Editorial: 10 years and still flying for the animals!

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2002:

Ten years ago this month, they said
ANIMAL PEOPLE would never take off. The runway
was too short, too shaky, we were hauling too
much weight, and we would be flying blind,
dodging flak all the way.
No one had ever before done what we set
out to do–to independently report about animal
protection, for a global audience, with a
proactive and self-starting approach to getting
things done.
We started out flat broke, hopeful, yet
lacking even a tangible promise that help would
come from anyone.

We began after taking hits that were
meant to silence us. ANIMAL PEOPLE publisher Kim
Bartlett had edited another pro-animal periodical
for six years. ANIMAL PEOPLE editor Merritt
Clifton was her news editor. After exposing
waste and corruption within major animal advocacy
groups with friends on the board, Merritt was
fired and Kim resigned.
That was not all. Our
not-quite-two-year-old son Wolf needed emergency
surgery to remove a brain tumor–which luckily
proved benign. We did not yet know what would
happen, but Wolf loved cats, dogs, birds,
horses–every animal he met–and no one
encouraged us more. As our illustrator, his
cheerful drawings of animals now encourage the
We also “inherited” 31 feral cats, plus
our own 10, when our former employers terminated
our use of office space to facilitate one of the
first major feral cat neutering projects
undertaken in the U.S. This was supposed to make
us “see reality,” and compromise our
determination. Instead, we stripped down to
bare essentials, took the cats with us (we still
have many of them, along with three rescued dogs
and two rescued burros), and pushed our personal
credit to the limit to launch the ANIMAL PEOPLE
It was a one-way mission, because there
was no way to turn back and nowhere to turn back
toward. But it was no suicide mission. The
bombshells we aimed to drop were truths that we
knew could save animals’ lives right around the
world. We just had to demonstrate that new ideas
could fly.
Within just 10 short weeks, the first
edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE hit the mail. We
reported on the appearance of the Ku Klux Klan at
the Hegins pigeon shoot, the inefficacy of the
tactics used against the shoot over the preceding
seven years, the success of Steve Hindi in
halting pigeon shoots in Illinois–using the
approach that eventually stopped the Hegins shoot
–and his formation of the advocacy group SHARK
to pursue the tactics he thought would work,
whether or not the big groups helped.
Five weeks later, we published again,
featuring feral cat rescue information and
roadkill avoidance tips that are still in daily
demand from the ANIMAL PEOPLE web site.
Five weeks after that, we issued the
first of our annual “Who gets the money?”
editions, detailing the budgets, assets, top
salaries, and spending patterns of all the top
animal and habitat protection groups.
Within our first six months, ANIMAL
PEOPLE also helped Animal Rights Mobilization to
win their “No Dolphins In Denver” campaign, the
first time an animal advocacy group ever won a
pledge that dolphins and whales would not be
exhibited at a facility originally designed to
keep them.
In the same edition, ANIMAL PEOPLE
published the first exposé in more than a decade
of the mistreatment of horses by the estrogen
supplement industry. Our coverage was soon
amplified by three of the five biggest New York
City newspapers, leading to the start of the
Premarin boycotts.
ANIMAL PEOPLE had immediate impact
because our concept was to inform and give. From
the start, we emphasized outreach. Our
low-budget newsprint format enabled us to send
free subscriptions to every animal shelter and
every animal advocacy group in existence, to
mobilize them with new ideas and enthusiasm.
The big national groups were not about to
do that. They asked animal shelters to pay for
their publications — and their idea of how to
help was mostly still just distributing reprints
of the 1966 essay “Why we must euthanize,” and
hosting conferences whose exhibit halls centered
on displays of gas chambers and crematoriums.
The Humane Society of the U.S., then and now the
world’s richest animal advocacy group, rejected
and even tried to prosecute neuter/return of
feral cats and street dogs as “abandonment.”
HSUS called no-kill sheltering “animal
warehousing,” and insisted that high-volume
adoption could never out-compete puppy mills.
(One HSUS representative told the media that our
pilot feral cat project was spreading rabies by
returning vaccinated and sterilized feral cats to
their habitat–even as we received a local police
award for our help in stopping a rabies outbreak.)
No one at all was doing much by way of foreign outreach.
Sending free subscriptions abroad, we
felt certain, would stimulate an explosion of
grassroots humane work, in places no one ever
heard of, where atrocities were sometimes
decried by multinational groups in mailings but
where no one was helping concerned local people
to turn things around.
Monitoring the accomplishments and
accountability of the major animal advocacy
groups, we anticipated, would educate a more
effective donor base, who would in turn demand
more results from their contributions to help
animals, and would no longer be unaware of
executive salaries rising much faster than any
barometer of campaign success.

