Editorial feature: 21st century began with 10 years of hard-won gains
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2010:
Most ANIMAL PEOPLE readers are probably buried lately in a
blizzard of appeals reviewing the deeds of animal charities during
the past year and decade. Recipients will be cheered by recaps of
“victories,” no matter how transient. Some may notice, though,
that “defeats” are seldom mentioned.
Comprehensive assessments of progress tend to be fewer–and
can be discouraging, in view of frequent contradictory indicators.
But the animal cause does not advance primarily through obvious
“victories,” or fail through the unmentioned defeats, which most
often result when legislation is proposed before sufficient
groundwork is done to pass it, or when resources are inadequate to
achieve an ambitious goal.
Fundraisers and campaigners like to evoke imagery suggesting
that at some point a cause will “triumph,” perhaps after someone
blows the right horn to bring all obstacles tumbling down. This is a
tried-and-true appeal format, but reality is that if any “war”
metaphor is appropriate to advancing the cause of animals, it is
that of trench warfare.
We are pushing for change against deeply entrenched
industries and cultural traditions, who try to choke every challenge
with drifting clouds of poison gas-like propaganda. Quick advances
tend to come at immense cost. Abrupt gains are often just as
abruptly lost, after opposition mobilizes. For every new activist
charging ahead, a veteran reels back in shellshock, having seen
entirely too many horrors while experiencing too little progress.
Authentic victories are won by inches, by a process that no
“war” metaphor accurately describes. Authentic victories come not
through “fighting,” but through persuasion, when sufficient numbers
of people who are not directly involved in the cause, and usually
not directly involved in resisting it, either, decide to make
changes in their lives and their voting patterns. They may decide to
have a pet sterilized, stop chaining a dog outside, or–most
important–to eat less meat. Or none. They may just quit hunting,
or wearing fur, without even thinking much about why.
The choice to make a beneficial change does not come because
the people are confronted by rhetorical bayonet charges. Shock
tactics may get attention, but to be effective must be followed,
immediately, by a positive message that people will internalize and
accept, despite having been put on the defensive. Most often the
choice of change is made because someone the person making the change
knows or admires has already made the same choice, setting a
heartening example. A comprehensive review of overall progress in
the animal cause, accordingly, is a review of depth of influence.
Where enduring gains have been made, strings of political
victories may follow, because public opinion and behavior have
already advanced. Legislation, in those instances, codifies what
the majority have come to believe. Recent victories of this sort
include the reforms of farming practices approved by ballot
initiative in California in November 2008, and the simultaneous
abolition of greyhound racing in Massachusetts, also by ballot
Opinion polls indicate that the 2009 European Union ban on
imports of seal pelts and byproducts was also such a victory, with
broad-based public support throughout most of Europe, but Canada has
appealed the ban to the World Trade Organization, contending that
the EU had no right under international law to enact it. Should the
appeal succeed, the ban would be overturned, and the real test of
European opposition to the Atlantic Canadian seal hunt would revert
to consumer choice.
Consumer choice can be a misleading indicator, because many
of the most abusive industries survive through the participation and
patronage of very small minorities: just 4% of Americans hunt, for
example. Such industries may have hugely disproportionate political
influence, through alliance with other industries, the involvement
of well-placed lawmakers, and as a legacy of past popularity. The
overwhelming majority of the public may not support the abusive
activity, but until they are politically mobilized in opposition to
it, as they were in the example of greyhound racing in
Massachusetts, the activity will continue through the addiction of
The decline of greyhound racing in the U.S. offers some of
the most encouraging comparative data from the beginning and end of
the past decade: of 50 greyhound tracks operating in 2000, just 23
remain. Declining attendance and an aging clientele point toward the
probable demise of the entire U.S. greyhound industry before the end
of the new decade.
Greyhound racing may become the first of many forms of animal
use in popular entertainment to collapse and disappear. Horse racing
and animal use in circuses appear to be following the same trajectory
to oblivion, worldwide. Wildlife SOS is cautiously optimistic that
the last dancing bear act is off the road in India, and that the
last dancing bear has joined hundreds of others at the Wildlife SOS
sanctuaries. Rodeo, though still a big business in the U.S., is
economically struggling and contracting. Spanish-style bullfighting
has just been abolished in Catalonia, which a decade ago still had
three of the five most prestigious bull rings in the world.
