Ebola outrage goes to the dogs

October 30, 2014

EbolaThey screamed and shouted, carried placards and scuffled with police. They took their fight online, too — sparking a worldwide outcry that generated hundreds of thousands of petition signatures and caused a firestorm on social media.

Clearly, in the fight against the deadly Ebola virus, this was one casualty too many.

But this global protest wasn’t over a human — instead, all those well-intentioned people were trying to save Excalibur, a light brown mixed-breed dog owned by a Spanish nursing assistant and her husband.

Health authorities in Spain had the animal euthanized and its body incinerated this week after its owner was diagnosed with the deadly virus, which was contracted when she treated a victim who came from Sierra Leone.

When veterinary staff tried to take the animal’s body away from the apartment where it was killed, protesters chanted “assassins,” blocked the vehicle and had to be beaten out of the way by police.

On Twitter, the hashtag #SalvemosaExcalibur, or “Let’s Save Excalibur” in English, was tweeted nearly 400,000 times in 24 hours, making it the social networking site’s second most popular meme worldwide, bigger than, yes, even Justin Bieber.

In just a matter of hours, a petition registered on the Change.org website demanding the dog’s life be saved gathered more than 380,000 signatures. A second petition gathered some 70,000 more.

Reading about all this outcry, I couldn’t help but wonder where was the outrage in the western world for the roughly 4,000 people who have been killed by Ebola in West Africa. They’re dying in the most deadly and most terrifying outbreak of the disease we’ve ever seen.

Thousands more are expected to die before the disease can be stemmed. In a worst-case scenario, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that up to 1.4 million people could be infected by the end of January.

While the leaders of the worst-hit countries plead for help, we’re absorbed in anxiety around the safety of our own health-care systems and the possible threat of contamination at our airports. As for the people not lucky enough to live here, they’re simply out of luck.

“Without you, we can’t succeed,” Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma said, as the World Bank estimated the financial fallout from the Ebola outbreak could cost $32 billion by the end of 2015, if the virus spreads to neighbouring countries.

The Spanish health agency, meanwhile, said Excalibur had to be killed because it could have transmitted the disease to humans. There is no documented case of Ebola spreading to people from dogs, and it’s hard to understand why killing Excalibur was the only solution panicked health authorities could come up with.

What’s more disturbing is how the outrage over the dog’s life drowned out the concern for the far larger and far less privileged victims of this outbreak. That many of us seem to care more for a single dog than entire African countries speaks volumes.

In Canada, there have been a few small, polite demonstrations begging the international community to do more to stop Ebola, mostly from people with personal connections to West Africa.

But as for the real, clenched-fist, we’re-not-going-to-take-it kind of uprising? We’ll save that for the dogs.

Greg Mercer is a Guelph-based writer whose column appears every third Saturday. Past columns can be read at gregmercer.ca. Follow him on Twitter at @MercerRecord

-Guelph Mercury, Oct. 11, 2014

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