Today, the world had the opportunity to meet many of the dogs once owned by former Atlanta Falcons Quarterback Michael Vick for the first time since they were seized from Vick's dogfighting operation last year. The rescued dogs made their debut back into the world by showing that all dogs, even pit bulls who have been used for dogfighting, are as much individuals as any other sentient being. Despite a life of neglect, torture and abuse while on Vick's property, and then months of confinement while in shelters as the case worked its way through the court system, many of these resilient dogs are now living in foster homes with other pets and some, with children.
Learn more about the evaluation process, their journey to new homes and how they are doing now...
The power to act for animals – to work for change on behalf of the voiceless – is within all of us. It does not require a vast amount of knowledge, although understanding the abuses animals suffer will make you more effective. Activism does not demand a lot of time, either: you can make a difference even if you limit your involvement to an hour a month. You needn’t be an extrovert or polished speaker – although such traits may come in handy and indeed may develop as you become more accustomed to addressing friends and the public about animal issues.
Animal activism only requires a desire to help and that you follow that desire with action.
You may wonder if animal activism itself is even worth it. Does it have an impact at all? Since 1950, worldwide meat consumption has increased more than fivefold. A rise in the Earth’s population can account for some of that expansion, but such a spike occurring concurrently with an increase in animal-rights activism and vegan outreach is troubling at the very least. Worldwide, an estimated fifty-five billion animals are now raised and killed for their flesh each year. How are we to account for this? Part of the answer lies in how animals have come to be mass produced, commodified and marketed in the last half century. Today’s industrialized farming practices mean that most of the pigs, cows, chickens, sheep, turkeys, goats and other animals raised and slaughtered for food are regarded as little more than units in a massive corporate enterprise designed to make meat, eggs and dairy as cheap and accessible to consumers as possible. Make no mistake: This is a multi-billion-dollar industry, giving the companies that exploit animals the deep pockets and political influence necessary to keep the killing machine moving forward at an ever-growing pace.
The same is true for businesses that use animals for their skin and fur, as well as for product testing, medical research and entertainment. Even the pet industry, which contributes to the constant cycle of breeding and selling, is responsible for making animals suffer.
Yet, animal activists do make a difference, and those who blatantly disregard animals are nervous. A recent editorial in Feedstuffs, the weekly agribusiness newspaper, reads: "Why are [animal activists] winning? It’s simple. They have their game together, while animal agriculture and its allies have a fragmented, hopelessly under-funded, ineffective, reactive approach. The activists are engaged and taking their campaign to chefs, foodservice managers, dairy and meat case managers and policymakers from city councils to the US Congress." (Feedstuffs, page 9, April 2, 2007.)
Animal activism is a struggle for change, and the reality is the human species is hard-wired to fear change. But we have two powerful weapons in this battle: the public’s innate sensitivity and a tremendous amount of animal abuse as evidence. Most people believe animal abuse is wrong; in fact, a 2003 Gallup poll found that ninety-six percent of people living in the US oppose cruelty to animals – I doubt you could find that level of unanimity on many other issues.
People are revolted by animal exploitation – once they learn about it. So, if we can educate people enough so that they can see that their daily choices are supporting practices that they actually oppose, then we can change them, one by one. And as more people change, eventually society will change.
Being an advocate for animals is not always a popular activity, but that should not dissuade you from doing what is right. Every social movement that had any impact – whether it’s the abolition of slavery, the suffrage movement, civil rights, the child-protection movement or reforms for farm workers – was initially backed by a person or a group thought to represent the minority opinion, and those opposed to them tried to provoke the fear that overturning the status quo would lead to chaos: the end of slavery would result in economic ruin, granting women the right to vote or banning child labor would weaken national strength, passing laws against child abuse would dissolve families and so on. Animal-rights activists are now hearing the same sort of nonsense from those who profit by abusing animals. According to them, the only way to feed the world, cure diseases or advance scientific knowledge is by using animals. To them, animals are not sentient individuals with their own interests, but commodities to be exploited for human profit, amusement, convenience or taste.
The time is ripe for change. More defenseless beings than ever before are suffering and in need of a voice. All we need are the passionate humans to turn these opportunities into dramatic improvements for billions of animals.
Remember: Reform simply does not occur when people stand idly by.
Mark's newly released book, "Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism," shows how anyone can put their compassion into action.
My husband doesn’t want to hear about my work at the end of the day. Oh sure, he is proud of the work we do here at ALDF, but he doesn’t want to--cannot bear to--hear about the heartbreak of animals suffering and dying due to illegal cruelty and neglect occurring in the cases we work on all across this country. On the occasions when he inadvertently steps into the room as I am reviewing photos of dogs with missing eyes or broken jaws sitting in unbelievable filth, or horses so thin you can count every bone on their skeleton while they chew on a wood fencepost for food, he turns tail and runs back out again and talks to me from the hallway. Sometimes I start telling him about a new legal strategy we are thinking of using and in the course of the discussion I slip into a description of the torture an animal has endured and he slaps his hands over his ears. Oops.
