Editorial: Conferences build movements

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2003:

Education, persuasion, fundraising,
and political organization all begin with getting
to know somebody.
Futurists have predicted since the
invention of book-printing that this ancient
truism would soon be amended by the advent of
mass media, which permit ever more rapid and
far-reaching distribution of ideas. Yet this has
not happened any more than the evolution of
advanced noses enabled dogs to give up their
eyesight. The actual major effect of each new
development in communication is simply to extend
human sensory input capabilities, and the most
frequent use of our extended input is always to
facilitate more human-to-human contact.
Thus book-printing stimulated the growth
of universities. Radio and television stimulated
travel. Use of the Internet exploded when
people discovered that it eases and expedites
meeting others with common interests. The
single most frequent specific use of e-mail is in
finding conjugal partners. Finding or placing
companion animals also ranks among the top dozen
uses, according to Internet researchers, some
of whom estimate that from a third to half of all
pet adoptions are now Internet-assisted.

ANIMAL PEOPLE exists and thrives, like
all newspapers and electronic information media,
primarily because we make introductions. This is
no new insight. “Cub” reporters are taught to
develop “a nose for news” precisely because
journalists learned as a profession long ago that
our “watchdog” function amounts to extending the
animal senses of the readers. Because we are
humans, we develop our keenest insights more
through cogitation and analysis of input than
through direct response to the input itself, but
what we actually do with what we learn is
comparable to what animals might do if able to
see, sniff, and sense with their guard hairs at
much greater distance.
Here at ANIMAL PEOPLE, our investigative
work, financial accountability reporting, book
reviews, and editorials each serve to extend
readers’ ability to discover information of use
in helping animals–and that brings the
“watchdog” analogy back around full circle to the
purpose of gathering the information in the first
In essence, we enable readers to build
more successful direct relationships with other
people who care about animals. We build the
“connectedness” of the international humane
community, not only through news coverage but
also by sending more than 9,500 complimentary
subscriptions to animal advocacy organizations
around the world.
The payoff is evident wherever animal
advocates meet, putting to work the ideas that
we discover and amplify.
ANIMAL PEOPLE and the Internet have
exponentially multiplied the chances for animal
advocates to become acquainted and share
information. Yet newsprint is not a spontaneous
medium, and even the Internet tends to initiate
and enhance rather than replace direct
person-to-person communication. Building trust
and understanding, teaching complex tasks, and
influencing others through example all are done
most easily after people meet face-to-face.
This is the chief value of conferencing.
The progress of the humane movement can
be measured by the frequency and intensity of
conferences. The first U.S. humane conference,
in 1876, produced the American Humane
Association. The second, in 1878, split
American Humane into separate divisions for child
protection and animal protection.
Conferencing was difficult in those days,
requiring long journeys mostly by steam train,
but the cause surged forward at least until 1912,
when more than 25,000 children plus 15,000
parents and teachers attended the Band of Mercy
convention in Kansas City.
Thereafter, unfortunately, humane
conferences stagnated into periodic convocations
of executives, and the humane cause stalled for
nearly 70 years. Not until the early 1980s
did participatory conferences resume, but when
they did, an explosion of conferences reputedly
sparked in 1981 by Farm Animal Reform Movement
founder Alex Hershaft immediately preceded the
formation of most of the groups identified with
the modern animal rights movement.
The No-Kill Conference series, begun in
1995 with 65 participants, comparably built the
momentum of the movement toward no-kill
sheltering. The No-Kill Conferences attracted up
to 600 participants before morphing into the less
confrontational Conference on Homeless Animal
Management and Policy in 2001.
While the CHAMP conference mainstreamed
itself into direct competition with the older
American Humane and Humane Society of the U.S.
conferences, however, the Best Friends Animal
Sanctuary–an original No-Kill Conference
cosponsor–started the dynamic No More Homeless
Pets conference series. Planned deliberately to
serve the specific needs of single regions,
each No More Homeless Pets conference attracts
250 to 300 participants, many of whom are
first-time conference attendees.
More things are happening now on behalf
of animals than ever before, in more places
around the U.S., because more people know each
other, developing the degree of trust after
personal meetings which adds depth and strength
to the e-mail contacts.
Observing the value of the U.S.
conferences, ANIMAL PEOPLE since 1997 has been
actively encouraging similar events abroad. The
Animal Welfare Board of India hosted the first
foreign conference we attended. This was our
introduction to People for Animals founder Maneka
Gandhi, Blue Cross of India cofounder Chinny
Krishna, and Visakha SPCA founder Pradeep Kumar
Nath, among others, whose energetic Animal
Birth Control programs and other multi-faceted
animal advocacy have subsequently helped to
inspire the world.
Since then we have become avid
participants in the International Companion
Animal Welfare Conferences cohosted by the
National Canine Defence League of Britain and the
North Shore Animal League America, the ¡Pura
Vida! Conference hosted by the Veterinary
Licensing Board of Costa Rica, and the Asia for
Animals conference, organized this year chiefly
by the Hong Kong SPCA.
Preceding each conference, we respond to
a flurry of skeptical e-mails from activists who
doubt that a talkfest will be worth the cost of
attending. Money for humane work is hard to come
by, especially in the underdeveloped world, and
many of the prospective attendees have already
had disappointing and disillusioning experiences
involving meetings convened by public officials
whose sole intent is to get away for longer with
doing nothing.
After each conference we are exhausted
for weeks by the avalanche of information
requests received from new acquaintances–and as
we visit shelters, sanctuaries, animal
hospitals, and other pro-animal projects, it is
increasingly apparent that those doing the most
tend to be those who have invested in the
opportunities to make contacts, learn new
methods, and improve skills that conferences
The experience of Pradeep Kumar Nath may
provide the most dramatic example. Two years
after starting the Visakha SPCA, he invested the
entire treasury of the organization in a
round-trip ticket to attend the 1997 Animal
Welfare Board of India conference. Not a fellow
who mingles and makes friends easily, he managed
to strike up conversations with representatives
of only two other organizations: ANIMAL PEOPLE
and Help In Suffering, of Jaipur. Those
conversations, however, gave him the tools and
contacts to end the electrocution of street dogs
by the municipality of Visakhapatnam, and to
start one of the most successful of all of the
Animal Birth Control programs. The Visakha SPCA,
then housed in a single room, now occupies a new
multi-building complex.
Since 1997, Nath has made a point of
attending every conference he can. He is less
bashful now about introducing himself. He is
also increasingly often consulted at conferences
by others who are just getting started and
recognize the importance of tapping his recent
experience in confronting many of the same
It is our firm belief that the only way
to change things for animals globally is to
support and empower local animal welfare
organizations, like the Visakha SPCA, wherever
changes must be made.
This begins with discovering and
identifying the local activists, like Nath, who
have the inspiration, determination, and energy
to lead. We spotlight the work of as many as we
can, after personally verifying their
accomplishments–but many others are worthy of
attention, which they are only likely to get if
they come to conferences and make themselves
known more tangibly than can be accomplished
through e-mail or a web site.

