Honoring Our Responsibilities to People and Other Animals

by Pamela Zuber

Dog's teeth through a knothole in a fence
Image: Pixabay

On August 19, 2019, nine-year-old Emma Hernandez died in Detroit, Michigan. She died from injuries she sustained after three dogs mauled her.

Hernandez’s death comes after her family and others issued multiple complaints and filed police reports about the dogs roaming free in the neighborhood and their owner’s inability to contain them. Neighbors tried to stop the mauling by attacking the pit bulls, but the girl suffered a fractured cervical spine and several other injuries. Writing in the Detroit News, Sarah Rahal noted that “[t]he attack was so horrific that counseling services were offered to emergency responders.”

While the death of any nine-year-old is a tragedy, Emma Hernandez’s death is especially tragic because it was so violent and so avoidable. We should not allow dangerous and potentially domestic animals to travel freely. Taking the effort to contain such animals with secure fencing and other restraints protects people’s rights to safety and security.

Not possessing such animals in the first place also prevents such tragedies. Training animals to be vicious or adopting particularly vicious animals can create disasters like Hernandez’s death. People may argue that vicious animals are security measures to prevent crime, but actually, they’re like the guns that people buy for personal security. Violent animals and guns may produce more violence than prevent it. “Access to a gun triples the risk of suicide death,” according to Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

What about the rights of pet owners?

(For the purposes of this article, we refer to pet owners as people who adopt animals.) Authorities have charged Pierre Cleveland, the dogs’ owner, with second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, and owning dangerous animals that led to Hernandez’s death. People previously filed police about roaming dogs from his house. Detroit Animal Care and Control, part of the city’s health department, visited his house in March, 2018 after receiving reports that two dogs from the house were loose. It is unclear whether the department found the animals dangerous or if they were the same dogs involved in the fatal 2019 mauling.

Clearly, improprieties involving dogs occurred in southwest Detroit in 2018 and 2019. Detroit’s home state of Michigan has clear definitions and determinations about dangerous animals, conditions that determine dangerous animal ownership, guidelines for euthanizing dangerous animals, and penalties for people who possess dangerous animals that cause harm.

Owning a dangerous pet is similar to owning a dangerous weapon. Both may inflict a great deal of harm on innocent people. Guns are inanimate objects. While dangerous animals do have brains, they do not have the reasoning abilities that people have. Dogs cannot build enclosures or make laws to corral themselves physically. It is therefore incumbent on people to control creatures and weapons. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA):

In order for dogs to live harmoniously with people and with other companion animals, it is critical to hold guardians responsible for the proper supervision of their dogs and for any actions on their part that either create or encourage aggressive behavior.

Responsibly owning pets is a societal obligation. We have responsibilities to others and expect that others will behave in similar ways. While we are allowed to own pets (within limits), we have to do so responsibly to live with others safely and harmoniously.

What about the rights of others?

Emma Hernandez lived next door to vicious dogs. She probably faced their barking, snarling, and aggression frequently, if not daily, during her young life. They may have been the last things she ever saw. Can you imagine living and dying with such fear?

Living with anxiety, with the constant threat of danger, may be harmful to one’s mental health. It may drive some people to drink too much or use drugs to try to escape their fear and anxiety. It could cause other symptoms of anxiety, such as insomnia, stomach problems, uneasiness, and other unpleasant side effects. We don’t know what Emma Hernandez experienced and we can’t ask her.

Safety is a fundamental right. We have entire systems to provide different kinds of safety. We have police departments and legal systems to prevent crime or prosecute it if it occurs. We have health departments that work to prevent or minimizes illnesses or injuries. These entities failed Emma Hernandez and her family.

“Everyone has the right to live, to be free, and to feel safe” is Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations. Did Emma feel free and safe? Or, did human negligence lead to an egregious attack on her human rights?

How do we prevent such tragedies?

Mean-looking dog
Image: Pixabay

What happened in August 2019 in Detroit was preventable. If workers from animal control visited the house to investigate the pit bulls involved in the attack, they should have taken steps to reign in the animals and actually practice the animal control that is part of the department’s name.

When authorities are called to homes with potentially violent animals, they should remove the animals until their owners make their homes safer by building or reinforcing fences, gates, or doors or taking other safety precautions. If owners cannot afford such modifications, maybe authorities could pay for the changes and garnish pet owners’ paychecks or other sources of income.

If people do not have the income to secure their animals or repay authorities for providing such safety measures, maybe they shouldn’t own animals at all. Pet ownership is a privilege, not a right.