Bullfighting and rodeo promoters continue to try to develop new
venues and audiences in China, and elsewhere beyond their
traditional bases of support, but with little evidence, so far, of
The decline of sport hunting is less obvious, but not less
profound. The number of active hunters in the U.S. fell from 13
million in 2000 to about 12.5 million today, not nearly as steep a
drop as the attrition of about eight million hunters over the two
preceding decades. But most of the casual and occasional hunters
dropped out earlier. Now we are down to the most dedicated hunters,
most of whom are middle-aged or older, in the age brackets at which
hunting participation plummets due to mortality and infirmity. Even
very aggressive and well-funded recruitment efforts are not
attracting new hunters as rapidly as old hunters die or quit.
Now U.S. sport fishing participation is also down, for the
first time over an entire decade in the 70-odd years since the
numbers of participants have been tracked–and the 15% drop is
proportionately about three times larger than the drop in hunting
The numbers of both hunters and fishers may be expected to
continue to fall. With the decline will come a loss of hunter and
fisher influence over wildlife policy, especially after opponents of
consumptive wildlife use become as politically mobilized as hunters
and fishers long have been.
Hunting and fishing are rationalized by many participants as
food-gathering, even though the meat thus obtained costs many times
more than meat bought at a supermarket. In truth, hunting and
fishing for personal and family consumption account for less than 1%
of total U.S. meat production, and make even less of a contribution
globally. Despite the importance of hunting and fishing to some
small and relatively isolated communities, mostly in climate zones
at the extremes of human habitability, hunting and fishing persist
almost entirely as blood sports.
Global meat production and consumption, unfortunately, have
increased even faster than hunting and fishing have declined: from
36 kilograms per person per year in 2000 to 42 in 2009, a rise of
14%. Global meat slaughter has increased 25%, from 42 billion
animals killed in 2000 to 56 billion in 2009. Chicken slaughter
alone has risen from 13.5 billion to 17 billion, despite the impact
on farmers and consumers of the H5N1 avian flu and several other
major poultry disease outbreaks.
Yet some encouraging trends lurk among the numbers. Most
significantly, U.S. per capita meat consumption has not increased,
even as the post-World War II “Baby Boom” generation passed through
the age bracket where meat consumption peaked among previous
generations. Moreover, per capita meat consumption continues to
drop among younger people. Some surveys indicate that up to 18% of
U.S. university students are vegetarians or “meat avoiders,” who eat
little meat without actually declaring themselves to be vegetarian.
Even if this number is three times too high, the percentage of
vegetarians among Americans between 18 and 25 appears to be about
triple the percentage of vegetarians among their elders
Similar tendencies are evident in Europe. Meat consumption
is actually rising almost entirely in the developing world,
especially India and China, among people who have historically been
unable to afford to eat as much meat as they wanted, and are now
indulging themselves. Dietary disorders once rare in India and
China, including obsesity and diabetes, are correspondingly
becoming recognized as national problems.
Per capita meat consumption in India is still less than 10%
of U.S consumption, and in China is about 40% of U.S. consumption.
How long the trend toward increased meat consumption will continue in
India, China, and the rest of the developing world is an open
question, but the environmental costs of the increase, both
globally and locally, are much more apparent today than when U.S.
meat consumption spiked upward toward the present rate several
The most likely forecast, based strictly on present trends
and demographics, is that U.S. and European meat consumption will
drop during the next decade, while consumption in the developing
world will peak and level out. Global animal slaughter will probably
rise to 70 billion before falling–unless climatic, economic, and
cultural factors intervene. Rising concern for animal welfare
worldwide may change the trends in meat consumption sooner,
especially in India and China, where women are enjoying
unprecedented political and economic emancipation, and are driving
unparalleled growth in pro-animal activity.
There is as yet little antivivisection activism in India,
though there has long been some, and is almost none in China.
