Empathy is Boundless

As a longtime horsewoman, I’m thrilled to know that Barbaro continues to recover as well as could be hoped from his complex and arduous surgery. Horse-racing is a sport that rips your heart out with the high rate of injuries to horses and jockeys. That said, this attitude really irked me:

Regardless, as one person noted, one would expect a greater concern for the health and access to health care of fellow human beings, not of a horse.

“When I first saw the headlines and the coverage on Barbaro, I thought, ‘Where are our priorities?’ This horse is probably getting better care than many Americans living in medically underserved communities,” said Dr. Adam Aponte, medical director at the North General Diagnostic and Treatment Center in New York. “Barbaro’s Injury Provokes Deep Empathy, but Why?” at ABC News

You know, it’s not a question of either/or. It’s possible to be worried and upset when one witnesses a horrific injury occur to a dumb animal. In fact, I’d argue that not to demonstrate some sort of concern at that would be seriously disturbing in a personality. And it’s not as if our concern for this horse takes away from our concern for other people. I would even venture to say that it might increase that same compassionate instinct. One can care for injured animals and do something about the poor and underserved. Humans have an infinite capacity for caring. Unfortunately, as in the case of this fellow, we also seem to have an infinite capacity for self-importance and grandstanding.

12 Responses to “Empathy is Boundless”

  1. Barb Says:

    Hear, hear! I would argue that an inability to feel empathy for an animal indicates an inability to feel empathy for anyone, or anything. Yes, it is a shame that not all Americans can get the kind of medical care Barbaro is getting, but *that* is the problem, not the horse getting necessary care!

  2. Lisa Says:


    As somebody who writes about environmental justice and ethics, it just rubs me the wrong way when people set up these dichotomies. Yes, it sucks that people don’t have access to medical care. I’m with you, fella. But no, absolutely everything does not have be about humans; a capacity for mercy matters even when it is applied illogically or inconsistently. Mercy and compassion are precious things. Would that we could direct it when it happens towards the issues we feel are most pressing–but it doesn’t work that way (which, alas, is often unjust).

    It is a rotten fact of our horse racing industry that many of these animals are destroyed for meat when they can no longer race; few tears are shed about this. We are often inconsistent in our care for one another and for animals (some sleep in the bed, others get slaughtered and eaten). We could, if we wanted, belittle Dr. Aponte’s concern for those who are medically underserved but who still have housing, food, and clean water in a world where many lack these basic necessities as well as medicine. Alas, he would probably shoot back that he cares for those people as well–just like many of us who would have animals treated well would also desire access to health care for those without.

  3. meg Says:

    Particularly since Barbaro would need surgery except that humans gave him the job of entertaining humans.

    That said, the breast-beating over lost pets during the worst of the Katrina disaster, when humans were in a terrible state, really stuck in my craw. Not because people were making the animals-are-of-equal-status argument (that I could respect) but because it was all about the cute fuzzy-wuzzy. And my hierarchy of value has no place for the fuzzy wuzzy.

  4. Anastasia Says:

    To be honest, I had the same reaction. This horse probably *is* getting better care than some people in this country. That doesn’t mean the horse shouldn’t get the surgery, but it is a worthwhile observation and something that immediately sprang to mind.

    the second thing that sprang to mind is that the owners want to preserve the horse so they can continue to exploit his physical capabilities to make money.

    I do feel for the pain of the horse and I think the practice of euthanizing horses over broken legs should fall by the wayside as our ability to treat their injuries increased.

  5. Eliza Says:

    You should check out Tim Woolley Racing - he is located at the same yard as Barbaro [I designed and hosted his site thats how I know of him] and they are posting the most up to date information there you will find.

  6. Eliza Says:

    Oops link


  7. ancarett Says:

    Thanks, Eliza, for the link! That’s a really nice website and I’ll make sure to check back in there to see what new is most fresh.

    And thanks to everyone else for commenting. Barb, you’re spot on, there. It always makes me feel a little queasy when people say “well, it’s just an animal” because, hey!, so am I! I agree with Lisa and Meg that especially since Barbaro was injured in pursuit of human entertainment, that his care ought not to be begrudged. And Anastasia? Thanks too for your comments. I know that I’m not giving up my advocacy for the U.S. to institute accessible healthcare for all, especially after living twenty years in Canada where I am happy to pay the taxes that support that system, but I can also be there to advocate for animals (and, while we’re at it, safer racetracks if horseracing is to continue).

  8. meg Says:

    There certainly is a lot of foofaraw about Barbaro’s surgery — the media’s full of it today, and apparently the address for sending the horse get-well cards has been swamped.

    While I absolutely believe the horse deserves the best surgery (indeed, for all creatures “deserving X” = “deserving the best X”), I find the obsession with his recovery rather ludicrous. Sending him teddy-bears? Puh-leez. I don’t know nothin’ ’bout no psychoanalysis, but it sure sounds like transference to me.

  9. Another Damned Medievalist Says:

    I also draw the line at sending gifts and get-well cards. But in my perfect world, people who mistreat animals would be in jail …

  10. Eliza Says:

    Ancarett; No problem. Its actually an old design - we’re planning a make over at the moment, hopefully to be implemented next month. Make it a little more up to date etc.

  11. Anastasia Says:

    Well, I do agree that the horse deserves our empathy and whatever level of care is required. I think I’m not so sure about horseracing. I did think to myself that if they didn’t stand to lose a lot of money maybe….but that’s just my cynicism re: exploiting an animal for profit.

    I’d happily pay the taxes!

  12. Anastasia Says:

    I mean maybe they wouldn’t be so concerned to save him. that was unclear. sorry!