BOOKS: The State of the Animals 2001

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2001:
The State of the Animals 2001 edited by Deborah J. Salem & Andrew N. Rowan
Humane Society Press (c/o Humane Society of the U.S., 2100 L. St. NW, Washington, DC 20037), 2001. 212 pages, paperback. $29.50.

Modeled after the annual reports on the state of the environment produced annually since 1974 by Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute, The State of the Animals 2001 “is envisioned [by the Humane Society of the U.S.] as the first in a series reviewing the state of animal protection in North America and worldwide…planned as a source of information and informed opinion for policymakers, the academic community, animal advocates, and
the media.”

HSUS is uniquely well-positioned to assess mainstream progress because HSUS has always positioned itself as close as possible to the center of public opinion. While most organizations take positions first, and then do direct mailings to rally support, HSUS tends to use the response from test mailings to determine what position it ought to take to ensure the most lucrative returns.

Because the HSUS donor base–like the U.S. voter base–tends to be half a generation older on average than the U.S. median, HSUS policies have even at times lagged behind public opinion, notably on neuter/return feral cat control, no-kill sheltering, and vegetarianism. Over time, however, those policies have been cautiously amended, at least as stated for public consumption, so that the HSUS position today is again essentially mainstream, and is even progressive relative to the attitudes of the more conservative third or even half of elected officials.
The HSUS approach to animal advocacy, from inception in 1954, has usually been to let others raise issues and advance change to the verge of public acceptance. HSUS tends to jump in only after victory is assured, claiming the credit and resulting donations by simply being bigger and more visible than anyone else in the closing scenes. HSUS thereby rakes in almost half again more money per year than the next richest animal protection group, with $100 million socked away in assets.

The HSUS strategy enormously frustrates the smaller organizations which take most of the risks and do most of the work at the breaking edge, yet receive relatively little reward for it. If the money going to HSUS was all spent as donors intend, on here-and-now, tried-and-true solutions lacking only wherewithal to fully implement, many of the most vexing problems in animal protection could be solved almost immediately.

But to give the devil his due, the HSUS strategy also requires astute judgement of where American mainstream attitudes are, where they have been, and where they are going. The State of the Animals 2001 shares the viewpoints of key HSUS policy advisors on cruelty issues, companion animals, farm animal welfare, scientific use of animals, zoos, world trade, urban wildlife, and animal fertility control.

The authors do not all come from within HSUS. Outside perspectives of value come from academics Harold Herzog, Franklin Loew, and Temple Grandin, among others. Well-informed and realistic, they collectively offer much more appraisal than partisanship–and the history and data they present can be as valuable to the radical vanguard as to anyone else, since one cannot advance public opinion without understanding it.

Injectible sterilants

Of particular value is the concluding chapter, about progress in developing and introducing chemical sterilization and immunosterilants. Although authors Jay Kirkpatrick and Alan Rutberg focus on applications involving wildlife, much of the scientific information and some of the political insights apply as well to the introduction of injectible sterilants for dogs and cats.

Unfortunately, Kirkpatrick and Rutberg do not make the connections. Consider this passage: “In a culture of use, contraception of ‘game’ animals is illogical: why prevent animal births when you can instead stimulate births and ‘harvest’ a surplus for human use? A choice to contracept rather than kill introduces into wildlife management a new moral dimension disconcerting to those who think in terms of exploitation: that each individual animal has a claim on the world and on us, a claim to its own life.”

The words “game” and “wildlife” could be deleted to equally well describe the conundrum explained to the Oregon Animal Welfare Alliance on May 18 by veterinarians Byron Maas and Angie Warrick. Maas and Warrick went to the Cook Islands to sterilize dogs and cats on behalf of the Esther Honey Foundation, but found that their efforts were often misunderstood. “They put together an adoption center,” said the meeting minutes, “and found out that some people were getting healthy, parasite-free dogs to eat for dinner.”

Similar paradoxes persist in nations where animal control is widely used as a way to employ illiterates and criminals, and is expected to pay for itself via sales of meat, skins, and specimens for laboratory use.

The State of the Animals 2001 has a few noteworthy weaknesses. Most obviously, HSUS vice president for companion animals Martha Armstrong gets almost every date she cites wrong, claiming that the City of Los Angeles started a low-cost neutering program two years before it did, that the San Francisco SPCA introduced the Adoption Pact in 1995 rather than 1994, and that David and Cheryl Duffield endowed Maddie’s Fund in 1999 rather than 1998.

John Hadidian and Sydney Smith offer a worthwhile chapter on urban wildlife ecology, but awkward footnoting within the text makes much of it hard to read.

Of most significance, several discussions of U.S. dietary trends fail to note that even as per capita meat consumption rose 13% during the last quarter of the 20th century, which is mentioned with some dismay, the rise was concentrated among men of middle age and older. Women and younger men are eating less and less meat–and are apparently wanting less, since their meat consumption declined even as their affluence increased. If present trends continue, the passing of the male half of the Baby Boom generation will bring a drastic drop in U.S. meat consumption, and a transformation of the U.S. agricultural economy.

The U.S. will remain far short of becoming a vegetarian nation, but factory hog and poultry production may have already peaked, unless export markets develop to offset the likely fall in U.S. demand. However, if overseas markets are strong enough to import meat from the U.S. in high volume, they will be strong enough to encourage the growth of factory farming abroad on an unprecedented scale. Arresting that trend is the biggest challenge ahead for the humane movement–as is widely recognized in India and Poland, but has barely been discussed in most other nations.

Except in the chapter on world trade, which focuses on international legal agreements, The State of the Animals 2001 offers little about the state of animal protection abroad. But the state of animal protection abroad could easily fill another volume of similar size.

As in the area of economic development, there are three worlds in humane work. The State of the Animals 2001 describes the U.S. in terms that apply more-or-less equally to western Europe: a First World of existing humane societies, animal care-and-control departments, well-funded zoos and educational institutions, and specialized advocacy groups battling agribusiness, biomedical research, and blood sports enthusiasts. Animal protection activity in the First World is mostly secular, despite some religious influence, and often conflicts with cultural practice.

The Second World of humane work includes nations like India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, which have cultural frameworks for animal protection, proceeding mostly from Hindu and Buddhist religious teachings. Cultural conflicts are as common as in the First World, but the oldest and strongest traditions are essentially pro-animal. In these nations the humane infrastructure is often weak, from lack of funding and sometimes lack of know-how, yet there are foundations to build from.

The Third World of humane work consists of all the places where animal protection is represented neither by strong secular institutions nor by cultural teaching. It includes much of Africa, Latin America, and eastern and central Asia–although there are some cultural ideas about animals in some of these regions which could be better developed to expedite and enhance animal protection. Examples would be the Masai taboo against eating wildlife, the belief of some Brazilian forest tribes that human spirits go to dwell in river dolphins, and the long repressed Buddhist vegetarian tradition in China.

Andrew Rowan, the HSUS senior vice president who co-edited The State of the Animals 2001, is reputedly now also the power behind-the-scenes at Humane Society International, the HSUS global affiliate. We anticipate that future volumes looking at the global scene may already be in planning.

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