Editorial: The cause of the homeless

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1994:

The ink wasn’t even dry on the New York Times edition of April 4 when we
received our first outraged call from a dog rescuer. A full-page advertisement placed by the
Coalition for the Homeless showed a forlorn-looking dog at the top. “According to statis-
tics,” the caption read, “his chances of finding a home are 70%.” Below, the photo
expanded to include the homeless woman sitting beside the dog. “Now they’re next to
zero,” said the caption. “Some might say the homeless are treated like dogs. But actually,
a homeless dog is better off than a homeless person. Over 100,000 people bedded down on
New York City’s streets and in shelters last year. But only 2,000 homeless single adults
ended up in homes of their own.”
The statistics cited are accurate, but out of context. As we pointed out to the
Coalition for the Homeless on behalf of our upset readers, the 30% of New York City stray
dogs who don’t find a home within a week to 10 days of pickup are euthanized at one of the
American SPCA shelters. The numbers of stray dogs euthanized are falling much faster
than the number of homeless people on the streets, but the ASPCA still killed 16,760 dogs
in 1991, the most recent year for which we have complete statistics, plus 22,595 cats,
whose chance of adoption ran around 20%.

“We are very surprised,” we wrote to the Coalition for the Homeless, “to see you
advocating that homeless people should be rounded up and exterminated.”
Of course this was not really what the Coalition for the Homeless had in mind.
Nor did the Connecticut Association for Human Services really intend to proclaim that
Connecticut’s notoriously weak humane enforcement is adequate when it pointed out on the
cover of a recent brochure that, “The state of Connecticut inspects kennels four times as
often as it inspects child care centers. It inspects kennels six times as often as it inspects
family day care homes.”
Explained deputy director Helen Ward in a letter of apology, “Our use of this
comparison was meant neither to imply that the resources devoted to canine facilities were
adequate, nor that those resources should be redirected to inspections of child care facili-
ties. It was simply a way of dramatizing the appalling lack of attention to the health and
safety of children…Both children and animals are helpless to protect themselves and must
rely on their communities to insure that they receive the care they need. We believe that
neither should suffer from our state’s neglect.”
The use of such comparisons has an honorable tradition, begun by none other than
ASPCA founder Henry Bergh. Nine private child welfare societies failed to assist a severe-
ly abused child named Mary Ellen, as her misery continued unabated from Christmas 1872,
when social worker Etta Angell Wheeler discovered her, until Easter 1873. When Wheeler
turned to Bergh, he dispatched a detective to the girl’s home and persuaded attorney
Eldridge Gerry to file charges on her behalf under NewYork’s then-new humane law.
Testified Bergh to Judge Lawrence of the New York State Supreme Court, “The
child is an animal. If there is no justice for it as a human being, it shall at least have the
rights of the dog in the street. It shall not be abused!”
As Ward recognized, the causes of child protection and animal protection are
essentially the same cause. One does not succeed at the expense of the other; rather, as
either cause advances, the causes of both advance, because the minimum level of care for
the helpless that society finds acceptable is raised. The same can be said to some extent of
care for the homeless––humans and animals. The primary public concern is that both may
be dangerous. The challenge is the demonstrate that kindness is the most effective form of
risk management.
Incidentally, neither human services nor animal protection gets a generous share
of the U.S. charity dollar. In 1992, according to Giving USA, Americans contributed $124
billion to charity. Human services got 9.3%; animal protection got 0.9% Other figures
worth noting: 45.6% to religion, 11.3% for education, 8.2% for health care, 7.5% for the
arts, and 1.6% for environmental protection.
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