With the storms and flooding across the Midwest, and images dominating the news of what seem to be acres upon acres of water where it's not supposed to be, the impact upon the lives of countless people and their homes and communities is impossible to overlook. The human emergency created by this disaster naturally consumes the majority of our focus and response, as it should, and needs to if we are going to address other effects of the flooding as well, which has had a staggering environmental impact, and jeopardized the lives of countless animals as well: pets, livestock and wildlife.
It's unfortunate to hear that modern human development has more than likely contributed to the extent of the disaster and its impact upon people, nature and animals alike. As this article by Mary Kelly of the Environmental Defense Fund points out:
Our choices have tended to make flood waters run faster, increasing the damage and danger. Levees narrow the river and speed it up. The near total loss of wetlands in the agricultural Midwest exacerbates the problem because those wetlands naturally stored stormwater and slowed runoff to streams and rivers. And the loss of riverside forests that also slow down and absorb flood flows into the ground has added to the current misery.
not one sparrow is an effort which focuses on animal welfare issues and implications, in large part because there are few other Christian outlets which speak to this cause which has tremendous biblical support (see our motivation page). But this gets especially sticky when animal concerns seem to be in direct competition with human realities and needs. My sincere hope is that not one sparrow doesn't present animal welfare as a competing or detracting interest, but rather comes alongside of legitimate human concerns to suggest that our response to suffering should extend itself wherever possible to all creatures, and all creation for that matter which is "groaning as in the pains of childbirth" (Romans 8:22, NIV).
Whether in relatively stable times or times of disaster, our responsibility isn't fulfilled unless we take into consideration the wellbeing of all that God has made and continues to care for. As Richard Young has suggested, we can't expect to be at peace ourselves unless we do so: “If humanity was designed to be part of an ecosystem, an inner sense of wholeness and fulfillment could never be realized without the corresponding renewal of the community and context of which humans are a part” (Is God a Vegetarian?, Open Court '98, pg. 147).
That said, I'm saddened to think about the many animals impacted by the flooding: from the pets that had to be left behind in the rush to get away in time, to the farmed pigs which were similarly left to fend for themselves, and all of the wildlife whose habitats were ruined. In so many cases, death was an almost inevitable result. One especially sad story had to do with several pigs who somehow managed to swim to safety "through raging floodwaters" in southeastern Iowa, only to be shot to death because they landed on a sandbag levee which they stood the potential to compromise (AP, 06/19/08, via MSNBC.com). Another story describes a farmer's deep regret over having to leave nearly one thousand pigs behind: "They're not like pets or anything. But they're something we're responsible for" (Chicago Tribune, 06/18/08).
This farmer returned to his farm by boat as soon as he was able to free his animals from their pens, to give them some small chance of escape (though to his knowledge, only a small percentage survived). Other groups, including the Humane Society, have responded with great urgency and dedication to rescue as many abandoned pets as they can and reunite them with their owners (see this report and the touching AP video below). It's hard not to wonder if there wasn't more that could have been done on the front end to prevent the need for such rescues, and the suffering of many other animals which were not able to be rescued. And I find myself asking if there wasn't a more life-affirming way to remove the pigs from the levee, which had fought so hard and against such great odds to survive to that point?
But I was not in the shoes of those who had to make decisions on the spur of the moment, decisions which had implications for human safety, and that's important to remember. Even so, the EDF article points out that we need to do much more to help prevent flooding or limit its impact by working with the environment, and not against it, when we develop the land which has been placed in our care. This is even more necessary when second hand preventives such as levees are so prone to failure, as Kelly writes, and when disaster response can only do so much to turn back the tide of tragedy. We need to do everything we can to secure the safety of both humans and animals before disaster strikes, and by making every effort not to aggravate the natural world's potential for devestation. And in a very biblical sense this means understanding and respecting the interrelatedness of all of creation which God has designed.
I just came across this video on CNN.com which sheds some more light on how companion animals, and entire shelters, were affected by the flooding. In it, Gary Weitzman of the Washington Animal Rescue League says, "There's awareness now that animals don't have to be left during a disaster. There certainly wasn't that, three years ago for Katrina."
I also just found this Best Friends post about the Wisconsin Humane Society, based in nearby Milwaukee, and its efforts to help in the disaster response.