This interview has been condensed and edited.
PRISCILLA FERAL: Christine, I love your emphasis on “how to move beyond the weight of the world.” Is it a burden to care deeply for animals?
CHRISTINE BERK: Caring deeply for animals isn’t a burden when the relationship is direct, such as between myself and my dog. Caring deeply for animals can become more of a ‘burden’ in the broader context of how society cares for animals.
Rescuing cats is the easiest part. Affording their vet and daily living care, or finding foster and adoptive homes, is the real work. The sheer number of animals in need of sanctuary is overwhelming. You move beyond the weight of the world by knowing you are doing what you can to be less of a burden to the world and its inhabitants. A hug from someone now and then goes a long way.
PF: How do we keep functioning well while being conscious of so much violence in the world – whether it’s deer-hunting, dog-beatings, horse rapes, or other miseries?
CB: Resilience of the ego is one of the most important survival skills for humans. The ability to enjoy life while knowing what is going on “out there” is a challenge for many, including myself. I struggle with it, and know many who feel guilty about enjoying life while knowing others are suffering.
PF: Are you ever your own “client”?
CB: An ongoing challenge is finding balance between helping others and helping myself: how far ahead to put myself first.
PF: How does vegan living give your work clarity?
CB: I am clear about my mission. My work mission parallels my personal mission, which is to do the least amount of harm in my lifetime. Being vegan is the best decision I’ve made, and what I most like about myself.
PF: When talking about the energy needed to recover from the knowledge of animal mistreatment, you say our central nervous systems can only take so much.
CB: Our bodies along with our minds constantly interpret information we are exposed to. If those two entities can be considered containers with a finite capacity, where would all the interpretation of the stimuli go? Holding the weight of the world is toxic and I believe eventually leads to self-destructive thinking and behavior: isolation from society, defining oneself as being alone in the world, resentment of the general population, black-and-white thinking, and a sense of hopelessness and disempowerment.
PF: What do you advise clients to do with anger felt about abuse or injustices?
CB: Get it out! Anger is toxic if not transformed. Anger can be great as fuel but if not channeled it can consume a person.
PF: How do we cope with rapid-fire news about, say, cats and dogs betrayed and doomed at a municipal pound, and shift to the right energy needed to confront fur-wearing and much more?
CB: I’m not sure we can do what you propose. We are going to need more, in numbers, to work on these issues; more leadership in the animal advocacy community. Each person needs to know where their limits are. One is no good helping animals when over-extended and burnt out. This is why I do not have 100 cats living in my apartment.
PF: Are there examples of true unity and community in the animal-rights sphere? How do we get more of that?
CB: There are more vegans now than ever, yet I cannot find one issue that we are all working on together. I think if we could find one issue and work on it together, it would completely empower our community despite other differences.