It’s been an emotionally fraught fortnight, for women in particular — torn between the conviction of Harvey Weinstein (and the potential precedent this sets for other powerful sexual predators), the sentencing of the killer of Grace Millane, a young British backpacker who died in New Zealand, and the absolute horror of a man in Queensland murdering his ex-wife Hannah Clarke and their three children in a car fire.
I have found it difficult to process my emotions: should I be feeling relief that the men responsible for these crimes are being brought to justice, or fury that the crimes continue to occur on an alarmingly regular basis? As a close friend texted me after Hannah’s murder — someone who has fled a domestic violence situation with her children herself — a woman is killed by an intimate partner every week in Australia, and only rarely does this make the news.
For a week, I have tried to write on this subject and each attempt was thwarted by the thought that there was nothing I could say that hasn’t already been said, even by me. Instead, I have found myself focusing my anger and my energy on the euthanasia of our foster dog by a large animal welfare organisation.
Until this situation happened, I did not set out to be an animal rights activist. Don’t get me wrong, I strongly support an end to animal cruelty, but it was not an area I was particularly knowledgeable about. And to be honest, it is not the issue I would have chosen to advocate for — not because I don’t care about animals but because there is so much cruelty in the world that I feel easily overwhelmed when thinking about where to even begin.
And I have some perspective. I know that, as much as we loved our foster greyhound, he is just one dog. But his death has affected me in ways I didn’t expect. For one thing, we have just come out the other side of a nightmare bushfire season in Australia — for months, we were haunted by nightly news broadcasts of a billion dead and dying wildlife, from screaming koalas to roads littered with the carcasses of kangaroos that failed to escape the flames.
Across the country, many of us carry a kind of trauma after this experience — whether or not we have been personally impacted, these images are seared into our brain. They bring with them eco-anxiety and solastalgia, or “the feeling you get when your home is wrecked”.
In the midst of a summer of intense grief, my partner and I made a phone call to the RSPCA to try and save one dog. We were too late, as the organisation had already euthanised him. My feelings of hopelessness about watching the country burn around us were compounded — not only was I unable to do anything for all the dead koalas and kangaroos, but I couldn’t even stop one single dog from being killed.
But my anger runs deeper still. Every response from the organisation — their justifications and non-apologies — every email I’ve received from an ex-staff member or volunteer detailing their experiences on the inside (and there have been many) only exacerbated my rage.
We have created a system of massive inequality, in which large non-profit organisations function like faceless corporations. It is a system which benefits the people at the top at the expense of those at the bottom — whether they are workers treated like robots at a warehouse, domestic animals that are bred and killed in the hundreds of thousands each year in Australia alone, or people fleeing abusive partners who are left unprotected. It is the same fucking system at the root of all these injustices.
I am not drawing an equivalency between the euthanasia of a greyhound and the murder of a family or the climate change-induced bushfires. But unless we tackle a system that puts profits before people, animals and the environment, then nothing is ever going to change.
It takes a lot of work to dismantle a system — and the collective willpower and efforts of a lot of people. I have never really known where to start with that work as an individual, given the difficulty of even grasping the scale of the problem. But a very small part of it has been forced upon me by the particular circumstances I have found myself in. It probably isn’t the part I would have chosen, but it may be the only opportunity I have.
That’s why I care about the life (and death) of one dog. Because it isn’t just about one dog.