Did you know that there are 3,800 animal shelters in the United States, but only 1,500 shelters for abused women? Economist Allison Schrager is well aware of this fact, and she wrote about the puppies vs. people issue in More Intelligent Life. You might be thinking that it's not an either animals or women issue, that it should be both, that we should support the humane treatment of any being. But it turns out that for many philanthropists, it is either/or. Schrager talks about a charity devoted to helping battered women, called the Retreat. "The charity is located in East Hampton, a posh beach community, full of people who make philanthropy a part of their financial and social lives. Yet she struggles to find donors," Schrager notes. "In response to her requests, [the fundraising director] often hears, 'Well, no one I would know would be a victim of domestic violence. Besides, I already give money to the animal rescue charity.' The animal rescue charity is one of the best endowed in the area."
Perhaps, as Schrager points out, people are more willing to give money to animal organizations because they perceive animals as blameless. Battered women? Not so much. "Perhaps we prefer helping animals because we believe they have a greater need. People often think a battered woman is free to leave her situation, while animals are physically prevented from leaving," Schrager writes. "Humans are easier to blame for their circumstances. Because we do not grant animals the same freedoms, we also do not assign them the same level of responsibility for their situation."
So is it wrong to give money to animals when you don't give money to human causes? Is there a charity hierarchy that should be widely acknowledged?