Guest column: New approach needed in foreign outreach by Pat Kyriacou

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2000:

It has been interesting to watch ANIMAL PEOPLE expand your international focus, analysing what you find, questioning the status quo, speaking out against the animal welfare establishment when necessary.

I too have been observing some of the large animal welfare organisations as they expand their activities abroad. Here in Cyprus, in the southeast Mediterranean, primarily British organisations have become involved. This is probably because Cyprus is a former British colony. Cyprus hosts millions of British tourists, plus thousands of resident British retirees, who often contact large British organisations when they are concerned about animal abuse.

It is interesting to contrast the approaches taken to animal advocacy in developing countries by ANIMAL PEOPLE and some of these large British organisations.

Characterizing the ANIMAL PEOPLE approach was the December 1999 cover feature “Young humane societies abroad strive to avoid old traps,” written after staff visits to Kenya and Bulgaria, where editor Merritt Clifton and publisher Kim Bartlett attended the International Companion Animal Welfare Conference.

ANIMAL PEOPLE quoted Jean Gilchrist of the Kenya SPCA as saying, “Uncritically adopting U.S. and British tactics is fraught with ways to repeat old mistakes.” If only this insight could be widely understood! This would allow funds to be used with maximum effect, while saving much of the time and money now wasted by struggling new organisations in developing countries.

Three ANIMAL PEOPLE observations in particular surprised me with their accuracy, in that they were made by people so far away both geographically and culturally from either Kenya or Bulgaria, and in Cyprus have eluded representatives of large animal welfare organisations even after years of visits.

The first point of note concerned fundraising. Representatives from big groups often come to Cyprus and talk about how to fundraise. But they are talking about what works in their own affluent countries, with long traditions of giving to charities and concern for animals. I have longed for the chance to sit down with a fundraising expert, share a few fundamental characteristics of Cypriot society that inhibit donating or volunteering to help animals, and then get helpful suggestions. But the talk has all been one way.

In contrast, ANIMAL PEOPLE noted the poor donor base in Kenya and explained the problem: “Most support has traditionally come from the aging population of Kenyans of European and Indian ancestry. Most of the children exposed to Kenya SPCA educational programs are still far from reaching their prime earning and donating years.” Neither American nor British-style fundraising and volunteering practice is relevant. You simply cannot transplant these techniques from one culture to another.

The second point from the article is quite straightforward: in some countries, working with homeless animals, either cleaning and grooming them for adoption or killing them and handling their corpses is considered distasteful and unhealthy.

This is a problem in Cyprus too, and the result is that attempts by Cypriots to establish animal shelters inevitably flounder.

Yet never have any of the large animal welfare societies I have encountered offered any strategy, advice or help in surmounting this major problem. Instead, they bypassed it by funding animal shelters run by British expatriates––which by definition operate satellite-fashion at the periphery of society.

They do not attempt to change the system which goes on causing animals to suffer. Indeed they cannot: they do not speak Greek, they are wary about risking their residence permits by creating political controversy, and anyway they came to Cyprus just to enjoy a peaceful retirement in the sun.

Only a shortsighted view could fail to see that having foreign people pick up dogs, keeping some and killing most, will never advance the animal movement. Issues involving wildlife, circuses, menageries, agriculture, and the total absence of public dog control programs are rarely tackled. We move not an inch nearer to any solutions.

Meanwhile, the expatriate population is aging and will not be replaced. What will happen as it dwindles to invisibility?

I believe the importance of this point cannot be overstated. Surely it is only a matter of time before the large animal welfare organisations are faced with the urgent need to catalyse real change, as their outreach extends eastward to countries with enormous populations, such as China. Something more than just the catch-and-kill mentality and small efforts by expatriates must emerge. Efficient ways must be found to change public attitudes.

And here I do not mean, “Replace public attitudes with British or American attitudes!” I mean, study the target population and creatively find ways to build on whatever existing aspects of local culture might advance the cause of non-human animals.

Different dynamic

The ANIMAL PEOPLE article’s third important point was that, “Internationally, the ICAWC organisers are learning, the dynamic is different from the U.S. and British experience. Humane societies in underdeveloped nations are not necessarily evolving along a familiar path. Underfunded and eager as most are for American and British aid, many have their own ideas about methods and tactics.” If only this could be understood!

