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Live Animal Charities Are Ill Conceived; Increase Suffering

Live Animal Charities Are Ill Conceived; Increase Suffering

Picture of Martha Rosenberg


Every holiday season, glossy brochures from Heifer International arrive in US mailboxes tempting people to send the gift of live animals to people in poor countries. Photos show happy kids hugging happy animals and assure givers the animals will provide meat, milk, eggs and wool in perpetuity. Wrong

Live animals sent as charitable donations will usually end up suffering from the same poverty, lack of resources and medical care that afflict the poor people in the first place. While goats may graze on brush that humans can't eat (if they stay healthy), most other animal "gifts" will require food. They'll also need veterinary care, supervision/security, protection from weather extremes and time. Even in industrialized countries with resources, veterinarians tell people not to give puppies for Christmas and chicks for Easter; live animal "gifts" require such time, money, commitment and maturity, they usually end up in shelters, abused or dead.


A few years ago, two teachers who visited communities in Honduras that received Heifer animals saw the problems first hand. A "disease killed off all the chickens in a particular village," said one teacher in the Daily Citizen. Children were so worried about their animals being stolen they were sleeping with them, another teacher told the Reno Gazette Journal.


To dispel worries about what happens to the animals after they are shipped, a 2008 Heifer International newsletter addresses wellbeing questions head on. But the answers are unsatisfying. How do poor families feed the animals when they don't have food themselves? If they can't "grow enough feed" says the newsletter, "families are taught the best substitutes to buy locally." Buy?


What happens when animals get sick? Families can use "local natural substances that are known to provide specific medicinal benefit," says Heifer. Will they "buy" them too?


How are the animals protected from the elements and thieves? Families should build sheds to house the animals says Heifer, using locally available materials that they also "buy."


Using animals as antipoverty commodities is so ill conceived, even Heifer International projects in the US have killed animals. The charity set up an aquaculture project in subsidized housing in Chicago to enable poor kids to sell fish to restaurants for money. In 1999 all the fish froze to death when the heat and power was cut to the building, some say deliberately. Two year later, all the fish died again--this time of heat when power went off during a storm, some leaping "out of their barrels trying to escape accumulating ammonia and rising temperatures," according to the Chicago Tribune.


Former Indian minister for social welfare and animal protection Maneka Gandhi, is no fan of live animal donations. "These charities woo the ethical shopper with pictures of goats wearing Christmas hats and promises of helping the poor in developing countries," but within two years the communities "have an even poorer lifestyle," she says.


Philanthropist Philip Wollen, winner of the 2007 Australian of the Year (Victoria) award and the 2006 Australian Humanitarian Award agrees. "This so called 'aid program' is killing people, animals, and the planet. It is an obscenity dressed up in dollars and dross," he says of Heifer International. "Worse, it is entrenching more cruelty, more environmental carnage and more ill health in poor communities."







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hi, there, as a long-time supporter of Heifer, I was interested and alarmed to see this post. I'm not saying I don't believe you, but I am not convinced.

In its admittedly glossy materials, Heifer repeatedly emphasizes that it teaches good husbandry practices and selects animals suitable for impoverished people.

Certainly, every animal gift will not be successful, and unforeseen circumstances may indeed kill off a flock or a school of fish. But this article only gives two anecdotes to support the allegation that live animals "usually end up suffering." Given the breadth of Heifer's activities, two examples and a couple more opinions are not substantive.

This is an important topic -- if it's true. Your argument would be supported by Heifer-provided or third-party stats on how many donated animals die each year as a percentage of all; what percent of grantees pass along an animal; etc.

Picture of Ruth Steinberger

This is also a matter of common sense.  In order to use animals "profitably" veterinary care, the correct diet, parasite treatments, etc, are all part of the cost of doing business.  Without those things animals will be a burden, not a benefit. 

Animals in chronic poverty are going to be "used up" without the above investments, meaning they will suffer. 

Most importantly, it is deeply offensive that HI claims that animal welfare will become a priority simply because they "educate" people to be humane.  Poverty, "culturally accepted practices," and a lack of laws just may mean more than HI's education.  Culturally accepted practices can include gouging eyes out of cattle to make it easier to herd them toward slaughter.  Thank you Heifer International.

Sending animals into chronic poverty is a poorly conceived, miserable idea because it hurts people, environments and animals all in one donor campaign.

