Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Helping Himawari

Welcome to the April 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Family Pastimes  
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories and wisdom about family pastimes.

I don’t know if empathy counts as a family pastime, but it is at the core of the life that we have chosen and the choices we make as a family. When Tiger first came to live with us I worried about his lack of empathy. Orphanages are by their very nature impersonal and proscriptive, and empathy is a skill that needs to be practiced, just like any other. Eight years in an orphanage had not given Tiger many opportunities to practice. 

 Before coming to live with us, he was fearful of our dogs. He was, he explained, a “cat person”. He very quickly succumbed to their charms though, and right from the start sought them out for cuddles when he was upset with the two-legged family members.  The dogs’ needs are fairly simple to understand, and Tiger quickly became adept at figuring out what they were feeling. In a way, his empathy practice began with dogs.

During the winter holidays we took him to the video store to choose some DVDs, and he picked out Himawari (a story about the fate abandoned dogs face in the city pound). I tried to dissuade him from renting it, but he was adamant, and in my worst parenting decision to date I gave in and let him watch it. It had been nearly a year since I saw the film, and although I remembered how sad it was I had not picked up, in those pre-adoption days, how disturbing the language was going to be for him. As the lead character searches to a home before the period of stay in the pound expires and the dogs go to the gas chamber, the word used is 里親 (village parents), the same word used to describe our relationship to Tiger. The abandoned dogs are 捨てられた犬, which has a connotation of discarded garbage, and I have heard people refer to children in orphanages in the same way- 捨てられた子. The film brought up a lot of upsetting thoughts, and for days afterwards he quizzed me on what happens to children who don’t find 里親. I reassured him that children don’t get gassed, but I am not sure he was completely convinced.

Two weeks before the spring holidays began, I was dropping Tiger at school when we noticed a dog in the play ground with a more than passing resemblance to Himawari. I sent Tiger running to the staff room while I tried to get rid of the kids who were excitedly chasing her around. He came back to say that the Vice Principal’s advice was to ignore her and she’d go away. Tiger tugged my sleeve and looked up at me. “She’s lost just like Himawari” he said, “we have to do something.” I had a million very pressing things to do that day, but he was right. Empathy without action isn’t really all that useful, after all, and I was proud of him for realising that. So he went to class, and I picked the dog up and carried her home to find a spare collar and leash for her. She was thin and dirty and obviously very tired. She rested her head on my shoulder and fell asleep.

I took her home and fed her, then walked her around the neighbourhood for two hours asking everyone we saw if they recognised her. She didn’t lead me in any particular direction, and no one knew her. Her mammary glands were huge and sore looking. I assumed she had puppies waiting for her and how long they’d been without milk. I didn’t know what to do. The nearest vet is a thirty minute walk from our house, so off we went. She was very tired so I carried her as much as I could and she took the opportunity to snuggle into me. She was heavy and my arm was burning, but I didn’t want to put her down. The vet scanned her but she didn’t have a micro-chip. I left my number, in case anyone came for her. Then we went to the police station. They made a collar and leash for her from crime scene tape, and a jovial bald giant of an officer fed her a box a sushi. 

After school Tiger wanted to go to the police station to visit her. I told him she probably wasn’t there anymore, and we checked the pound website. Sure enough, there she was. “I’m sure her people are looking for her” I told Tiger. The next day we checked again, and she was still there. “What if she’s gassed?!” He worried. We called the pound. “Please don’t kill her without telling us” we asked, “if it gets to that point we’ll do… something.” I woke up with a sore stiff arm and it took a few minutes to realise why. A left-over sensation, the weight of a life. A tired head nuzzled into my neck.

A week passed. No one came for. The swelling I had thought was milk was an infection, and the pound feared that no one would adopt her because of it. Tiger begged to keep her, promising to walk her every day. We can’t afford another dog, and with one resource-aggressive dog already in the house it wouldn’t be completely safe either. We searched for dog rescues, non-profits, anyone who could help. Tiger borrowed a stack of library books on dogs, including a book of recipes for dog food and a guide to nursing sick dogs. I’m so proud of him, and at the same time, I know that what we are teaching him will not set him up for happiness. When you see suffering you can’t un-see it. As I explained our latest elaborate plan to the man person (taking Himawari half way across Japan to Tokushima and the only non-kill rescue we had been able to find), he commented “you know I love this about you, but there are so many people with easier lives than ours who could be doing this stuff.” That’s the thing though; our lives aren’t easy because we are the ones who “do this stuff”. Much as I want Tiger to grow into an adult who sees the subaltern and acts to help when he can, I am painfully aware of how much easier life is for people who don’t care.
Was a bath REALLY necessary?!
Today we are going to the pound to ask them to release Himawari to us. We couldn’t find a single animal rescue in Kyushu. We don’t really know what we are going to do, but we will do something, because that is what our family does. Something, anything but nothing.

Our frantic search for help for Himawari has forced us to confront how little hope there is for abandoned animals in Japan.

HEART Tokushima, despite being over 350 km away, immediately reached out to offer their support. They are a genuinely non-kill rescue and are doing amazing work in hard financial times. They have an amazon wishlist and gift shop, you can sponsor an animal or you can make a once off donation.

Likewise, Animal Friends Niigata offered advice and support despite being very much too far away to help directly. They also need support.

