This week marks the 104th year that the American Humane Association has led it’s Be Kind to Animals Week humane education campaign. It started as a poster campaign showing children feeding stray cats or caring for a dog to educate children about being compassionate to animals. They offered these posters to local humane societies and shelters to create their own campaigns, bringing awareness to the particular needs their community had.
Today, if you go online, you will see plenty of #BeKindtoAnimalsWeek with photos, stories, and ideas of how to be compassionate and kind. AHA recommends adopting a shelter pet, watching a movie that supports animal welfare on set or going to a certified zoo or aquarium. Others suggest going vegan for the week. Or volunteering to read a book to shelter dogs or visit with the cats. Set water out for the local wildlife or hang a bird feeder in your backyard. Some suggest taking the time to appreciate the pet in your life and doing something special for him or her (a sort of Mother’s Day for all pets.)
But how do we truly “Be Kind to Animals”? After 104 years, you’d think we wouldn’t need to be reminded, but that’s not case. Now more than ever as our faces are buried in our screens and our earbuds shut out the sounds around us, we need a refresher course on how to be truly kind, which is our natural setting. Being Kind isn’t about being; it’s about doing. It’s about paying attention to the world around us and getting involved in it.
Ken Foster writes in his book The Dogs Who Found Me regarding stray dogs, “My friends think I must go looking for them. Didn’t you just find one last week? Do people bring them to your house? I tell my friends they don’t let themselves see them because then they would have to do something. People ignore stray dogs the way they ignore stray people.”
Humans have an uncanny ability to deny reality if it does not suit them. And it’s easy to do with our personal distractions. Recently while walking along Chandler Blvd in Burbank with Tucker, I noticed a terrier racing through the people biking, walking and running. He was coming up fast on an inside track and at first I thought his guardian had chosen to ignore the leash law and was running with him. But then he passed the runner… and another… and a person on a bike. I stopped walking trying to assess why it was that not a single soul had stopped this determined dog running down the street as if he was being chased by a swarm of bees. I asked the nearest runner, “Is that your dog?”
“No, but he sure is fast!” he commented without breaking his stride.
Not knowing what else to do as I certainly could not catch the fast little canine, I yelled down the street: “Loose dog coming up behind you! Please try to stop him!”
To my amazement, two of the eight people turned around, spied the dog heading for them and set themselves in the bike path like goalies playing at the World Cup. The terrier kept pace, saw the two humans in his way, and quickly darted to the right, off the path and up a side street.
A person on a bike came up behind me slowly and said, “Was that a little white terrier?”
“Yes!” I asked hopefully. “Do you know where he belongs?”
“No, but I saw him cross Buena Vista Street a little while ago.”
She carried on before I got over being dumbfounded and could put together comprehensible questions like, “Why didn’t you stop him?” or “Did you tell anyone?” or “Did you call the shelter?”
Tucker and I were the only ones who went off into the darkness of the side streets trying to find the speedy canine. Thankfully the two people had stopped him from running into the cross-traffic at Hollywood Way, but I had no idea if the dog was actually safe.
We gave up our search after an hour, went home, and went online to post the info about where I had seen the dog in case anyone online was on the lookout.
It was disheartening to witness so many people joining in what David Gilmour of Pink Floyd called “the turning away.” But it wouldn’t be the first, last, or only time I experienced it. Like Ken Foster stated, it’s easier to not see because once you see, you have to do something. But even those that see, often choose to do nothing.
We can list a lot of ideas about how to be kind to animals, but it all starts with those two things: seeing and doing. In David Gilmour’s words, “It’s not enough to just stand and stare… Don’t accept that what’s happening/Is just a case of others’ suffering.”
You can’t always stop for every loose dog. But you can take a moment to try to find someone who can; call the shelter and ask for help; alert others nearby; honk a horn to make drivers slow down. When we get caught up in our own lives we forget that the world around us is part of that life and we, a part of it. We forget how one moment can change the course of someone’s life completely—whether that someone is a dog, a cat, or a human.
Being Kind to Animals isn’t just for one week a year. It’s for every moment of every day. All it takes is looking outside yourself, seeing a need that exists, and acting upon it. Most animals taken into custody from abuse cases aren’t victims of overt cruelty; they’re victims of neglect. It could be caused by a person who started with good intentions to save animals but ended up taking too many in and becomes unable to care for them all. Or it could be a family who has left their one dog in the backyard chained to a doghouse day after day. Or it could be that someone adopted a rabbit or guinea pig and did not know how to attend to all their needs.
Be present. Really, truly see one another. And then do something. Notice the dog panting without water tied up outside a grocery store and bring him some. See the stray cat crawl under the porch and leave food out for her. See the child crying alone outside the schoolyard and ask if they need help. Don’t just turn away and go about your day.
Put yourself in the paws or wings or shoes of another and imagine what their life is like and what they need in that moment. Use the greatest gift you possess, the infinite commodities of yourself and your time. They’re the currency of compassion.
Kindness is an act, not a state of being. It is one lone act after another and another. If we each pledge to do just one act of kindness each day, together we can build a world of compassion. #BeKindtoAnimalsAlways
Stephanie Wescott is a freelance writer whose mission is to save animals’ lives through story. Although she hails from New England and resides in Southern California, you’ll mostly likely find her somewhere in between on the open road with her canine companion Tucker, searching for trails to hike and stories to tell. You can follow their tracks and read their tales at www.alltuckeredout.org.