Editorial: Slugs, burros, men & boys
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1997:
Two young burros from Wild Burro Rescue now share the ANIMAL PEOPLE
premises with 19 cats, two dogs, three humans, and just about every kind of wildlife
native to Whidbey Island, Washington, including all seven types of slug.
The slugs would remind us of the often slow pace of change, even if our work did
not, having survived, almost unaltered, for more than 450 million years, with scarcely a
visible friend. Even the cats back disgustedly from their dishes when slugs crawl through
the heavy-duty screens around the porch to invade their kibble. We patiently relocate the
slugs more from obedience to the compassionate ethic than from genuine empathy––except
for Wolf, now seven, who has insisted on relocating every kind of life from harm’s way
since he could walk. Wolf opened this school year by rescuing a snake and attempting to
save grasshoppers from boys who tormented and tried to kill them on the playground. The
notion that “It’s just a [fill in the blank]” has never been part of his psychological vocabulary.
Instead, he explains––to anyone who denigrates any life form––that “all life has an
importance.” To be able to love a slug, we think, exemplifies the hope of the humane
movement and indeed, of humanity.
Slugs and wild burros have tenacity, versatility, deliberate pace, and relative
friendlessness in common. Much as many gardeners kill slugs on sight, the National Park
Service shoots burros as purported alien invaders. To prevent such killing, Wild Burro
Rescue each year removes about two dozen burros from the Mojave National Preserve, in
southern California, and places them for adoption. Among their volunteer helpers this year
was Steve Hindi, of the Chicago Animal Rights Coalition, who developed wrangling skills
preparatory to his summer investigation of rodeo when high wind grounded the paraglider
with which he had hoped to do burro-spotting.
Observing that Hindi, so far, is the only “name” animal rights activist to join the
burro rescues in a hands-on capacity, Wild Burro Rescue cofounder Gene Chontos
remarked while preparing our burros for transport that what the animal cause needs is not
more leaders but rather more good role models. Leaders by definition do the unique: Paul
Watson sinks whaling ships. Hindi flies a paraglider between hunters and geese. Richard
Avanzino led the San Francisco SPCA and ultimately the city of San Francisco out of
killing animals for population control. Elizabeth Lewyt and her late husband Alex built the
North Shore Animal League. Each leadership role is different, and each sets an example,
but leadership on the grand scale is not necessarily within everyone’s capability. Role modeling,
influencing others by example, is something we can all do, including the leaders.
Like many other operators of small, underfunded rescue projects, Gene and
Diana Chontos had neither the budget to travel to the third annual No Kills in the Nineties
conference, held two weeks later, nor the staff to care for their animals even if money
allowed––but they would have appreciated the direction it took, especially at the concluding
plenary session. Doing Things For Animals founder and conference organizer Lynda
Foro summoned to the stage Louise Holton of Alley Cat Allies, Michael Mountain of the
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, Dale Riffle of PIGS: A Sanctuary, and Perry Fina of the
Pet Savers Foundation, a division of North Shore, to discuss their perspectives as role
models who grew into leadership. Holton started out just feeding and neutering homeless
cats. Mountain and his longtime best friends initially just tried to arrange adoptions for a
local humane society, to spare the two elderly women who ran it from the emotional pain
of having to kill healthy animals. Riffle and Jim Brewer circa 1991 took in a friend’s pet
potbellied pig, after the novelty of having a pig wore off in less than a week. Fina was a
dog trainer, whose multiple talents impressed North Shore president John Stevenson.
In each case, leadership found the individual––and their style still consists mainly
of setting a hands-on example.
Riffle discovered quite by accident how much this can accomplish, he explained,
when he was asked to address a classroom, which led to addressing approximately 800 students
in a series of visits to other classes, and then brought a visit to the PIGS sanctuary by
an association of about 100 teachers. Each entered PIGS through a gate bearing a sign that
explains––in just 12 words––the sanctuary rules: “No drugs. No meat or meat products.
No politics. No attitudes. Welcome!” A self-professed leader might struggle for years to
deliver such a succinct moral curriculum to as influential an assembly.
Mountain drew the distinction
between leading and administrating––and
pointed out that while leaders must inspire,
and inspired administrators are essential to
successful organizations, the qualifications
to lead and to administer differ. Leaders
may be idiosyncratic; administrators must
be sufficiently empathic to coax other people
toward effective action, on a daily basis.
Crediting Best Friends shelter director Faith
Maloney and others for their administrative
ability, Mountain played down his own role
as articulate visionary––which he described
as just meaning well, getting into something
over his head, and then being lucky enough
to have nice people around him who have
dedicated their lives to preventing him from drowning in cat and dog poop.
