Animals & Society Institute - Dealing with COVID-19
From Animal Rights/Vegan Activist Strategies Articles Archive

FROM Animals & Society Institute
April 2020

Our goal is to curate the most reliable COVID-19 animal-related information—highlighting the positive and dispelling inacurate information that has the potential to harm animals and people.

Animals and Society

Welcome to the current issue of the Animals & Society Institute's Human-Animal Studies e-newsletter.

First, I hope you and your loved ones are all healthy, safe, and weathering the pandemic situation as best as you can. Things are stressful and uncertain for us all, and we want to help with that. Toward that end, I’m restructuring the HAS E-news for a time in order to provide relevant, credible information and analysis regarding how the COVID-19 is affecting animals and our relationships with them.

It is important to hold in mind that the coronavirus is called “novel” for a reason. We have never experienced this virus, and we are scared—for ourselves, our loved ones, our communities, and the animals of the world. We crave information, and are anxious to share it with others. But the extent of our knowledge is changing daily. This means that what we think we know one day might change dramatically the next. Because social media is so powerful, it is crucial to take a measured approach to the exchange of information, in order to insure what we are passing along is both timely and accurate.

Wild animals

One instance of misinformation that arose this month were stories of wildlife bouncing back, running free and returning to places now sparsely inhabited by humans under lockdown. But while swans and dolphins returning to canals in Venice and elephants strolling through Asian villages might give us a moment of respite from our situation, in these instances the stories weren’t true.

Travel restrictions and social distancing efforts are keeping people home, but that is having both positive and negative impacts on wild animals. Encouraging examples, for instance, show critically endangered sea turtles in Brazil and in India are now hatching at higher rates due to deserted beaches. However, travel restrictions and social distancing have caused problems for street animals worldwide who rely on humans for food, although people are stepping up to help.

Companion animals

News circulated this month of isolated cases of pet dogs and cats testing positive for COVID-9, spawning questions and concerns that pets might have the potential infect humans.

According to three credible expert sources, there is no evidence that pets can spread the COVID-19 virus to people. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine see no evidence that companion animals can spread the novel coronavirus to people. And as of April 19, the American Veterinary Medical Association note that they have no information that suggests that pets might be a source of infection for people with the COVID-19 virus.

The issue here is more about keeping pets safe—if we are ill, we should be concerned with infecting our pets. Pet owners with COVID-19 should avoid contact with their animals as much as possible, including wearing a face covering while caring for them.

In other companion animal news, the Institute for Human-Animal Connection has compiled a list of COVID-19 considerations for companion animals, and RedRover has published a list of emergency resources for people and pets that includes emergency funding for veterinary care, boarding, pet food, and educational resources, among others.

Social isolation

Shelters continue to empty as adoptions spike. But this raises concerns about the lives of the animals adopted once quarantine efforts cease. Some shelters fear that large numbers of pets will be returned. It’s also probable that if not directly abandoned, many newly adopted pets will feel abandoned once their adopters return to work.

Along these lines, the distressed, edgy and untethered feelings we have because of stay-at-home orders have fostered positive discussions aimed at sharing empathetic awareness of the ways such isolation and confinement might similarly affect the animals in our care—including companion animals, zoo animals, animals in laboratory research, and those raised as products under intensive livestock practices. All of these issues deserve more attention and discussion.

The issue of “wet markets”

Finally, a great deal of attention has focused on identifying the possible origin(s) of the COVID-19 virus. Initial consensus seemed to be that the virus originated in Wuhan, China in a “wet market” at which live wild and farmed animals are sold for food. More recent research notes this is far from certain. As pointed out in this article analyzing the issue of the wet-market origin of the virus, “analysis of the first 41 Covid-19 patients in medical journal the Lancet found that [only] 27 of them had direct exposure to the Wuhan market. But the same analysis found that the first known case of the illness did not.

One advocacy group for small farmers argues that new research points blame at industrialized models of agricultural, specifically livestock production, not wet markets. Other commentors point out that it is not the animals who may be intermediate hosts that have caused the virus outbreak, but our human behaviors, and that it is our cruel treatment of animals that has led to the coronavirus.

While the question of the origin of the virus remains uncertain, it has most certainly spurred positive discussion about the human use of animals in these ways. At the same time, wet markets “have been portrayed as emblems of Chinese otherness,” with the outcome of a growing number of xenophobic attacks against Asians and the Chinese. This thoughtful piece in Earth Island Journal points out the complex concerns that are often lost with narrow, unidimensional calls to close these markets, and argues that rather than pushing for a closure of China’s wet markets we should focus instead on getting wild and exotic animals out of what are essentially the Eastern equivalent farmers' markets.

The closure of wet markets is certainly a red flag issue for animal advocates. (And indeed, recent polls show that 97 percent of Chinese citizens are now strongly against wildlife consumption.) Given the unintended consequences some of these recent calls have caused, we might consider carefully if our advocacy could be used to promote culturally insensitive narratives that could be misconstrued to endorse xenophobic actions, and look instead for ways to stimulate positive outcomes for both animals and people.

Here at ASI, we recognize that COVID-19-related information is fluid and changes with each day. Our goal is to curate the most reliable COVID-19 animal-related information—highlighting the positive and dispelling inacurate information that has the potential to harm animals and people. We will continue to follow scholarly and expert sources, unbiased media, and social commentary about how these issues affect both animals and people. Now, as always, we want to ensure that both animals and people are staying safe.

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