Many of my friends in the animal rescue movement have told me they think worrying about how our pets (and all other animals) fly is nothing more than a luxury. It’s hard not to see their point, since right here in the U.S., we still euthanize a dog or cat every 11 seconds simply because that animal is homeless. Yes, it would seem that there are more pressing problems than getting Jack and Fluffy from Point A to Point B via safely via air. BUT… but. I can’t help but come back to this thought:
It’s all the same problem.
How could that be? Clearly, creating safe and humane flight conditions does not have the same urgency that keeping an animal in a shelter ALIVE has. Well, usually it doesn’t… except in a case like Jack’s. Jack, of course, is now tragically gone because safe and humane conditions were not made a priority in transporting him. And we can’t forget that he’s not the only one — at least 197 other DoT-defined “pets” have lost their lives as a result of their interaction with the airline industry since 2005. (And we have no idea how many others may have died who did not fit the very narrow DoT definition of “pet”.)
Of course, that number – 197 – is nothing more than a faint shadow of the 28 million dogs and cats that have been euthanized in the U.S. since 2005 (and that is often regarded as a conservative estimate). To put this in perspective: imagine killing everyone who lives in the states of New York and New Jersey between 2005-2011. That’s how many dogs and cats have been PTS during that time.
So, given the undeniable enormity of the euthanasia problem, and the relatively minor number of animals affected negatively by the airline industry over the same period, how can I possibly think these are the same problem??
And the answer to that question is simple: both the number of animals that are PTS every day and the way animals are treated by the airline industry are branches that are connected to the same tree. And that tree is not an oak tree, nor an elm tree, nor even a palm tree. The name of that tree is DISRESPECT FOR ANIMALS’ LIVES.
As a nation (I’m speaking of the U.S. here, but maybe you feel comfortable saying the situation is the same in your home country), we do not respect animals’ lives. Indeed sometimes even what we think of as “animal welfare organizations” (think the Humane Society or PETA), have a history of believing that homeless animals were better off dead. From that perspective, the problem is that animals exist and that people are irresponsible. Since we can’t fix human irresponsibility, the animals are better off if they don’t have to live under the conditions created by irresponsible humans.
I am left asking what has become the inevitable question in thinking about how we treat animals: REALLY?!?
Imagine that we transfer this “animal logic” to dealing with another vulnerable group, human children. Two irresponsible people get together, and a baby is conceived. After the baby is born, the birth mother can’t handle the situation and drops the child into a dumpster. Someone hears the child crying, picks it up, and takes it to a government facility. Five days pass. No one comes to claim the child. The child is “put to sleep” – since no one wants the child, and the child probably isn’t going to have a very good life anyway.
I, personally, am grateful that this is not how our culture deals with “unwanted” children – because I WAS one of those children. I do not know my birth parents, but I lived in foster care and the orphanage system for the first 10 weeks of my life, until I was released to my parents as their child. Yes, I was adopted. But I know there were many others in that same situation at that time who were not so lucky – especially children of color and those with disabilities. Many of those humans lived out their childhoods in the foster care system. For most kids, it’s not at all a good start. And I wouldn’t really call it “respectful.” But it is a step up from not being allowed to live.
RESPECT FOR LIFE seems like a simple matter, but it isn’t. As a nation, we disrespect animals’ lives every day by killing them for the crime of being homeless. And as Jack’s story showed us, “respect for the dollar” is a much higher priority than “respect for life” is for the airline industry.
But are we going about trying to solve the problem in a “back-ass-wards” way?? Shouldn’t we be directing our efforts toward ending the killing, instead of ending the inhumane travel conditions??
And this is why it is crucial that we see all these issues as being the fruits of the same tree, the tree of disrespect for animal life. If we can create a world where all animals are treated with dignity and respect on planes, that changes the tree of disrespect. It kills one of its branches. If plane travel is a branch where we as human beings must say “my pet, my four-legged child, this life that is allied with mine, must also be treated with dignity and care,” that creates one less place where disrespect is acceptable. And with every place where disrespect for animals’ lives is no longer acceptable, the strength of a new tree, the tree of RESPECT FOR ALL LIFE, grows a little stronger.
Every day, I feel like Jack gave me an incredible gift — the gift of a very specific problem that has several potential reasonable solutions that would benefit animals and their guardians. Jack catalyzed me into action, the action of cutting into this one branch of disrespect, and making air travel a safe place for the furry kids. And when we get this fixed, we will have learned much and have weakened the tree of disrespect. We will have taken a step in the right direction!!
Making conditions for our four-legged children safe on planes will not change the world all by itself, but it is a step in the right direction. And we have to take every step we see as possible if we are going to live in world where all the animals get the respect and love they deserve. The same respect and love they give us – unconditionally!!!