Of Kittens and Addicts
Yesterday I walked into an abandoned building, past eight people shooting heroin into their veins, past piles of discarded toys and clothes, and captured five newborn kittens and their mother. A shirtless addict who had just pissed into a pail in the corner helped me.
I drove the six cats to a home fifteen miles away to be cared for by a couple whose lives are in order. Thanks to the amazing generosity of many readers most of the veterinarian bills will be covered.
I felt for the first time in a long time that I had done something unquestionably good.
Still whenever my path detours into kittens I get an uneasy feeling that comes from this: Helping animals can be a distraction from helping people.
We do it because helping animals is ethically easy.
Helping people is not. Especially addicts. Our first impulse is to “save them,” but that is an arrogant presumption that we know better. I started to go down that path with Shelly only to realize I was doing it as much for myself as for her. The only person we can save is ourselves.
Eventually we realize the best we can do is stand by in a non-judgmental fashion making ourselves available should a person decide they want help.
Yet that is a thankless process that renders us feeling inert, with a nagging sense that we can and should do more.
So we save kittens, which is the right thing to do.
It becomes wrong if we use it as a way to forget the larger problem.