by Laura Crum
Surely you all have seen these heart-wrenching pleas on facebook. A thin, miserable horse (always a photo) that will go to kill unless money or a home is immediately forthcoming. Usually the story that goes with the photo will bring tears to my eyes. I love horses. I would like to save them all. And I think you can easily see a small problem with that concept.
Because I’m now on facebook (and you’re welcome to friend me there) and some of my friends are involved in horse rescue, I see quite a few pleas to help rescue a given horse. Either with money, or time spent helping the rescue organization, or actually adopting a horse. I think most of what I personally see is quite legitimate (though I realize there are plenty of facebook scams)--people doing their very best to help horses. I admire what they are doing—but I don’t donate, let alone take on a time commitment or another horse.
And then there are people who need help. Just counting situations that I personally know of and know to be truly deserving people faced with a wholly unexpected medical crisis that is costing them more money than they could ever possibly come up with….well, I know of at least a half dozen of these situations to which I have given a donation. Let alone all the ones I hear about and believe to be real needs and good people. The thing is, I really can’t give any more money even to these legitimate and deserving causes. Even though I want to.
Why? Because we have lately had our own medical problems in our family and the medical bills are rolling in here, too. I don’t dare give away money I might need to pay bills I haven’t even seen yet. Let alone what the future holds.
I am a responsible person and I pay my bills. The last thing I want to do is put myself in the position that so many horse rescues seem to end up in—having taken on too many projects, spent more money than they really had, and are now unable to take decent care of the horses they are responsible for. And believe me, this weighs on my mind.
I have five horses here—the youngest of them are in their late teens. Having had a forever horse who lived to be thirty-five, I know how long a well-cared for horse can live…and I know for a fact that the cost of keeping these older horses in good shape goes up every year they live past thirty (usually). There is supplemental feed and daily drugs to combat arthritic issues…etc. And there is time spent blanketing and unblanketing and stalling and turning out (if that is your way of horse keeping).
One of the saddest things that can happen is a well-intentioned horse owner becoming so financially strapped that he/she CAN’T take decent care of an older horse that has been a beloved horse for many years. To see these horses thin and ill-kept, or even worse, at the sale and bought by the killers, is heartbreaking. I pray this will never happen to me. And so I husband what resources I have carefully, so that I can take good care of the responsibilities that are mine to deal with. I do not want to have to beg for help—ever. Though I also understand that I am not in charge of what happens to me and mine. But I can try, to the best of my abilities, to prevent a financial crisis from happening here.
The thing is, I feel guilty. When I read a heartfelt plea from someone I truly believe to be a good person in desperate need of help for a child or spouse, or trying to save a horse or dog that would otherwise die forlorn, I really WANT to help. I could spend all day sending money to such worthy causes, and it would make me happy. That is, I could do this if I lived in an apartment sans pets or family and had at least as much income as I have now.
In reality, our income is enough to support our family and critters and the land we live on—it will stretch to cover us for the occasional unforeseen veterinary, medical or other emergency. But it will not suffice for endless charitable donations, or for that matter, luxuries like shiny new cars or fancy clothes or vacations in Europe. We just aren’t that wealthy.
And still, I feel guilty. Because I could send a hundred here and a hundred there—to folks who really need it. And I have done that and I keep on doing that—and I feel guilty if I do and guilty if I don’t. I imagine a lot of you feel the same.
Anyway, having read a heart-rending plea on facebook for time spent to comfort a very sick woman recently, I am reeling with the conundrum of this guilt. My first responsibility is to take care of that which is mine, lest I end up like those horse rescues full of starving horses and become a burden on others. And not only do I not have enough money to make endless charitable donations, I do not have time to accomplish all that I am responsible for here and drive two hours each way to visit/spend time with this poor woman (who really needs the support). But I long sometimes for a simple life that would allow me the freedom to spend time and money helping others who need help. At the same time I absolutely love my little horse property and my life here with my critters and family. It is my lifelong dream come true. And it is this very dream-come-true that renders me too tied down-- financially, emotionally and time-wise-- to be able to do much for others. This is the reality. It puzzles me in a constant, sad way.
I have always been able to step up for the situations that came my way—the stray dog running down the street, the good friend that needed a helping hand, a few dollars to a homeless person I meet on the street. I call it the “good Samaritan principle.” The good Samaritan stumbled upon a man who had been robbed lying in a ditch. It’s important to note that the Samaritan wasn’t looking for people to help, or running a shelter. He was going about his business and stumbled upon someone who needed help—and he helped that man. And this is how I have tried to live my life.
But, because of the internet, I now stumble on far more “men lying in a ditch” than I have the resources to help. The good Samaritan didn’t bankrupt himself and his family helping the stranger. But if he had tried to help two dozen strangers, the Samaritan might have found himself destitute. In my mind, that would have been a wrong thing to do.
The hard part is that you don’t avoid becoming that rescue who needs rescuing by conserving your resources once you start to tank. By then, it’s too late. You stay solvent (financially and emotionally) by making careful, conservative choices while you still have plenty of resources. Which means you say no to those who need help when you realistically could give them some money or time. You just know that if you do (and keep on doing this) you inevitably WILL tank in the end. Where exactly do you draw the line?
There is no clear answer to this question that I can find. I want to be responsible for all that I have taken on; I also want to help those in need. The internet shows me so many who need help (legitimately). The only thing I have found so far is that I feel guilty—a lot. Even if I do donate…and also when I don’t.
Is there an answer? Those of you who feel as I do, please tell me how you resolve this puzzle.