Outpouring of support should go to Ebola victims, not nurse's dog

Posted at 1:46 PM, Oct 21, 2014

Please believe me, I love my two dogs, Sadie and Chauncey. They light-up my family’s life every day.

But if I get Ebola -- or any other ravaging, disastrous, and ultimately headline-grabbing illness -- please, please don’t worry about my dogs.

Photo: Andrea Seabrook

You see, Americans are kind-hearted people. When the call for help comes, whether it’s for 9-11 victims, Hurricane Sandy survivors, or natural disasters near and far, Americans give generously.

“When there was an earthquake in Haiti, $1.4 billion came into charities,” reported NPR’s Planet Money team on a recent podcast on the subject. “The tsunami ten years ago that hit Indonesia raised $1.6 billion. But when something like Ebola happens, so far people have been looking the other way.”

Doctors Without Borders, The American Red Cross, and other international aid organizations told The New York Times that despite months of growing crisis in West Africa, Ebola donations didn’t start picking up until two American aid workers were infected by the disease and flown to Atlanta in late August.

On the other hand, when Dallas nurse Nina Pham contracted Ebola, Americans rushed to act, setting up a donation fund and a new health partnership in Dallas -- not for Pham, but for “Bentley,” her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

“In response to the outpouring of support from around the world for Bentley, Ebola patient Nina Pham’s dog,” reads the beginning of a press release about the program, “the City of Dallas has partnered with Dallas Companion Animal Project to establish a fund. The donations will help Bentley and other pets in similar emergency situations in the future.”

To some this is a sign of our tenderness, of America’s big heart. But to me it betrays something darker about ourselves: our blindness to the suffering of poor people, far away, our heliocentric ego and our seeming inability to prioritize the health of human beings in West Africa, in true danger of losing their families and villages to this scourge, over the health of one American patient’s dog. 

The lesson we should take away from the miniscule outbreak of Ebola we’re experiencing in Dallas is not “take care of our own,” but “everyone is our own.” The world is too interconnected for us to ignore those poor people, far away. Their health is our health. 

And that, I believe, should be more important than the health of anyone’s pets.