There is a line I try not to cross every single day. It is the line that separates the person I am from my inner terrorist. My inner terrorist has thrown petrol bombs at universities who experiment on animals, has poured red paint over fur wearers, has hunted down and killed every person who has microwaved their cat or tortured their dog and has machine-gunned fox hunters with glee. Thankfully, the person I am keeps a tight rein on this angry, righteous judge.
My sister is a member of PETA and she used to send me regular news updates of various atrocities against animals and nature. I would sit at my PC and my blood would boil. Had any animal abusers the misfortune to cross my path at that stage, they would have come out the other end as minced foxfood. I had to ask her to stop in the end as I would be so angry I could not concentrate on anything else.
I understand the motivation behind the person who believes that people who eat at McDonalds (and therefore, however obliquely, supports those amongst their suppliers who have been found to torture the chickens for fun before killing them) should be bashed until they see sense. I have sympathy with the eco-terrorist who would strangle hunters with their own snares. And I find it hard not to cheer whenever I hear of one more company who stops providing services to Huntingdon Life Sciences (who breed and test on animals in their laboratories) because they have been on the receiving end of one too many threats.
However, I cannot, no matter how angry I am, actually condone most of this. I cannot yet place the value of a human life (however nasty) over an animal’s life. That’s not to say that I would not physically defend an animal if I saw one being hurt. I just cannot stand the thought of hurting innocent people to make a point. However, this is me, living my rather sheltered life. If I saw animal abuse, day after day, night after night, I too might turn to murder.
In researching this article, I came across more organisations than I knew existed, right across the spectrum, from those who simply cared for animals, wild and tame when they needed it, to those who peacefully lobbied for changes in the law, to those who dedicated their lives to the eradication of all forms of cruelty at any cost. I was surprised (and glad) that so few of these were on the edge. I thought there might have been more of us who teetered on the brink of being vengeful.
I found many small private shelters as well as nationally run organisations which took sick and unwanted animals in, healed them and rehomed them. I found lobbying organisations run by two or three well-organised people, to powerful, politically motivated world-wide organisations. Most though were started by one or two people who saw a problem and dedicated their lives to solving it, people who could and did and do make a difference, bit by bit, day by day.
It is fitting therefore, that I start with a group called Compassion in World Farming. Peter Roberts, who recently passed away, was a dairy farmer who became disillusioned and troubled at the way farming changed after the Second World War. Fuelled by a shortage of food post-war, the industry in Britain moved slowly and irrevocably from field-kept livestock towards intensive farming methods where animals are kept in close, unsanitary conditions and pumped full of drugs to increase growth rates and combat the diseases which flourish in such conditions.
Peter felt he could not support an industry which kept and bred animals in such an inhumane way and he set up CiWF to inform the public of what was going on and to lobby for changes in the law to prevent cruel methods being employed.
Today CiWF is a large organisation whose greatest successes include undercover work which has led to the banning of veal crates for calves being transported live from the UK to abattoirs in Europe and the Middle East (with an EU phase-out to follow in 2007), an eight-hour limit being imposed on the journey time of animals being transported for slaughter in the EU and the banning of fur farming in the UK in 2003. They have also lobbied the UK and European Parliaments on a number of other issues and highlighted to the general public the needlessly sad and pain-ridden lives of the animals who become our food.
There are a huge variety of small animal care organisations across the globe. Underfunded and with less access to the public than larger groups, they operate from day to day, donation to donation. Often the people who bring them animals do not think about the cost incurred in their care and healing and believe they have done their duty simply by pitching up. If you find an injured or ill animal and need to find the nearest animal rescue organisation where you live, it might be worth looking through the following:
Alternatively, your local veterinary surgery should be able to advise you.
If you are financially able to do so, donate something, money or time to fundraise for them. Sometimes organisations welcome donations of bric-a-brac (for onward sale), blankets, food and old newspapers but do ask beforehand what they need.
My mother works at a wild animal and bird rescue and rehabilitation centre and it is amazing what people bring in, thinking it is suitable for wild animals to consume. This includes old, mouldy, out of date food that would make both humans and animals sick. And don’t get me started on the couple who raised a wild baby monkey on baby milk and sweets for a year, dressing him in baby clothes and a nappy and wondering why he wasn’t appreciative. When they dumped him with my mother, they left a goodie bag of sweets and chocolates to further ruin his already rotten teeth and digestive system.
Most countries have a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to animals – in the US, they are called ASPCA, in the UK, RSPCA, in New Zealand, the RNZSPCA and in South Africa, the SPCA. These organisations are mostly national and have some lobbying power. The RPSCA in the UK has let me down more than once. That is not to say that they are no good, but they have limited funds for instigating court cases and have to concentrate on only those cases they are sure to win, as their work is so wide-ranging and their funds short.
I did a cat rescue a year or so ago where the owner had deliberately bred from her cat who I assumed to be about 10 years old and dying. The vet confirmed she was 18 months old and had more litters than she should ever have had. The owner had given the cat and her kittens to her son who didn’t have the first clue about caring for them. When I found out who the cat belonged to, I found five four-week old kittens also. They had not eaten for two days as their exhausted mother (who had collapsed in my garden) had run out of milk and the son had just left them as he did not know what to do.