Animal cruelty is hard to hear about, even harder to witness in person or in photos, especially the first time you come across it. As a former prosecutor and now an animal advocate I’ve seen my share of gore and learned to deal with it in order to do my job. But it isn’t an easy thing to get to that point, and every once in a while a photograph of a hurt whiskered face or a written investigative report of an animal’s lengthy death process breaks through my crusty shell and breaks me down. Frequently when people find out what I do for a living, they say they don’t understand how I can do it, face all that horror every day. My response is always that it’s easier to face it and try to do something to help these poor creatures than to do nothing at all.
However, I certainly do understand that many folks want to help without having to endure seeing the things we see here, and we appreciate all of you who do so by either writing to us or to the officials listed in our Actionline cases, or by donating your legal expertise or dollars so we can be your eyes and ears in the field. So go ahead, avert your eyes if you must, just do something else constructive instead. The animals will thank you, and so will I.
ALDF’s headquarters is located north of San Francisco in Sonoma County, which is also where I live. As many of you probably saw on the news, this area was hammered by storms at the tail end of last week. As a result I have been without power since Thursday night with no estimate of when power will be restored. As I type this on my battery powered laptop, it’s Sunday afternoon and starting to get dark again. One of my dogs and my two cats are curled up with me on the couch and my other dog is asleep on the floor near the woodstove. Soon I’ll light the oil lamps for another night of quiet and calm such as only a retreat from our plugged-in existence can provide. I have about two hours left on my spare laptop battery and then I’ll pick up my book for the rest of the evening as I reheat my soup on the woodstove.
Aside from the beauty found in the stillness and dark outside, I am enjoying the sense of self-sufficiency from providing my own heat and light and the reminder this circumstance provides of how little we really "need." It seems no small coincidence that, as I sit in the gathering dark, the news this weekend is that oil futures had risen to a record $100 a barrel -- unimaginable just a couple of years ago when there was widespread consternation about the price hitting $30.
I’m not predicting doom by any means. On the contrary, sitting here with my animals around me, warm and safe and dry, I think we sometimes forget how adaptable we are. It’s easy to get comfortable with how things are and to forget how much and how quickly things have changed. Just two generations ago, there were many places not on the power grid at all (and not by choice!). When I started a business in the early 1980s hi-tech was an "electronic typewriter"which let you see a line of text before it whacked it out on the page. Was that really just 25 years ago?
I wish you all a very happy, rewarding and fulfilling new year. It’s time to shut down and light the oil lamps.
It is the end of the year—a time to reflect, review and resolve. A time when people find themselves contemplating questions like, "Why didn’t I lose those ten pounds?" and "What the heck did I do with my ThighMaster?" As I look back, I find myself contemplating many events from work, where I interact with a large number of law enforcement professionals—from animal control officers to judges, but mostly cops and prosecutors—on a daily basis. The majority of these folks recognize the value in doing top quality work in all animal cruelty cases. However, sadly, there is a significant minority of law enforcement "professionals" with a less than supportive view of this work. Having no desire to embarrass anybody, I am not going to name names. Nevertheless, I have decided to share just a couple of examples of some of the behavior I have encountered over this year. The goal is simply to give you a feeling for just how much more work there is for us to do before we can truly say that this country’s criminal justice system places a priority on cases involving all victims with the capacity to suffer.
In one case, involving a textbook hoarder with well over 100 animals living in hell, the prosecutor was making no effort to move the case through the system. In response to our repeated, yet polite, requests that the prosecutor promptly file the necessary pleadings to get the case tried, the assistant district attorney stated that he was too busy dealing with "real crime" to attend to this case. The assistant DA went on to say that because this hoarder didn’t pose much of a "threat" to the community, he would get to it when he could—it just wasn’t a priority case. Admittedly, this is an impressively myopic view of the situation, begging the question: is a case involving a stolen car really more important than a case involving over 100 dogs and cats forced to endure unspeakable conditions?
In another case, we were trying to get the prosecutor to simply review the facts of a case and make a formal charging decision. The prosecutor declined to review the information we delivered to him and directed us to send our file to the local sheriff. We did. Weeks later, still no charging decision despite repeated requests. Before we took the case to the media, we contacted the prosecutor to give him one more chance to do the right thing (i.e., review the facts and make a charging decision—also knows as "his job"). In response, the prosecutor actually took the time to write us a letter, wherein (and this is the amazing part) he threatened to sue ALDF for libel should we cause anything untruthful to be reported about him or his office. No worries there—the truth is more than ample cause to oust this guy from elected office.
Fortunately, these two cases are the exception. Like the majority of U.S. households, most cops and prosecutors go home to a house that they share with a pet. Moreover, law enforcement officials are slowly coming to realize that we Americans spend a heck of a lot of money on the care and feeding of our animals—over $30 billion a year (yes, that’s a "B" as in billion)—that is more than the GNP of over half of the world’s countries). A motivated constituency to be sure, and those sheriffs, police chiefs and district attorneys who fail to recognize this fact will enjoy short tenures in elected office.