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Love the Animals but Save the Children by Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis

I love animals…I really do. I grew up with cats as pets. “Puff” was my favorite – beautiful and serene. She was a calming presence, purring loudly when my brother and I expressed a willingness to “rub her chops.” Animal cruelty would never have been tolerated in our household or in the broader community within which I grew up. I was raised to be kind to animals. Whether you are a “pet person” or not, it’s hard to imagine someone cruel enough to harm a defenseless animal. The thought of it offends me. However, I must be honest. I love people a lot more than I love animals.

I struggle with the idea that animals have better healthcare than most humans. I am challenged by the notion that we purchase beds, toys, vitamins and clothing for pets when hundreds of thousands of children go to bed hungry in this country.

As I struggle to get acclimated to teleworking, I have been doing so while keeping up with local and national news. This morning, during a commercial break, from CNN coverage, I saw a heartbreaking commercial for ASPCA. Against a backdrop of sad music, the actor narrated a series of horrible images of cold, hungry, abused animals. While taken by the images, my imagination quickly turned to images of people in similar situations.

Caged animals became images of enslaved Africans arriving on the shores of our country in bondage. Many would say “that’s the past.” Fair point. Now substitute those images for individuals behind prison bars, serving disproportionately long sentences for minor crimes. My heart breaks for them and for their families. The prison industrial pipeline has destroyed as many families in communities of color as the institution of slavery did. Whatever your preferred imagery, I contend that a caged human is more deserving of our support than a caged animal. Ideally, both should be free.

Images of hungry dogs gave way to images of hungry children in my mind. Children whose only square meals are served to them at breakfast and lunchtime in the public schools. As we grapple with children being out of school due to Covid-19, food insecurity among humans is at the forefront of my mind. Children in low wealth communities are especially vulnerable to hunger. I continue to pray for the same level of care and concern we have as a society for feeding our animals to translate to eliminating child hunger in poor communities.

The photos in the ASPCA commercial depicted dogs who appear to be cold and wet. In my mind’s eye, I see the residents of the poor parishes in New Orleans soaking wet on rooftops, frantically waving their arms and pleading for help after Hurricane Katrina devastated their neighborhoods. While our hearts were warmed by the helicopters who flew animal rescue missions post Katrina, my mind could not comprehend this level of concern for animals while the bodies of human beings floated by in the house-high water, and still others were left to drown by a country that appeared not to hear and see their obvious suffering.

I remained captivated by the commercial’s images that showed adorable cats and dogs who had been physically injured by uncaring humans. Their furry faces blurred to the background and were replaced by abused and neglected children that are often trapped in dysfunctional family environments where they know only pain, often inflicted by those charged with their care. Similarly, the faces of battered women trapped in vicious cycles of domestic violence in this country replaced the furry faces on the television screen. Where is the outcry for them? Neither animals, nor human beings deserve to be victims of physical violence. However, if given the choice, my priority is for human beings and the sanctity and security of their lives.

Speaking of lives, and the quality thereof, I am intrigued by pet owners who go to great lengths to procure healthcare for their pets. Lately, I have been appalled by reports of animals testing positive for Covid-19 when thousands of human beings presenting with the potentially deadly virus are unable to secure a test. Where are our priorities as a country?

I love animals…I really do. However, I am crystal clear that I love human being more. In particular, I love human beings with beautiful caramel, mocha and cappuccino complexions who are often overrepresented in our prison system; whose children often suffer from food insecurity; who are more likely to be homeless; who disproportionately become the victims of violent crimes; and who lack the financial means to access our healthcare system.

I see dogs dressed up for Halloween and receiving Christmas presents, when so many poor black and brown children will never know or experience true holiday magic. I see animals making trips to the groomer and sleeping on custom pallets when many poor children do not have the luxury of a hot bath or a proper bed.

I love animals…I really do. But, if a country’s humanity is measured by how it protects the least of its citizens, are we all comfortable with a social order that prioritizes the care of our animals over the safety and well-being of its poorest children.

Covid-19, like all crises, exacerbates and expands the gaps between the rich and the poor. Like Hurricane Katrina, it has exposed human frailty and laid bare our failures as a civilized society. Predictably, most Corona Virus deaths in the United States are among people of color. I wonder if commercials will be produced, soliciting our support to save the children and families in the communities hardest hit. Experience tells me that the answer to the question is “no.” To the contrary, I am certain that the heartbreaking ASPCA commercial yielded much needed resources to rescue, heal and protect defenseless animals. I love animals, I really do. I just love people more.


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