Cultural Perspective: Life Through Their Eyes

By Brooke Warner, June 2012

Photo: Brooke WarnerWhen I arrived in Sabana Grande, I only had a cursory understanding of the definition of One Health: the interrelationships of human medicine, animal medicine and the environment regarding the subject of health. Simple enough, yet what did that mean to me?  We were there on a One Health project, but what we were looking for specifically, I had no idea.  So I decided to just see what I saw, ask the questions that I became curious about, and learn from there.

Well, the first thing I saw (from my perspective as a veterinary student who loves furry creatures to a fault) was hunger.  Not of people though; only of animals.  And not of all the animals, but of the dogs, cats, and the occasional horse in Sabana Grande.  So, my question was WHY?  Why were the dogs emaciated while the cows, hens, and people were fed?  I needed to find out why, so that I could help end what I saw as suffering of the creatures I loved more than any other.

Well, after living there for a week and having a few discussions regarding “perspective” with a couple of team mates, I saw that a possibly more important question: Why was I asking that question?  I was asking that question because in my world, dogs are to be loved like your own children.  And cows and hens are to be respected and treated humanely, but they are food, of which I have never known a shortage.

A week in Sabana Grande allowed me to see their world through their eyes.  And it is the cows, pigs and hens that hold the most value.  Their worth is food on the table and money in the pocket, something which is very scarce.  The dogs and cats, however, have their duties, and therefore are to be respected for their relative degree of worth.  But they don’t by any means result in money or food.

So, while I am pondering why “they don’t show compassion towards their dogs” they are pondering why “she has such a misplaced compassion for dogs over cows”.  And theirs is just as fair a question as mine.  It just comes down to perspective.  But just as I would feel bad if I saw a population of coyotes hungry and scavenging, they too feel bad that their dogs are hungry.  But would I go out campaigning for the coyotes, even if they are a valuable part of the ecosystem and deserve respect?  I’m sorry to say, that probably wouldn’t be highest on my list of priorities, just as solving canine hunger wouldn’t be highest on theirs.

But, alas, I get up on my soapbox again and point out that they all spend more money on cell phones than practically anything else.  So I say, why don’t they use a bit of that money for dog food for their dog?  But wait, don’t I have an iPhone?  Couldn’t I be spending that monthly cell phone charge on pet insurance for my dog?  According to my own logic, I don’t love my most beloved pet.

So what did this trip teach me about One Health?  Well, the biggest health issue I saw was hunger.  Yet the solution was not one of medicine, but one of human behavior.  When looking at the health of a community as a whole, focusing on the diseases of humans, animals and the environment is just too narrow.  Your perspective must be even wider than health itself.