Are we all quite mad here in the developed world?
A petition to save Excalibur, the pet dog of a Spanish nursing assistant who has contracted Ebola, received more than 370,000 signatures before the animal was sedated and killed as a precautionary measure Wednesday evening. As his corpse was taken away in a van for incineration, a crowd of activists who had clashed with police during the day were reportedly shouting: “murderers!”
I don’t remember people clashing with police to persuade their governments to do more to help stop the spread of Ebola in Africa, where more than 3,400 human beings have died from the disease. Indeed, an online petition to persuade the U.S. government to fast-track research for an Ebola drug has so far received 152,534 signatures. By that measure, we care half as much about finding a cure for Ebola as saving a dog.
Actually, I don’t have any problem with the campaign for Excalibur. His owners locked him up in their abandoned apartment, with a bathtub of water and more than 30 pounds of food, when they were taken away to be quarantined. The only outdoor space he could reach was a balcony he couldn’t get down from. Even if the government didn’t want to leave the dog unsupervised in an apartment for 21 days, it could have been quarantined elsewhere as safely as getting carted away for euthanasia. Britain used to quarantine every animal that arrived in the country for six months until recently, in case they had rabies.
Still, we’ve long known that as a species, we lack perspective about the relative value of life, as well as risk. Remember the three gray whales that got trapped in the ice in Alaska in 1988? Such was the international outcry that $1 million was spent trying to rescue them — money that just might have been better spent combating the famine that was ravaging Ethiopia at the time. Earlier this year, a Danish zoo killed a baby giraffe (called Marius) to avoid inbreeding and fed it to the lions. Again a fury ensued unmatched for any one of Syria’s roughly 200,000 dead. A study at Northeastern University seems to have confirmed this preference we have for cute animals over humans — at least adult ones.
What’s truly crazy is that Teresa Romero, a nursing technician in a First World country hospital contracted Ebola while treating a known carrier — and yet had to tell doctors at least three times that she had a fever before they quarantined her. She could have been out of circulation days earlier, but instead was told just to take some pain reliever.
This is a terrible disease, and the rich world needs to do whatever it can to help Liberia and other African nations contain and defeat it. In our own countries, it is controllable using good medical practice, and shouldn’t pose a significant threat. The Spanish medical authorities need to figure out how this could have happened.
In the meantime, a little perspective would be good. Other diseases pose immeasurably greater threats to us — not to mention drunken drivers and unfettered gun ownership (which respectively kill about 10,000 and 32,000 Americans annually). To my mind, crazy would be trying to quarantine African countries to keep Ebola out by cutting off flights to the outside world, as some have proposed. That would be far more senseless and heartless than killing, or caring about, a dog.
© 2014, Bloomberg News