BOOKS: Circles of Compassion

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1995:

Circles of Compassion, edited
by Elaine Sichel. Voice & Vision
Publishing (12005 Green Valley Road,
Sebastopol, CA 95472), 1995. 226
pages, paper. $14.50.
“Know the difference between a
fairy-tale and a war story?”, asks a grunt in
Tom Suddick’s 1974 Vietnam War classic A
Few Good Men. “A fairy-tale begins,
‘Once upon a time.’ A war story begins,
‘This is no shit.’”

Circles of Compassion is a collec-
tion of war stories, all right, from the often
shellshocked and weary front lines of animal
control––and more especially, back rooms
where many of the authors reluctantly do
population control euthanasia. Yet none of
these stories begin, “This is no shit,” and
though many of the 39 authors have evident
talent, e.g. Julie Ann Mock and Rebecca
White, none write with the sardonic humor
of a Suddick, either. Some of their stories
are the sort found in fundraising newsletters.
Others may be told for therapy. A dash of
doggerel provides a lighter tone. The weak-
ness of the volume is that no author must rit-
ually assert, “This is no shit,” because noth-
ing here stretches the imagination. Ending
happily or sadly, the stories are predictable,
right down to the order and placement of the
last two vignettes: a volunteer performs her
first euthanasia, followed by the old saw
about how throwing starfish back into the
ocean matters, even though one can’t save
them all, because it matters to those one can
save. We need a fresher example, closer to
day-to-day humane work; and we need war
stories that involve not only bathos and
pathos and steeling oneself to do the job,
but also flashes of insight, such as San
Francisco SPCA executive director Richard
Avanzino’s realization that public unease
about euthanasia is a primary cause of pet
abandonment; Michigan Humane Society
cruelty investigator Tim Clements’ realiza-
tion that enabling animal collectors to keep
their pets in decent condition achieves more
than prosecuting them; or the decision of an
anonymous South African animal rescuer
20-odd years ago to try neuter/release
instead of repeating the endless round of
catch-and-kill. Only when the animal con-
trol war stories must begin “This is no shit,”
because they tell us things we don’t know,
will they begin to meet the test of literature:
in Ezra Pound’s words, “News that stays
news,” not just the daily poop.
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