Tag Archives: Animals and Public Health

Chapters from the book: Animals and Public Health

5 Stories of 2014: The Surprising Links Between Human and Animal Protection

Here’s my list of five headline-grabbing stories in 2014 that show just how connected human health and animal protection are:

1. Chris Christie Sells Out Humans and Animals

After reports of his bridge scandal, the New Jersey Governor’s 2016 presidential ambitions took a nosedive. That’s why many see his recent veto of a bill that would have banned gestation crates as an attempt to win back influential voters. Pork industry groups — especially the Iowa-based National Pork Producers Council — opposed the bill. Christie’s veto was made as a concession to Iowa’s primary voters. But Christie sold out both animals and humans for campaign favors.

Read the full article in the Huffington Post

It’s Official: Animal Protection IS Human Protection

“Animal protection is now mainstream.”

This was announced at the 5th annual Classy Awards held in San Diego this weekend. The Classy Awards Ceremony honors outstanding nonprofit programs in eight major social sectors, including animal protection, education advancement, poverty and hunger relief, environmental protection, human rights and social justice, and others.
The two-day collaborative brought together hundreds of people from around the world — some from for-profit organizations, many from non-profit. What they all have in common is that the work they do is for the social good.

As a Leadership Council Member, I was proud to recognize amazing organizations trying their hardest to alleviate the suffering of animals. I was even more proud to stand there with other social organizations trying to improve the world for everyone-human and non-human.

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Chapter 1. The Welfare of Animals and It’s Relevance to Our Health

Alvin Tarlov, Director of the Texas Institute for Society and Health, explained that ‘there are five major categories of influence on health:

  1. genes and associated biology;
  2. health behaviors, such as dietary habits, tobacco, alcohol and drug use, and physical fitness;
  3. medical care and public health services;
  4. the ecology of all living things;
  5. and social and societal characteristics’.

As stated by Stephen Leeder from the Menzies Centre for Health Policy in New South Wales, Australia, ‘the new public health makes considerable reference to sociological and anthropological insights and engages with the world of human behavior … in pursuit of better health’. As a result of these insights, physicians, nurses and public health practitioners have become an integral part and are, at times, at the forefront of social change. We now understand that how we interact with and treat each other, how we view others, how we share (or do not share) our resources, how we eat, how we work, how we play, how we shelter ourselves, how we think, how we govern ourselves, how we spend money, how we relate to our environment—in short, how we live—influences our health. Despite all that we have come to understand, however, we have yet to fully appreciate one of the major categories described by Tarlov: the ecology of all living things. It is true that we study in great detail the life cycle of mosquitoes and are applying greater attention to environmental changes. But we have always overlooked (with the few exceptions described earlier), and continue to overlook, a significant facet of human existence that has prevailed since our beginning: our relationship with and treatment of other animals.

Today, food security issues, limited health care resources, unsustainable consumption patterns, environmental degradation, bioterrorism, global warming, human population growth, obesity, novel infectious diseases, world hunger and violence are now emerging as the most urgent public health issues that we face. The complexity and multifactorial roots of these issues necessitate a public health strategy that goes well beyond the health sector. We have started to do this. Due to recent and significant changes in our climate, for example, the fields of public health and medicine have begun to acknowledge that how we treat our planet affects our health. To fully tackle these urgent issues head on, we must also acknowledge that many of them are inevitably linked with how we treat other animals. It is overly simplistic and inaccurate to say that every human–animal encounter that is connected with human illness is a result of our actions or is avoidable. Yet, a significant proportion of these connections are, at least in part, a result, directly or indirectly, of our disregard for or minimization of the welfare of animals.

If public health is concerned about the public’s health, then it must address a series of issues that it has so far largely avoided—and that affect the welfare of animals. If public health is concerned with how climate change endangers human health, it should also be concerned about factory farming’s impact on global warming. If public health is concerned about the threat of new and deadly infectious diseases, it should also be concerned about the wildlife trade’s potential to unleash a pandemic worse than HIV/AIDS. If public health is concerned about limited health care resources, it should also be concerned about how a significant portion of our health care dollars is diverted into animal experiments of dubious medical value. If public health is concerned about the alarming rise in antibiotic resistance, it should also be concerned about the ubiquitous feeding of antimicrobials to animals on industrial farms. If public health is concerned about violence, it should also be concerned about the connection between violence toward animals and violence toward people. If public health is concerned about the epidemic of obesity, it should also be concerned about obesity’s connection to our unprecedented consumption of animal products. If public health is concerned about the safety of our food, it should also be concerned about factory farming’s effect not just on the safety of animal food products but also on that of our fruits and vegetables.

In short, if public health is concerned about the protection and promotion of human health, and if public health acknowledges that every other facet of human existence plays a role in our health, it must also acknowledge that how we relate to animals is a major determinant of our health. If public health is concerned about public health, we must turn our attention to the elephant (and every other animal) in the room.

Chapter 2. Victims of Abuse: Making the Connection

The following is a typical case illustrating the linkage between child abuse and animal abuse. One morning, an Atlanta contractor pulled up to a house where he was to perform some work. As he got out of his truck, he heard a dog screaming from the house next door, went over to investigate and saw through an open garage door a dog dragging his back legs and a woman standing beside him. The contractor intervened and took the dog to a veterinarian, whose suspicions about the incident were confirmed. The dog could not be saved and an autopsy revealed that the dog was paralyzed from having been beaten so badly. The incident was reported to the police. When the police went to the woman’s house to make an arrest for abusing the dog, they found a badly bruised boy. Both parents were arrested for child abuse.

