An open letter on how prejudice undermines animal welfare.
Over the last few days, we have posted some pretty emotional content highlighting the genuine issues of backyard breeding and dog poisonings here in Sri Lanka.
While these posts show some of the challenges that animal welfare groups in Sri Lanka face, it’s vital that in our response to such acts we don’t forget the many people who are working tirelessly to help those animals in the first place.
Prejudice undermines animal welfare
Increasingly, I have read comments that are nothing short of blatant racism. Comments like, “all Sri Lankans are evil”, “Sri Lanka is the cruellest place in the world”, “all Sri Lankans are wicked to animals”, and “ Sri Lankans don’t deserve support” are deeply offensive and prejudiced.
While it is true that some Sri Lankans are guilty of conducting these poisonings or being profit-driven backyard-breeders, only the most bigoted of minds could think all Sri Lankans or, indeed, any citizens of any one country all think or feel one way. That kind of thinking is very dangerous as history has proven again and again.
Dogstar’s entire veterinary and field team are Sri Lankan. Every single one of them! Their commitment to animal welfare was recognised when Dogstar won an international animal welfare award earlier this year.
It saddens my soul when I read mass generalisations saying all Sri Lankans are cruel to dogs, scared of dogs, view them as vermin, etc. Of course, it will be true that some Sri Lankans hold these views, but it’s not true of everyone, no more than it’s true in the UK where I am from or any other country in the world.
Animal abuse, cruelty and poor animal welfare do not fit neatly into geographical boundaries. In every country, animals suffer, sometimes companion animals and more often than not, livestock animals.
No place for racism
I am not naive to the issues here; I left my friends, family, and a highly paid successful career in the UK to move to Sri Lanka to work as Dogstar’s (unpaid) in Country Director in 2013. My job is tough; unbelievably tough. Daily, I face issues and problems that I never thought I could cope with. Constantly, I worry about funding all the programs we run, paying the staff wages, importing supplies and one-thousand-and-one other issues. My inbox is groaning with urgent pleas for help.
I certainly don’t need to read offensive racist remarks about my coworkers who are working hands-on to help animals day in and day out, doing things that most xenophobic keyboard-warriors could never do in a million years. It’s hurtful to me and it’s even more hurtful to them. Such prejudice undermines animal welfare and the entire nonprofit sector.
It’s also worth pointing out that Sri Lanka has many local animal welfare organisations founded by, and run by Sri Lankans. There are groups running adoption programs, campaigning for improved animal welfare legislation and conducting rescues every single day of the year. I am proud of the ever-growing animal welfare movement here, which is locally led and run. Dogstar works with and supports many groups, both locally and internationally. We are all working for the same cause.
Be part of the solution
So, to those people who think all Sri Lankans, Asians, people from a different country, culture background, or religion are evil, I say simply this; please reflect on the power of your words and use them wisely to make the difference you want to see in the world rather than be a voice of hatred or abuse. Channel your anger into something constructive. Be part of the solution. Every single animal welfare worker and volunteer here and globally needs and wants support. Prejudice undermines animal welfare, and it has no place in this world.
I am proud of all our staff. They are my coworkers, and in many cases, they are my friends. And they are a force of good.
The world needs good people to stand up and be counted, and they do every single day.