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As I recall, there was no widespread uproar during or after Katrina when people went to extraordinary lengths to save their companion animals, even though in many instances I'm sure those people did not check on the safety of and/or help humans on their block who were in danger. Perhaps in real-life situations people do understand saving family over strangers. Perhaps they also sense that animals' capacity to suffer and their will to live is as strong as ours. In your scenario, the human is not a stranger but your kin, and again, we may be hard-wired or at least conditioned to favor our kin.
It's possible that our cats and dogs suffer even more than us in some situations; they don't know what's happening, and may be frightened even beyond our comprehension. In that case, since extreme suffering can be such a horrible fate, and since we are called upon to sacrifice, do we have a commitment to attend to those suffering the most?
One other thought. In my experience - partly as a volunteer for two rescue groups - people grieve more intensely when their pets die than when their parents die. I don't mean to say that people don't care about their parents; they grieve deeply then, too. And of course there are exceptions; I'm generalizing. But there is something extraordinarily poignant and heartbreaking about a companion animal whom you've known since they were a lively kitten or a puppy becoming weak and frail, and drawing her last breath. Some folks - I'm talking meat-eaters - are devastated for months and cannot even look at a picture of an animal without tearing up. So, if one of our considerations when deciding who to save is the effect on human survivors, then at least in some cases we might be compelled to save their animals.
Granted, there are a million variables we could throw in. What if the human was 101 years old? What if the dog had just been rescued from an abuse situation was about to have a second chance at life? What if the human stranger in the building said "Save the dog, not me"? And so forth. I don't know that there is one right answer to any of these questions, and furthermore I don't know if we can be expected to act in a theoretically perfect way in a crisis.
Go on to: Comments by Steve - 2 Jul 2009
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