Collateral Damage

Given that it’s the day for Friday Cat Blogging, I thought I would take this opportunity to talk about a serious animal related topic: what happens to animals in war zones.

As I hope my readers are aware, an alarming chunk of the world is at war right now–many parts of Africa are experiencing periods of prolonged violence, the Middle East is being torn apart from within and without, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Indonesia are experiencing systemic violence, and there are many other nations too countless to mention.

The tragedy of war is that so many innocents suffer, and there are many humanitarian organizations aimed at easing suffering throughout the world’s war zones. I applaud their worldwide efforts to help their fellow humans, and I wish more energy, time, and money was being dedicated to the bystanders of war. However, many of these organizations lack the facilities, funding, or ethical drive to assist animals, who are abandoned by the thousands to fend for themselves in bombed out villages, heavily mined areas, and other dangerous places. Most of these animals are going to die, nameless casualties of human violence.

Indeed, were humans being abandoned to uncertain fate in the numbers that animals are, I imagine there would be a global outcry. Sadly, much of the world doesn’t view animals as living on an equal footing with humans, as deserving of respect, protection, and assistance. Even in the United States, we don’t care for animals as well as we should–thousands of animals were abandoned during hurricane Katrina, for example, often by loving owners who were forced to do so by “rescue” personnel. Millions of animals are euthanized here, and countless animals are abused, every day.

Most organizations who do work with animals in war zones end up euthanizing them, due to the instability of the area and the impossibility of saving them. Euthanasia is, sadly, the best option in these cases, although it’s a great tragedy to kill healthy, otherwise adoptable animals. The people who abandon animals are often left with limited choices–their homes are bombed in the middle of the night, for example, and they flee. Unable to locate their animals, or transport them, they leave them behind and hope for the best. Sometimes the best is a humane and rapid exit from the world.

Most of the time, I simply become angry and sad when I read about animals in war zones. And that’s why I was pleased to see that Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, teamed with Beirut for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, just staged a massive airlift of animals displaced in the Israel/Hezbollah conflict to the United States, and eventual adoption after rehabilitation. Almost three hundred dogs and cats were plucked from the war zone and eventual death for a second chance at life.

On the one hand, I was sad to think of the millions of animals euthanized in the United States, and around the world, every year, and the energy and effort that went into this very costly airlift that could have been dedicated to spay/neuter programs, vaccination efforts, and other widespread means of improving animal welfare. My utilitarian viewpoint argues that we should be using our resources for the better good of all, rather than a lucky few.

But on the other hand, I was deeply pleased to read that some animals did escape the war zone, and that they will live happy, fulfilling lives in gentle homes free of violence. I have long admired the work of Best Friends, which also adopts and cares for permanently disabled animals rather than rejecting or euthanizing them, as most shelters do. I hope that you are all aware of the tragic misnomer behind “no-kill” shelters, who have the luxury of refusing animals whom they know will be unadoptable, or of euthanizing special-needs animals.

The airlift represents a huge, multinational organization plan, from donation of cages and rescue vehicles to the plane itself, and the flight staff. It shows that there are people who care, deeply, for animals, and are willing to go to great lengths to help them. It gives me some hope for humanity, to see such efforts undertaken on the behalf of others who cannot speak, and will confer no financial or social benefit to their rescuers.

There’s still a lot of work to do, starting with humane education from the ground up, with evacuation procedures which include animals, with a total rethinking of the way we handle, deal with, and think about our furred, feathered, and scaled brethren.

Each of us can make a difference, though, by donating to causes like Best Friends, your local humane society, the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Humane Society of the United States, Fund for Animals, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or like organizations. You can help by donating time to your local humane society, socializing animals, walking dogs, playing with kittens, or helping out in the office. You can help by raising kind, respectful, loving children who also care about animals. You can help, also, by adopting animals in need of homes, altering them, and providing them with vaccines–and by urging others to do the same.

A tenet of the freedom of choice movement also holds to the animal rights movement: every animal a wanted animal, every animal a loved animal. Some day, perhaps we can stamp out the scourge of abandoned, abused, homeless animals with love.

[animal rights]