In the business of rescue and disaster response, every life matters. An animal stops being “just an animal” and becomes another life to save. Besides, are we not all animals — canine, feline, or human? If firefighters were to stop rescuing animals, never mind that children everywhere would be brokenhearted — they wouldn’t want to grow up to be firefighters any more. And then who would be there to rescue us in the future?
Firefighters carry a responsibility even heavier than their equipment and bunking gear. The responsibility is not just to the people they pull out of harm’s way, but to a public that still believes they’re the last heroes we’ve got. Since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, firefighters have been revered as gods; but it’s not for them to play God, deciding which lives are worth saving. In an emergency situation, every life deserves compassion and a chance to be saved. But never mind the morals — when disaster strikes, it’s just smart to value life. What if, in trying to decide which life is more worthy of saving, one were to make the wrong choice? Rescue is right-to-life; it cannot be any other way.
Disasters small and large affect animals too, and they certainly deserve rescue. Right now, in the aftermath of Haiti’s devastating earthquake, awareness is building that people are not the only ones suffering. The animals — pets, stray dogs, wildlife, zoo animals, and livestock — all desperately need the world’s help and compassion too. And so global animal organizations are mobilizing to assist the animals of Haiti. The Animal Relief Coalition for Haiti (ARCH) is headed by two leaders in the animal protection movement: the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which is mounting an emergency animal relief mission, and the World Society for the Protection of Animals, which has a team on the ground in Haiti to assess the situation. Other groups that have joined the coalition include the American Humane Association, Best Friends, and the Humane Society International.
Meanwhile, the Dominican agency Sociedad Dominicana para la Prevención de Crueldad a los Animales (SODOPRECA) has coordinated a team to travel to Haiti to help the animal survivors, with the support of the Dominican Red Cross and Civil Defense. SODOPRECA’s supporters in this country have organized various fundraisers, including a vegan bake sale.
Anyone who has ever rescued an animal, whether a tiny wild bird or a downed deer, can relate to the helplessness of creatures in disaster areas. Anyone who can’t relate is probably also incapable of feeling sympathy for the suffering of people. Just as rescue is right-to-life, compassion is — or ought to be — equal-opportunity and non-species-specific.
I remember one night, many years ago, when my husband and I spotted a Shetland sheepdog running alongside a country highway. The dog was high-risk for getting hit by a car, so we took off on foot after him. It was dark out; neither John nor I were wearing reflective clothing or footwear. All three of us could have wound up roadkill that night. Thankfully, the dog was mostly white, so he was easier to spot than, say, a black dog would’ve been. The Sheltie ran up an embankment, then down, zigzagging frantically. On his way back up I collared him — but not before the poor, stressed-out creature sank his teeth into my hand, the same panicked response the LAFD’s Joe St. Georges got for his trouble.
I’m used to rescuing sweet, grateful pit bulls so I wasn’t prepared for this little dog’s impressive display of choppers, and I may have cursed the Sheltie at that moment, but I couldn’t rightly blame him. Self-defense is the only natural response for a small dog in such big trouble. My husband caught up to us, took over, and carried the little dog to safety; the next day the owner came by to pick the Sheltie up, whereupon my hand blew up — thoroughly infected by whatever bacteria was on the Sheltie’s teeth. I was lucky to get immediate treatment with a strong antibiotic, so my hand turned out OK — as doubtless Joe St. George’s hand will too. (Thanks to the dog’s bite, he lost a fingernail and fractured a thumb, but promises to be back in action soon.)
Would I attempt such a harebrained rescue again? Absolutely, without a second’s hesitation. But if firefighters were on the scene, I’d gladly step back and let the pros handle it.