Take a look. Take a good, hard look at the screenshot above. Does anybody else see something wrong with this picture?

You're looking at the current leaderboard for Pepsi's "Refresh Project" where ideas "that will have a positive impact on communities" can be submitted to receive up to $100,000 in funding from Pepsi. The winning ideas are selected by us, the people, who can vote for our favourite ideas once per day. 

Here's what stands out to me. Out of the top four most voted-for ideas in each of the four funding categories above, nine out of twelve of them are for animals. Nine out of twelve. And those are just the ones that fit in the screenshot. The World Parrot Refuge and Wascally West Coast Wabbits are just a little lower in the standings.
Now I understand that animals are animals. They're cute, often furry, and do a really good job of looking needed (hence the phrase "puppy eyes"). They also live and breathe, and are sometimes abandoned and abused. But here's my problem: they're not humans. 

I expect I'm going to take a lot of criticism for this. There are many animal-lovers in the world, as demonstrated above. But out of all of the incredible needs which exist in every single community across all of the countries which the Refresh Project serves, it is absolutely agonizing to me that we apparently prioritize spays and neuters above all else, including each other. This is not just a one-time thing either. Looking back at past winners reveals a staggering proportion of animal-to-human wins as well.

It's not just the fact that a large proportion of the ideas submitted revolve around building pet shelters. I get that people care about protecting and saving animals. It's the fact that the majority of people sifting through these different project ideas look at all of the options available to them and select the Cat Assistance Team (#1) hands down, no questions asked over giving new wheelchairs to stroke patients who are unable to afford them (#10) or providing youth with after-school programs to help keep them off the streets (#24). What shocks me even more is that helping the homeless only appears once in the top 15 results for all four funding categories! Once!

Don't get me wrong. I'm not against animals. My family loves them. We've had four different cats, a couple of hamsters, and a whole bunch of fish over the years. My grandma's house was practically a home for feral cats (which is where two of ours came from). But when it comes to what needs I would most like to see immediately addressed in my community, or any other community around the world for that matter, animals are not at the top of my list and they never will be. In fact, to be honest, they'll be close to the bottom. Why? Because as long as people are suffering, I believe they are our top priority. As long as other people need our help, I believe it is our responsibility to give our lives for them. I can hardly fathom telling my friend Terry that instead of choosing to help him to have enough food to eat this month, I've decided the chinchillas need my help more (and yes, there is a funding request specifically to provide foster care for chinchillas). I can't help but quiver with anger at the thought of voting to improve the living conditions of unwanted and neglected pets instead of improving the living conditions of unwanted and neglected human beings, like my friend Eldon who has no place to live (and ironically has a dog). I don't cry a whole lot, but I come close when I think of the fact that helping to clothe Vancouver's homeless ranks only ninth in the lowest funding category when feral cats rank both first and second. Why are animals taking over the world? Does this really make sense to you?

I expect some people will think I'm overreacting, but I really don't think I am. I know there are some people who believe animals and humans are exactly equal and there should be no difference in treatment between them, but I think very few of those people actually practice that belief of universal equality unless they're paralyzed every time they step on an ant or take out a fly. As comedian Brad Stine likes to point out, animal rights activists usually only care about the 'cute' animals (the dolphins are getting caught in the tuna net, but what about all the tuna?). And I also just don't agree with that point of view. I believe humans inherently have more worth than other animals and it's for that exact reason that if faced with the choice between saving another human being or any other creature, I would choose to save the human being every single time, and I sure hope you would too. If it's really true that we're on the same level as a goldfish, then why does it take so much work to come to that mentality? I'm not saying it's ok to abuse animals. Not at all. I am saying that there is something seriously wrong with the world when we feel more compassion for furry creatures with no ability to recognize their own suffering than we feel for that man who will sleep on the streets tonight or that teenager whose parents have practically abandoned her. Something is wrong with our priorities when animals are inadvertently controlling the way we give and the way we live, and yet we couldn't care less about our own neighbours (and most of us probably don't even know who they are). "Love your neighbour as yourself." Well, wouldn't you hope that people would care for your needs if you were living on the streets?

Let's be honest. This post isn't really about animals. Not really. It's about each other. It's about caring that there are other people just like you who are hurting and struggling and need our help. Maybe you're one of them. I think in one way or another, we all are. Take a moment and think about the fact that there is a man out there right now in your community who doesn't have anywhere to sleep tonight. How do you know he wasn't abused and abandoned, just like your chinchilla? What about the youth in your community? How many of them are practically growing up on the streets, with homes that they don't look forward to going back to? Don't you realize that you could just as easily be in their place? You could. All it might have taken is a different set of parents or another part of the world or a different social bracket. You have much less control over where you are in your life today than you think. We all make bad choices, but not all of us have to reap the same consequences for them.

On that note, this is not the last you will hear of this from WakeUpWorld! We're not just about making you think. We're also about causing real change. In the coming months, we will be submitting our own idea to Pepsi's Refresh Project for funding (and believe me, it will not be for abandoned rabbits). More on that to come. I hope that you will join us in voting to help change human lives and truly make a positive impact in our communities. I hope even more than that that you will take up an active role in making that positive change happen. Get involved in your community. Let the forgotten know they are not forgotten and the hopeless know there is hope.  

Let's show the people around us, in our communities and around the world, where they really rank in our hearts.

Change the Leaderboard here
4/27/2011 18:30:11

Wes, I totally agree with you on this. I actually noticed the same thing when I was voting.

I think though, that if you could tabulate the age of the people voting on these things, you'd likely find a majority are probably between 16-24. And kids of our age aren't usually concerned with any problems in society, but they can relate to pets and keeping them safe etc.

Ask the average teen: 'would you rather give money to help the homeless, or cute stray cats?'. I think most would choose the cats. Sad but true.

4/27/2011 18:34:06

Good point, Rob. It's quite possible that many of these voters are in a lower age bracket, although I'm not totally sure whether that's true. I think we can see the same pattern, however, elsewhere as well. A friend of mine recently told me about a friend of his who got into a car accident with a deer. Somebody pulled over, presumably to see if they were ok, and instead started yelling at them for hitting the deer.


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