Editorial: Humane nation-building

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2002:

Flying into Afghanistan on January 13, World Society for the
Protection of Animals international projects director John Walsh
drove straight to the Kabul Zoo with two colleagues and several
suitcases of veterinary supplies.
Few if any humane workers have helped more animals in more
places, under more dramatic circumstances, than John Walsh. A
former field officer for the Massachusetts SPCA, Walsh transferred
to the International Society for Animal Protection when it was spun
off as a subsidiary in 1964, and was soon literally immersed in
helping to carry an estimated 10,000 animals to safety from the
floodwaters behind a new dam in Surinam.

Walsh remained with ISAP after it merged with programs of the
Humane Society of the U.S. and Royal SPCA in 1981 to become the World
Society for the Protection of Animals. Walsh was the last previous
humane worker to visit the Kabul Zoo, back in 1993. His other
adventures on behalf of animals could probably fill a few more books.
But after unsuccessfully treating Marjan, the elderly lion
who was blinded by a mujadin grenade in 1995, teating the little
black bear whose nose was painfully infected by Taliban soldiers who
tortured him with a pointed stick, and trying to help as many of the
40-odd other Kabul Zoo animals as possible, Walsh and the other two
will be gone.
They will have given the world many warm-and-fuzzy feel-good
news clips. They may help revive a once promising local rabies
vaccination program that the Taliban crushed for no reason ever
explained. Mostly, however, Walsh and crew will have rebuilt WSPA
credibility just as program failures, misrepresentations, and
non-starts around the world had begun to attract attention. Their
most tangible contribution to building an Afghan humane movement may
be that they paid the overdue back wages of the Kabul Zoo keepers,
to ensure that they stay on the job, protecting the animals,
instead of moonlighting to eke out survival.
Walsh probably knows quick in-and-out gestures are not the
way to build the humane movement in the developing world. Yet his
bosses know that symbolic gestures are the way to build name
recognition and a donor base in the U.S. and Britain, among people
who like to see TV clips of WSPA intervening in catastrophic
situations, but allow their attention to wander as soon as another
crisis erupts somewhere else.
Essentially, WSPA fights for animals the way the U.S. since
the Vietnam War has fought shooting wars, striking from a distance
with a strategy meant to minimize losses. Where WSPA has tried what
might be called “humane nation-building,” setting up programs with
promised longterm commitments, it has often withdrawn prematurely.
Thus any longterm animal aid programs begun in Afghanistan
are likely to get their enduring impetus from other institutions,
notably the Brooke Hospital for Animals, of London, which has been
helping the equines of Afghan refugees throughout the decades of
strife in the region, and the Kabul Zoo Fund and Afghan Animal Fund
set up by North Carolina Zoo director Davy Jones. As of January 11,
Jones and American Zoo Association colleagues had raised $352,000 to
help the Kabul Zoo animals, and $105,000 to help all of the other
animals in Afghanistan, from cats and dogs to wildlife. British
newspapers had raised about as much, and animal protection groups
from Australia, Germany, and even the Hong Kong-based Animals Asia
Foundation had contributed.
The money is enough to do a lot of good work. Yet whoever
manages the funding must ensure that it is actually spent in
Afghanistan. Organizations formed decades ago expressly to help the
animals of the Islamic world, including some of those now involved
in Afghanistan, already have investments and cash reserves of more
than $37 million, little of which does much beyond collecting
interest and dividends.
The organizational infrastructure is thus perpetuated, and
salaries are paid, but the ratio of office staff in developed
nations to field personnel actually doing things to help animals is
reminiscent of the ratio of ground personnel to astronauts at Cape
Similar disconnects are evident in programs formed to help
animals elsewhere throughout the world, as if the administrators in
the U.S. and Europe really do see other continents as outer space,
and view the people of other nations as largely having no more
capability than moon rocks of running their own humane programs.
If ANIMAL PEOPLE has covered one encouraging trend outside
the U.S. during the past decade, it has been the explosive growth of
indigenous humane groups in Africa, Asia, and Latin America,
typically with almost no funding or recognition from the weathier
parts of the world. The preconditions for starting seem to be little
more than the idea that the plight of animals can be bettered,
combined with the political freedom to organize.
Often these young groups find ways to help before they have
any funding at all.
Josphat Nyongo, Isaac Maina, and the other cofounders of
Youth for Conservation in Kenya have for several years now
