This week: the unsung quake heroes and victims The Sichuan earthquake has killed more than 69,000 people and left more than 5 million people homeless. It has destroyed much of the province's infrastructure, which will take years to rebuild. The images taken at the disaster zone have been heart wrenching. Seeing the front page of the Post with a colour photo of dead children in rubble just made me break down and cry. This column has always been focused on animals since it is about Hong Kong seen through the eyes of a veterinarian, but before I go on to write about the animals affected in the earthquake region, I feel it is important for me to state unequivocally that for me at least, human lives are the priority and should be the primary focus. Animals such as pandas, livestock and pets should be saved at hopefully no cost to human lives. I hope I don't contradict myself too much in this week's article. I just wanted to highlight that even though I love animals, I still have my perspective and priorities straight. Fortunately, in most cases there need not be human risk in saving animal lives in the earthquake zone. I have brought this up because I have argumentative friends who debate with me at gatherings on whether soldiers and volunteers should risk their lives to save pets and livestock. To their surprise, I say: 'It should be a decision made by the individual soldiers or volunteers. No one should be forced to risk their lives for animals if they don't have the compassion for it. And I doubt that there have been orders to do so.' There has been a slow shift in the attitudes of society to one that animals have the same rights to life as any human being. Two-hundred years ago the saving of animals in the wake of such a huge natural disaster would not even have been considered, but now a substantial part of society cries out not only about the tragic loss and disruption to human lives, but also the suffering of animals in a disaster. To put things in further perspective, in quite recent history some societies held the value of personal possessions and property above that of fellow human lives. Such was the case in the eras of slavery and apartheid. For those who strongly advocate and fight for animal rights, it is their hope that society will realise one day that animal lives should have the same value as human lives. And I hope one day that it can be so. I think there are definitely a few animal heroes that deserve extra attention due to their undying loyalty, valour and proven worth. In the aftermath of the earthquake, two dogs named Qianjin and Guaiguai helped save an elderly woman buried under a collapsed building by licking her parched lips, giving her hope and in the end alerting rescuers to her location. In Beichuan , there was the story of a pug that saved Li Guolin by dragging her out from a fourth-floor room when it collapsed. The most valiant of animal stories I've heard is that of a soldier's dog that helped rescuers locate 35 survivors and in the end died when a building collapsed on it during a rescue attempt. Now there is a dog that should be remembered just like any other rescuers that have died helping to save human lives. Being a lay Buddhist disciple, an important part of the path to enlightenment is to stop suffering in all living things. It is said that Buddha stopped pilgrimages in the wet season in India because he didn't want to harm the worms that he would inevitably step on. Now that is respect for life - all life, not just pets. I was staggered when I heard the report by the agriculture ministry of Sichuan that 3.66 million pigs were killed in the earthquake. There have been many media reports about the economic fallout due to the devastation to the province's pig industry, which provides 10 per cent of the country's pork and will result in a rise in already high pork prices. But I found the media reports lacked any dismay at the fact that 3.66 million lives were snuffed out, that the pigs suffered like everyone else in the earthquake zone. Many were crushed to death and many more will starve to death. It saddens me that even in this progressive age of animal rights, with so many organisations that fight for animal rights, that so few even mention the tragedy of these 3.66 million pigs. Now that I have stoked your animal welfare fire, I would like readers to pay strict attention to my next sentence: China alone slaughters about 990 million pigs a year for human consumption. That is a huge number and if you extrapolate that for the rest of the world, you will have an astronomical number. I am not suggesting everyone go vegetarian, but I am hoping everyone will at least give a little thought and respect the next time you order meat for dinner. The life that was snuffed for your steak deserves that much.