Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Ethics of Importing Stray Dogs from Sri Lanka

The news that three British people have been bitten by a rabid dog held in quarantine in Essex was disturbing enough. To then learn that the infected dog was a stray which had been imported, along with (wait for it) THIRTEEN other strays from the streets and rubbish tips of Sri Lanka was a detail too far.

What on earth are people doing importing these hounds into the UK? The claim is that they are "rescuing" them from the admittedly brief and miserable lives that they endure in their native Sri Lanka. But, seriously, has anyone stopped for a moment to question or challenge the whole idea of importing stray dogs?

Consider the following:
  • a single dog costs hundreds (if not thousands) of pounds to transport into the UK from Sri Lanka by air, not to mention producing several tons of CO2 in the process
  • Additional costs include veterinary fees, medicines and kenneling as well as the cost of flying people from Britain to Sri Lanka to round up the hapless mutts in the first place
  • Many of the dogs thus imported die in quarantine. The BBC reports that 5 of the 13 recently imported and brought to the Chingford centre have been put down since their arrival
Animal SOS Sri Lanka, the organisation responsible for the misguided practice of importing rabid dogs, is a registered charity in the UK, enabling it to claim significant tax relief on donations made by the pet loving British public.

Their web site is full of emotional stories of animal suffering, which, all things being equal, I'm sure we would all prefer not to be happening.

The trouble is that all things are not equal. 22% of the population of Sri Lanka live below the poverty line. The country has a Gross Domestic Product of $4,100 per head of population, ranked 144 in the world. Infant mortality is 19 per 1,000 live births, more than three times higher than that of the UK or USA. The presence of so many diseased, abandoned and neglected animals on the streets is simply a symptom of grinding human poverty, which SOS seems altogether quiet about.

How can it possibly be just to spend thousands of pounds on dogs instead of on human beings whose life prospects are often no better than the animals they live among?

To me, the most disturbing feature of the web site is the story of the Cat Lady of Sri Lanka. This desperate woman, abandoned and living in squalor next to an open sewer, is presented on the site as a model of compassion for animals. The writer virtually passes over the nauseating state of the woman's physical and mental health to describe the fact that "she was not concerned about her own health and squalid living conditions. Strangely, she seemed resigned to her fate. But, she was concerned about her pets and keeping them as healthy as she could, with no funds."


"Inspired" by her example, the misguided SOS team draw their sentimental conclusion:

When human companionships are lost,
animals are still there for us.
They always will be and that is why they
are so special.
It is a unique bond that few in this world
will ever understand. For their loyalty
and devotion to us humans, we owe them
a duty of care.

So, at the heart of this nonsense is a sentimental conviction (which, incidentally, few in this world will understand) that diseased dogs should have thousands of pounds spent on flying them round the world to die in kennels in Essex.

Well, I confess plainly that I am clearly among the many in this regard and am stepping into this river of sentimentality and shouting: "Save the human! Save the human! Save the human!"

For a more edifying story from Sri Lanka, read about the work and legacy of micro entrepreneur John Karunaratne here.

If you enjoyed this post, get free updates by email or RSS.


Anonymous said...

Your blog is libellous and defamatory. The Charity you are quick to condemn have never imported a single stray into the UK and not a penny of charity funds has been used for this purpose.
The Charity was founded to help animals in Sri Lanka through co-ordinated sterilisation and rabies vaccination programmes. The Charity also supports poor Sri Lankans and their pets including the Cat Lady. They are the only organisation who fund her medical care and food. EVERY month funds are sent for this purpose. Therefore HUMANS are being helped. Stray animal vaccination /sterilisation programmes also benefits humans -Fewer strays and less Rabies.
Individuals, NOT the charity sponsored the dogs in question from their own salaries. The animals were all vaccinated and given health certificates. The pup that died showed no signs of rabies and only became ill 48 hours before she died. No-one suspected rabies,not even the vets until tests were conducted after her death. No-one was at risk as she died in quarantine and that is why quarantine exists. Those who were nipped were all vaccinated against rabies. Your 'facts' about transport costs and how many animals were destroyed in quarantine are LIES. You are the misguided one because you clearly know nothing about the subject you write about.
What are your motives of spreading such damaging lies and hatred about a sincere charity?
What do you know about Sri Lanka?
What do you do to help animals or humans?
Nothing I expect.. you are too busy spreading lies and hatred through your pathetic and ignorant blogs.
Are you entitled to Legal Aid?

atlanticwriter said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to the article.

You've raised a number of issues which I will try and respond to individually:

1. The statement that SOS has imported stray dogs into the UK comes from the BBC new website. The exact quote on their story reads:

"The puppy [with rabies] was one of 13 dogs brought by the charity [SOS] to Chingford Quarantine Kennels in north-east London."

The BBC also describes SOS as "a charity that brings street dogs from Sri Lanka into the UK."

My first point, therefore, is that if that statement is untrue, it would be appropriate the for trustees of the Charity in question to take up that matter with the BBC itself.

If, having done so, I am made aware that the claim is untrue, I will of course remove it from my blog.

2. I obviously cannot comment on how the charity allocates its funds. That is between the charity and the Charity Commissioner.

I refer to point 1 for my source on the story.

3. I nowhere state on the article that SOS does not help the Cat Lady with her material needs. Indeed, the SOS website makes it clear that they do make financial and other donations to her. I accept this as fact. I stand by my opinion, however, that the balance of the article on the SOS website is on the health of her cats. I object to this balance of reporting and am entitled to express that objection.

