Baby Beaver being cared for
— by Susan B. Eirich, Ph.D. —
I recently listened to a reading by poet David Whyte about “beautiful heartbreak.” I immediately thought about the rehabilitation license we just received. It essentially guarantees heartbreak. But it is necessary. In some cases there is a moral imperative – to try to undo some of the harm other humans have done, sometimes deliberately and callously; other times by accident but none the less human-caused harm. Sometimes we just need to give aid to a helpless living being who needs it. If we don’t accept both halves of life, the joy and the sorrow, we are in a sense rejecting the nature of life, wanting it to be what we want, rather than accepting it on its own terms. Then we are preventing ourselves from living a full life, from learning all its profound lessons, and growing in depth and wisdom. This Whyte’s “beautiful heartbreak”, which inevitably accompanies love. And if we love, we have to help even at risk to our heart. Not to help costs our heart even more. Or perhaps even worse, costs our soul.
Another aspect of wildlife rehabilitation is having to face repeated wrenching questions and decisions. Do you try to help or is it too late and more merciful to put an end to a being’s suffering. What does the animal want and what forces is it capable of marshalling in its quest to live. Often we have been told by vets that one of our animals here at Earthfire is past saving, yet they lived. When do you make the call for another life? My own feeling is that the passionate urge to live is true of all life and thus these are grave decisions, not to be made through the lens of political correctness or personal emotion, but to the fullest extent possible, listening to the animal itself.
Fox Pup | Stock Photo
An interesting yardstick in examining this is how often we choose to put a human down because of his or her suffering. How and why is our reasoning different for animals? Based on what assumptions. Is that reasoning valid. To what extent are we willing to try to preserve the life of a beloved pet, and should that be different than the life of a wild animal with whom we don’t have that type of emotional connection. Does the animal deserve to live less and get less of our help. Do they receive the love poured into their recovery even if there is no personal connection. If so what is the essence of the healing power of love. Trying to rehabilitate wildlife pushes us to question our deepest assumptions about relationship and values. Yet being forced to examine these questions is a way to deepen our experience of life.
There is the trying and waiting and watching and hoping and giving it all you have including loving energy. The going against every instinct when you have a baby animal that needs nurturing yet should you give it? If you give it what it so desperately needs; love and comfort, it will bond to you and then how do you give it back its wild life? We have four baby coyotes here from different places whose history we do not know. So scared. So young. So in need of reassurance and nurturing and learning how to be a coyote. What do you do? A baby beaver whose parents were shot because they were eating a property owner’s trees, crying piteously when a bottle couldn’t satisfy its deep need for mothering. All you can do it to genuinely do your best for these little lives. And remember, as Whyte wrote in Consolations, “French philosopher Camus quietly advised himself to live to the point of tears – as an invitation to the deep privilege of belonging and the way belonging affects us…to be moved by what we feel….” Heartbreak helps us enter into the fullness of what Life is, in all its beauty and joy and sorrow.
For all these reasons, we embrace the totality of what receiving this license means. To give sanctuary. To give hope. To see that at the very least, whether they live or not, these injured or abandoned animals have been seen and valued and given love.
Dr. Susan Eirich is the Founder and Executive Director of Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center. A licensed psychologist, biologist and educator, her goal is to widen the circle of conversation about conservation to include the voices of all living beings.