On Friday, when I along with the rest of Southern California, was subjected to the breathless and non-stop television coverage of this rescue of a dog
from the rushes of a bulging LA River (the result of our recent storms), my first reaction was to be a little bit disgusted. It's not that I don't like dogs or don't admire the selfless work of rescuers. I'm a big fan of both dogs and rescue personnel. But here we were at the end of a week in which the human tragedy of a natural disaster in Haiti was palpable--where people died because there were no tools or emergency personnel available to prevent it--and Los Angeles was gripped and, then, elated by a (no doubt outrageously expensive) helicopter rescue of . . . a dog. And then, just for good measure and because no good deed goes unpunished, the darn dog bit and severely injured his savior. Perfect. "Don't people see the horrible and sad irony here?" I indignantly asked myself. Aren't the lives of those people in Haiti worth more than the life of a dog? What an extravagant and ridiculous people we have become, I mumbled to myself.
But what a silly, self-righteous prig I was in that moment. Still, everyone's entitled to a momentary lapse of rational judgment in the face of life's inequities. This was (one of) mine. As I thought about it or, rather, groused about it, I began to wonder and to re-think. Is it fair to suggest that there is something off in my fellow citizens because they were so interested in the fate of a dog that they were willing to invest their tax dollars, the lives and safety of their rescue personnel, and their good wishes and captivated interest in seeing him rescued? Was it really taking anything away from the horrible scope of the tragedy in Haiti for rescue workers in Los Angeles to attend to this matter? In the end, I think the answer to both questions is "no."
Of course, such a daring rescue of a dog would be an unlikely event in a place like Haiti. And one can't blame them for that. The animal/human distinction is a good thing to remember and a thing that too often gets blurred in a rich country like ours. Of course, it gets blurred in poor countries too . . . though in the opposite direction.
Really, it says something wonderful (if not entirely rational) about us as a people that we CAN do this and that, when given the opportunity, we do it as a matter of course. We have the luxury to worry about a dog to the amazing degree that we can call out a rescue team to assist it! How does a nation get to that point? It is not because it is a bad or a degraded place, that's for sure. And it ought to be assuring, too, in contemplating what a natural disaster in a country like ours would look like versus what it is in a place like Haiti. Say what one wants about the worst of the response to Katrina . . . it looked nothing like the tragedy of Haiti and that's not only because the earthquake was more violent than the hurricane. Badly governed nations are poor and poor nations aren't known for their efficient rescue operations--even when the hearts of their people yearn for the freedom and prosperity that allows them.
Almost as if he sensed it the glaring inequity between what went down in the LA River and the efforts in Haiti, the man who rescued the dog (and, for his efforts, was willing to get bit) explained in an interview that his concern, ultimately, was less about the dog and more about the safety of the public. Good sense mixed here with compassion. You see, he knew what kind of people we Americans are. Someone, if not the rescuer, would have tried to save that dog and, likely, that someone would then have been in need of rescuing. Sometimes our hearts are bigger than our brains . . . but that's just who we are as Americans. Anyway, we're all entitled to a momentary lapse of rational judgment in the face of life's inequities--particularly when we are so blessed. Very often, we do some good . . . even if we sometimes get bit.