4. I do not dispute that vaccinating strays can have a positive effect on humans. So, of course, can putting them down, which is an idea not discussed by SOS on the website. It is a legitimate area of debate to ask whether such a policy is more ethical than the policy of treating and housing these strays. There is nothing defamatory in raising that question.

5. I do not claim in my article to know the details of the individual animals' veterinary history. Nor do I criticise the kennel or any other body for a failure of process. I am objecting to the practice of importing strays in principle, regardless of the individual health needs of any specific dog. If none of the imported dogs ever contracted rabies or bit anyone, I would still object to the practice of bringing them here at all. And, I am entitled to that opinion.

6. My information on transport costs of dogs come from a range of web sites of commercial airlines and are only approximate figures. I do not claim to know how much the dog in question cost to import. The point is one of principle not detail.

7. The numbers of animals put down in the Chingford kennels come from the BBC webs site so I refer you to question 1 above.

8. Your questions about my motives in writing, your assumptions about the extent to which I help humans, your presumption of my level of knowledge about Sri Lanka and your claim that I am spreading "lies" and "hatred" are, themselves, questionable in legal terms. I would therefore encourage you to focus your anger on the article in question rather than speculate on issues which, I'm sure you would admit, you cannot know the answer to.

In summary, I stand by the broad thrust of the article - that sick strays should not be imported into the UK - and I am happy to be corrected on any factual inaccuracies contained within it.

I suspect, however, that the BBC might be a better place to start addressing these concerns as their article will have been read by significantly larger numbers than my modest offering.

Anonymous said...

It looks to me like the animal welfare charity is concerned about human health by helping the cat lady and paying for her medical expenses, no-one else seems to be helping her and for your information killing strays has never alleviated the risk of rabies, only vaccination and mass sterilisation initiatives can achieve this. The World Health Organisation is of the same opinion. Therefore this approach will save the lives of humans and animals.

Why should an animal welfare organisation not discuss the welfare of animals?
Why should an animal welfare organisation consider killing animals ?

What are your views about sick humans entering the UK with TB etc and the risk posed to public health?
Are you against immigration?
Humans do not require a health certificate to state they are healthy to travel, nor do they have vigorous health checks before entering the country.

Your blog and comments lack logic and reason.

Fairplay said...

A disappointing, incomplete and biased blog. I'm not at all surprised it is based on a BBC version of events! Everyone these days knows this organisation's own research is sloppy and designed just to create sensationist headlines!

Incidentally if people choose to donate to animal causes instead -or indeed often 'as well as' human ones - then it is their right to do so without this holier-than-thou moralising. Suffering in ANY physical form should never be tolerated or justified. If we all adopted what appears to be the author's own policy and only ever helped humans the animal population would die out. very clever! Ironically sir, the qualities of altruism and compassion are the very thing which set us apart from the animal kingdom.

Actually, at present most of Britains health issues arise from excessive immigration which brings with it diseases which we had hitherto managed to eradicate completely or avoid -such as TB. So if you want to have a rant, take a pop at the Government!

vikas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vikas said...

U are not a decision maker "Mr. antlantic writer". U cannot force people of whom to give more priority. If few people are doing good for stray animals. then let them do their awesome job coz they love of what they do & they are very passionate about it. U cannot comment or compare their passions against human priority.
If u have compassion doing something for srilankan`s poor people then why not do something for them instead of complaining about people who are helping others.
stop being a bad guy if u cant help then better help urself of how u can be worth on this planet. Respect all not only humans but everything that resides near you.
thts what we call nature. do U know how animals are sacrificed for ur filthy taste & stomach??? start giving enough of hatred...wake up Bob!

Andy said...

I have just cancelled my final monthly donation to sight savers international, the last of the many human charities I used to support on a monthly basis - Oxfam, Save the Children, " "adopted" grandparents - 1 in Sierra Leone 1 in India through Help the Aged,I used to give around £200 a month to These charities....Now I have cancelled all of them - the money instead now goes to Adopt a Dog in Sri Lanka, The Sri Lanka Cat Protection Trust, The Soi Dog foundation that works rehoming Thai strays in the UK, and the Celia Hammond Trust which works with Stray and Feral cats in the UK and the World Society for the Protection of Animals.... Why the change of direction, and why the change in my will to leave my entire estate to these same charities.....??? People like you... people who talk and pontificate and moralise and philosophise and DO nothing about any suffering anywhere, People so lost up their own intellectual arses, that they would know the meaning of the word compassion if it bit them ( rabid or otherwise ) while ever there are people like you who do not understand that pain and fear and hunger and suffering are not exclusively human emotions, that all living things deserve compassion and help, then I leave Human kind in your sneering, sanctimonious hands - good luck to them! .. I will do my bit for animals in need, if you are worth anything, stop slagging off those helping others and do something to actually help others yourself

Aleena Katherin said...

Hello Everyone

Today I want to discuss about dog adoption.If you want to adopt an dog and After selecting a shelter to adopt from, the next step is finding a kind, experienced person to help guide you through the process. Even if you are an experienced dog owner, the staff at a shelter will have spent far more time around the animals staying there, and most dog adoption centers will have well-trained staff available to assist you.For more information visit-See more at dog adoption

Thanks & welcome.
Aleena Katherin