Editorial: Humane education lessons from the Haiti disaster
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2010:
Inquiries to ANIMAL PEOPLE about how to help the animals of
Haiti began even before the dust had settled from the collapse of the
Haitian presidential palace and parliament buildings. At this
writing at least 170,000 people are known to have been killed by the
January 12, 2010 Haitian earthquake, with the toll still rising as
more bodies are found beneath the rubble in Port au Prince, the
Haitian capital city, and in surrounding suburbs.
As after the Indian Ocean tsunami of late December 2004,
Hurricane Katrina in late August 2005, the Sichuan earthquake of May
2008, and other disasters of recent years, animal charities rushed
out emergency alerts and dispatched rescue teams in the direction of
Haiti without waiting to get particulars as to what might be needed
or how best to get it there.
Most of the personnel and supplies ended up waiting for days
in the Dominican Republic for receiving clearance to proceed into
Nineteen nonprofit organizations united as the Animal Relief
Coalition for Haiti. The Humane Society of the U.S. and
subsidiaries, including Humane Society International and Humane
Society Veterinary Medical Association, deployed separately.
PETA offered “funding for euthanasia to put badly injured
animals out of their misery,” appealing to anyone “who comes across
animals who are suffering without any hope of being saved, to
attempt to be strong and to quickly-and as humanely as possible-put
them out of their misery.”
The first animal rescuer to reach Haiti appeared to be
Rebecca Berg, DVM, sent from the Dominican Republic by the local
organization SODOPRECO on behalf of HSUS. Berg entered Haiti about
10 days after the quake hit. Others followed in the next several
But details went unchecked both before the mobilization and
during the delay while the would-be rescuers looked for ways to reach
the disaster area. The lack of reliable local liaisons on the ground
in Haiti proved to be the first and greatest of handicaps.
The first, last, and only humane society of even transient
success in Haiti was an American Humane Association outpost, founded
circa 80 years ago, that treated 1,000 horses, mules, and donkeys
per month for about 10 years. Turned over to the American Scientific
Mission at the end of 1932, the outpost left as a discernable trace
just a watering trough.
Without reliable information about the numbers and species of
animals who might have been hurt by the earthquake, animal rescuers
made presumptions based on the experience of past disasters in other
parts of the world. This resulted in gross over-estimates.
Yet animal charities were not alone in this. Human relief
agencies, used to calculating post-disaster food needs in part from
livestock survival, made similar mistakes.
The problem was compounded because the quake hit while many
of the disaster relief personnel with the most experience in
developing nations were en route to the Asia for Animals conference
in Singapore, almost as far from Haiti as it is possible to travel.
But the lessons from northern Pakistan in 2005, southern Peru in
2007, and Sichuan in 2008 were of limited applicability. Every
other major disaster since the earthquake that struck Bam, Iran in
December 2003 has hit a region with a substantial history of
agricultural animal husbandry, a significant tradition of
pet-keeping, and/or abundant street dogs and feral cats.
Bam had relatively few animals, for a combination of
climatic and cultural reasons. But, because westerners were not
welcome in Iran, not many people involved in animal rescue planning
remembered Bam. And, except in not having a lot of animals, Bam
would also have been a poor model for Haiti. Haiti is as wet as the
Bam region is dry. Cattle, goats, and poultry are raised in Haiti,
but mostly in the rugged interior mountains. Haitian agriculture has
for centuries produced mostly plantation crops, especially sugar
cane, using human muscle power rather than work animals, for whom
quality fodder is scarce.
Chronic food shortages have long kept food waste to a minimum
in Haiti. Though most Haitians do not eat dogs, cats, or rats,
enough do–out of desperation–that any street animals are at
constant risk of being caught for the pot.
Animals who are not eaten might instead be sacrificed.
Though Haiti is nominally 80% Catholic, the nation is known for
ubiquitous practice of voodoo, involving sacrificial rites brought
from West Africa by the slaves who became the ancestors of most
“I didn’t see one cat while I was there, and I would have
noticed that because I’m very much a cat person,” James Patrick
Jordan told Friends of Animals publicist Anai Rhoads. Jordan,
wrote Rhoads, had been in Haiti with a human rights delegation just
six days before the quake. “There didn’t appear to be a lot of
overcrowded factory farming,” Jordan added. Indeed, United Nations
Food & Agricultural Organization data indicates that there may be
almost none. The U.S. produces 33 chickens per resident per year;
Haiti produces 0.7.
