— Mahatma Gandhi
We traveled first to Sapa, Vietnam, two holistic veterinarians toeing the Chinese border with our trusty guide, Sho, a Hmong villager with limited English, on a hike through remote villages nestled between rolling stacks of neat terraced rice paddies amid dreamy wisps of clouds.
Perhaps she was assigned to us because she was something of an animal activist herself. “I no eat dog. I no eat goat,” she announced to us as we stopped to pet a mangy stray kitten. I felt guilty to know that even with limited resources and limited knowledge of our country’s biases, she spent energy to imagine what we valued: compassion for animals. She wanted to know about our lives in the states. What did we do? If we didn’t grow rice, what did we eat? What did our animals eat?
“Well, we help animals when they are sick,” I struggled to justify our careers after Sho had just introduced us to a villager sick with Hepatitis A.
I tried to explain veterinary surgery, although there was no human hospital for miles. “We might stitch up the dog’s wound and then send him home,” I said. This sent our guide into a fit of laughter, the beads on her colorful hand-stitched traditional coat jiggling with joy. Dogs in Sapa don’t go home because they don’t leave home, if they have a home at all. No doubt Sho never saw the Hollywood movie where the dog runs home, year after year after year.
It was refreshing to get a reality check on the daily pressures of my small world, the pressure of solving complex medical problems using only natural medicine. Clients want miracles yesterday, not today. But a dog’s body, like a human’s, can take weeks or months to heal.
In my job I am lucky enough to see far more lasting effects and deeper connections than I ever thought possible between animals and humans. I take care of therapy dogs trained to warn of an upcoming dangerous drop in their person’s blood sugar or seizure. When a dog dies, I’ve seen the elderly person die shortly afterward, grief’s grip too strong to overcome.
I’ve seen a kitten’s rolling antics and thundering curtain climb create laughter and solidify joy overcoming a family’s crippling sadness over losing their only son to Iraq. It’s not just domestic animals that heal us. Wild animals capture our hearts and give wonder to open our curiosity and our collective imagination.
From outside America, the moral compass shifts when it comes to the welfare of domestic and endangered wild animals. Along with the U.K., pre-Brexit, we were a good example for the world to follow. After ending commercial whaling worldwide, endangered humpbacks’ numbers have increased from around 4,000 in 1993 to 21,000, leaving tourists wide-eyed to feel the splashing magic of an encounter of a real breaching whale. Now with Trump’s ardent supporters and a news-media frenzy absorbed by American political dysfunction, we are losing this moral leverage. Why shouldn’t the Japanese resume commercial whaling when America now locks up 15,000 innocent children at the border? How can we take the high ground about anything when we are allowing these atrocities?
As a nation of ethical and moral Americans, we need to wake up to realize our important role in helping all those who depend on our kindness and our inherent generosity of spirit. We are in the middle of the Sixth Extinction, driven by climate change, dependence on fossil fuels, greed and lack of solid protection from private development of wild lands. We need to force the news media to let go of Trump, to let him fall into the hateful chasm that created him and hold onto what will outlast all of us, if we have the foresight and courage to save them: Our wild mustangs, our endangered Northwest orcas, the spiral-horned antelope, our beloved elephants, the Western bumble bee.