Although animal welfare funding from foundations grew from $41 million in 2000 to approximately $160 million in 2017, the environment/animals program area receives the smallest share of U.S. philanthropic dollars, a mere 3 percent of total giving (Giving USA). When not combined with environment, the percentage for animals is significantly less. As founding Animal Grantmakers member Andrew Rowan has been known to say, “Animal protection is the Rodney Dangerfield of philanthropy.” In other words, it gets no respect.

Why is giving to animal wellbeing so scant? As the issues adversely affecting animals are almost too many to count, usually complex and often out of sight (e.g., in the depths of the ocean), a lack of knowledge is one likely reason. However, even when there is awareness of an issue (e.g., animal cruelty, endangered species), there is a reluctance to donate to animal-focused charities when there is so much human suffering.

There is a perception that helping humans and helping animals are mutually exclusive pursuits. As the COVID-19 pandemic illustrates, this perception is misguided.

According to One Health, the health of humans, animals and the environment are all interdependent. Although it’s yet to be determined which animal transferred SARS-CoV-2 to humans, a wet market in Wuhan, China that sold and slaughtered live wild animals is believed to be the source of COVID-19 (National Geographic). Handling or coming into close contact with wildlife — along with their body parts and/or excretions — poses a risk of spillover of the pathogens they host and maintain in nature, and that can lead to zoonotic infections (Live Science).

COVID-19 is just the latest in a series of infectious diseases to jump from animals to people. It joins the likes of SARS, Ebola, Nipah virus, measles and AIDS, to name only a few (Sentient Media). And since 75 percent of all emerging human infectious diseases in the past three decades have been zoonotic (One Health Commission), protecting animals can reduce the transmission of zoonotic diseases like COVID-19.

The current pandemic has also brought the benefits of companion animals into greater focus. Across the country, animal shelters are reporting massive upswings in the numbers of animals they’ve been able to adopt out or place in foster homes (Wired). Not only are more people able to foster a pet at this time, people are seeking the unconditional love and companionship of animals to help them cope with feelings of loneliness and anxiety (Healthline). The human-animal bond exemplified during this period also highlights the value of animal shelters and rescue groups.

Finally, because the novel coronavirus demonstrates the dangers of mistreating wildlife, it’s also an opportune time to confront the fact that human activities have led to a 60 percent decline in populations of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970 (World Wildlife Fund and Zoological Society of London: 2018 Living Planet Report). It’s equally important to understand that the next zoonotic pandemic could come from our factory farms (Food and Water Watch), which supply 99 percent of all animal products in the U.S. (Live Kindly). Inside factory farms, billions of cows, pigs, chickens and other food animals live in such extreme confinement that they can barely move (mother pigs are locked in crates the width and length of their bodies, making it impossible for them to turn around). Immense animal suffering aside, the unnatural feeds, hormones and excessive quantities of antibiotics used on factory farms pose a threat of major zoonotic disease outbreaks (Farm Sanctuary).

Building a better and more sustainable future for all requires us to improve the treatment of animals and the larger natural world. As the leading proponent of animal protection philanthropy, we encourage philanthropists to make a significant commitment to funding that benefits animals.