Filling the Ark: Animal Welfare in Disasters
Posted by lisagbrown on June 18, 2009
Hurricane Katrina was a pivotal event in animal welfare in the United States. However, it’s only now, some four years later, that we can begin to understand what happened in New Orleans. I’ve previously highlighted the film MINE, a documentary feature that explores the impact of Katrina on humans and nonhumans. Now, the book Filling the Ark: Animal Welfare in Disasters takes a broader look at how animals are handled in disasters — not just during Katrina, but during many of the most recent hurricanes, tornadoes, oil spills, and other calamities.
In Filling the Ark, author Leslie Irvine weaves a tale that is both eye-opening and tragic. She reveals some of the most horrific repercussions of Katrina, and places them in the context of America’s “lesser” disasters. In the wake of Katrina, it has been easy to forget that other disasters set the stage for the inadequacies that became apparent during Katrina. But Irvine does a great service to animal welfarists, humanitarians and aid workers by putting all the pieces together in one place, and showing how cultural views, economic challenges, racism, and inadequate infrastructure combine to create disasters within disasters. It is not necessarily the hurricane that is tragic, she suggests, but our response to it that is.
Thus far, most of the attention to animal welfare in disasters has been placed on companion animals — people’s pets. But Irvine shatters that boundary by revealing the unfathomable impact that disasters have had on animals in factory farms, birds and marine wildlife, and animals in research facilities. For example, in hurricane Rita alone, 30,000 cattle died. When the media reports on losses like these, if at all, it frames the deaths as economic hits to the farmer. The reality is that there is very little structure in place to provide for these animals (or zoo animals) during disasters.
In her final chapter, Irvine suggests ways that we can begin to mend these holes in our disaster plans. As she explains, her goal is not to promote a radical animal rights agenda, but rather to establish sound structures within a culture that — for now — is “deeply entrenched” in its use of animals for food, science, and companionship. She says, “By incorporating welfare considerations into our existing uses of animals, we also reduce vulnerability — overall and during disasters. I believe we can accomplish this goal without imposing undue hardships on people (p 17).” Her purpose is to change practices in a way that is achievable, realistic, and cost effective. The biggest issue now, it seems, is how can we get this book into the hands of people who will listen,and who have the power to implement these changes?