For example, large animal welfare organisations will advise or even insist that a small, new organisation in a developing country must follow western organisational structures. Our experience of doing this during our first three years of existence was painful. We found that meeting the organizational requirements of potential funding agencies rapidly consumed the precious volunteer hours we had available, our patience, and our limited funds. Our choice became clear: continue to channel all our efforts into forming an internal bureaucracy, or use our time to work for animals. We obviously chose the latter.

As the large animal welfare organisations expand eastward, they will find themselves having to accept and cooperate with organisations which may not follow traditional structures. The Internet, for example, has enabled some concerned individuals to build globally influential networks of donors and contacts without ever forming a board, holding a meeting, incorporating, or fundraising.

In Cyprus we also have the prospect of entry into the European Union working for us. Along with the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia, Cyprus hopes to join the EU within the next few years.

Using European legislation which Cyprus signed, and networking––both through the Internet and by building up a network of Cypriot people with public profiles––we persuaded the Cypriot parliament to halt importing captive dolphins, and to close the existing dolphinarium. We won the fight to end the captive dolphin industry in Cyprus, while countries with enormously affluent animal welfare organisations paying executives up to $570,000 in just one year have not, and probably never will. (See the annual list of executive salaries published each December by ANIMAL PEOPLE.)

Spira helped

An important endorsement of my belief that much can be accomplished without either large salaries or bureaucracy arrived last year in the form of the book Ethics Into Action and the video documentary One Man’s W a y––both by Peter Singer, both documenting the life’s work of Henry Spira.

Spira, who died in September 1998, accomplished an immense amount for animals by working more-or-less on his own, forming ad hoc coalitions if and when required, always shunning the money-and time-wasting tactics he observed in use elsewhere. I strongly recommend studying his tactics. Those who strive, unpaid, underfinanced, in countries with little interest in the wellbeing of animals, will be inspired and energised anew.

In my observation the staff of the big groups are often not “animal people,” and come from other career areas with no special commitment to animals. (I have met two exceptions). ANIMAL PEOPLE recently noted that the director general of a large and apparently grossly underachieving British dog shelter is a former career army officer. Many British animal welfare executives are ex-army officers. Others are young women with no experience of working in alien cultures, who move on after a couple of years. As soon as they have gained some experience in the animal protection movement, they move into a field offering less stress and more upward mobility, and everything they have learned, often at huge expense, is lost.

Surely the prequisites for overseas outreach staff should include a good education, a proven commitment to animal protection, and experience in a multicultural environment. I would also suggest––and I know many agree–-that staff should be hired who don’t eat animals.

International outreach is relatively new, and it is to be hoped that transparent and egalitarian attitudes might be incorporated. On the positive side, some forward-looking strategies have begun to emerge. One is the practice of working with and strengthening local organizations which are likely to keep up a longterm commitment to animals.

In the past, the big animal charities often directed their efforts into working with public officials or trying to do things by themselves on short visits. Often we have seen money poured into such attempts, knowing that jsoon as the representative’s visit ended, things would revert to how they were before. Often it seemed as if airlines and hotels, not animals, were the only beneficiaries.

A powerful example of a more enlightened approach has been the decision to identify suitable organizations in eastern Europe and teach them about campaigning, EU legislation relevant to animals, and a wide range of animal issues extending as far as genetic engineering. The new organizations are thus prepared to address animal-abusive practices which may spread to their countries, as well as their particular local problems.

When such education takes place at conferences, like the International Companion Animal Welfare Conference, attendees are also able to meet with their counterparts from other developing nations, compare experience, and learn from each other.

ANIMAL PEOPLE does its part by sending free subscriptions to unfunded organisations such as ours. Organisations in developing countries which are informed about the topics featured in ANIMAL PEOPLE, such as the growth of the “no-kill” movement, the obscene salaries paid by some of the big groups, and how donations are hoarded by some, are less likely to follow bad examples. The Animal Welfare Board of India, for instance, appears to have decided to bypass the western non-solution of endless killing to control the dog population, and has adopted as an official goal the accomplishment of no-kill animal control nationwide by 2005.

Let us all, east or west, north or south, big or small, keep open minds and learn from each other.

(Pat Kyriacou and her husband Kyriacos cofounded Animal Responsibility Cyprus. Locally called KIVOTOS, ARC net – works, lobbies, and delivers humane educa – tion via schools, community groups, and the media. Contact ARC at P.O. Box 6986, Limassol 3311, Cyprus; telephone 357-5- 995-029; e-mail .)

[To order Ethics Into Action and/or One Man’s Way, contact Animal Rights International, P.O. Box 767, Rye, New York 10580; 914-934-0896; FAX 914-934-0126.]

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