Lloyd Brown of Wildlife Rescue of Dade County, sent to Haiti
with the Humane Society International field assessment team, on
January 27, 2010 advised Rebecca Giminez, Ph.D. of TheHorse.com
that “it is our professional opinion that no animal issues are here
that are related to the earthquake. There are a lot of animal
issues,” Brown acknowledged, “but after speaking with a local
American expatriate veterinarian, who is very well connected, we
must agree with her that now is not the time to deal with them. If
we were to set up a spay/neuter clinic while so many people are
displaced and homeless, it could be disastrous– they don’t
understand neutering here,” Brown explained. “People are hungry,
they have no homes, they are sleeping in the streets. They don’t
understand the concept of a pet.
“Dairy producers told us that their cows are producing less
milk,” Brown continued. “There was a recent outbreak of a pig virus
that the vet is very concerned with. But it has nothing to do with
the earthquake. At this time of year, most animals [in Haiti] are
turned out to pasture. At the time of the earthquake, most animals
were in the fields–and still are. The only real logistic
challenge,” Brown said, “was at the zoo,” a collection Brown
described as “one crocodile in an obscenely small pond and a few
rabbits and birds,” plus a monkey.
The zoo, Brown explained, “ran out of pigeon feed.”
Agreed the World Society for the Protection of Animals on
January 30, 2010, summarizing the ARCH relief mission, “The team
found limited need for emergency animal relief work. In the three
days that the team spent in Haiti assessing the need for veterinary
care, they found few stray dogs (and only one cat) and limited
numbers of backyard animals.”
Having raised considerable funds for animal relief in Haiti,
the organizations that most vigorously appealed for money soon found
themselves trying to explain to donors and bloggers what they would
do with the surplus.
Some donors who contacted ANIMAL PEOPLE with complaints
overlooked that they themselves had demanded opportunities to donate
to Haitian animal relief only days earlier, despite our
recommendations to await reliable assessments of need.
The most conscientious of the many organizations to issue
emergency appeals on behalf of Haitian animals now correctly
understand themselves to be obligated to spend at least a percentage
of the money in a manner consistent with donor intent.
The real need in Haiti is for humane nation-building–and the
Dominican Republic, sharing the island of Hispaniola, urgently
needs help as well, having approximately 20 times more animals of
species tracked by the FAO, and a much stronger tradition of
How to do humane nation-building, however, remains
mysterious. The 390 delegates from 210 organizations in 26 nations
who attended the Asia for Animals conference might be considered the
most experienced cohort of humane nation-builders ever assembled.
Most of the delegates could describe similar experiences in founding
their organizations, finding donor support, opening clinics and
shelters, and introducing dog and cat sterilization programs,
rabies vaccination, humane education, and projects on behalf of
Yet some of the societies in which Asia for Animals delegates
have built fast-growing humane movements have little in common.
Nations with increasing animal advocacy include both some of the most
affluent and some of the poorest. Some are thriving democracies;
others are authoritarian states which, for whatever reason, permit
animal advocates more freedom to organize than is tolerated on behalf
of other causes. Most have growing economies, but the same is often
true of nearby nations where little progress is evident.
More than 200 years into the evolution of the humane
movement, with dozens of successes in building strong networks of
humane societies and passing animal protection laws, cause analysts
have yet to identify more than a handful of national traits that
consistently predict either a positive outcome or failure.
Humane Society International chief executive and HSUS chief
of staff Andrew Rowan has repeatedly looked for indicators in his
periodic State of the Animals reports, for example, finding mainly
contradictions. Among the contradictions is that humane work, like
businesses, tends to thrive most readily in stable societies. Yet
successful humane movements often emerge out of extreme instability,
and become part of the stablization process. Examples include the
British humane movement rising out of the Industrial Revolution, the
U.S. humane movement emerging after the U.S. Civil War, and the
explosive growth of humane work in eastern Europe after the collapse
One reasonably ubiquitous trend is that women usually make up
about 80% of the donor and volunteer base of humane organizations.
