The State of the Animals: The Good, Bad, Ugly, and Hope

A universe-changing pandemic demands we work together for nonhumans and humans.

Posted Mar 19, 2020

If you want to learn about how to make things better for nonhumans and humans, listen to Jane Goodall for a mere 2:07.

A universe-changing and paradigm-shifting pandemic is here. The 24/7 news repeatedly tells the horror story of an event, that many knew would arrive, and many of my friends are totally overwhelmed with negativity and hopelessness.

I'm pretty much a card-carrying optimist, but I must admit that at times my "optimism rubber band" gets stretched just as far as it can go without popping. However, in the nick of time, something pulls me back into the arena of hope. Someone might send me a picture of a dog or another animal doing something silly or engaging in "crazy play zoomies" that makes me laugh. Soon after, someone else tells me about how they and others are helping nonhuman animals (animals) and humans in need. And then a youngster tells they've decided to work with animals at a local shelter or decides to work to stop dissecting animals in their school and receives a national award for her efforts. 

These sorts of emails and conversations keep me going, and I know they also can be very contagious when someone is at the point of breaking and giving up on making positive differences because it's useless to try. A few people have told me, "We're %^#(#_d," and when I find myself agreeing, I think back to all of the good things that are happening and I move forward with hope. 

Yesterday I listened to a two minute and seven-second video message from Jane Goodall focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic. I've worked with Goodall on a good number of projects, essays, and a book called The Ten Trusts, and when I got done listening to her words of wisdom, I sat at my desk for around a half-hour and thought about her important, heartfelt, and compassionate message about what's happening right now, both to nonhumans and humans, and why we must change our ways—right now. The bottom line I came away with is that we must offer love and compassion to all animals, nonhuman and human. As Goodall puts it, we need to all work together and hope and pray that soon the nightmare will be over for everyone. 

The hidden costs of the coronavirus pandemic on research animals

It's clear that numerous, some might say countless, animals are suffering not only because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but so too, even when things aren't so dire. Goodall talks about the mistreatment of wildlife and how they're used for food and medicinal purposes. Many people know about this, however, most people with whom I've spoken don't know that research animals also are suffering during this pandemic and researchers might have to kill them because they simply can't be kept in labs because of quarantines, lack of care, the inability for research to be conducted, and a lack of funds.

Two organizations that often are polar opposites on matters of animal protection have published stories about these sickening and deadly situations, and both are available online. The first essay, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) by science writer David Grimm is called "Respirators, quarantines, and worst-case scenarios: Lab animal facilities grapple with the pandemic." He begins, "The U.S. National Institutes of Health announced this week it is 'deeply concerned about the impact of [COVID-19] on the ability of … institutions to support the well-being of animals and personnel during this public health emergency.' And indeed, many universities are currently grappling with the best way to care for the millions of mice, monkeys, and other research animals they care for across the country, in addition to protecting the health of their own employees."

In his piece, Grimm interviews two people who head animal resource centers at two major universities. There's a thin thread of optimism about the fate of lab animals, but both men note that there are significant current problems and future concerns. One very interesting and important exchange between Grimm and the two men goes as follows.

"Q [David Grimm]: On Monday, the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals claimed that universities were being ordered to purge animals that are not considered critical to experiments. Is anything like this happening at your institutions?

PS [Peter Smith, associate director of Yale University’s Animal Resources Center]: No. We have not, nor can I envision a scenario in the context of this pandemic in which we would mandate euthanasia of research animals. But we trust that labs will scale back the breeding of experimental mice accordingly if their research needs are diminished.

EH [Eric Hutchinson, the associate director of research animal resources at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore]: I will say categorically that no mice or any other animals have been euthanized in an effort to conserve resources.

However, in response to Hutchinson's claim, in another essay called "PETA Calls BS on Johns Hopkins’ Denial of Coronavirus Killing Spree" published Match 18, we read, "His answer made it seem as if PETA had invented this cruel mandate out of thin air. But unfortunately for Hutchinson, we kept the receipts. In fact, the mandate to 'euthanize extraneous animals' at Johns Hopkins came from Hutchinson himself." Further, "In an e-mail sent to Johns Hopkins’ Animal Use and Care Committee on March 12, Hutchinson directed that beginning on Monday, March 16, “[l]abs should mark cages according to priority …, euthanize extraneous animals, and make provisions for necessary ongoing experimental treatments/procedures.” This piece is a follow-up to a previous essay called "Coronavirus Shuts Down Universities, Prompts Mass Killing in Animal Labs."

I'll keep you abreast of these and other discussions on the fate of these and millions of other lab animals who also are caught in the pandemic quagmire. This is a bad situation that could get uglier pretty fast, and more people need to know about it because many do not and they're shocked when they learn about it. 

Let's focus on the good, remain positive, and go to the animals and nature to uplift ourselves in trying times: The 20:1 rule

I'm also pleased to say that there is some good news for lab animals that's offered in an essay by Audrey Enjoli called "The First Coronavirus Vaccine Won’t Be Tested on Animals." I was thrilled to read this essay given what I'd written in a recent piece called "It's Time to Move on From Nonhuman Animal Models," with the subtitle containing a quote from Stanford genomics expert Dr. Ron Davis: "Animals don't 'really tell you much about how the virus causes disease.'"

 Shartrina White
Tito, a rescued cow at Luvin' Arms Animal Sanctuary, with Shartrina White, its executive director.
Source: Shartrina White

I know numerous people are really pressed for time and are extremely concerned with what is happening worldwide. The above two topics and numerous others need open discussion in an ever-changing world in which relationships between humans and nonhumans are being challenged and in a state of flux—some might say they're in an unprecedented state of flux—and relationships among humans are being similarly and greatly challenged. We're really all in this mess together—we're all interconnected—and the best or only way out is for all of us to work with one another and to remain positive. 

My humble suggestion is to limit doses of TV watching, especially oft-repeated news where there are extremely few positive messages. I know we need to know what's happening, but when a friend of mine suggested, "We should go to the animals and nature at least 20 times more than we go to the news," I thought this 20:1 ratio was a good rule of thumb.

If you can't get outside for whatever reason, there are numerous excellent documentaries readily available on TV and online about diverse animals and nature, and these really seem to help people along. If it's possible, and I know there are decreasing opportunities, watch dogs playing at a dog park or visit the animals at local shelters and sanctuaries. I suggested to a friend that his kids write a book about their dog. He loved the idea and they're going to do it. 

Dogs and other companion animals also can help us along and be social catalysts for uplifting experiences and for interacting with other people—even with 6 feet between them. Yesterday, five of us talked to a man and his dog, spread out in a circle, and immediately we all were laughing and the man and his dog were having a great time as well. Two kids joined and suddenly we were all laughing as the kids talked to the dog as they often do. 

I know these are extremely tough times, but being with other animals and being outside, or having these sorts of experiences virtually, can be relatively easy and free remedies, even in urban areas. What's happening today is unlikely to be a one-off catastrophe. More will likely occur and we need to prepare ourselves and future generations for similar events.

When this pandemic is over, if it ever will be—it's really generating a global social transformation and revolution—the effects will be very long-lasting. They won't ever disappear totally and what we do today will influence how we and others adapt to a universe-changing and paradigm-shifting series of events. Let's hope the future world will be far better than what we have now. Let's hope for more compassion and empathy among all beings. 

Even a few minutes of relaxation and "forgetting about it all" can go a long way toward reducing what feels like never-ending bad news and helping us to work together to heal a badly broken and wounded planet.