We could compare adopting a pet to owning a car. Owning a car requires paying for fuel, maintenance, insurance, and other charges. People are required to invest money and be diligent to make sure that their cars run properly and don’t pose hazards to others. To receive driver’s licenses, they must learn how to operate them safely.

Similarly, maybe people need training about how to handle animals. After this training, they could receive licenses to adopt pets. If their pets cause harm, people could have their licenses revoked and face further penalties, such as not being able to adopt additional pets.

Maybe law enforcement agencies and other bodies should institute a two-strike rule as well. If authorities return animals to a home and the animals provoke additional formal complaints, the authorities should remove the animals from the owners. If this provision was in place, authorities could have removed the dogs who caused the 2019 fatal mauling.

Every day, we do things to try to protect our safety and the safety of others. We drive our cars at speed limits, we cannot cross the street at any time at any place, we can only smoke tobacco in designated areas. We are allowed to do things that are potentially dangerous, but within limits.

Owning a pet comes with similar parameters. We can own animals, but not dangerous ones. If we do something that jeopardizes our safety or the safety of others, we should face repercussions. While there are ongoing repercussions to the 2019 mauling, they are unfortunately too late to help Emma Hernandez. Maybe these measures and other proposals will help people in the future before similar tragedies strike.

About the author: Pamela Zuber is a writer and an editor who writes about human rights, health and wellness, gender, and business.

Noodles and Poverty

Chef Felipe Rojas Lombardi’s defines a noodle as “a universal food, complimentary to many other foods, and adaptable to many cuisines around the world.”

a photo of various types of pasta
Noodles paste colorful. Source: Pixabay, Creative Commons

Role of noodles

Never underestimate the importance of noodles. According to Lin-Liu, a blogger, the oldest mention of noodles she found was in a Chinese dictionary from the third century A.D. Originally, noodles were made from bread dough. Interesting enough, noodles were found in a sealed ceramic bowl at a burial site from 3rd millennium B.C. Ultimately, the exact origin of noodles is difficult to pinpoint. However, noodles may have started in a variety of locations such as China and Italy. Regardless of its origin, noodles are a vital part of numerous cultures worldwide. Noodles are not just a dish, but it also embodies the culture, city, and people that make them.

In different cultures, the name of the noodles can be used to commemorate a historical event. For example, there are several pastas that commemorate Italy’s wars in Africa such as the tripoline pasta, which references the Tripoli province of Libya under Italian rule and the bengasini past, inspired after the Benghazi. There are also references made for the House of Savoy, a royal family in Italy, through a noodle named mafaldine after the Princess Mafalda. Furthermore, noodles have been named after emerging machinery like the ruote (wheels) or eliche (propellers). Noodles could also be used to determine the wealth of the person due to the ingredients that were used. In China, certain types of noodles are eaten at certain occasions such as birthdays, marriages, or moving to a new house. In addition to playing a role in beliefs and customs, noodles also have health benefits and have been included in a variety of diets. Some even say that noodles can reduce the number of those in poverty.

Poverty in China

Poverty exists everywhere, in new and old places. Specifically, in China, there are 252 million people who live on their earning of less than $2/day. In fact, 40% of people in China live on less than $5.50/day. Many of these individuals live in rural areas and make their living from farming, forestry, or fishing. There are numerous reasons that explain the causes poverty in China with rural-urban migration being one of the most prominent. China has a majority urban population, meaning there is an influx of people moving into more urban areas in search of better jobs. However, individuals who cannot afford to leave often times stay in rural areas, struggling to survive.

Another reason for poverty in China is the Hukou system’s effect on migrant workers. The Hukou system is a registration program that identifies certain demographics as either rural or urban residents. This system prevents migrant workers from receiving healthcare, education, or pension through the government because Chinese citizens can only receive benefits from their local government. Thus, when people move, they cannot receive the benefits from their new regional government. In Shanghai there were 170,000 students enrolled in high school; however, there were 570,000 migrant children from 15 to 19 who lived in Shanghai but were not permitted to attend the schools. There are reforms and policies in place to try to reduce the effects of poverty in China, such as President Xi Jinping claiming he wants to “eradicate rural poverty by 2020.”, although, poverty remains a salient issue. 