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My donations to Heifer will never stop. I am a witness to how this program does work. It is only one instance that I was able to see but it is a model for all of what Heifer does. My wife and I were in Malindi, Kenya staying at a timeshare resort. While walking around the city we spotted an office of Heifer Intl. We went in and introduced ourselves. They were very excited to have two American supporters in their little outpost. They asked if we could come back on Friday when the regional manager would be there. We said yes and came back to meet him. We drove in his pickup to three properties that had Heifer animals. The first was a wiman with two children who prior to her taking a pregnant cow was impoverished living in a small hut with her husband a children. She had taken the course on how to care for the animal and had constructed a nice shelter for the cow. She now had four cows all raised from the original one, her husband had purchased a donkey cart to take the metal urns of milk out to the highway to sell through the dairy co-op. Her children arrived from school in white shirts and shorts. Her neighbors children were filthy with torn tees because their mother did not want to take the course and have to deal with a cow. She also had a large house still being constructed. She went from the lowest class of her village to one of the respected leaders by pulling herself up with the initial help of Heifer. And this story was repeated at every stop we went. The Kenyan government wanted Heifer to do it throughout the country. Heifer only has the manpower to do these pilot programs so that governments can see how successful they are. Your negative attitude and arguments are exceptions to the norm. Statistics will bear me out. So stop spreading this negativity and get out there and see for yourselves. Thank you.

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From HI:


"In July through August 2012 we performed an impact evaluation of 5 Umbrella Projects in the Philippines. The 5 projects were proposed in 2006/2007 and were mostly ended by the time of the evaluation.”

“Morbidity and mortality rates among project livestock are too high, especially in the case of pass-ons."

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I've read the pros and cons of animal donations. We have donated to Heifer twice now, both times 5 flocks of chickens which is a really small donation. Ive read the horror stories and some very positive live encounters such as yours. I have to say, we will keep donating monthly what we can. For better or worse, all we can do is put our small donations out in the Heifer universe in the hope that it will do good for others.

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I'm an American farmers daughter with experience with different livestock. To the ignorant-most animals have parasites and health issues INCLUDING PEOPLE! To deny others what you enjoy by proxy ( someone else's labor) is extremely indecent of you. If those same animals were living wild and free there would be more death and carnage to them than some death by people trying to live and eat better. And they would still get parasites and diseases. Please think a little before your well fed lifestyle overloads your thinking processes.

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Definitely written by a PETA member. So disease kills the animaks, that is the people's fault and animal abuse. Should we stop donating things at this trying times bc patients are dying. Disease I guess should be mandated as a call to prevent all intentions. Regular people don't buy into the BS of propofanda and humans were herbivores and animal meat and omnivores don't exist. Ridiculous as my title says. All charities are dubious, but for the ridiculous statements. Please don't. The kids slept with their chickens. Oh no I guess no one locked then inside to avoid the disease of outdoors and animaks.

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Heifer International always made total sense to me having grown up on a Wisconsin dairy farm in the '50's ... had my first flock of 100 Rock Cornish chicks at 8 for my 4-H project ... lost a bunch to coccidiosis but still made money butchering and selling to store where we also traded our eggs from 100 or so leghorns for groceries for our family (10 of us). Raised our own oats and corn for chicken feed so minimal input. Saturday night in town I got my wages for the week of plowing and haying and milking cows....50 cents !! Probably more than my Dad made some years... Have had chickens most of my adult life ... best recyclers made and healthiest source of protein.

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I donate to HI every year. I am sure that there are some downsides to every charity (especially one like HI). It is probably extremely challenging to actually successfully implement this kind of charity all the way through the process. And since there are going to be some cases where the animals do suffer, it is probably very hard for those animal rights activists to watch. And I agree that this is a bad thing and very sad when it happens (and reasonable attempts to avoid and correct such cases should be taken). But I also greatly appreciate the attempt to help people (and the animals) in their impoverished situations. To me there is no real ongoing evidence that this attempt is not worth it or should be stopped. In fact, I think it is an amazing attempt (especially in spirit) to help people long term. If it's possible that in 10 years the organization will have things figured out better (reduced animal suffering, increased success cases) then it is more than worth it. It is easy to tear down charities and find reasons why it is actually bad, but I don't think that is always the right thing to do. Especially when overall it discourages willing people from having a charitable spirit about them. That is a step in the wrong direction if you ask me. It can be hard to tell the real intent of people and charities sometimes, but I think you can always tell that the spirit and the intent is almost always good. You should never discourage any attempt to help others (even if there is a downside). One of my favorite Ben Franklin quotes is: "A right heart exceeds all". I think that applies to what I am trying to say here. Also I know that probably a large majority of charity is squandered (or even abused) by the recipients. You definitely can't always account for that variable. Again, you have to look at the other benefits. When you attempt to help another person and give them ANYTHING, they are being shown that they mean something to somebody out there and that they are loved in one form or another, and that is one of the main purposes of charity in general. I think that alone can have major lasting impact on the lives of those in need. So I say: "keep giving to Heifer and anything else in the spirit of love and giving".

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I support this charity.I'm sure they are not perfect but much needed and I believe people are being helped.Keep on giving you'll be blessed.

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