A Reflection on Dependency

A long time ago I read Bruno Bettelheim’s book A Good Enough Parent: a book on child rearing. He drew comparisons between agrarian families of yesteryear and modern urban families. 

The passage that sticks out in my mind was that he thought animals should be fed first at meal times; then babies, the infirm and elderly, young children and lastly, the healthy adults. Bettelheim’s order is based on the greatest to least dependency on others for their lives.  

In Jesus’ time, it was culturally accepted that in normal society widows and orphans were the most dependent on others. They had little or no status to protect them and were vulnerable to neglect or abuse with impunity. Jesus put the widows and orphans at the top of the hierarchy – like Bettelheim did with animals. 

Today, we consider the ‘widows and orphans’ to include groups of people who have emerged as similarly vulnerable to exploitation with impunity. Animals are also in this situation. They are the most unprotected of all life. Pope Francis and ecologists like Columban Fr Sean McDonagh have written about the destruction of the natural world and exhort us to stop and care for it instead.

Marcus Fillinger, a former Australian military officer, says he feels ‘huge empathy’ for the fear that animals experience when they can’t escape peril. He has used his marksmanship to tranquillise injured Australian native animals like kangaroos, so they can receive veterinarian care for burns from bushfires. 

Now he is helping rescue animals from the war in Ukraine. Once sedated, others evacuate them to safety. Many exotic animals have been left to die in backyard breeder compounds that were trading animals as commodities.

I have my own experience of rescuing an animal in a foreign country. On a trip in Crimea, my daughter and niece saw a stray dog with a gash in its leg. They fed it but it ran away. We searched for it over the next couple of days, knowing it needed veterinarian care. It was a sweet-tempered dog, black and white, and we named her Honey. They saw her again, curled up on the ground. But they had a commitment to a performance at that moment. So straight afterwards, they searched again and found her. Our hotel manager brought her car and we got Honey into it and took her to a vet she had contacted. 

The vet examined Honey and gave her injections. He had no room for her at the clinic until the next day, so the hotel manager let my daughter and I stay with Honey in her apartment while she stayed at the hotel. The next morning, she took us back to the vet. My daughter and I paid for Honey’s treatment in advance – the remainder of our spending money – and left her there. We went back a few days later. Honey was recovering and we took her for a short walk. We took many photos, including one of the whole group – the hotel manager, us, the vet and his nurses with Honey in front. 

We didn’t want Honey to go back on the streets. The hotel manager had the solution: a friend had a property in the country and he agreed to take her. Back in Australia, we received videos of Honey enjoying her new life. 

God, please give us the grace to respect the dependency of animals on us and to notice the ones that need our help. Guide us in our dealings with all who are involved. No matter what our circumstances, we know You will help us. 

Lucy Bastecky, March 2024

(About the author: Lucy Bastecky is an Australian who loves nature and appreciates the spirituality of St Ignatius. She enjoys creating biodiverse suburban gardens and has taken up drawing plants and the small creatures that live in and around them.)