People and Pets

Why, amidst all the human suffering that is happening because of a major hurricane and the failure of levees, would anyone care about animals?

Some people wonder.

For me, I have always been an animal lover. I think the way people treat animals can be a good indication of how those same people treat each other. Animal rights activists have pointed for years to research that many violent offenders in our prisons began their criminal career by abusing animals, not people.

There is story after story coming from the Katrina-ravaged Gulf Coast about animals now facing starvation after being abandoned by their owners. In many cases, those who did evacuate on buses were not allowed to take their animals with them. But like the rest of the country, these people, forced to make a life or death decision for themselves and, likely, their pets, are now shown not to have had a plan on dealing with disaster in their households.

Would I leave my pets behind? No. Hurricanes scare the hell out of me. I don’t understand why anyone wants to live on the coast; I have enough anxiety in my life as it is, thank you. Every hurricane season, I’d be a nervous wreck…at least more so than I am the rest of the time! When a category five storm was headed my way, you can bet I’d get the hell out of dodge…in my car…with my dogs.

What about the people who didn’t have cars…those people too poor to afford basic transportation? Here’s a question no one is asking so I’ll toss it out there: the average cost of owning a pet, assuming you do feed it and get it at least occasional veterinary care (including those mandatory vaccines) can run into the hundreds of dollars a year. So how are these poor people able to feed pets when they apparently barely have enough to pay for their own food?

When there isn’t a major disaster, any judge worth his robes will lock you up for letting an animal go without food, water, or clean conditions for an extended period of time. It’s called animal cruelty and it’s against the law.

Yet when a disaster strikes, we’re supposed to pretend that there’s no such thing? And even worse, those who are ordering people to evacuate are requiring evacuees to commit what would otherwise be a crime??

Many have complained that the handling of this crisis shows that there is a class system at play in this country. Of course we have a class system: that’s how phrases “middle class” came to be! Some are trying to force the issue of race into this, ignoring the fact that there are poor white, asian and hispanics who are trapped together in the area.

Should the notion that some people seem to be less of a “priority” than others surprise anyone? It doesn’t surprise animal lovers like me: once we start presuming to make value judgments about who should have a chance to live based solely on species, just as the authorities who refused to let victims who’d lost everything else evacuate with their pets had done, the next obvious step is to then start deciding who is and isn’t worth it within the “right” species: humans.

“The elderly probably don’t have much time, anyway…the sick might infect the healthy…the poor aren’t productive enough and will bring down the rest…”

It sounds like an old episode of The Twilight Zone that portrayed a futuristic world in which those who didn’t measure up were liquidated in the spirit of keeping “the state” thriving. The program was called “The Obsolete Man.”

None of the victims in this tragedy should have been considered obsolete…and that goes for people and their pets.

I’m not saying that this is really what’s happening there; I don’t believe that the government is saying that the people who stayed behind aren’t worth rescuing. I believe that there are epic failures on display here, but I think the main reason behind them is a lot of bureaucratic red tape and nonsense rather than any targeted prioritizing.

On the other hand, when I see all of the heartbreaking photos of dogs and cats desperate for food and few people doing anything to help them, I wonder what gives anyone the right to say that one living thing is meaningless, and another should get all of our attention right this minute.

You’d think we own the universe.

(Noah’s Wish is currently in the area trying to rescue pets and reunite them with their owners. For more information on this group, visit their website, here.)

Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.