Companion animals are increasingly viewed as family members with inherent worth. More than 70 per cent of US households with young children have companion animals. In one study, seven-to-ten-year-old children named on average two companion animals each when listing the ten most important individuals in their lives. When asked ‘Whom do you turn to when you are feeling sad, angry, happy or wanting to share a secret?, nearly half of the five-year-old children in another study mentioned their companion animals. Harm to companion animals can cause tremendous grief and anxiety in those who care for them. Unfortunately, their status as family member renders companion animals vulnerable to abuse, often as a means to exert control and intimidation over other humans. For example, an abusive father may hurt the family dog in order to scare his spouse or children into submission. Threats toward and actual abuse of animals in domestic violence situations occur for a variety of reasons, including:

  1. to confirm power and control over the family;
  2. to perpetuate an environment of violence and fear;
  3. to coerce the victim or prevent him or her from leaving;
  4. to force the victim into silence;
  5. to punish the victim;
  6. to further degrade the victim by forcing his or her participation in animal cruelty acts.

In a survey of 107 battered women, 47 per cent of those with companion animals reported that their abusers threatened or harmed the animals. Additionally, more than half of these women said their companion animals were important sources of emotional support and 40 per cent had delayed seeking shelter out of concern for the animals’ welfare. Once in the shelters, many of the women continued to worry about the animals’ safety. That concern is not unfounded. Several cases reveal the horrific cruelty inflicted on animals by batterers: a pet cockatiel was beheaded because he was ‘singing too much,’ a cat was hung by a leash, another cat was put into a microwave and other animals have been kicked, stabbed, shot or thrown. In another study of battered women, 71 per cent of those with animal companions reported that their partners had been violent to the animals. The women reported that their partners abused animals for revenge or to psychologically control them. Quinlisk reported findings of a survey conducted as part of a domestic violence intervention program. Of the 58 female victims of domestic violence who had companion animals, 68 per cent reported violence directed toward their companion animals. In 88 per cent of cases, the violence was committed in their presence. In 76 per cent of these cases, their children also witnessed the animal cruelty. In other cases, women reported receiving threats either to kill or give away the animals.

Chapter 3. Lions, Tigers and Bears: The Global Trade in Animals

On 20 August 1994, an international uproar was caused by an incident involving a female African elephant who went on a rampage in Honolulu, Hawaii. The animal, Tyke, was ‘performing’ during an event for Circus International when, before hundreds of horrified spectators, she grabbed her trainer, thrashed him about and killed him before turning on her groomer and goring him. She then ran from the arena and escaped to city streets, where for 30 minutes she caused havoc and threatened the public before police shot her almost 100 times. It took her two hours to die.

Why did Tyke, after years of performing for this circus, suddenly turn and attack the two people with whom she had spent most of her circus life? To answer this, it might help to take a look at the life she led up until that fatal day. Tyke’s keeper, John F. Cuneo Jr., owned Hawthorn Corporation, one of the largest suppliers of performing elephants and tigers in the USA. While most of Tyke’s life history with Hawthorn Corp. is not publicly known, that of Lota, another elephant kept by the company, is. In 1952, she was captured from the wild as a baby in India and torn from her family. Lota lived her first two years in captivity in a zoo in India before being shipped to the Milwaukee County Zoo in the USA, where she spent the next 36 years of her life with three other female elephants. At the Milwaukee zoo, the three elephants were routinely chained by two legs to the floor of their barn for at least 18 hours a day. Zoo staff conducted videotaped training sessions for new employees in which the elephants were repeatedly struck by bullhooks.

Over time, Lota became too aggressive for the zoo to handle. In 1990, she was sold for US$1 to Hawthorn Corp. In a widely publicized video, she was shown being beaten and dragged into a trailer as she fought her chains, which finally broke, sending her falling backwards and then sliding beneath the trailer. This video footage caused an international outcry and repeated pleas that the elephant be sent to a sanctuary. Despite the pleas, Hawthorn would not relinquish Lota and she was kept in chains throughout her life, being dragged around and rented out to one venue after another to perform. In 1996, she contracted tuberculosis. In 2001, a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspector cited Hawthorn for failure to provide veterinary care to Lota, who was ‘excessively thin, with a protruding spine and hip bones and sunken in eyes’. No improvement in her condition was made, however. Returning later that year, the USDA again noted Lota’s dismal state, reporting that she was in a ‘perilously emaciated state, with a wound on her left hip’. The elephant died from tuberculosis in 2005.

Based on Lota’s experiences, it seems likely that Tyke’s life was similarly wretched under the care of Hawthorn Corp. A report in Nature reveals that elephants, when exposed to violence and psychological and social trauma, can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Could it be that Tyke, after a lifetime of physical and mental suffering, intentionally lashed out and sought revenge upon those who had harmed her? Or was her attack the result of general psychological illness produced by years of confinement, captivity in sterile environments and physical abuse? We will never know why Tyke lashed out, but we do know that Lota’s experiences are by no means an exception. Today, thousands of wild or exotic animals are kept in zoos, circuses, marine amusement parks and private residences. Many are used to supply hunting ranches and game parks around the world. These animals are either caught from the wild or bred in captivity and traded around the globe to ensure an ever-ready supply. This is the global trade in wildlife, and all indications are that our infatuation with exotic and wild animals is coming back to bite us.

The trade is directly and indirectly leading to a rapid rise in new infectious diseases, the spread of existing diseases, injuries in people and the loss of species at a rate never before seen. As we delve deeper into the world’s forests and jungles to capture, kill and collect animals for the trade, we are inviting pathogens never before encountered to jump into the human population and wreak havoc. As we rip animals from their natural habitats, we are disrupting ecosystems in profound and perhaps irreversible ways, which will in turn cause a surge in some very deadly infectious diseases. And, as we ship billions of animals around the globe, we are ensuring that any diseases unleashed by this trade will impact humans everywhere.