Six Reasons Why the Skeptics Were Wrong About Helping Animals in Haiti

The dust had barely settled a year ago when I first encountered several cynics who felt the International Fund for Animal Welfare was wasting donor dollars by sending a team to help in Haiti.

The words of cynics, “realists” and so-called “experts” echoed in my mind as I walked the streets of Port-au-Prince this week.

“You can’t help animals in Haiti.”
“It’s too dangerous.”
“People are too poor to care about pets”

I had come to the island to meet with the unsung heroes of our year-long effort to help animals in the aftermath of the nation’s devastating earthquake. I was inspired by what I witnessed, yet I couldn’t help wishing I’d been able to bring a few skeptics with me to see what can be done when caring people come together.

The dust had barely settled a year ago when I first encountered several cynics who felt the International Fund for Animal Welfare was wasting donor dollars by sending a team to help in Haiti. They argued that devastation and poverty and corruption would prevent any meaningful relief.

They were “realists.” They were “pragmatists.”

They were wrong.

Fortunately, caring people from all over the world ignored the naysayers and sent hundreds of donations (both large and small) to help in Haiti’s hour of need.

International Fund for Animal Welfare manager for disasters Dick Green greets a pup in a tent city in Haiti.

Because they cared, IFAW and our friends at the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) were able to lead a coalition of more than 20 animal protection groups who went to Haiti, and stayed in Haiti saving animals long after the headlines faded and the skeptics forgot their predictions of gloom and doom.

So here’s a quick update for anyone who feels some animals (and people) are simply beyond our ability to care.

Here are six quick reasons why the skeptics were wrong (and you were right) about Haiti:

1) Sixty-eight thousand animals have been helped by our vets.

That’s right. Some 68,000 dogs, cats, horses, cattle, pigs, goats, and sheep have been treated for injuries or vaccinated to save them from anthrax and other dreaded diseases. I still struggle to comprehend the size of this accomplishment. I can’t really picture 68,000 of anything … but I can still see the tired faces of the exhausted vets who managed to care for so many animals in their hour of need.  In my view, this one result should be more than enough to silence any skeptics. Yet it’s only the beginning.

2) Haiti has a new National Veterinary Lab to save countless more in the coming years.

The earthquake destroyed Haiti’s all-important national laboratory, so we also built a new facility that’s better than ever and added solar-powered units in key locations throughout the country. This type of work doesn’t generate headlines, but it will help save hundreds of thousands more animals in the coming years. Every animal is living proof that care, compassion, and commitment will overcome cynicism every time.

3) Pet care and disaster preparedness is stronger than before.

Television and radio campaigns, combined with education teams fanning out to key schools also helped spread the word about humane care for animals and ensured people had the information they needed to care for their pets in this critical time. I met some of these remarkable children, and their love for animals gives me hope for Haiti’s future.

4) Helping animals has also improved human health.

Of course, by helping animals we also help people. Vaccinations for diseases like rabies and Newcastle’s disease, and saving animals suffering from parasites also prevented outbreaks which would have worsened the Cholera epidemic. We see this time and time again. By helping animals, we help ourselves.

5) And best of all, ninety-three cents of every dollar went directly to save animals.

I’m especially pleased to report that 93% of the funding for Haiti went directly to help animals.  We worked very hard to keep management costs to a minimum and you can see the results in the eyes of animals, and people, who have a bit more hope because everyone cared enough to help Haiti in their hour of need.

As I prepared to leave, Haiti’s Director of Animal Health clasped my hand and thanked me warmly for everything we’ve done in the past year. I always feel a bit uncomfortable at such moments, because I’m just a representative of caring people all over the world.

So on behalf of Haiti’s leaders, and all the wonderful people I met in this remarkably resilient country, thank you for believing we could make a difference and save animals despite incredible odds.

And if you’re a skeptic, and you’re still not persuaded by my six simple reasons for hope, just take a trip to Haiti.

There are sixty-eight thousand more reasons scattered across the countryside. They’ll tell you, with barks and moos and meows.  You were wrong about Haiti.

Care, compassion, and commitment will overcome cynicism every time.

-- AJ

Comments: 1

7 years ago

Amazing... 68,000 in dogs, cats, sheep, cows, horses, donkeys and various wildlife in a year; I am very grateful to the vets that went down there to support the situation and the work they did to make sure the animals would be cared for in the future through the lab. If there is any centralized way to show gratitude (a website thank you card?) please let us know!

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
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