Right to work. Source: Wikimedia, Creative Commons

Noodle Initiative

“Give a man a bowl of noodles and you feed him for a day; teach a man how to make noodles and you feed him for a lifetime.” – Yuhan Xu (NPR)

As mentioned earlier, noodles are a staple food, especially in China. In northwestern China, there is a province by the name of Gansu that has proposed an idea to eliminate poverty by using their specialty dish of hand-pulled noodles in beef broth – a noodle initiative. This dish costs as low as $1.50. Their goal is to train 15,000 individuals from poor areas how to make these noodles from scratch. so they can pursue gainful employment making noodles or even open their own shops. In order to acquire people’s interest, the government is offering financial incentives to both companies and people to meet their goal of opening 1,500 new noodle shops this year. However, noodle initiatives are not a new concept. In 2018, there was a noodle skills training program in Lanzhou and Beijing where more than 12,000 people participated and 90% of them found jobs related to noodles.

In Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province, there are approximately 50,000 beef noodle shops and 40,000 noodle-makers; out of those shops, 4,000 of them are in the impoverished areas. The annual noodle shop sales in Gansu makes an estimate of $1.8 billion. In Lanzhou, there is a school named the Vocational and Technical College of Resources and Environment whose goal is to train professionals in making a proper Lanzhou beef noodle. The tradition of the Lanzhou beef noodle is almost 200 years old and does not take a long time to prepare. However, in order to pull the noodles, it takes years of practice, generally a year to learn how to pull noodles but three years to be called a “noodle master”. Furthermore, the school hopes to spread these skills overseas but has been difficult due to visa requirements. Noodle chefs need to fulfill certain educational requirements in order to go overseas. Thus, some schools that have three years of training also award their students with associate college degrees and national vocation qualification certificates. Additionally, in certain countries like Australia or the United Kingdom, there are branches of the Lanzhou beef noodle where students are offered job positions there with a salary of 8,000 to 12,000 yuan and free accommodation.

Everyone has a right not just to work, but to work in a positive environment. In accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the work conditions should be “just and favorable”. The noodle initiative aims to offer individuals an increase in skill, employment, and a better future. The implication of poverty, employment, and human rights are intertwined. Poverty affects aspects of one’s life such as housing, food, and healthcare. At the core, poverty is when someone does not have access to their basic rights. Thus, it hinders people’s quality of living and their freedom while also increasing the possibility of discrimination and health disparities.

The History of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

UN Flag
Flag of the United Nations, paixland, Creative Commons

The conception of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) gave birth to human rights as they are known today. Adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on December 10, 1948, the UDHR was a response to the atrocities that took place during World War II. As half the globe laid in ruin and millions of lives were taken, a dormant side of humanity seemed to reawaken within the world powers, and an international prioritization of human rights emerged. The UDHR, comprised of 30 Articles defining human rights, was an expression of humanity’s resurgence, as well as an international commitment to never allow such monstrous acts to take place again.

Those tasked with composing the UDHR were members of the Commission on Human Rights, chaired by the dynamic Eleanor Roosevelt, who served as First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945. Roosevelt transformed the role of the First Lady by using her position as a platform for social activism in women’s rights, African-American rights, and Depression-era workers’ rights. After her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, died in 1945, she was appointed to be the US Delegate to the UN and served in this role for 7 years. It was her experience and passion for social activism that prepared the widow Roosevelt to Chair the commission responsible for creating the UDHR. Roosevelt asserted the Declaration would reflect more than Western ideas; to accomplish this, the Human Rights Commission was made up of members from various cultural and legal backgrounds from all around the world, showing respect for differing cultures and their customs while also ensuring each region had a hand in creating the document. Under Roosevelt’s leadership, the diverse commission was able to craft the UDHR in a unique and culturally-competent way.

Statue of Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt, Kevin Borland, Creative Commons

The UDHR was the first document in history to explicitly define what individual rights are and how they must be protected. The Preamble of the document outlines the rights of all human beings:

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people…

Thus, for the first time in history, human rights were assembled and codified into a single document. The Member States, or sovereign states that are members of the United Nations, came together in agreement to protect and promote these rights. As consequence, the rights have shaped constitutional laws and democratic norms around the world, such as the Human Rights Act of 1998 in Britain and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the United States.

Silhouette of a dove holding an olive branch
Dove Silhouette, Creative Commons

The Commission on Human Rights defined human rights with the conception of the UDHR. By fusing dignity, fairness, equality, respect, and independence, the UN defines human rights as:

rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more.  Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.

Human rights are the cross-cutting theme within every UN agency. They have inspired the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are goals to “provide peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.” These planet-, urbanization-, and group-focused goals substantially contribute to the realization of human rights, as the human rights-based approach to development stipulates development is conducive to the promotion of human rights.  In the ideal sense, human rights are a guiding force toward living in global harmony, and through the promotion of the basic rights bestowed by the UDHR, the world has made strides toward achieving that harmony.