Bioethicist: Ebola Dog Deserves Sympathy, But So Do Humans

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

I have a dog, my beloved collie, Kerry. I love her. We think of her as a member of our family. But I get a bit nervous about the moral state of the world in confronting Ebola when more people express concern about the fate of a dog then they do the fate of tens of thousands of sick human beings and millions more who might become sick.

Excalibur, the dog, belonged to a Spanish nursing assistant infected with Ebola. He was euthanized Wednesday by Spanish authorities despite a global social media campaign to prevent the dog’s death. The dog was killed to prevent the spread of the virus.

One major study suggests dogs can be infected with Ebola without having symptoms. Whether or how likely they are to spread the virus to other animals or humans is unknown.

Excalibur’s case drew worldwide attention, with more than one-third of a million people signing a petition to keep the dog in quarantine instead. Dozens of animal lovers clashed with police outside the house of the Ebola patient. Twitter was flooded with pictures of pets with the hashtag #SalvemosaExcalibur, Spanish for “Let’s Save Excalibur.” Ramos’ husband, Javier Limon, appealed for public help, telling reporters that the dog’s death was unnecessary.

I am not sure Excalibur died in vain. In an Ebola epidemic where a lot is not known, pets have to be handled with extreme care, as they may transmit disease. They need feeding, toileting, cleaning and exercise, making quarantine a challenge.

I would argue that a person might choose to stay with a pet, care for it and, in some circumstances safely do so. But in other circumstances, say in an apartment building, a dog, cat, rabbit, or other beloved pet cannot easily be isolated or quarantined and may have to be sacrificed to protect the health of humans and other animals.

Many animal lovers find the fate of the dog in Spain horrific. I find it tragic. But some who rallied to Excalibur seem to care more for animals than humans. That is morally wrong since it inappropriately devalues those innocent men, women and children dying far away in nations few know anything about.

A very sick Saah Exco, 10, lies in a back alley of the West Point slum on Aug. 19 in Monrovia, Liberia. The boy was one of the patients pulled out of a holding center for suspected Ebola patients when the facility was overrun by a mob.John Moore / Getty Images

We could use a few more Twitter campaigns for babies, children, health care workers and devastated family members.

That said, animals do count for something morally. An epidemic that kills tens of thousands in West Africa cares not a whit about their animals or ours. That is why it is crucial for the world to send the resources to stop Ebola's spread to animals and people.