Biologically speaking, we too are animals, and the very spirit of this fact can be felt in what St. Francis of Assisi said “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men”. And for this reason St. Fracis of Assissi regarded all animals as his brothers and sisters.
October 04, the day that reflects the Feast of the Patron Saint of Animals, St. Francis of Assisi, was chosen as World Animal Day at a convention of ecologists in Florence, in the year 1931. Then, the World Animal Day was celebrated as a way of highlighting the plight of endangered species. But now, it encompasses all kinds of animal life and is celebrated globally.
Literally, the word Animal is derived from the Latin word animalis or animalia, meaning vital breath or soul. Scientifically, animals are a group of organism classified under the kingdom Animalia or Metazoa. Functionally, animals are composed of many cells, specialized to move and respond to the environment, and derive energy by consuming other forms of life. Historically, animals existed for millions of years on Earth, got evolved by competing for resources and adapted to every change in the environment. Culturally, animals have contributed to music and dance through their sounds and movements.
The history of human civilization is closely associated with domestic animals. Domestication enabled humanity to steadily rise from primitive stage to the better quality. Large domestic animals changed our nomadic life style to more settled one. Animals relieved us from the hard labour of heavy field work and made the transport of natural resources and farm products to other communities for sale, possible. In addition, food in the form of fat and protein, clothing out of wool and hair; dried manure as fuel for cooking and heating; draught power for extracting water from the ground and from rivers for domestic use and for irrigation, were all provided by the animals. The railway was invented about 180 years ago, until then riding animals was the fastest way to travel over land. The domestication of animals was the first step to improve the quality of life through science and technology.
Technologically, animals played a significant role in development of early tools made out of their teeth, source of power for machinery and transportation, as special senses for people and inspiration behind development of engineering and of new materials. On one hand, where ‘horse’ power was behind the rise and fall of empires and industries, on the other insects and birds added new dimension to aerospace and aviation advancements. From cart-pullers to ‘smart’ dogs, from farm animals to companion animals, they have been an integral part all through the development of human civilizations. It is the humble silk worm that paved the path for the silk trade.
Living and progressing all through the centuries in closeness of these creatures, today, we have reached to a point, where animals have become the most exploited and least understood component of our society. Though animals are a significant link in the human-animal-environment health triad they are being treated as living things rather than living beings. And above all, we still and will always depend upon them. They are part of our world, share our earth, and continually enhance our lives in different ways, which makes it more imperative on our part to dedicate a day appreciating this human-animal inter-relationship, beyond geographical, racial, religious or ideological boundaries. Indeed celebrating World Animal Day is akin to celebrating Life; A day of celebration for anyone and everyone in the world who cares about animals and cares about life.
While celebrating World Animal Day let us keep two-pronged objective in mind; Sensitization and Awareness creation. Sensitization of generation next should be our topmost agenda. Enough research data is available to prove that there are numerous benefits in encouraging children to care for animals; helping in development a sense of responsibility and compassion, and coming to terms with some of life’s more difficult issues, such as bereavement. Young children, who otherwise finds it difficult to share his or her troubles with an adult or another child, talk and confide the same with their companion animal, whether at home or in the classroom, which in turn helps in processing complex emotions.
Awareness creation is equally important in today’s society. We feel the urgent need to understand an animal only when any disease, particularly zoonotic, raises its ugly head. Remember!! Not very long ago, Mad Cow Disease created abuzz and we were fed information not only about the disease but also about the safety aspects of animal-based food. Examples from recent past include Bird Flu and the ongoing Swine Flu. Every one of us is now in the know of virology, pathology, epidemiology and the likes of these diseases. Even the meanings of the technical terms are more or less understood by us. Due to our close association with animals, we share the pathogens too. Thus knowledge about veterinary public health related issues should also be taken up during World Animal Day celebration. Conscious efforts should also be made in addressing other related aspects that include Sanitation and Hygiene, Animal-based Food and Food Products, and most importantly, Zoonosis.
Celebration of World Animal Day can be a single day affair or extended up to a week. We can always begin with World Animal Day on October 04 and culminate on October 09 with World Egg Day, highlighting economic and packaged nutrition for everyone.
Be it a single day or week-long event, there are number of activities that one can undertake. For the sake of convenience we’ll club these activities under two target groups; (i) educational institutes and science/eco-/environment clubs, and (ii) general public.
The first group that comprises of school / college students and staff, members of science / eco- / environment clubs, needs both sensitization and awareness creation about the issues related to animals. Hence some of the activities could be;
(i) Organizing fancy dress and / face-painting exhibiting animals competition for children, who would be dressing up / face-painting as all sorts of animals including monkeys, lions, tigers, frogs, gorillas, giraffes, kangaroos, cats and dogs. Judging panel may ask questions about the animal represented.
(ii) Arranging animal art competition, drawing, painting and poster making: Teachers can give to each child an animal picture to color / paper to draw and color / paint depending upon the age or standard in which they are studying.
(iii) Slogan writing, poetry recitation, dances, skits, story writing and telling, essay, and quiz competitions.
(iv) Taking students or club members to visit the livestock premises, animal shelters, and veterinary clinics and local zoo. During these visits there could be talks and demonstrations, participatory enrichment workshops on understanding and caring of domestic and wild animals, as the case may be.
(v) Taking a procession from the school with banners and placards, the children wearing animal masks attracting people’s attention. The placards can have slogans written about the care and welfare of animals.
(vi) Selling copies of informative booklets with the objective of promoting awareness of animal welfare issues and responsible pet ownership. These books can include true stories from the animals’ perspective, and valuable information about caring for a pet, fun quizzes, interesting facts, and also interviews with celebrities who have pets.
(vii) Taking advantage of this day, we can campaign for sterilizing stray and community dogs, raise awareness about responsible dog ownership, and make a presentation focused on rabies control, in particular emphasizing the importance of having a stable population of vaccinated dogs.
For the second group comprising of general public, who needs more of awareness about animals than sensitization, some of the activities planned could include;
(i) Publishing articles in all local newspapers about the animal and their importance, care and management.
(ii) Organizing lecture on wildlife from local wildlife experts, showing films on wildlife, and / or PowerPoint presentation about reptiles (snakes and lizards) highlighting the differences between common and poisonous snakes, what to do in case they have bitten, how to recognize them and so on.
(iii) Creating a public forum to raise public awareness about animal welfare issues, law enforcement, stray management, pet ownership and euthanasia.
(iv) Arranging for a radio talk show for farmers and the rural community covering the welfare of farm animals, wild animals and conservation as well as highlighting the important role animals play in our lives.
(v) Holding special events based on the therapeutic effect of animals for people with special needs.
(vi) Instructing and demonstrating, taking health and safety into account, the correct way to approach and handle animals and, carefully supervised by the team of adults who accompanied the children.
Having organized these programs successfully, we expect that the sensitization particularly, of the intended target group would lead to a better understanding about the role of animals in our life. Better understanding in turn would result in creating awareness regarding veterinary public health related issues in general and zoonosis in particular. Having acknowledged the significance of animals as co-partners sharing planet earth, we would certainly experience that Life has come full circle.