The most evident exceptions are in India and parts of Africa.
Hypothetically, wide gender gaps in personal income and
literacy rates might suggest a cultural environment where animal
advocacy will not thrive. Yet India trails only the U.S. in numbers
of animal advocacy and rescue societies, has one of the
fastest-growing humane movements as well as the oldest, and has
literacy rates of only 73% for men, 48% for women. Conversely,
many nations with literacy rates above 90% for both genders–such as
Japan, at 99% each–have much less humane activity than might be
Haiti has only 55% male literacy and 51% female literacy.
Lack of literacy is likely to inhibit humane outreach and education,
but from a gender perspective as regards humane work, the most
significant difference between India and Haiti may be that thousands
of literate women in India have already long been involved; no one
has been involved in Haiti.
Literacy is both the primary vehicle and primary measure of
education, for either gender, but much of education is the process
of acculturation. Where the prevailing cultural view of animals is
already positive, and the prevailing values of society include being
kind to animals, literacy helps to create a climate for humane work
to thrive. Where the prevailing cultural view of animals is negative
or indifferent, literacy may help only to the extent that it enables
those who can read to obtain perspectives external to the norms of
The value of external perspectives is not to be overlooked.
Britain from Elizabethan times into the 18th century was notorious
throughout Europe for sadistic public entertainments including
bear-baiting, bull-baiting, dogfighting, cockfighting, and
tormenting the lions at the Tower Menagerie. Early British animal
advocates gained influence by making known to fellow citizens the
views of continental visitors. Then British military officers who
had served in India brought back the notion of founding the London
SPCA. Rapidly growing, it spun off several other organizations,
attracted royal patronage in 1840, and, as the Royal SPCA, has
helped to encourage humane work in other nations ever since. By the
end of the 19th century Britain was proud to be known as a nation of
The U.S. in the post-Civil War era was a comparably unlikely
place for humane work to grow and thrive. Quite apart from the
trauma and deprivation of the war itself, the enduring popularity of
blood sports in much of the country, and a then low literacy rate,
the U.S. for 200 years has led the world in accepting immigrants,
albeit often grudgingly, who bring with them whatever customs and
attitudes involving animals prevailed in their former homelands.
The closest Rowan has reached to a conclusion is that
ultimately the success or failure of humane nation-building depends
most on the quality of humane leadership. Inspired and inspiring
leaders tend to succeed, regardless of the challenges presented by
culture, education, gender factors, and economic status.
Ultimately any enduringly successful humane movement requires
leadership from within the society it seeks to transform. Yet there
are now many examples, in all parts of the world, of expatriate
“humane missionaries” discovering and empowering such leadership,
and of meanwhile becoming heard and respected where would-be local
leaders are ignored or shouted down.
The common denominators among successful “humane
missionaries” are relatively easily recognized, and are traits
common to outstanding humane educators anywhere. On the one hand,
outstanding humane educators clearly care deeply both about animals
and about the people they hope to teach. On the other, they are
unfraid to denounce cruelty or neglect, even when it is rationalized
as a cultural tradition. Outstanding humane educators distinguish
between the offense against animals, which may be left in the past,
and the offender, who may be encouraged–especially by positive
example–to abandon the offensive practice.
Our hope for Haiti is that the mission which began a few
weeks ago as emergency animal rescue will evolve into extensive and
effective humane education, and will involve the Dominican Republic
too. There is no clear demographic reason why humane nation-building
cannot succeed in both places, with leadership, patience, and a
vision of what can be achieved, despite the depth of human misery
and the many cultural and economic impediments to rapid progress.
Indeed, some presumed impediments could become advantages, for
example the limited involvement of most Haitians in animal use
The greatest challenge may be finding leadership who will not
be discouraged by the chaos, violence, and suffering of every sort
that afflicts Haiti, who will be able to communicate to poor
Haitians that the treatment of animals tends to set the floor for the
treatment of humans.
Haiti may be the toughest territory where humane work has
ever been seriously attempted. But we can remember similar things
being said of many other places that now send large, enthusiastic
delgations to Asia for Animals, the Middle East Network for Animal
Welfare conference, and other international gatherings of humane
workers, whose leaders now teach others how to emulate their