Animals are in the news every week, and indeed, not a day goes by when a Google News search for the term “animal” does not bring up multiple hits: dog fighting rings busted, another hoarder found with dozens or hundreds of animals, a handful of animal abuse or neglect cases making their slow way through the court system, and happier stories of animal heroes, events benefiting animals, and people who have dedicated their lives to saving animals.
But non-human animals can also be found hidden in the margins of the rest of the news. Even when they’re not included in the news stories, they often have a stake in the news, are impacted by the news, or play a hidden role in the news.
For example, many news items appear daily regarding the continuing problems in the US economy, and how states and cities are struggling to balance their budgets in the face of declining tax revenue and a loss of federal support. We hear about the tough choices that governors, mayors and legislators are having to make, and the potential impact of those choices on people. Wages and benefits are being cut, as are social services, making it hard for many citizens already struggling to keep their heads above the poverty level.
But animals are also impacted by these budgetary cuts. As animal control agencies find their budgets slashed, they must make difficult choices too. Some agencies are electing to cut important services, such as picking up stray animals, or providing low-cost spay/neuter services, which will cause more animal suffering. And at the same time that these agencies are facing a loss of needed income, they have a greater burden on their hands, as more people abandon their animals because they can no longer afford to care for them. Each new foreclosure and layoff potentially can mean another animal ends up at the shelter.
In other news, the world has been watching the events unfold in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Iran with a mixture of wonder, concern and excitement. For many Westerners, the revolutions and unrest in these countries is a positive sign that the dictatorships that have long run many Middle Eastern countries may be coming to an end, hopefully to be replaced by democracies and human rights. Others are worried that with the end of these regimes, we may see more instability in this region, and possibly a rise in Islamic fundamentalism and anti-Western sentiment.
But these political changes have impacted non-human animals as well. In Egypt, for example, animals like camels, donkeys and horses are starving to death, as the tourist industry has dried up and the animals’ owners could no longer feed them. Many other Egyptians have abandoned their companion animals, leading to greater numbers of dogs and cats on the streets, fending for themselves in the chaos. Even Egypt’s famed cats, so much a symbol of both ancient and modern Egypt, are suffering.
In Christchurch New Zealand, which was recently hit by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake, hundreds of people have died and the city is reeling; a week later, rescue crews are still locating survivors and finding dead bodies amidst the rubble. But while it is not covered in the international news, we know that wherever humans suffer, animals tend to suffer as well. So what of the missing and dead animals? Or the animals who are separated from their human loved ones, who are not allowed to return to the devastation of their homes until authorities declare the areas safe? Luckily, New Zealand has a well-developed network of animal charities working to save animals and reunite animals and humans after the disaster.
In my state of New Mexico, we were recently slammed by a record-breaking cold front which devastated the state and resulted in the loss of gas—and heat—to thousands of New Mexicans during the coldest week in decades. Luckily, no people died during this crisis. The news has not reported on whether any animals suffered from the cold, but given how many animals in New Mexico live outdoors—from horses and goats and cows to dogs and cats and rabbits—it is most likely the case that at least some animals froze to death. That was certainly the case with 35 animals who died in the cold at a zoo in northern Mexico in early February.
But my point is that our lives are intertwined, human and non-human, and our fates, good and bad, are similarly interconnected. Sometimes you have to read between the lines in the daily news, but if the news impacts more than a few people, it probably impacts more than a few animals as well.