Historically little animal-based biomedical research was done in
either nation, and even if much had been done in China, most
Chinese people had little way to know about it and no opportunity to
protest. This has hugely changed in all respects during the past
decade. The rise of strong Indian and Chinese antivivisection
movements may follow, but will most likely grow out of pro-animal
activism initially organized around other issues. By contrast,
public demonstrations of vivisection were among the flashpoints for
the rise of organized pro-animal political activity in the western
world, more than 200 years ago–along with animal fighting and
misuse of working animals.
In the west, laboratory use of animals and animal advocacy
have grown approximately parallel to each other ever since. There
has never been a time in the history of the U.S. and European
biomedical research industries when antivivisectionists were not
monitoring their activity and trying to rally opposition to the
practices most cruel to animals. Therefore laboratory animal care is
relatively strictly regulated in the U.S. and Europe, if not what is
done to animals in actual experiments, and U.S. and European
researchers have long at least rhetorically accepted the premise that
animal use should be reduced, refined, and replaced as much as
The markets for advanced biomedical procedures and
pharmaceutical products have rapidly expanded in the newly affluent
nations of Asia. Many of these nations already trained scientists
who went on to staff laboratories around the world. Now governments
interested in keeping their best-educated scientific talent at home
are pouring billions of dollars into building their own biotech
industries–and are luring western companies to relocate research and
developent from the west to Asia.
This has coincided with increasingly violent antivivisection
protests in the U.S. and Europe, including arsons, bombings, home
invasions, and threats of worse.
The number of nations involved in advanced biomedical
research has approximately tripled since 2000. Many of them–like
China–have no requirements for public disclosure of information
about animal use, little public awareness of animal use in
laboratories, young animal advocacy sectors, and restricted though
expanding freedom of speech and assembly.
Estimating trends in laboratory animal use, always
difficult, has accordingly become more problematic than ever.
Working from a variety of sources, including a five-year-old
estimate by the British Union Against Vivisection and other numbers
wherever available, ANIMAL PEOPLE projects that global use of
animals in labs has probably risen from the BUAV figure of about 115
million circa 2000 to nearly 200 million in 2009, with more than
half of the total use now occurring in Asia.
British use of animals in labs increased from 2.8 million to
3.7 million during the same years. U.S. lab animal use probably
followed the same trend, but since the U.S. does not require
laboratories to report use of rats, mice, and birds, there is
little way to know for sure. What we do know is that the available
data shows several different trends.
U.S. lab use of species other than rats, mice, and birds
actually fell from 1,286,412 in 2000 to 1,027,450 in 2007, the
latest year for which data has been published. Farm animal use
dropped from 159,711 to 109,961. Cat use remained virtually
identical, going from 22,755 to 22,687. Dog use increased slightly,
from 69,5126 to 72,037. But–though use of chimpanzees in
experiments all but stopped–lab use of nonhuman primates jumped from
57,518 to 69,990, reportedly driven by monkey use in bioterrorism
The good news, if there is any involving laboratory animals,
is that the number of scientific procedures reported in journals has
increased at about six times the rate of estimated animal use. Thus
the numbers of animals used per experiment are continuing a long
downward trend, with progress especially evident in product safety
Dogs & Cats
While laboratory animal use occurs mostly out of sight of the
public, dogs and cats live in or near most human homes worldwide,
and are so ubiquitous that few people go a day without seeing one or
the other. Even feral cats, furtive as they often are, have became
widely enough recognized to be mentioned by late-night TV comedians
with the expectation that their audiences will know what they are
The only relatively invisible aspect of the lives and deaths
of dogs and cats is what becomes of the 5% or thereabouts who are
deemed problematic, or just too numerous, and are delivered to
animal shelters in the U.S. and most other developed nations, or are
simply poisoned on the streets in much of the developing world.
ANIMAL PEOPLE extensively reviews U.S. animal shelter data
every summer, in our July/August edition. Those numbers are less
encouraging than we thought they might be by now, a decade ago.
