Filling the Ark; Animal Welfare in Disaster

Monday, January 31st, 2011, 08:36 WIB
Filling the Ark; Animal Welfare in Disaster

Book Title:  Filling the Ark; Animal Welfare in Disaster

Author:  Leslie Irvine

Publisher: Temple University Press. 2009.

Pages:  164


Leslie Irvine is a volunteer animal rescuer in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina, she witnessed first-hand the hardship and horror that resulted from poor planning and bad policy. This book is a clarion call for change, both in attitudes and policy, about how we manage animal welfare in disaster situations.

Filling the Ark is begun by questioning some questions such as when a disaster strikes, who should enter the ark? It is widely understood that human lives have priority. But our lives are intertwined with those of billions of nonhuman animals. Is there a place in the ark for them? If so, which animals should we save?

Since the time of Aristotle, Leslie writes, humans have always ranked higher than animals; the sociozoologic scale "ranks animals in a structure of meaning that allows humans to define, reinforce, and justify their interactions with other beings." In other words, animals can be different things to different people: a beloved Labrador can be a best friend, a chicken can be dinner, a sea otter can be local color, a lab rat can be a research subject. And how we respond to their loss tells us a lot about the value we place on them: while we mourn the passing of a pet, we tend to write of the death of lab animals as a "loss of data." Therefore, because of its sociozoologic ranking, the pampered Persian is a lot more likely to survive a disaster that research subject.

The book examines how we make decisions about the treatment of animals in disasters. It encompasses questions about how we determine the worth of animals' lives and how we make distinctions among categories of animals. The data come largely from interviews and published materials. Leslie supplements these data with ethnographic data from field work conducted in the staging area for the rescue of animals from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, and from participant observation in disaster response volunteer training.

Filling the Ark was a thin book that consists of: Introduction, 4 (four chapters) i.e.; Companion Animals (chapter 1); Animals on Factory Farms (chapter 2); Birds and Marine Wildlife (chapter 3); and Animals in Research Facilities as the fourth chapter. The last part is conclusion: Noah’s Task.

Chapter 1, for example explains that legislation requires states to include companion and service animals in their disaster response plans. Chapter 2 examines the risks faced by the most vulnerable of farmed animals: the chickens who provide meat and eggs. Using two disasters as examples, the chapter shows how different groups of people attribute different value to the lives of chickens and make very different claims about their welfare. In both instances, the factory farming system, not the weather alone, created disastrous consequences. Chapter 3 discusses how oil spills in general affect birds and marine mammals and how specific spills have influenced the rehabilitation of these species. Chapter 4 examines how the location of research facilities can endanger the animals confined within them.

I found Filling the Ark thought-provoking, and I felt a little uneasy about the metaphor of the title, and with which the book begins — the ark.  Partly, that unease springs from the religious connotations, and partly from the biblical assumption that other animals go in two by two, male and female (clearly, Noah was not a biologist).  And I would be concerned if we left the fate of all these animals to one man (or deity):  it requires coordinated work from a large number of people to effect a rescue.

Filling the Ark is a fascinating account of the heroic efforts made by people in animal rescue organizations to help reduce loss of life. People and organizations work hard to set up temporary animal shelters for rescued pets, or to remove injured birds from oil-spills or collapsed chicken sheds. They sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to help a single animal. Unlike Leslie Irvine, I have not been involved in such work, and reading about how people faced these Herculean tasks filled me with admiration. And, I confess, even though lab animals are a particular interest of mine, I realized I had not thought enough about wwhat happens to them in disasters.

Finally, although Irvine's book may not have an impact in politics, but this book will have a much more immediate impact: readers' eyes will be opened to those invisible animals, the ones tucked away on factory farms or those caged in basement laboratories, that need as much help in disasters as our pets do. Thus, this book should be required reading every human whose own health and welfare is enmeshed with those of animals -- that is, all of us.

Summary by: Cut Mita