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Live Animal Charities Are Ill Conceived; Increase Suffering

Live Animal Charities Are Ill Conceived; Increase Suffering

Picture of Martha Rosenberg


Every holiday season, glossy brochures from Heifer International arrive in US mailboxes tempting people to send the gift of live animals to people in poor countries. Photos show happy kids hugging happy animals and assure givers the animals will provide meat, milk, eggs and wool in perpetuity. Wrong

Live animals sent as charitable donations will usually end up suffering from the same poverty, lack of resources and medical care that afflict the poor people in the first place. While goats may graze on brush that humans can't eat (if they stay healthy), most other animal "gifts" will require food. They'll also need veterinary care, supervision/security, protection from weather extremes and time. Even in industrialized countries with resources, veterinarians tell people not to give puppies for Christmas and chicks for Easter; live animal "gifts" require such time, money, commitment and maturity, they usually end up in shelters, abused or dead.


A few years ago, two teachers who visited communities in Honduras that received Heifer animals saw the problems first hand. A "disease killed off all the chickens in a particular village," said one teacher in the Daily Citizen. Children were so worried about their animals being stolen they were sleeping with them, another teacher told the Reno Gazette Journal.


To dispel worries about what happens to the animals after they are shipped, a 2008 Heifer International newsletter addresses wellbeing questions head on. But the answers are unsatisfying. How do poor families feed the animals when they don't have food themselves? If they can't "grow enough feed" says the newsletter, "families are taught the best substitutes to buy locally." Buy?


What happens when animals get sick? Families can use "local natural substances that are known to provide specific medicinal benefit," says Heifer. Will they "buy" them too?


How are the animals protected from the elements and thieves? Families should build sheds to house the animals says Heifer, using locally available materials that they also "buy."


Using animals as antipoverty commodities is so ill conceived, even Heifer International projects in the US have killed animals. The charity set up an aquaculture project in subsidized housing in Chicago to enable poor kids to sell fish to restaurants for money. In 1999 all the fish froze to death when the heat and power was cut to the building, some say deliberately. Two year later, all the fish died again--this time of heat when power went off during a storm, some leaping "out of their barrels trying to escape accumulating ammonia and rising temperatures," according to the Chicago Tribune.


Former Indian minister for social welfare and animal protection Maneka Gandhi, is no fan of live animal donations. "These charities woo the ethical shopper with pictures of goats wearing Christmas hats and promises of helping the poor in developing countries," but within two years the communities "have an even poorer lifestyle," she says.


Philanthropist Philip Wollen, winner of the 2007 Australian of the Year (Victoria) award and the 2006 Australian Humanitarian Award agrees. "This so called 'aid program' is killing people, animals, and the planet. It is an obscenity dressed up in dollars and dross," he says of Heifer International. "Worse, it is entrenching more cruelty, more environmental carnage and more ill health in poor communities."







Picture of <span class="username">Guest (not verified)</span>

hi, there, as a long-time supporter of Heifer, I was interested and alarmed to see this post. I'm not saying I don't believe you, but I am not convinced.

In its admittedly glossy materials, Heifer repeatedly emphasizes that it teaches good husbandry practices and selects animals suitable for impoverished people.

Certainly, every animal gift will not be successful, and unforeseen circumstances may indeed kill off a flock or a school of fish. But this article only gives two anecdotes to support the allegation that live animals "usually end up suffering." Given the breadth of Heifer's activities, two examples and a couple more opinions are not substantive.

This is an important topic -- if it's true. Your argument would be supported by Heifer-provided or third-party stats on how many donated animals die each year as a percentage of all; what percent of grantees pass along an animal; etc.

Picture of Ruth Steinberger

This is also a matter of common sense.  In order to use animals "profitably" veterinary care, the correct diet, parasite treatments, etc, are all part of the cost of doing business.  Without those things animals will be a burden, not a benefit. 

Animals in chronic poverty are going to be "used up" without the above investments, meaning they will suffer. 

Most importantly, it is deeply offensive that HI claims that animal welfare will become a priority simply because they "educate" people to be humane.  Poverty, "culturally accepted practices," and a lack of laws just may mean more than HI's education.  Culturally accepted practices can include gouging eyes out of cattle to make it easier to herd them toward slaughter.  Thank you Heifer International.

Sending animals into chronic poverty is a poorly conceived, miserable idea because it hurts people, environments and animals all in one donor campaign.

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