No need to apologize for helping animals
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2008:
Once upon a time at the earliest edge of recorded memory,
the earth shook, the sky caught fire, the sea rose, a tidal wave
swept away anything standing, and for forty days and forty nights a
torrential rain and wet ash covered everything left.
The myths of at least 35 ancient cultures representing every
inhabited continent and many remote islands recall that event, in at
least 175 different versions of the story, which appears to be among
the oldest, most ubiquitous, and still among the most popular of
all stories. Many peoples date their history from whatever happened.
The number of human survivors is said to have been anywhere from just
one pregnant woman to 30 scattered individuals –and their animals.
What exactly inspired the Great Flood myths, when the
catastrophe occurred, and where it occurred are all keenly debated.
The myths all seem to describe the same event, but may recount the
travails of several different people in widely separated parts of the
Among them, though, the best-remembered was a man named
Noah, according to western monotheistic religious tradition, or
either a man or woman called Nu Wa according to versions found in
China. The name of this person varies considerably in other
traditions. In an Australian aboriginal version he was not a person
at all, but rather a pelican. All versions agree, however, that
this individual had some premonition of the impending disaster,
usually that he was warned by divinity. He or she prepared the ark,
a great chest, a canoe, a raft, a sealed jar, or a high mountain
cave just before the disaster hit.
From the Middle East to the Native Americans of the
Mississipi Delta, it is recalled that this fortuitously forewarned
individual saved, along with his own family, pairs of every kind of
land animal, or at least every animal useful to humans. Everyone
The accounts vary as to whether humanity deserved the deluge.
Yet there is no disagreement whatever that Noah, by any name, did
right in saving the animals, even at cost of the deaths of fellow
humans, who might have had their places on the ark. In no version
of the story, even those that do not attribute the Great Flood to a
divine effort to cleanse the world of human sin, did any deity
command that saving humans should be a higher priority than saving
the pairs of animals.
Despite the enduring popularity of the Noah legend, which is
recalled in the names of hundreds of humane societies worldwide,
some animal advocacy groups today seem embarrassed to have saving
animals as their mandate following disasters.
Proclaimed the spring/summer 2008 edition of RSPCA
International News, published by the Royal SPCA of Great Britain:
“We are often asked: Why does the RSPCA provide aid for animals
following a disaster; surely people should come first? We would
certainly agree with the second statement, but there are many
reasons why animal welfare organizations should act to complement the
work of governments and humanitarian organizations during times of
“The role animals play can be divided into two parts–during
and after the disaster,” the RSPCA continued and qualified. “During
the disaster, people often put the welfare of their animals first
because they depend on them to ensure the welfare of their own
families. This can even extend to pet animals, as seen in the
Hurricane Katrina disaster when many people were reluctant to leave
their homes unless their pets were evacuated as well.
“After the disaster, animals play a key practical role
helping people rebuild their lives. They aid physical, economical
and emotional recovery. In our experience, people affected by
disasters are very grateful for any help that can be provided for
While the latter is most certainly true. omitted from the
RSPCA statement was any mention of animal victims of disasters being
deserving of compassion and consideration in their own right.
The RSPCA acknowledged the feelings of Hurricane Katrina and
other disaster victims about the importance of saving their animals,
but reduced this to a purely personal, self-interested, and
pragmatic equation. This overlooks that dozens and perhaps hundreds
of people in New Orleans and other communities flooded by Katrina,
who had never rescued animals before, took in as many as they could
collect–and so did human victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami,
slightly more than nine months earlier.
Indeed, one would have a difficult time finding any major
disaster, from avalanches to wars, in which human victims have not
responded generously to the suffering of animals completely unknown
to them, who shared their plight.
Afterward some of the spontaneous animals rescuers have
articulated various reasons for helping the animals, but others have
simply shrugged. They helped because help was needed, and they were
able to give it. No further pretext seemed necessary.
ANIMAL PEOPLE wondered what other international charities
involved in animal disaster relief might say, so circulated the
RSPCA statement for comment.
Responded Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle,
“In our modern society, the lives of people and animals are
entangled, and we know from first-hand experience that many people
will not leave a disaster area unless they know their animals
will also be provided safe passage. Any disaster response
that excludes animals, or treats them as a low priority, is doomed
In other words, animals must be rescued as part of helping people.
