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I’m plagued with chronic nightmares. I have been since I was a kid. They come and go. Sometimes I won’t have one for weeks, sometimes I have ten a night. They wake me up, screaming, shaking, shivering, sometimes so anxious that I have to run to the bathroom and throw up. They’re not pleasant things.

Sometimes I feel like I’m going out of my mind. Too many homeless animals, too many desperate pleas, too many cries of urgent and no end in sight. Politics and blaming and hate and competition. It’s exhausting and at the end of the day, I’m tired. Very, very tired.

Animal welfare sometimes makes me so happy, and other times, it draws the nightmares out. A couple weeks ago I had one of those nights, and the nightmare is still haunting me. I don’t know why, but I thought it made sense to share my nightmare here, maybe to release myself from it, maybe because compassion fatigue has been on the discussion board since the passing of Dr. Yin. It’s real, it hurts, but talking about it helps. Writing is therapy to me, so maybe writing this will help me get over this new bout of terror.

I was back at UNC, and I found a bunny sitting outside my dorm room door. It had a collar with tags on, and I brought it in, hoping the tags would lead me to the owner. Unfortunately, they were scratched beyond the point of making words out.

The bunny stunk. It was skinny, and it trembled in my arms like a newborn kitten. I decided the bunny needed a bath. (Side note: In working in animal welfare I know in realty that you should not give bunnies baths).
The animal was miserable in the bath and came out looking like a drowned kitten. Actually, throughout the dream I had trouble discerning whether the bunny was a bunny or a kitten, because the shape of the animal seemed to morph as the dream went on. 
I determined that I would take the poor little thing, now wrapped in a fluffy warm towel, to the vet and see if I could get it scanned for a microchip. I popped the bunny in the passenger seat of my car (which I never had at college). Somewhere along the way, I got distracted by a friend I ran into who was telling me all about the new play she was directing which was going to be about the Bosnian War. Hours passed in the hot North Carolina sun and suddenly it dawned on me that the bunny was still in my car, with the windows up. 
Sure that the animal in my care was dead, I tried to race back to my car, which was suddenly miles away. I was wearing a heavy backpack that weighed me down and the steep hills of the Chapel Hill campus slowed me. I panicked, my heart thumped, I could feel the sweat and the guilt and the self-disgust dripping off me. 
Amazingly, when I reached my car, the bunny was still alive, panting, popping its head out of the blanket. I heaved a sigh of relief and threw open the doors, turned the car on and cranked up the AC. When I was sure the animal would live, I headed to a vet. 
But for whatever reason, for whatever dream/nightmare way my mind wanted to punish me, no vets were open. I couldn’t find a shelter that was open, and I had no way of taking care of the bunny myself. It must be so hungry, and I started to cry, screaming out into the near-empty car that I don’t even know why bunnies eat (Side note: I do know what bunnies eat in real life). 
Somehow, in the way only dreams lead you, I was back in Philly, except Philly looked more like Atlantic City. The ocean breeze cascaded onto my face. There was a Petsmart that looked more like a casino. I went in and bought the bunny a new collar and leash, a little one, delicate and bright yellow, a spring color. 
Across the street from the Petsmart-casino was Philly ACCT, except it was a casino-like place too. It was a circular building and there were windows on all sides. The windows were lit up against the dark night sky, and women in smart flight-attendant like outfits with fake plastic smiles sat at the windows while people passed their animals through. Down a flight of steps was another level, except there were no lights, there was only darkness and worn out shelter staff with deep purple marks under their eyes from sleepless nights. They were the ones who were supposed to be adopting animals out. But no one was at their counters. 
Tears in my eyes, I approached one of the women at the brightly lit stand and said I had found this bunny and I didn’t know what to do because I couldn’t take care of it. She smiled and held out her hands. All around me, people were complaining about issues. This dog pees on the carpet, that cat scratches the furniture. None were sympathetic, none were upset. All passed their pets through the window to what I knew was their certain demise. And then they got up and walked away, never looking back. 
I started to cry harder and clutched the bunny to my chest. I knew they were going to kill it if I turned it over, but I didn’t know what else to do. I pleaded with the woman to please help me, to check for a microchip, to please find a solution, to please do anything but kill the bunny. And her fake smile melted off, and she shook her head and compassion shone through like a beacon. Then she pushed a button and lights started going off, like I’d just won the jackpot.
I never found out what it was. Because I woke up.