According to the 2013 World Giving Index, an annual survey conducted by the Charities Aid Foundation, in 2012, the United States topped a list of 135 countries as the world’s most generous nation. As director of Animal-Kind International (AKI), a nonprofit that supports 10 (soon to be 11) existing animal-welfare organizations in poor countries, I was thrilled to read these statistics. But do they apply to animal welfare? Have animal welfare advocates moved beyond national borders to support animal protection efforts wherever they are needed? If not, why not?
Thanks largely to social media and international travel, interest in and awareness of global animal welfare issues are certainly growing. These days, I less often hear, “Why should we help over there when we have so many animal problems here in the U.S.?” Rather, I meet people like Maritha, an AKI supporter, who has traveled to Jamaica and who designates an AKI partner organization, Kingston Community Animal Welfare, for her donations. Maritha’s reason for donating to an organization thousands of miles away? “A dog is a dog, and it doesn’t matter which country he comes from. Where the help is needed most and where you know you can make an impact, that’s where you should put your money.”
Even though awareness and interest are growing, my AKI experience tells me that animal welfare advocates have yet to wholeheartedly join the trend of donating beyond borders. Certainly, U.S.-based animal welfare organizations deserve our support, but if American dog- and cat-lovers knew of the tremendous strides animal welfare organizations in poor countries are making (and their tremendous needs), and if they knew that their donated funds were well accounted for and were making a difference, the boundaries to giving would break down.
AKI fills those knowledge gaps: We report on our partner organizations’ successes and challenges. We provide details of how these donations are used. We do the due diligence to ensure that our partner organizations spend funds only for animal welfare purposes. And we send 100 percent of all donations to our partner organizations, all of which were started and/or are now run by local people who deeply care about animals.
It’s an exciting time to be involved in international animal welfare; things are happening so quickly! In the past few years, Pilar, who runs the AKI partner organization Helping Hands for Hounds of Honduras, noted that “people now take their dogs to the vet for vaccinations and when they are sick (although often they wait too long due to their financial situation). They also buy dog houses, and dogs are less often chained and left out in the sun and rain with no shelter. People are now buying dog food (often the cheap kind) instead of giving them old, moldy tortillas. Many people now bury their pets when they die instead of throwing them in the trash.”
Our AKI partner organizations do so much with so little; they are often the only animal welfare organization in the country. They work in countries where donations to animal welfare are so hard to come by, and where American expertise, lessons learned and generosity can have a huge impact. It’s not about us v. them; it’s not a matter of local v. global. We all have something to share.