I've only come to animal activism late in life, after retiring from Corporate America and moving abroad. While I lived in the DevelopedWorld, I was much more interested in eating the fruit of such a grand development than actually going out and planting any seeds of development. But once off the farm, so to speak, and out in the UnderdevelopedWorld, my interests irrevocably changed overnight. I went from watching the stock market to wondering how in the hell entire societies can live on so few dollars a day; from occasionally worrying about my uncle’s aged Labrador, to worrying about entire packs of wild mange-ridden street dogs; from never thinking twice about where a construction brick came from, to lamenting the horrid conditions of brick-kiln donkeys humping tons of bricks every day. In short, moving to Nepal rocked my world...
I'll never forget my first eye-opener (when my eye was literally splashed with human shit). I had gone out on my first dog rescue, in one of the many barrios of Kathmandu, alone. I had heard there was a street litter of pups trying to nurse from their now-dead mother, and I was all Top Dog to the Rescue - armed with just a blanket and some kibbles. I knew of an organization called animalNepal that was trying to start Kathmandu’s first adoption center, so I figured I could round up a few worthy candidates. I found two… two of the most adorable pups on this great earth that have ever had to lament their dead mom, brothers and sisters (now thrown in the garbage heap).
It was easy enough to wrap them up in blanket and begin to head on out (they went bonkers over the kibbles) but I was quickly stopped before I got off the premises by a wrinkled old woman who I swear looked like the Wicked Witch of the East. And she was waving a big stick at my head, shouting something in Nepali… something about not taking the dogs. A crowd began to form, and I looked to them for help. “You can’t take the dogs,” a somewhat sympathetic gentleman spoke from the crowd.
“Can you explain to the Didi that I just want to get the pups some care, like food, water, vaccinations and medicine for the mange,” I replied.
From my newfound translator, “These are our dogs, she says.”
“Our dogs? Whose dogs? Who exactly is caring for these puppies?” I asked.
“Our dogs,” shrugged the translator, with that very Nepali way of gesturing to the heavens; and the crowd seemed to agree.
I laid down the blanket of pups where I found them up and began to stomp off, muttering something like “We’ll see about this…” and that’s when I had that eye-opening moment. I had just stomped into a broken septic area where the sludge was like mud soup. Plop, right in the eye… and face, and just about everywhere else. I had literally and figuratively “stepped in it.”
So ended my first rescue. Of course, later ones, and all of my following animal-welfare work turned out to be much cleaner. You learn as you go. I learned that while packs of wild dogs may look so, in the eyes of others, they are just community dogs, part of the landscape, doing their job just like the rest of us… this learning was much broader, in the sense that wild & domesticated animals of all sorts (elephants, donkeys, dogs, cats, monkeys, birds, etc.) are perceived throughout the UnderdevelopedWorld much differently than in Brooklyn, or wherever a DevelopedWorld’er can come from.
Older and poorer cultures, at least in Asia, see things much differently than I (me with my American education and fat retirement check in the bank). Animal well-being here is brutal, as is the well-being of so many other beings. However, this difference in viewpoint (Help this Animal vs. It’s just an Animal, silly) maybe the magic bullet for all of our animal welfare efforts.
This takes a moment to explain: I now believe, after a decade of work, that the beast that needs our help the most is not the whale or the seal or the elephant or… you name it. The beast that needs our help the most is the human. And in help, I mean help with a complete rethink of our relationship with all the animals that surround us. We need a global introspective (or retraining program) that guides us all down a path of humane animal treatment - an end-to-end re-education program. Of course, this is not a novel idea, as so many of my brothers and sisters in the animal welfare community have shown with fantastic youth learning programs like Drawing for Elephant Awareness, and countless other youth learning opportunities.
But as far as getting the biggest bang for the buck, our “awareness programs” may be the magic bullet that we are so yearning. Only it’s the slowest bullet on earth. Starting with baby humans on up to scary Wicked-Witch ones is a slow slog on the retraining front; changing human behavior seems to take longer than glacial erosion. And changes that take generations often get the back seat to changes that can be made in a day, or an hour or two or less. We are so immediate-gratification crazy, no? But let me leave it like this: the beast that needs the most help is the human beast, in the sense that if we (the collective animal welfare community) want to make the biggest impact possible, we have to bulk up on our child, young adult and college-level awareness programs. And even add the tougher crowd - oldsters like myself - who all need help understanding what we know to be true: the only creature on earth that can help all other creatures on earth is, you guessed it, us; the collective human beast needs to be taught how to be a more humane one. I wish you all the best in this endeavor.