“Troops on the ground”

Protest campaigns directed from the U.S.,
Britain, and other developed nations only bring
meaningful results when they are in effect the
“air cover” for local “troops on the ground,”
who generate comparable pressure.
As Australian animal defender Phil Wollen
recently observed to us, “An imported,
externally forced initiative will be accepted or
tolerated only under sufferance, and the real
problem will lurk like a cancer beneath the
surface. It will re-emerge virulently when
the external pressure has abated. No country
likes to be bludgeoned by foreigners into
accepting change, even if it is for morally
sound reasons. I think it was Percy Shelley who
said, ‘He convinced against his will, is of his
own opinion still.'”
An alphabetized catalog of examples of
such re-emergent issues might begin with the
expanded Atlantic Canadian seal hunt and
Australian kangaroo massacres, and would run on
for several paragraphs, concluding with ivory
trafficking in Zimbabwe. That such activities
are still with us, some killing more animals
than ever, long after each was nominally
curtailed, in itself illustrates the importance
of developing politically empowered local animal
advocacy networks, who can keep the issues in
their regions under scrutiny 24 hours a day,
seven days a week, and can raise an effective
hue-and-cry among citizens just as soon as anyone
suggests resuming or expanding an abuse.
Direct mail, e-mail, mass media news
coverage and advertising, and coverage in
ANIMAL PEOPLE all can help to amplify the
hue-and-cry, yet whether the animal abusers are
South Korean dog and cat eaters or South Alabama
coonhunters, the lone voices howling in the
wilderness must meet as a pack to develop the
strategies taking maximum advantage of individual
strengths that tend to underlie success.
Shelters, sanctuaries, and
sterilization clinics are part of the humane
infrastructure, but without connectedness at all
levels the safety net they form for animals is
hit-or-miss, and does not tend to lift the
standards of whole regions or nations.
ANIMAL PEOPLE donors are very special in
understanding the need to build humane
infrastructure. By helping to build
infrastructure, in terms of both facilities and
advocacy, they elevate the moral status and
improve the treatment of animals everywhere.
This is significantly different from the
response of typical donors, unfortunately. As
the tactics of the direct mail industry
demonstrate, typical donors rush in response to
hyperbolic mailings to send funds to help single
animals said to be in distress (even if actually
rescued many years ago), yet decline to support
publications, conferences, and genuine
educational outreach because they derive no
immediate feeling of relief and satisfaction from
projects with a longterm payoff, no matter how
profound the payoff may be.
Thus ANIMAL PEOPLE emphasizes donor
education as well as all of the other work we do
toward informing and strengthening the global
humane community.
If each donor teaches another donor to
scrap so-called “urgent” appeals sent by bulk
mail, any appeals packaged to look like a
government document or an invoice, any appeals
sent with “gift” merchandise, and any appeals
from groups or fundraisers who spend the greater
part of their receipts on further mailings,
enough wasted money could be saved right there to
fund an unprecedented but much needed expansion
of humane outreach.
Even just in donating, getting to know
the people and projects you support is
indispensible to effectively help animals. If
you cannot visit every organization to which you
donate, meeting representatives at a conference
is the next best way to assess them.
Conferencing is such an ancient
communication medium that even elephants, the
great whales, most wild canids, hyenas, and
many of our fellow primates gather from afar at
times to renew acquaintances, spending several
days in proximity before dispersing back
throughout their range. Gatherings may
center upon popular food sources, mating
rituals, or joining forces before migration,
but among many animals the opportunity to share
knowledge and make collective decisions seem to
be equally important motivations for convergence.
The more sociable bird species probably
conferenced long before mammals did. Dinosaurs
may have conferenced, as close relatives of
birds, and entomologists have identified
conferencing behavior even in honey bees.
The evident evolutionary lesson is that
conferencing helps the survival of social
animals, no matter how advanced their sensory
and communicative abilities.
The same is true of causes. Take in a
conference this year, meet some fellow activists
and advocates you have never met before, and
take away new depth of perspective.

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