Last night I heard that a local animal rescuer has taken her own life. Sandy Lertzman was the executive director of the Animal Rights Foundation. Even though she was local, I didn’t know her. She wasn’t in my network. But I’m not sure I can adequately express how her story breaks my heart.
Sandy was 62. She had spent the last 40 some years rescuing animals and fighting against puppy mills. When she climbed into her car in her closed up Moreland Hills garage on November 4 and turned over the engine, she had 31 of her small breed rescued dogs with her.
WKYC covered the story and said that people are wondering why; why she killed herself, and why she killed the dogs, too.
Even though I didn’t know Sandy, I know depression intimately. I can tell you that every person can handle only so much stress. That every time a person is put under stress,chemicals are released in their brain. Sometimes, the cumulative effect of that is that a person’s brain is depleted of these essential chemicals, and it cripples their ability to cope with stress and to think and act rationally. That’s the cause of depression. And by “depression,” I don’t mean sadness. I mean soul-crushing, loss-of-hope, everything-has-lost-its-meaning, bottom-of-the-well despair.
According to people who knew Sandy, she’d been getting increasingly depressed. Maybe losing her son in an auto accident ten years ago was the beginning of it. Maybe the constant stress of rescue took its toll, but whatever the catalyst, on November 4, she had a complete meltdown. People are wondering how she could work so hard to save the lives of animals, and then kill her rescues along with herself….but the answer is plain: she was not thinking rationally.
I didn’t know Sandy, but I feel like I have lost a friend. We were warriors in the same fight. We were members of the same tribe.
Animal rescue, activism, and advocacy attract a certain kind of person. Most of the warriors are women. Most of them can’t comprehend the mindset of someone who is cruel to animals, but can understand the pain and suffering of the victims. They are sensitive and empathetic. The very thing that draws them to rescue is the very thing that perhaps makes them least suited for the job. Seeing the abuse that occurs day-in and day-out wears on the psyche, and the continual stress can’t help but make already sensitive people more emotionally unstable. There’s even a name for that: Compassion Fatigue.
But don’t lose sight of how strong they are. They are the ones who don’t look away. Those starved and mutilated animals that people don’t want to see in their newsfeeds…the warriors are the ones that not only look, but act…even when their hearts are breaking. They are diamonds, in every respect.
Most of the rescue community has expressed sorrow over Sandy’s death, but some cannot offer compassion even after her passing. To the people who say “suicide is selfish”, or “suicide is the coward’s way” you don’t get to say that. You have not earned that right until you have spent every minute of every day for a month — from the time you wake up in the morning until the time you go to bed at night – fighting the desire to kill yourself with every cell in your body and every breath you take. After you have experienced that, I can guarantee you that “selfish” and “cowardly” are the last words you will ever use to describe suicide.
I didn’t know Sandy, but I know a hundred other warriors like her. We need them all, and a loss like this is heavy.
Shine on, Sandy Lertzman.