coordinated risky but highly successful desnaring patrols around the
borders of national parks. The job requires mainly walking and
Zegeye Kibret, Efrem Legesse, and Hana Kifle of the newly
incorporated Homeless Animals Protection Society in Addis Ababa,
Ethiopia, were doing humane education and promoting pet
sterilization as concerned individuals long before they had any idea
that they could form a group and get outside assistance.
Debasis Chakrabarti of the Compassionate Crusaders Trust in
Calcutta and Pradeep Kumar Nath of the Visakha SPCA, among others of
note in India, have built impressive multi-service humane societies
after starting nine and seven years ago, respectively, with nothing
but a few sympathetic family members and loyal friends.
Often the young upstarts have worthwhile new ideas,
which–when combined with adequate funding–have the potential to
revolutionize humane work.
For instance, around Istanbul, Turkey, and Bucharest,
Romania, several women determined to save the street dogs and cats
of their villages from poisoning were fortunate enough to connect
with British clothing manufacturer Robert Smith, whose chief virtue
as a backer may be his appreciation of original thinking. Smith et
al are still perfecting their “forest shelter” concept, but from
what we saw of it in Turkey last spring, it already seems to be the
best approach yet to care-for-life of dogs for whom there are no
In December 2001, ANIMAL PEOPLE reported from Costa Rica
about the success of the “No-kill, no shelters” approach advanced by
Gerardo Vicente, DVM. His idea, in gist, is that spending money
to build shelters to deal with pet overpopulation makes no sense when
less money can be spent to prevent the need for shelters by
sterilizing dogs and cats.
In 1998, ANIMAL PEOPLE introduced Mina Sharpe, who while
living in Taiwan from age 12 to age 18 saved the lives of hundreds of
street dogs by sterilizing them and adopting them out–which WSPA,
PETA, and the Humane Society of the U.S. insisted could not be done
in Taiwan. Sharpe also found ways to fly many dogs to the U.S. for
adoption, usually via tourists’ excess baggage allowances. (We
adopted one.) Now back in the U.S., Sharpe continues her rescue
program by visiting Taiwan from time to time to bring back dogs.
The most important aspect of Sharpe’s work is that it tells
Taiwan that dogs’ lives have value–a lesson also helpful to Thai
animal advocates, when Sharpe rescued a dog on a 1998 visit to
Thailand and received extensive local publicity.
These and countless other success stories render all the more
frustrating the fixation of international animal protection groups
and donors on the use of figurative unguided high-altitude bombing
against dog-and-cat-eating in South Korea.
Beginning more than 15 years ago, the International Fund for
Animal Welfare and WSPA led a global campaign that used the 1988
Seoul Olympics as an opportunity to try to shame South Korea into
outlawing dog-and-cat-eating. Eventually, in 1991, an unenforced
and probably unenforceable law against selling “unsightly” foods in
public was passed. The big groups declared victory and went home.
Dog-and-cat-eating continued unabated, if much less visible. Korean
Animal Protection Society founder Sunnan Kum and her sister,
International Aid for Korean Animals founder Kyenan Kum, struggled
for the next eight years to revive the campaign–and succeeded,
after we gave their work prominent attention in 24 of the most recent
26 editions of ANIMAL PEOPLE.
In the interim, as we confirmed during a May 2001 visit to
South Korea, a small but dynamic indigenous Korean animal activist
community emerged, a generation younger than the Kum sisters. With
adequate funding to engage in advertising and direct mailing to
fellow Koreans, demographics indicate that the Korean activists
could quickly build a support base larger and more influential than
the mere 3% of Koreans who still eat dogs and cats.
Instead, the same U.S. and British groups and strategists
who engineered the 1988-1991 fiasco are building an almost identical
campaign, using some of the same literature and photographs, around
the World Cup soccer tournament to be held in July 2002.
This gives the Korean government the same opportunity to pass
meaningless legislation, misleading outside protesters into
believing something has been done while further entrenching the
unacceptable status quo. After the World Cup, the donated funds
will have been spent, U.S. and European attention will wander, and
the Korean humane community will be left once more to cope with the
aftermath, including irate fellow citizens who do not eat dogs or
cats, have not been shown the atrocities that we saw in the dog and
cat meat markets because they do not go there, and may have gotten
the idea, therefore, that the whole campaign was really just about
foreigners hating them.
In Korea, Afghanistan, or anywhere else, humane
nation-building cannot be accomplished through quick hits against
symbolic targets. Workers on the ground must be identified and given
the wherewithal they need to do whatever they see the opportunity to
do to improve the lot of animals and strengthen humane values.

