Is saving a donkey morally wrong?

Media in the UK and internationally have been consumed in the past two weeks with a story about an unfortunate donkey who was forced to para-sail in Russian as part of an advertising stunt. Animal rights activists have condemned the stunt, though a vet confirmed that the donkey did not suffer any physical harm.

The Sun, Britain’s most popular newspaper, has stepped into the breach and rescued the donkey, whose name is Anapka, under the headline “We’ve saved her ass.” They have reassured anxious readers that “Anapka will [now] lead a life of well-fed donkey luxury”.

The Sun has now revealed that the manager of the football team, Tottenham Hotspur, Harry Redknapp has adopted the donkey and committed to opening an animal sanctuary in the south of England. Such a charitable act by “big-hearted Harry” is interesting and raises questions about how we should allocate our generosity.

I have said stuff before about donkeys and charities.  In short, I think there are better ways to spend charitable funds. That is not to say donkeys forced to para-sail should be neglected. And I am concerned that the impact on the donkey’s mental health is not known according to the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Unicef estimates that the majority of the 8.8 million children under five who died in 2008 could have been saved. Given this, I struggle with prioritising donkeys; I think it is morally wrong. Closer to home, there are many people in the UK who lead difficult, frightening and disadvantaged lives.

Making a decision to save a donkey means choosing not to help other people, even if only implicitly.

It is not enough to say that we are a generous society and give lots of money to charities. We are not and we do not. Aggregate giving is less than 1% of national income; and only just over half of us give money to charity at all—54% of the population according to the most recent figures.

We need, I believe, more debate about how we give to charity, alongside debate on how much we give. The care and attention—and money—we lavish on donkeys simply highlights this and questions our morality.

I am going to address these questions in a lecture at the RSA in September, asking whether donors should feel obliged, or can be encouraged, to give more care and thought to their donations. I would be interested in people’s opinions or ideas on how we can promote smarter or more effective giving. Spending more to care for donkeys doesn’t count, in my opinion.