The distinction between leading and administrating, and between doing either and
role-modeling, even when all three overlap, is the difference between demanding change
and effecting it. The leadership style characteristic of protest is stereotypically masculine,
while the style characteristic of building alternatives is feminine. Protest erupts when
charismatic individuals head-butt the establishment to expose moral and practical failures of
the way things are. Yet head-butting alone isn’t enough to change institutions and practices
which exist, after all, to serve some perceived societal need, whether to eliminate the risks
associated with roving dogs and cats, the need for protein traditionally derived from meat,
or the need to increase scientific knowledge, train doctors, and guarantee product safety by
using animals in testing andbiomedical research. Someone, sooner or later, must develop
other means of achieving similar ends, and then demonstrate that they work. Someone also
has to win the trust of the public, to insure that viable alternatives will be adopted. These
roles require patience, understanding, and sharing.
“The reform of men”
As we often point out, the initial goals of the humane movement included not
only the abolition of animal abuse, but also the abolition of slavery, the institution of public
education and orphanages, the abolition of child labor, abolishing debtor’s prison,
obtaining for women the right to vote and hold office, and prohibiting the sale of alcohol.
Each was understood as essential to reforming society so as to abolish cruelty.
The women’s movement of the 20th century grew directly from the humane movement
of the 19th, but turned a corner more-or-less as Prohibition failed, when the feminist
goal became self-empowerment, rather than as Carolyn Earle White and other early humane
crusaders deliberately emphasized, “The reform of men.”
Cruelty, in the 19th century, was defined largely as a failing of male character.
Cruel women were seen as corrupted by male behavior, or by indulgence in same. As the
century closed, George Angell envisioned and instituted classroom humane education as a
process by which boys who might otherwise be conditioned by their environment to kill
birds might instead by taught to feed and protect them. A decade later, Jack London
formed the Jack London Clubs not only to oppose the abuse of circus animals and stop dogfighting,
but also––fundamentally––to give young men a feeling of place within a movement
whose supporters had always been predominantly female. Without greater male participation
in humane work, London foresaw, young men would continue to emulate the
brutalities of older men, no matter what women might tell them.
We are still struggling with that problem. Of the 100 individuals whose convictions
for violent animal abuse most recently came to our attention, 94 were men––as are
97% of hunters and trappers.
A sign that the animal rights movement of the past 20-odd years may have finally
effected real change in societal attitudes toward animals––and cruelty––is that the percentages
of men who do not hunt and do not eat meat increase in each younger age bracket.
Among self-defined animal rights activists of high school and college age, as many as 40%
are male, while hunting participation overall is so low that if the present trend persists,
sport hunting might all but die out within a generation.
Yet male role models, especially in everyday life, still seem few. A variety of
recent studies indicate that women continue to do 75% to 85% of in-home pet care, make
up 75% of the animal protection donor base, and despite disproportionate representation of
men as heads of humane organizations, women also seem to do most of the hands-on
humane work. Of the 301 participants in this year’s No Kill Conference, 88% were female.
The absence of male participation in hands-on animal care does not necessarily
indicate that humane values are failing to enter male culture. The decline of hunting, especially,
speaks to the contrary. But one must ask what roles men might be taking instead, if
any, and continue to be concerned that if men are not actively involved in furthering
humane values, the seeming transformation of attitudes now underway might not translate
into lasting change in lifestyles, politics, and ways of doing business..
The most visible male role models are still either head-butters like Watson and
Hindi [who most certainly are still needed] or men who like the others noted above began
their involvement for animals in providing hands-on care. More male role models are
essential, to exemplify for fellow men––and boys––the contributions males can make, not
only by raising hell and not only by more hands-on work, but also by furthering kind conduct
in every other espect of life.
Twenty-four years ago, a young philosophy professor named Peter Singer, later
the author of Animal Liberation, inspired lifelong human rights activist Henry Spira to take
up the animal cause––with eminent success. Spira has often been justly called “the father of
the animal rights movement, for precedent-setting victories in reducing both laboratory animal
use and cruelty to livestock. But Spira’s fatherhood role goes much beyond seminal
accomplishment. It includes as well his personal example, in avoiding self-service and
never hitting foes without fair warning. Spira can butt with a head as hard and wit as sharp
as the prow of the ship with which Watson sliced open the pirate whaler Sierra, but he’s
quicker to drive a bargain, then keep it, and makes so little of his own role in effecting
change that his work is far better known than he is.
Singer has now documented the Spira style in a video, Henry––One Man’s Way,
reviewed on page 21. Indeed, Spira’s way is his own, like the way of other charismatic
protest leaders, but also different: the essentials can be every man’s way, because Spira’s
way is based on role-modeling. The very question Spira asks of potential protest targets is
whether the role they play is really the role they wish to be seen in, and if not, would they
care to try another?