Once upon a time in the summer of 2008, I interned at an animal sanctuary in upstate New York. It was by far one of the best experiences of my life, and certainly also one of the most transformative ones, but it was not without its growing pains. While living in the intern house for nearly four moths, a feeling grew within me that many people who dedicate them to animal issues are often in need of much healing, self-acceptance, and forgiveness. So many of the interns were on medication for emotional health or had serious self-esteem issues (including myself). It was a dramatic summer of people not only struggling against and with one another, but also with themselves. One intern left early due to the hard emotional and physical labor of caring for the animals, while others got in terrible feuds with their distant partners, or even fell into self-hatred and bewilderment.
I began to see some truth in animal studies literature that many people in western, industrial societies turn to animal others as emotional cruxes in a fragmented, disenchanted society. However, rather than thinking that animal others simply stood as surrogate humans, it seemed that perhaps there is something about animal others that gives us something more-than-human. It seems that we turn our attention to animal others when we cannot accept ourselves or other humans, or it is they (fellow humans) whom we feel have not accepted us. It’s no coincidence that animal therapy can be so powerful in prisons, with children, and in nursing homes. Animal others give us something few humans can give, even ourselves.
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