The recent high-profile story concerning Nowzad and the evacuation of animals from Afghanistan has brought back into focus the perception of competition between “animal” charities and “human” charities.
The reason I have used inverted commas is that it is unusual for a charity that benefits animals not to have direct or indirect benefits for individual humans or human society. Take a typical street dog welfare project in India: yes, the money does go to improving the health of the dogs, but the overall benefit is that the local villages aren’t overrun with stray dogs fighting over territory and the population of dogs that is around is largely vaccinated for rabies. So, your donation to a street dog welfare charity will almost certainly help save a human life too.
In the case of Nowzad, when I contacted a member of staff about this they responded: “Nowzad treats street animals in Kabul, but its main thrust is to reunite British soldiers in the UK with dogs and cats they befriended when in Afghanistan. Can you imagine having the animal that you love, who accompanied you on active service in Helmand province, delivered safely back into your arms in England? For veterans traumatised by war, dogs do change lives.”
Often the core criticism or concern with money going to animal welfare is the belief that if it wasn’t being given to animals it would go to people, and that if individual people give a certain amount of money to animals it means that they will give less or none to human causes. This is nonsense. Charitable giving is a discretionary spend. We all spend first on food, housing and bills, clothing, and so on. Then we might spend on holidays, mobile phones, beer, etc. After that, we may give some of what is left to charity. If anyone reading this honestly gives more to charity than they spend on their holidays or even their mobile contract over a year I would be surprised. So, a deficit of money going to human causes is not because it has gone to an animal charity: it has been spent on phones and beer.
When I spoke to someone from Oxfam about this, he added that there is no feeling of competition between the human vs animal sectors. He said giving money to charity is “… an expression of human compassion and [where you donate money to] is down to free will”. In his experience, people who donate to one type of charity tend to donate to other types as well.
It is also worth briefly reflecting on why people do give to certain charities and why they do not give to others. Several people in both the human and animal charity fields have commented to me that, often, people do not like giving to charities that deal with things that should be covered by the state, for example health-related charities such as elderly care. Most people do not value animal welfare above that of elderly people (for example), but they do feel that the millions of pounds provided by the NHS and social services via our tax bill should, in this country, cover many of the health and social concerns of our population. Conversely, some of the other categories including animal welfare and rescue are not seen as a high priority for government spending and are therefore felt to be appropriate causes to voluntarily donate to.
It is sometimes difficult to raise money for animals when there is so much other need in the world, but money given to a street dog welfare centre is not taken from the pockets of the street children next door. It is largely donated by people who will also give to other causes, including the children’s welfare.
Money not given to human welfare charities is largely spent on ourselves: on consumer goods, entertainment and holidays, etc. So next time someone you know is feeling guilty about giving money to an animal charity because they are aware of the criticism that “it should go to needy people”, tell them to give what they were going to give to the animals, spend a bit less on themselves that month and donate those savings to a “human” charity instead.