Crazy Diamonds; Warriors in the Same Tribe.

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.

Sandy, in younger, happier days.

Sandy, in younger, happier days.

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About yelodoggie

C.A.Wulff is an author, artist and animal advocate. She has been involved in pet rescue for over twenty-five years. She has written two books about her true-life adventures living with an ever-changing house full of pets: Born Without a Tail, and Circling the Waggins, and a guide to animal advocacy using the Internet as a tool: How to Change the World in 30 Seconds". Wulff also writes a pet column and book review column for the Examiner, and is a contributing editor for AnimalsVote.org. She attributes her love of animals to having been raised by Wulffs.
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6 Responses to Crazy Diamonds; Warriors in the Same Tribe.

  1. LindSamm says:

    Thank you Cayr, for this beautifully written piece. I was not familiar with Sandy or the ARF prior to reading about this tragic event. But as one who, at one dark point in the past, has been exactly where she was, I completely understand how and why she did what she did. On the surface, yes, taking the lives of 31 innocents along with her own seems so cruel. Maybe they would have had a chance at being adopted. But with regard to those 31, when a person is at the point that she was, all you can see are the tragic, horrific, heartbreaking stories after stories of the cruelty and apathy of humans toward these sweet souls, interspersed with few happy endings here and there. To me, death is not a scary or bad thing – it’s reality for all of us sooner or later – and what lies after that for us (humans and animals) will hopefully will be our reward for the trials and pain endured during our time on earth. When she knew she was no longer going to be here to care for them, I’m guessing that, rather than put them through the trauma of losing her, the comfortable and familiar place they’ve known with her, and putting them back into an overcrowded, understaffed, stressful shelter environment where they may or may not have a chance at getting adopted, she felt death was the better option for them also, as it was for her. I pray that they are all at peace now, and I also urge people to not focus on the negative and judge her for what she did at the end, but rather honor the good she did while she was here.

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  2. You expressed my sentiments exactly, Ariel, both in terms of depression, animal rescue, and compassion fatigue – all of which I’ve experienced to one degree or another. One hopes that Sandy has found a measure of peace now.

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  3. Beth Barnes says:

    Oh, what a wonderful piece. You are so right in every respect. I know depression because of life trials, but I also found joy in rescue and fostering. But to really be a part of rescue, we have to be brave enough to look at the animal abuse. Most people cannot do that and it takes great courage to look at evil so closely! I think she wanted to be with the ones she loved and I am sure that some how there was peace in the end.

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  4. Astrology of Sandy Lertzman tragic death http://bit.ly/1chZvWr

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  5. Sharon Hines says:

    Thank you, so much, C.A.Wulff. You have mirrored my sentiments exactly, to the letter. The other night I went after someone on a FB thread, who insisted that Sandra’s act was selfish, in much the same manner you have outlined here. Later I felt a little remiss … then decided to leave my comments as posted, because the young lady still has much to learn (IMHO) about compassion for our fellow humans, especially those who are so devoted to our common goal for the dogs. I, too, have struggled with the negative emotions that can tend to creep into my soul when inundated with so much cruelty, neglect and abuse. Several years ago my wonderful Vet warned me to watch out for compassion fatigue. I am so grateful to him for that. I have had to monitor myself constantly in order to regulate my emotions. Our journey in rescue is a commitment I don’t believe we can ever walk away from … we know too much to turn away. And, from time to time, “personalities” can be overwhelming and damaging. In a perfect world, we humans would be as loving, nurturing and kind to one another as we are the animals. Like you, I sincerely hope that Sandra (whom I did not know either), has found the peace she so desperately craved. Like you, my heart is broken that we lost someone like Sandra, and since learning of her tragic loss, I have been unable to shake thoughts of her … wishing with all my heart that just one of us would have known of the despair she was experiencing so that we could have reached out to help her. Fly with the angels, now Sandra. Job well done!

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  6. ottieandbub says:

    Absolute best and the most real commentary I have seen written of the thousands out here.

    Living with a family history of crippling depression and some suicides, being a survivor can be a daily climb to stay one step ahead of the darkness.

    Often times severely depressed or troubled people simply cannot or don’t know how to reach out and ask for help.
    Sometimes the world can be a very lonely place for them, even in a crowd.

    Sincere thanks for telling how it is.

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