Editorial: Trust

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1996:

Building a humane world begins with building trust, the basic understanding that
permits peaceful interaction among living beings. Whether sharing a watering hole,
stroking a cat, or shaking hands on a deal, it starts with establishing mutual confidence that
vulnerability will not bring attack. Even infants must be able to trust their mothers before
they learn to reciprocate love; if infant trust is betrayed by neglect or violence, as the late
vivisector Harry Harlow showed through some of the most appalling experiments ever executed,
the capacity to engage in reciprocal relationships of any kind is lastingly impaired.
Trust in itself does not preclude violence, as even the most trustworthy humans
and animals may sometimes bite when they shouldn’t, but a climate of trust at least precludes
cruelty, since to do intentional harm is to erode trust.

This should all be so obvious as to be tedious reading. Yet despite the importance
of trust, we don’t see much concern about it among humane leadership, and that in itself
may explain the transfer of moral impetus over the past few years from organizations concerned
with “animal rights” in the abstract to those more concerned with practical achievement.

Three of our leading advertisers exemplify the direction of growing influence:
Friends of Animals, unlike any other national advocacy group, was formed in
1957 not to seek legislation, compelling obedience, but rather to make low-cost neutering
of cats and dogs universally available, trusting that the public, if educated in the need to
neuter and given the chance to do so, would voluntarily choose to do it––and would donate
to support the effort. Approximately half of the FoA annual budget still goes toward that
eminently successful project.
The North Shore Animal League, begun in 1954, took the view that the public
can and should be entrusted with pets, and maintained that view throughout the 1960s,
1970s, and 1980s, against the prevailing attitude of organizations as diverse as the Humane
Society of the U.S. and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which teach essentially
that pet adoptions should be refused to all but the most qualified applicants and that
euthanasia is preferable to any risk of an animal finding an imperfect home. By now the
evidence is overwhelming that the North Shore approach not only places far more animals,
enabling more animals to teach people to love them, but also results in proportionately no
more failed adoptions than are experienced by the figurative Grand Inquisitors.
The San Francisco SPCA, however, reached out most dramatically toward trust,
when in 1984 SF/SPCA president Richard Avanzino realized one day that much of the public
doesn’t entrust animals they can’t keep to humane societies because humane societies
kill animals; that animals abandoned to “give them a chance” are the main source of
unwanted breeding; and that the way to overcome such mistrust is to stop killing animals.
Avanzino is still catching flak for his decision to unilaterally stop killing––but his choice to
trust the public, perhaps the most courageous choice in the history of humane work, has
paid off, as the public responded by donating the wherewithal to do the low-cost neutering
that in 1994 ended population control euthanasia for the whole city of San Francisco.
As the SF/SPCA reinvented humane work, one of the most unique and valuable
aspects of the organization has been the Department of Ethical Studies, under Pam
Rockwell. Though it does law enforcement, it is not called the “Department of Humane
Enforcement,” in recognition that humane attitudes are more effectively taught than mandated.
It works within the area generally perceived as promoting “animal rights,” but does
not use “rights” rhetoric. The Department of Ethical Studies is concerned not with “rights”
per se but with ethics: with encouraging humans to be considerate. In using the term “studies,”
it emphasizes inquiry and thought. It does not pretend to be “the department that has
all the answers.” Rather, it is the department that asks the questions.
A news item in our January/February edition and a letter and response in this edition
describe an accomplishment of ANIMAL PEOPLE, the Steinhart Aquarium, and Sea
World, facilitated by the Department of Ethical Studies, which counterpoints the “Free
Willy/Keiko” campaign as an example of what ethical trust-building can accomplish.
Orchestrated by Earth Island Institute, the effort to remove Keiko from a small
tank in Mexico City to a big one in Oregon, which we are glad he finally has, involved at
least half a dozen national advocacy groups, cost $10 million plus, took a blockbuster feature
film to launch, depended heavily upon selling the public the myth that Keiko has an
iceberg’s chance in El Nino of ever being released to the wild legally and successfully, and
ended up with two newly wild-caught dolphins in the tank in Mexico City to replace the one
orca. Net achievement: three captive whales instead of one.
Years earlier, the same Earth Island staffers took on the case of Amphrite and