As for Tiger and empathy, I don’t think I need to worry anymore. He has definitely joined the family pastime.
*** Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting! Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
  • 8 Reasons to Go Camping with Your Kids — The weather is warmer, and it is time to think about taking a break. As you plan your family vacation, Mandy of Living Peacefully with Children, guest posting at Natural Parents Network, explains why you should consider hitting the trails with your kids.
  • Crafty Cohorts — Kellie at Our Mindful Life enjoys crafting with her kids, and the skills they are learning.
  • 10 Hobbies For Families With Young Children — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama knows that finding hobbies families can do together (with young children in tow) isn't always the easiest of feats. She has compiled a list of 10 family friendly hobbies that children of all ages can enjoy and that won't break the bank!
  • Helping Himawari — Sophelia's family at Sophelia's Adventures in Japan share a passion for helping when a dog is abandoned at the nearby elementary school.
  • The 'Art' of Having FunMarija Smits shares some thoughts on family art and fun.
  • How we made our own Family Day — Lauren at Hobo Mama shares how her family celebrates the best day of the week, a chance for connection and adventure and endless possibilities: Family Day!
  • Our Family Hobby — Survivor talks about how animal husbandry has become her family's favorite hobby at Surviving Mexico Adventures and Disasters.
  • Sowing the Seeds of Passions — Christy at Eco Journey In The Burbs wonders if her interests, and her husband's, will shape her children's passions as they mature.
  • Harry Potter Potions Party — One of the best activities Dionna at Code Name: Mama has ever done with her family has been a Harry Potter Potions Party. She is sharing the resources she used to create their potion recipes, the ingredients and tools they experimented with, and the recipes themselves. Feel free to use and adapt for your own budding wizards and witches!
  • Pastimes Have Passed Me By — Kati at The Best Things takes a new perspective on projects that never get done.
  • Food as a cultural experience for preschoolers — Nathalie at Kampuchea Crossings finds that food is a good way to engage her preschoolers on a journey of cultural discovery.
  • 10 Reasons I Love Thrifting With My ChildrenThat Mama Gretchen has always enjoyed shopping, but with a growing family she's become more frugal and thus, her little ones are now in tow on her thrift store adventures.
  • Pastime with Family vs Family Pastime — You can share lots of pastimes with your family, but Jorje of Momma Jorje discovered a family pastime was much more pleasant for sharing.
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  1. Oh, I love this! I also have a hard time looking the other way about things, and have often said that if everyone felt it was someone else's responsibility, nothing would get done. Glad that Tiger has learned the difficult to grasp concept of empathy. Thanks for the wonderful read!

    1. Yes, I love Douglas Adams' SEP Field!

  2. Well that tugged at the heartstrings! I have been involved in animal rescue since I was a wee one. I have literally spent thousands of hours working with homeless and abandoned animals. Apparently it is in the DNA as my 5 year old wants to save them all. I love this post. I believe that helping the wayward animal is one of the best building blocks towards understanding and having empathy.

    1. Absolutely! I love this quote:
      The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.

      Alice Walker

  3. What a moving post! Thanks so much for sharing your difficult, but ultimately, empowering experience. I'm pretty sure that empathy is just an extension of sensitivity, and I'd guess that all humans have a measure of sensitivity (although it's very clear that some individuals are much more sensitive/empathic by nature than others). It may well be that unempathetic individuals have been 'desensitized' in childhood because of experiences or circumstances which can make it harder for them to become 'sensitized' once more. It sounds like you're a wonderful guide, Sophelia, helping Tiger to re-acquaint himself with his inherently compassionate nature.

    1. I guess the difficult thing about empathy is that it often requires imagining the point of view of someone who may be very different from oneself. For example, Tiger very kindly tries to share his flavoured yoghurts with me, which is generous, but I genuinely dislike them, which he can't quite wrap his head around!

  4. Wow - what a moving story. Two of my good friends are heavily involved with animal rescue organizations, and I'm continually amazed at the good things they do. What an incredible lesson your son is teaching everyone.

    1. It must be such a mix of heartbreaking and rewarding :(

  5. In most of Asia, animals aren't treated as they are back home (or back West). Strays of all types run amok here in SE Asia and "pets" aren't treated all that well. A pup so young his eyes were barely open fell onto our laps when our son was still an infant - not a good time to take on new responsibility! But we're happy we adopted him. Iko teaches our son all sorts of life skills, empathy being the prime one. Life is a gift, and Iko's story is a good one we like to repeat and build on for our son when he asks for a story, because there are so many life lessons that you can weave in.

    Great post - thanks :-)

  6. What an incredible post — children really do have that unbounded awareness of suffering without a corresponding awareness of resources, and it can be so tough to balance. I'm glad to hear sweet Himawari has been saved and hope you'll find the right way forward.

    1. Oh my, yes! His first week living with us he constantly asked us to adopt all of his friends from the orphanage too... it was very difficult to explain why that wasn't possible, when it seems like it should be so simple.

  7. This was really moving, and well written. I really appreciate how your multiple perspectives as parent, pet lover, etc. were interwoven into the post. I did, FINALLY, manage to acquire a DVD of Himawari btw, and haven't gotten around to screencapping... still interested in reposting your review, even after all this time, ha. No deadline for learning empathy, I suppose.

    1. Thanks! I actually noticed a few things I'd missed the second time around and I'd be very interested in your thoughts :)


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