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!!!
January 10, 2012 at 8:10 pm
So very true, Mary Beth and a wonderful post! Same logic applies to animal abuse transitioning to abuse of humans, as many recent cases will illustrate. Lack of respect for life begins with what we teach our children. If EACH person takes that one little step (and teaches someone else how to take that step), the ripple effect will be huge! As I have said so many times, I will never “get over” losing Jack. But he has become a part of each of us and has changed us forever. I love you Jack!
January 10, 2012 at 8:11 pm
I can’t believe people especially a big company like AA that either through stupid moronic employees who don’t care or through all other people who are intentionally cruel to animals are left unpunished in the USA. People should be punished harshly for mistreating animals just as they would for mistreating other people. I am dealing with a situation in Columbus, OH where I have had kerosene poured on two of my cats and one died and where I have 7 cats that have gone missing in a 2 week period and the Humane Society of Franklin County could have cared less when I called saying I can’t prove anything so they just let it go – they should be punished by having their resources cut. Even organizations who are built to care for animals either don’t care or they put them to sleep after a 24 hour period – not even enough time to check and see if your cat has been picked up by them or someone has turned them in lost – please do not take a cat to the Franklin County Humane Society in Columbus, OH. Thank you !!!
January 10, 2012 at 8:12 pm
Amen to that! Callous, greedy behavior always needs to be counter-acted whenever possible. Spreading light and love is the only way to diffuse the evil.
January 10, 2012 at 8:33 pm
With you all the way in this race. I believe Jack did give us a gift and he is shedding so much light on an area of great darkness. I still cry for you and Karen every day because neither of you were looking for any of this. Karen was trusting American Airlines with her 2 cats, as she thought she could. What should have been an incredibly happy moment for this woman turned into her worst nightmare. Mary Beth, thank you for being the voice behind this issue. Alot of good has, and will continue, to come from Jack’s circumstance. It really hurts though because it never should have been this way to begin with. Love & Prayers for both you and Karen and all your 4 legged babies.
January 10, 2012 at 8:47 pm
Very eloquent. I’m sharing this on my page.
January 10, 2012 at 9:33 pm
You have hit the nail on the head. As with all problems the solution begins with communication and education. Keep doing what you are doing Mary Beth
January 10, 2012 at 9:33 pm
The crux of the issue : respect for life. We can only aim to educate regarding responsibility toward our animal companions. Social irresponsibility of the kind described by Mary-Beth only reinforces, in my opinion, man as the ultimate feral species.
January 10, 2012 at 10:15 pm
Mary Beth: You have pretty well “said it all” No comments just a well done!!!
January 10, 2012 at 11:04 pm
Beautiful article. Thanks for standing up for animals.
January 11, 2012 at 12:29 am
January 11, 2012 at 1:23 am
As always, your words evoke such strong emotions in me. The tree analogy is spot on! For you to share an intensely personal story and relate it to the treatment of our furkids has such power! Way to go!! You rock, MB! 😉
January 11, 2012 at 2:11 am
You do “ROCK” Mary Beth, I can’t agree with you more. I feel truly blessed to have Jack the Cat come into my life. I thank you and will spread the word as much as I can in my little part of the world.
January 11, 2012 at 2:28 am
Mary Beth, I am with you on this. Jack was a paying passenger on AA. What if they took care of their human passengers the same way? AA had a responsibility to you and to Jack to get him to his destination safely. They failed miserably. I am very glad that you are using Jack’s death to make this world a safer place for animals.
January 11, 2012 at 2:30 am
Excellent article with great points. You are so right, too often people don’t focus on the small problems because all they see are the big ones. But your metaphor with the tree is an excellent way of explaining the big problem – with a lot of little ones attached. Your life history is important too, and is tied to the big picture too. Thanks for your honesty, hard work, and devotion. Jack lives! >^..^<
January 11, 2012 at 2:32 pm
Beautifully, wonderfully said.
January 11, 2012 at 3:12 pm
Incredible way of drawing it all together, Mary Beth. So powerful, and so representative of my own personal thoughts in a way I could never have expressed them. Let’s change the world one mind at a time!
January 12, 2012 at 8:03 pm
Great post Mary Beth! The emphasis should be on the airline industry and assuring pets can be transported safely. Until they can happen owners should refrain from putting them on the plane unless they are with their pet parents in the cabin. Now as far as rescue organizations go saving animals is important. It should not be any less important to save the lives of animals that are lost injured and killed in transport. Jack’s plight brought the terrible facts out regarding the animal deaths that occur when transported in cargo. Why should their deaths be any less important !!! The name of Jack’s facebook page says it all. We need to save the animals that will die in transport. This is and was Jack;s message. Jack’s death will not be in vain.
January 12, 2012 at 9:39 pm
Personally, I think Jack would be offended that there are people who don’t think transporting pets safely is an important issue. Animals are on the move just like people. We are their care takers. We are entrusted to be kind, compassionate and caring with our furry friends and family members no matter what they are doing. I just don’t get people who don’t get the importance of this issue.
Great post as always, MB
January 15, 2012 at 11:29 pm
Marybeth, I have become cynical about humans. Money is always more important than animals in this life (not just AA, either). Not for me…little “Jackie,” the JFK duct taped rescue, is costing me a bundle. She hates my resident HoneyPie (my little sweetheart), and attacks her. I have to keep my house divided into safe rooms, and have hired a behaviorist to help because I just don’t think I could ever bear to rehome Jackie–she is my “Jack” rescue. Anyway, you have been ordained to fight the good fight; you have us behind you.