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Placing our priorities correctly

Shankar Vedantam tells a disturbing story about a dog at sea to raise a serious question about how we humans prioritize our charitable endeavors.

A fire broke out in the engine room of the Insiko 1907, an unregistered tanker, as it passed about 800 miles south of the Hawaiian Islands. The fire swept through the ship so quickly that the crew wasn’t even able to radio for help.

When the fire subsided, 11 men and the captain’s dog found themselves safe, with good supplies of food and water, in the ship’s forward quarters. But they had no engines, no radio, and no means for contacting the outside world.

So the ship drifted aimlessly for days, eventually coming within 220 miles of Hawaii–at which point a cruise ship picked up the crew. Hokget, the dog, however, was left behind.

One of the cruise ship passengers who heard Hokget barking called the Hawaiian Humane Society to see if they would do something to rescue him. The Society alerted fishing boats, but the operation seemed hopeless.

As Vedantam explains,

The problem . . . was that no one knew where the Insiko was. The U.S. Coast Guard estimated it could be anywhere in an area measuring 360,000 square miles.

I don’t need to tell the whole story. A month and a half after the fire broke out, and over $300,000 of private and public taxpayer money later, Hokget was finally rescued.

In the meantime, letters and contributions had poured into the Humane Society from 39 states and four foreign countries. One was a check for $5,000. The notes expressed deep anguish and concern:

“This check is in memory of the little dog lost at sea.”

“Thank you for pulling my heartstrings and for reminding me of all the hope there is left in this world.”

And so forth.

This episode raises a series of disturbing questions, however, writes Vedantam. Read the rest of this entry »

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