In these tough economic times, many people are nervous about parting with any portion of their hard-earned paychecks to make charitable contributions. For animal-oriented charities, it's an especially difficult time. Why, people wonder, should they give money to animal causes when the world is full of human beings in dire need? Cancer and other illnesses, natural disasters, hunger, homelessness, child slavery, lack of potable water - the list goes on. The issue was thorny enough when economic times were decidedly better. Just over ten years ago, screen and television writer Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) tackled the matter in an episode of his under appreciated series Sports Night. In "The Quality of Mercury at 29K," Dan, played by Josh Charles, receives a solicitation to donate to a charity that provides music education to under served youths. He agonizes over whether arts programs are worthwhile beneficiaries of charitable giving when there are so many causes that seem more serious. By the end of the episode he realizes that weighing one cause against another is impossible and, ultimately, pointless. The important thing, he concludes, is not which charity to give to, it's just to give.
The numbers spell out just how difficult the problems facing animal-based charities are. Between three and four million dogs and cats are euthanized every year in the United States. And according to Charity Navigator, a non-profit organization that rates American charities by evaluating their organizational efficiency and capacity, the biggest animal-based charities have annual revenues of only one-tenth of those of the largest charities in the U.S. In 2006, the American Red Cross, for example, reported over $3 billion in revenue while Food for the Poor and the American Cancer Society reported revenues of over $1 billion each. In contrast, the two most high profile animal welfare organizations in the U.S., the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), reported revenues of approximately $100 million and $75 million, respectively. All the foregoing numbers may seem high, but it isn't enough to fund all the good causes we, as a society, might like. So why choose organizations that benefit animals and/or pet owners?
Like many Americans I haven't saved enough for retirement, let alone the kind of emergency that can rapidly change a person from someone who gives to charity to someone who requires it. As long as I have more than I need, however, I'm not going to wait until I'm on my deathbed to see whether I've got anything left over. I'm going to help out those who are less fortunate today. In order to do so, though, I have to make certain sacrifices in my own life. I don't have the means to stop child slavery, end world hunger, cure mankind's illnesses, house the homeless, save the environment, and all the other things I'd like to help do. I have to choose. And like most people, I've worked hard for my money - long hours, mean bosses, inconsiderate clients, lengthy commutes. I want a cause that's personal to me, one which makes me feel like I'm making a difference, one that speaks to my inner champion. Ever since I was little, I've been in love with animals. I've experienced their unconditional love, I've seen the difference they make in people's lives, and I've watched them suffer untold indifference and cruelty. Animals have no safety net in society, no voices of their own, and very few rights under the law. That they touch our hearts in deep and meaningful ways was evident during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, when many people refused rescue and risked death rather than abandon their pets. While government at every level refused to help people try to save the animals they'd left behind, within one day of the disaster the HSUS and other animal welfare organizations began organizing relief efforts. Thanks to their efforts, approximately 10,000 beloved companion animals were saved.
Furthermore, research has shown that owning a pet can increase both well-being and longevity. "We know from studies that interacting with pets can have a direct influence on your health, from lowering your blood pressure and increasing levels of serotonin to helping you get more exercise," says Dr. Patricia McConnell, an animal behaviorist and the author of For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend. "Well-managed pet therapy programs in nursing homes have been shown to reduce depression and even help mitigate the social withdrawal that is often associated with Alzheimer's disease," she says. Animal charities help seniors and people with HIV/Aids care for their pets (PAWS/LA), rescue and train dogs to assist deaf people (Dogs for the Deaf) and help abused and abandoned children with pet therapy (Noah's Ark Animal Rehabilitation Center and Childrens Care Home). They serve as first responders for animal cruelty cases that may indicate domestic abuse or the likelihood of future violence against humans (HSUS and ASPCA, among others).
In his Nobel Peace Prize address, The Problem of Peace in the World Today, Albert Schweitzer said,
The human spirit is not dead. It lives on in secret.....It has come to believe that compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind.
In other words, it's not a choice between humans and animals - to give or not to give, that is the only question.