The lesson taught by a fish
The lives of people and animals were at least as intertwined
in the time of Noah as today. Some of the Great Flood stories
indicate that Noah rescued animals to serve human interests–but
others do not. The Noah figure was named Satyavrata in one of the
several Hindu versions. He had once rescued a fish. The fish
returned to reciprocate the favor in the time of crisis, emphasizing
the lesson that compassion for animals is never wasted.
Wrote World Society for the Protection of Animals director of
disaster management Philip Russell, also taking a line centered on
human need, “WSPA agrees in principle with the RSPCA that following
a disaster people should come first. That said, given that animals
are of critical importance to people, it follows that WSPA and other
animal welfare organisations engaged in disaster relief and risk
reduction activities compliment the work of humanitarian agencies.
That being the case, it is essential that the importance of animals
in disaster situations is formally accepted by governments,
international bodies, and the humanitarian community, with whom the
animal welfare movement should work more closely in the future.
“Governments rightly see humans as the most important element
in disaster management,” Russell elaborated. “In developing
countries, given scarce resources, animals are generally considered
a low priority for risk reduction and emergency response. However,
as a major international and global animal welfare organisation,
sitting as it does at the core of a worldwide alliance of 900 member
societies in some 150 countries, it is incumbent upon WSPA that it
champions the cause of protecting animals from suffering from the
impact of disasters on ethical welfare grounds alone. This pure
animal welfare need underpins all WSPA disaster management activity
even if, in order to focus the minds of stakeholders on the most
persuasive and relevant arguments, that need is sometimes unspoken.”
Russell also sent a prepared statement that WSPA distributes
in response to similar inquiries received from other directions.
“The answer to the question ‘Why should we care about animals
during times of crisis?’ is almost self-evident, given the extent to
which people depend on animals for food, for livelihood, and for
cultural and psychological reasons,” the prepared statement opened,
“as well as the duty of humans to protect the animals in our care.
WSPA works to protect animals through risk reduction and emergency
relief activities because animals matter in disasters as well as in
The early mention of “animals for food” recurs in ensuing
paragraphs in a manner suggestive of a briefing from the livestock
industry. WSPA, for example, reminds that “the food animal
industry is a key contributor to a country’s economic output,” and
asserts that, “At all levels, livestock forms the basis for
livelihood protection, poverty reduction and food security,” as if
crop production did not happen to be the basis for raising livestock,
and a much less costly and ecologically damaging means of feeding
“If animals are allowed to die from the impact of disaster,
there can be a massive and negative impact on the well-being of whole
nations and/or regional communities,” says WSPA. “The human/animal
bond means that there is an inherent duty and responsibility for the
owners of animals to care for their animals properly. While pet
owners are an obvious example of how this human/animal bond
manifests, livestock farmers also exhibit this in different ways and
to varying degrees…People suffer from psychological pain when their
animals are affected by disaster and they are unable to help them.”
After discussing how animal suffering due to disaster may
harm human interests, the WSPA statement mentions that, “WSPA is
working with its global animal welfare partners to secure a United
Nations Declaration on Animal Welfare,” to “secure recognition that
animals are sentient and therefore suffer, that their welfare needs
should be respected, and that animals should be protected by law.”
Yet this, coming closest to what donors and the public might
expect of an animal advocacy charity, is appended almost as an
Best Friends Animal Society cofounder Michael Mountain came
closest to articulating the perspective of ANIMAL PEOPLE.
“I’d say that it’s not a question of what’s first or second,”
Mountain said, “since neither is being done at the expense of the
other. The human relief organizations focus mainly on the humans,
and the animal-relief organizations focus mainly on the other
animals. The two complement each other. For example, after the
earthquake in Peru last year, Best Friends worked with local animal
organizations to start spay/neuter programs for animals in and around
affected towns and cities. There were health scares, including
rabies scares, and having the animal side of things being managed by
competent organizations who could help local veterinarians do their
job was a major assist to the local authorities. The mayor of one
city actually drove around the streets with a bullhorn encouraging
people to bring in their pets for spay/neuter and health checks.
“It is not simply in relation to disaster relief that this
question arises,” Mountain added. “There will always be a few
people complaining that animal charities should be helping people
instead of animals. Our experience has been that such people are
invariably doing absolutely nothing themselves to help anything or
Noah, or whatever the person’s name, had a mission to save
animals, and proceeded despite naysayers and scoffers. Noah’s
critics not only drowned, but in many versions of the story,
deserved their fate.