source of life, the very essence and wisdom of this universe, then we make case to case decisions rooted in what our body tells us and what nature decides. We are likely to genuinely pick up on what is in alignment with the animas’ wish because we are deeply connected with all life, including that of our companion. This is true animal husbandry.
In many situations and geographic areas where stray animals are plentiful sterilisation seems to be the only way to control cat and dog populations such that somewhat healthy coexistence of humans and animals is possible. This is not easy to accept. Sterilisation – the removal of body parts – has major impacts on the animal’s life including on their behaviour, hormones, the ability and right to decide for themselves about their reproduction etc. The surgery which is often carried out in crude ways, commonly leaves behind injuries and infections which are a major cause of death in stray animals. In some geographic areas the despair is such that even unborn puppies are removed from mothers wombs, obviously causing major trauma (often also for the veterinarian). How can we move past the removal of body parts of animals to ensure a healthy community life with fellow animal beings? If you have ideas and suggestions, please contact us. This is something I will personally research more deeply as it is a huge cause for suffering and interference with animal rights and lives.
Even though there are very positive examples of true animal husbandry, it is my personal observation and experience that most pet animals are suffering deeply whether they live in homes, shelters or as strays on the streets of our communities and cities. There are many reasons which include:
- projection of our emotions, needs and notions of home, safety and happiness on animals
- disconnect of animals from natural environments esp. when kept without access to the outdoors
- animal boredom
- unhealthy industrial food causing disease & food addictions such as common kidney disease in cats – cats like many other animals are very lively when fed healthily while sleeping most of day and night when overfed and food becomes their sole focus in life
- disconnect from their human companions who do not understand the needs of the animals
- expectations that pets fulfill our personal perceived lacks, such as lack of love, or companionship, and conduct themselves in a specific way according to human needs
- inability to communicate healthily with animals and to set and maintain proper boundaries
There is so much more to say about this topic but with the above I am hoping to offer some insight into areas where we can start to look more deeply at ourselves and our animal friends. Can we take the time to question more deeply the situation of our pets at home, the history of the meat which ends up on our plate, the source and composition of the food we provide for our animals as food? Can we take the time to consciously decide what we want to support and how we want to engage with life on Earth? I hope so, for this world needs a lot more of that. In these times we need to deeply question the practices in our societies, the things we have been taught as facts when we grew up, the stuff that everyone is doing.
What is true animal husbandry? When you can hear yourself, then and only then can you hear your animal too and respond to his or her needs rather than solely to yours and your projections. An uncomfortable truth? Go deeper…
A poem for you
This poem materialised at Vrouva Farm on Aegina Island, Greece, a few weeks ago.
Nature – a game,
never the same.
bringing people in rage.
Anxiety for tomorrow,
no trust in life,
or feeling for what is right.
Obsession with safety,
of nature deprived.
Those who are their light
don’t need protection, nor do they die.
They are shaking their heads
at the confusion and ungroundedness.
Deeply connected with the Earth,
embodying one’s worth,
the essence of all life
blows away that fear and any need to strive.
Life happening by itself,
a miracle to be held.
The most precious gifts
arriving as the weight finally lifts.