Direct hits

We shared our most important founding concepts in our first editorial.
“After over two decades of animal and
habitat protection work,” we wrote, “we have
come to the inescapable conclusion that most of
the progress on most issues has come about not
because of national campaigns, but rather
through one-on-one persuasion, often in the
virtual absence of national campaigns.”
We suggested that despite a noteworthy
absence of effective national leadership on
cat-and-dog issues, individual local use of the
tactics we wrote about could continue a downward
trend in shelter killing, resulting from
successful humane education and peer pressure–
which the national groups did not even
acknowledge. Gathering more data each year to
monitor the trend than any of them ever had, we
documented the improvement as the numbers of
animals killed in U.S. shelters fell steadily
from eight million in 1991 to 4.4 million last
year, and spotlighted strong new national
organizations including Alley Cat Allies,
PETsMART Charities, Spay/USA, and the Pet
Savers Foundation as they emerged from obscurity
to promote all of the life-saving ideas that we
outlined in our first two editions.
We suggested that direct one-to-one peer
group pressure could continue to erode hunting
participation, even though the Fund for Animals
was the only one of the ten biggest animal
advocacy groups in the U.S.–then or now–to make
hunting a primary focus. Eight percent of U.S.
citizens hunted in 1991, but only five percent
did in 2001, a 38% drop.
“The number of vegetarians in the U.S.
has tripled or quadrupled,” we wrote, “but the
biggest groups, while officially pro-vegetarian,
have largely left the matter to the smaller
groups who specialize in agricultural and health
That is still true, yet small-group
activity and individual influence have been so
effective that Burger King now sells their new BK
Veggie sandwich at all locations, and in early
August told us that they soon hope to be serving
vegan buns and fries, too.
Overseas, the number of active animal
advocacy groups has at least quadrupled since
ANIMAL PEOPLE began, with the most spectacular
growth coming in Asia, Africa, eastern Europe,
and parts of Latin America which previously had
no humane organizations at all. Almost every day
we help new organizations abroad to learn the
basics of fundraising, communications, and
management of hands-on vaccination and
sterilization programs.
ANIMAL PEOPLE warned, in our first
editorial, against organizations which “use
unending direct mail campaigns to siphon
donations away from local humane societies–often
encouraging the misconception that some of the
money goes back to hands-on animal work.” This
remains a paramount concern, because as informed
donors have become more demanding of results,
high-volume mailers have become more brazen about
misrepresenting programs and policies, for
instance by implying that they support hands-on
work abroad that donors have no way of checking
up on — except through ANIMAL PEOPLE.
The initial ANIMAL PEOPLE editorial
concluded: “There are very few deliberate
enemies of animals in the world (a belief it is
admittedly sometimes hard to maintain). Despite
the atrocities we all witness, ours is not so
much a fight against evil as it is a struggle
against ignorance. Most cruelty, in our
observation, is less deliberate than it is the
result of cultural blindness,” which we now
describe as “denial.”
“The most effective leader you know
should be the one you see in the mirror,” ANIMAL
PEOPLE continued. “Do what you can do, as well
as you can do it. Give your own efforts first
priority; they are, after all, most
important,” in terms of influencing others by
example, “whether you are doing hands-on care;
writing letters to newspapers; or simply giving
your own family vegetarian meals and the lessons
of kindness. In the end, it is not
organizations that make a difference, nor is it
law, since laws that are not generally respected
for heartfelt reasons are also not generally
obeyed. What does make a difference is that each
one of us will do something differently because
someone whose opinion we value–someone who might
even be in the mirror — showed us a better way.”
Ten years ago ANIMAL PEOPLE came in under
the radar of the animal use-and-abuse industries,
dodging the flak from the big animal advocacy
groups that could not figure out how to
effectively fight them, or did not dare to try.
We put the struggle on behalf of animals right
into the hands of local animal defenders all over
the world.
We demonstrated the value of targeted
in-depth humane education by really doing it,
not just carpet-bombing donors with
ever-escalating numbers of slick appeals telling
you nothing you do not already know.
We flew a lot on empty tanks,
desperately hoping each month that enough new
subscriptions, ads, and small donations would
come in to fund printing and mailing the next
edition. Two years of around-the-clock work
passed before we were even able to cover our
personal living expenses with minimal salaries,
but we kept ANIMAL PEOPLE coming.
We are still flying with a low
tank–because as we have grown, we have extended
our mission. We initially sent free
subscriptions to about 2,500 animal shelters and
advocacy groups. Now we reach more than 9,000.
We maintain an online web archive of 11,000
electronic pages of articles from our back
editions, plus extras such as a handbook on
keeping cats healthy in animal shelters, a
handbook on rabies, and a series of fundraising
and media relations tip sheets for animal
Much of our material is now translated
into French and Spanish, to better help the
regions with the least access to humane
We are still on a one-way mission–the
way of kindness–and it must succeed. Your
donations help to light the way.

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