My vet spent all weekend saving their lives. The RSPCA believed the owner over both me and the vet (they didn’t even bother to pick up his statement) and returned the cat and its kittens to her (along with my cat carrier and special crisis blankets). Her son admitted to a neighbour afterwards that I was completely right – she was breeding for income. My vet will no longer work for the RSPCA as a result. I still have sleepless nights wondering whether the poor animal is still alive and whether I hope or not that she is.
I now prefer to work with a number of smaller, feistier and more aggressive animal care organisations and people to ensure that the animals I have to give them are cared for properly and rehomed where possible, not just put down because their needs are too costly to meet or given back to owners because it is the easier option.
However the RSPCA have to be applauded for the huge amount of education and lobbying they do. There is no doubt they have contributed to changes in the law and made a huge difference to the way in which animals are perceived and treated in the UK.
The Born Free Foundation both campaigns against and saves individual wild animals from unscrupulous slum zoos in Europe and beyond. It also works to educate people about animal atrocities across the globe. They have a great deal of lobbying power and obtain media attention with their no-nonsense, spirited reporting often fronted by well-known people.
Both PETA and International Animal Rescue provide care and shelter for animas deserted as a result of catastrophe (such as Hurricane Katrina) and war (most recently in Palestine). PETA has a solid and long- standing track record in both lobbying for changes to the law and individual animal rescues and care, which is a tough balance to both achieve and maintain. They are more vocal than many mainstream animal care organisations but have the strength and discipline to carry through intervention in their four chosen areas – factory farming, laboratory experiments, the clothing trade and the entertainment industry.
Supported by millions of everyday people as well as celebrities and more well-known faces, PETA has led the way with creative and well-thought out plans of education. Not afraid to shock, they were at the fore-front of the 80s anti-fur movement. I will never forget the advertisement showing models splattered with blood on the catwalk. It inspired a friend of mine (aged 12) to spraypaint the windows of our local furriers red and brought home to me for the first time the cruelty involved in the production of furs.
In the UK, the Badger Trust, the League Against Cruel Sports and the National Fox Welfare Society not only campaign against trapping but also against badger baiting and fox hunting. The National Fox Welfare Society has a very good reputation for caring for injured and sick foxes and for supplying both homeopathic medicine and antibiotics for foxes with mange and other illnesses. They also take in sick animals, help them heal and release them in safe areas.
The League Against Cruel Sports campaigns tirelessly and also monitors fox hunts. In the UK, the law was changed to outlaw killing with dogs. Unfortunately, the law was applied either very carelessly or deliberately set up to fail, as huntsmen still can hunt with dogs and “mistakes” are accepted when dogs kill their prey. Further, in order to fulfil the fun element of the hunt, instead of shooting cornered foxes, hunters have trained eagles and hawks to kill them, leading to a much more drawn out and painful death for the animal.
The few prosecutions that have resulted from this change in the law have mostly failed as it is difficult to prove that the huntsmen intended for their dogs to rip a fox to pieces. The way in which the law was brought in also made no provision for farmers who previously relied on fox hunts to reduce the numbers of foxes on their farms or who have to get rid of foxes to protect their livestock, so the use of wire snares and traps has increased.
The Animal Liberation Front (also known as ALF) is an organisation which has managed to strike fear into the hearts of many animal testing laboratories and universities. This organisation states its aims as non-violent as they believe that all animals (including humans) have a right to life and liberty. A favourite target for the gutter press, who would have everyone believe that members of ALF bomb innocent people and frighten them out of the homes, ALF certainly treads a very thin line. However, no members of ALF have been found guilty of anything more than intimidation.
They have conducted undercover investigations into laboratories and publicised the cruelty that goes on, even in well-regulated placed. They have rescued and (where possible) rehomed laboratory animals, they have carried out campaigns against companies who supply services to others who carry out animal experimentation and they have pitched up and protested on the front gardens of those who have made their money from the suffering of animals.
My inner terrorist says they do not go far enough. My rational self believes these people very, very brave. I am not brave (or angry) enough to risk my liberty or risk having to rehome my cats because I face years in jail.
Lastly, one organisation which is a household name across the globe – Greenpeace. It is another whose spectrum of activity is large, from local, individualised protests across the environmental spectrum, to lobbying in the corridors of power, to well-planned strategies to prevent whaling ships reaching their victims. I have a huge amount of respect for Greenpeace. Their support base is widespread and they approach their campaigns tirelessly, with both humour and discipline.
With so many organisations, local, national and international to choose from, it is difficult to determine who to support. I, a meat-eating supporter of organisations which sometimes tread a very thin line, am constantly caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.
As a Pagan who believes it is her responsibility to live as environmentally-friendly as possible and to educate others to do so, as a person with an illness which requires me to eat meat and as a women who works in a mainstream business environment, I cannot presuppose to decide what is right and wrong for you. Nor can I resolve these contradictions in my soul.
All I can do is my best and encourage you to do the same. If you have to eat meat, buy it from suppliers who practise humane keeping and killing; don’t buy fur, it is not worth the cost the animals pay, screaming as they are skinned alive and left to die in agony. Make sure that your totems and animal bones are from animals that have died naturally, not bought in a store who sells them as a by-product of an industry mired in cruel practices. And finally, support those who devote their lives to making the world a better place for everyone, with everything you are able to give.