Shots heard around the world

Looking from that angle, a more auspicious sign of change in
Afghanistan than John Walsh’s visit to the Kabul Zoo may have been
the shots police fired into the air over Kandahar on January 19 as
they disarmed two guards and broke up an illegal dogfight.
Wrote Raz Mohammad of Associated Press, “Dogfighting, an
Afghan tradition, was revived after the fall of the puritanical
Taliban last month, but was then banned again by Kandahar’s new
governor, Gul Agha. Thirty dogs were scheduled for the
entertainment of about 500 men and boys, who bayed for blood as the
animals were led out and unleashed. Only six pairs of dogs fought
before the police appeared.”
The police response was not necessarily humanely motivated,
Mohammad explained. “Afghanistan’s new interim government has been
trying to restore order in the wake of the Taliban’s collapse,”
Mohammad continued, “and dogfighting has been outlawed less out of
concern for the animals than to avoid bloodshed among the spectators.”
It is bad news that 500 men and boys still want to watch
dogfights in Kandahar, which like most of Afghanistan has already
seen 20-plus years of almost nonstop violence.
Yet it is worth remembering that baiting bears and other
animals by setting dogs upon them was the national sport of England
for centuries, until prohibited by Puritan dictator Oliver Cromwell
circa 1654. Cromwell banned baiting for the same reasons that the
Taliban halted dogfighting, from a perception that it distracted the
citizenry from prayer.
As with the Taliban, the Cromwell regime collapsed after
just five years in power.
However, recounts humane movement historian Richard Ryder in
Animal Revolution, “After 1660, baiting did not experience the
revival that some may have anticipated. The theatre, which had
threatened to usurp the affection felt for baiting in the previous
century, had also been suppressed by the Puritans, and after 1660
its popularity soared, along with that of horse racing, while
baiting continued to languish.”
After a mere five years without public displays of animal
fighting, mainstream British culture was able to recognize the
morally degrading effects of staged animal fights, was ready to move
beyond it, and was unwilling to allow it to resurface with any
Illegal dogfights and cockfights pesist in England to this
day, as elsewhere, but since 1660 have been considered low-life
pursuits by British opinion-makers.
The first British humane societies were not founded until
1802, 1809, and 1824, respectively, when the Royal SPCA became
the first to endure. Now that the humane movement has 200 years of
developmental experience to build upon, we hope that the first
successful Afghan humane society can be formed by the end of 2002.
Meanwhile, it is also good news that the Gul Agha
administration has already seen that tolerating exhibitions of
violence among animals can fuel violence among humans. This is a
foundation to build upon.
Indeed Gul Agha, though scarcely a saint, may be more
morally advanced in that respect than the promoters of the Command
Performance Rodeo as part of the Cultural Olympiad in Salt Lake City,
or the cockfighting defenders among the Louisiana and Oklahoma
elected representatives.

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