Thetis, Pacific whitesided dolphins held since 1975 and 1978, respectively, in a tank only
25% of the minimum size prescribed for dolphins by federal law, just a few miles from the
Earth Island offices. The Steinhart Aquarium, a branch of the California Academy of
Science, received a special exemption to keep the dolphins, in part because they were used
in scientific research. Held more than twice as long as Keiko was in Mexico, kept as living
laboratory specimens, Amphrite and Thetis were obvious subjects for a high-profile protest
campaign; but perhaps because Hollywood took no interest, the campaign fizzled, and was
forgotten everywhere but at the Steinhart, where the directors seethed. They’d never been
offered the chance to do anything with Amphrite and Thetis that was within the realm of
realistic possibility. Nor had the campaign recognized that Amphrite and Thetis arrived in
another era, when attitudes were different and only Ric O’Barry, a lone crusader on the
opposite coast, even postulated the idea that dolphins should not be kept in captivity.
What was done was done, and whatever else was wrong at the Steinhart, no one there had
ever intended causing suffering.
In short, the Earth Island campaign did no more for Amphrite and Thetis than
fracture any foundation for mutual trust––and a deal beneficial to the dolphins––that might
have been laid.
Time passed. We learned of the dolphins from subscriber Janice Garnett. We
asked Rockwell to investigate, which she promptly did, the ethically studious way, taking
special care at every step to demonstrate that good faith would be reciprocated. We meanwhile
investigated possible better homes for the dolphins and sought out expert response to
technical obstacles. The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums and Sea World
helped, as they’d worked to help Keiko before the “Free Willy/Keiko” campaign smeared
them as bad guys who purportedly only wanted to “enslave” Keiko in further captivity in a
tank about the same size as the new one he now occupies, which was available to him two
years earlier. Joe Girasi helped, the same marine mammal veterinarian depicted as an archfoe
by dolphin release advocates in Florida. Many others pitched in, too. There was never
much publicity involved, no big fundraising effort, and so little crowing about the successful
outcome that we didn’t even learn the long-rehearsed move had been accomplished until
a solid month afterward. At that, the whole transaction, from Garnett’s letter to the transfer,
took just 14 months: a third the length of the “Free Willy/Keiko” campaign. And the
Steinhart has no intention of ever again keeping dolphins.
The outcome is as positive as it is because of Rockwell’s trust-based approach. By
expressing optimism and confidence that everyone wanted the best situation for the dolphins,
first and foremost, she enabled many people to work together in a situation so polarized
that many initially pronounced it impossible.
What if her trust had not been reciprocated?
She’d have studied the situation––ethically––and tried again.
Confusing cause with metaphor
Much of the humane movement, like much of the rest of our society, has been
built around war imagery: we are a crusade, we must fight, we must convert foes at
sword’s point if necessary to the cause of kindness. Steeped in such ill-chosen metaphor,
activists tend to misunderstand Henry Spira when he urges negotiation to make gains for
animals––even though he demonstrates time and again that considerate, mutually beneficial
negotiation need involve no sacrifice of principle. It was Spira who in 1984 persuaded
Procter & Gamble to make a commitment to phasing animals out of laboratory use that has
extended over a decade, at cost of over $38 million to develop alternative testing methods.
Though neither Spira nor Procter & Gamble get much credit for it, that was the single
greatest gain for animals in the history of the antivivisection and animal rights movements.
But one must be trusted, at least as a forthright and stalwart opponent, to be in
position to dicker. Leaders who have been able to build multi-million-dollar advocacy
groups around campaigns based on eternal mistrust just don’t see the point. While the
money rolls in, they’re successful, their self-defeating tactics seemingly rewarded.
That won’t last forever. Keiko will probably spend the rest of his life in Oregon,
alerting a generation ofchildren who gave their allowances to “free” him that the promise of
“Free Willy!” was more a wish than a promise.
Letters from other animal protection donors whose trust has been abused come
daily, more all the time. Those leaders and organizations dealing in bad faith are at growing
if unrecognized risk of losing donor trust. Scarcely a week goes by without our being
informed of another high donor rewriting a will to exclude an organization because the
donor finally realized that people who don’t tell the truth in advocacy don’t tend to tell the
truth to supporters, either, and maybe someone else can make better use of the money.

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