One of the events that most moved me over the past year was the tragic and joyful life and death of Rosie the Chihuahua.
Rosie was the victim of a backyard breeder/hoarder who made money selling puppies, including from fashionable “designer” breeds. In their quest to create “teacups,” “merles,” and other designer dogs, many such breeders wind up with deformed and chronically ill dogs in their litters, and Rose was one of those. Along with her shockingly deformed muzzle, she also suffered from mange-induced fur loss, immune suppression, scoliosis, and fused leg bones. (Some of these conditions were from lack of care rather than genetics.) Looking at her picture, you can't even recognize her as a chihuahua.
Rosie grew up in a crowded, chaotic house with more than 40 dogs, where, despite her serious health problems, she never once saw a veterinarian. Who knows what successes of intelligence, insight, perseverance, resourcefulness, and plain old toughness she had to accrue just to survive?
Eventually, Rosie was rescued, and a wonderful woman named Cinnamon Muhlbauer adopted her.
She cherished Rosie, bought her toys, dressed her in fancy clothes, and took her outside to experience sunshine and breezes. She also told Rosie's story, again and again, so that others would learn never to shop from a “backyard breeder,” “CraigsList breeder,” or pet shop (many of whom acquire their puppies and kittens from backyard breeders). In the process, Rosie acquired a spectacular website and a Facebook page with more than 189,000 Friends.
You probably already know that I'm a crazy-passionate dog lover who would gladly adopt every dog in the world if she could, but I have to confess that adopting such a weird looking, unhealthy little dog as Rosie, not to mention being so public about having done so, would have given me pause. I credit Cinnamon with enormous successes of individuality, compassion, love, vision, and effectiveness.
In October, Rosie's many health problems finally caught up with her, and she died suddenly and unexpectedly of pneumonia, at less than three years of age.
Cinnamon is grieving, and many people who don't know her and Rosie, myself included, have grieved with her.
Part of me is reluctant to share Rosie's story and my feelings about her.
Is she really so important in the wide scheme of things? Are Cinnamon, I, and the hundreds of thousands of other Rosie fans out there merely “crazy animal people?” Aren't there plenty of humans out there more deserving of caring and compassion?
These are valid questions, and here are my thoughts on them:
Whatever the world suffers from, it is not too much compassion and caring. And whatever it is that allows hundreds of thousands of strangers to rally around a helpless and abused little dog must be part of the solution.
Martin Luther King, Jr., famously said that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and so surely he would have approved. (And perhaps at least partly for that reason his widow Coretta Scott King went vegan in the last decade of her life.)
I hope everyone reading this works to increase their compassion and consideration for the humans and nonhumans in the world around them. I hope more people open their hearts to worthy souls like Rosie, and more animal lovers (and we are legion) open their hearts to the many “non-pet” farmed animals who lead lives far more miserable even than Rosie's early life.
I'll leave you with two of my favorite quotes.
First, James Herriot, author of the All Creatures Great and Small:
"I had often thought when I encountered cruelty and neglect that there was a whole army of people who did these unspeakable things, a great, unheeding horde who never spared a thought for the feelings of the helpless creatures who depended on them. It was frightening in a way, but thank heavens there was another army ranged on the other side, an army who fought for the animals with everything they had – with their energy, their time, their money."
Then, George Eliot, from Middlemarch:
“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."
Here's to a successful, and more compassionate, 2014 for us all.