From the horrors of a pandemic to those inflicted by climate change; from the hideous realities of systemic racism laid bare before our eyes to a sitting president’s attempt to overthrow an election, 2020 was one prolonged punch to the gut. George Floyd, and before him Eric Garner, and so many others, pleaded “I can’t breathe.” 325,000 Americans who died of Covid-19 were also robbed of breath by this merciless pandemic. Hundreds of millions of animals either burned or suffocated to death as global-warming induced fires raged, and metaphorically, we fought for air as so much that we held dear was taken from us. For me, George Floyd’s words—I can’t breathe—have come to symbolize both the centuries-long struggle of Black Americans, and the eruption that was 2020, the inevitable result of capitalism’s relentless march forward.
While I hope we can count on a more positive 2021, I acknowledge the lessons offered by the preceding year, a preview of what will worsen as long as we humans, particularly those of privilege, refuse to reckon with racism, and as long as we continue running roughshod over our planet and her inhabitants. If we ignore these lessons, we do so at the peril of life as we know it.
But for now, as I open my eyes on this first day of a year that promises to be brighter, I’m putting to bed the heavy emotions that accompanied one prolonged calamity after another, and I’m focusing on all the things I have to be grateful for. I encourage you, too, to take this day to take care of your heart, for I know that like mine, it could use a little TLC.
First, I am grateful for my peaceful warriors, a staff committed to our vision of a world free from suffering. While wrestling with their own private pain, each one showed up, day after day, giving their all in service to love. I am grateful to those who had to reinvent their programs on a dime as, overnight, the virus wiped out our plans, our messaging, and our most reliable sources of income, and I’m grateful to our animal caretakers—our essential workers—who show up no matter what: snow, blistering heat, or pandemic, to do their best for the hundreds of animals who call CAS home.
I am grateful for my partner David, always my shelter in the storm but never more so than in 2020. David has a rare ability to smile from the inside out no matter the state of the world, and I’ve never appreciated that capacity as much as I did in 2020. Whether a parent, a sibling, a friend, or a partner, I hope that each of you has a David in your life, and if you do, I hope you let them know often how much they matter to you.
I am grateful for animals. I imagine that if you’re reading this post, 2020 deepened your understanding of the power that animals hold in our lives. Your dogs and cats didn’t know that for much of humanity, the world felt like it was coming unglued. They were just glad you were at home so much. As the world tore at itself outside your door, inside, life for the lucky among us, was smaller, but peaceful. We wrapped our arms around our dogs, we encouraged our cats into our laps and said silent prayers of gratitude for the company of our furry ones.
And believe me, at Catskill Animal Sanctuary, our beloved animal friends were a welcome salve for our world-weary spirits. Our old white mare, Passion, greeted each day with gusto, despite receiving treatment for melanoma. Russell the free-ranging potbelly logged several miles a day in multiple trips to the compost pile, wagging his tale in giddy anticipation. Though I’ve seen him make this trip hundreds of times over the years, his eagerness—the bounce in his step, his figuring out how to shorten the distance by attempting to cut diagonally through the horse fields—delights me, every time. We laughed at the escapades of baby goats Chester, Arlo, Mollie and Levi (that’s a shade tent, Molly, not a trampoline. That’s a pig, Arlo, not the Loch Ness monster. And Chester, yes, those willow tree leaves are high above your head, but the back of an unsuspecting visitor makes a mighty fine ladder. Levi, the tractor is not really a toy, but play on, sir!) We watched in admiration as our elderly adjusted to the loss of vision, or to knees that just didn’t work like they once did. Sheep Christopher, for instance, born at CAS on Christmas Eve 14 years ago, stays closer to the main barn now, enjoying the company of his friend Laverne, the warmth of his cozy stall and frequent massages from his favorite humans. In other words, more than ever in 2020, while the lucky ones who call CAS home enjoy the comforts of a place that exists to ensure their happiness, we humans, just like you, have said our silent prayers of gratitude for the company of our furry ones.
As we have cared for them, they’ve kept our hearts intact.
Finally, I am grateful for you, for your generosity has allowed us to help thousands of beings over the last 20 years know what safety, comfort, and love feel like, and to support the global shift to veganism with programs like Compassionate Cuisine. Look for exciting growth in 2021!
We are still here, friends. We prevailed, and given all that was hurled at us, I’d call us all triumphant.
So, on this first day of 2021, do this with me, would you? Take your two hands, place them over your heart, bruised but still beating. Rest your hands there as you feel your heartbeat, as the skin on your chest and your hands warms to your touch. Take a deep breath, and say to your heart, with conviction:
Good job, friend. Good job.
There is much to do in 2021 and beyond to deepen our collective impact on behalf of the animals. We look forward to unveiling our plans in the upcoming weeks and months, but until then: here’s to our collective resilience, to a new year filled with promise, and more than ever, to our teachers, our friends, and our beloved companions, the animals. May we learn from them what really matters.
Happy New Year,
Founder & Executive Director of Catskill Animal Sanctuary