Total U.S. shelter killing of dogs and cats has dipped from 4.5
million to 4.2. million, according to our 2009 findings, but the
numbers have wobbled up and down within a narrow range throughout the
decade. The only clear indication of progress is that because the
U.S. human population has markedly increased, the numbers killed per
1,000 Americans have fallen from 16.6 to 13.5.
Feral cats, typically defined by shelter staff as cats who
cannot be handled, ten years ago accounted for 35% of the U.S.
shelter death toll. Pit bull terriers accounted for 15%–30% of the
dogs. Feral cats are today 43% of the U.S. shelter death toll; pit
bulls are 23%, including 58% of the dogs in 2009.
The problem once defined as “pet overpopulation” now has two
distinctively different major components.
Feral cats reproduce almost totally beyond any direct human
influence. Many feral cats are the offspring of free-roaming or
abandoned pet cats, but the pet cat matriarch may have been several
cat generations ago. The pet cat sterilization rate has increased
from about 70% twenty years ago, nationwide, to 83% today. The pet
cat reproduction rate is now well below replacement, with pet cat
population replacement and growth occurring in large part through
adoptions of feral kittens. This has helped to stabilize feral cat
numbers. So has neuter/return, wherever it is conscientiously done.
Nonetheless, further reduction of the feral cat
population–and death toll–will require finding more effective ways
of sterilizing about three million feral mothers who presently have
little or no human contact. A breakthrough may come through the
development of affordable and easily deployable non-surgical
contraception. Unfortunately, the most promising methods that were
in the research and development process a decade ago have not worked
in cats. Found Animal Foundation founder Gary K. Michelson, M.D.
in October 2008 offered incentives of $75 million to help encourage
the discovery and introduction of effective methods of non-surgical
dog and cat contraception. This has stimulated scientific effort.
What may come of it remains to be seen.
In contrast to feral cats, pit bull terriers are almost
entirely purpose-bred. Like the purebred dogs who make up about 15%
of shelter intake, according to ANIMAL PEOPLE shelter surveys done
in 2008, the overwhelming majority of pit bulls are bred by someone
who hopes to profit from selling them. Most pit bulls, like most
purebreds who come to shelters, are bought by someone, and flunk
out of at least one home before being surrendered or impounded.
Altogether, purpose-bred dogs now make up about 40% of the
shelter dog population. Accidental litters are still born, and dogs
of unidentifiably mixed ancestry still come to shelters, but they
are now a minority in much of the U.S., and may soon become a
minority elsewhere. Significantly reducing shelter dog intake will
accordingly require significantly reducing intentional breeding.
Strengthened legislation against “puppy mills” has increased
impoundments from abusive and negligent breeders more than fourfold,
from just over 2,000 in 1999 to nearly 10,000 in 2009. More than
25,000 dogs have been seized from puppy mills just since 2007. This
may cut into the volume of badly reared purebreds coming to shelters
in the next several years. Pit bulls, however, appear to be coming
mainly from backyard breeders, who are far more numerous than puppy
millers, and are more difficult to identify.
The only big U.S. cities to have reduced pit bull intakes and
shelter killing over the past decade are a few that have either
banned pit bulls entirely, like Denver and Miami, or require that
they must be sterilized, like San Francisco.
The humane and animal control communities have mostly
responded to the pit bull influx by escalating efforts to adopt out
pit bulls, after behavioral screening and sometimes after remedial
training. In consequence, about 16% of the dogs who were adopted
out in 2009 were pit bulls, compared to about 5% of the dogs who
were bought from breeders through classified ads. If pit bulls were
still killed at the rate they were 10 years ago, the annual toll of
a million pit bulls killed in shelters per year would have increased
to about 1.3 million.
But whether behavioral screening adequately protects the
public from adoptions of dangerous dogs is a question that the
courts, adopters, and public opinion are beginning to reconsider.
In the first decade that ANIMAL PEOPLE editor Merritt Clifton logged
dog attack fatalities and disfigurements, only two shelter dogs made
the list. Both were wolf hybrids. None made the list in the next
decade. In the past decade, however, 24 U.S. shelter dogs have
killed or maimed someone, 16 of them in the past three years and
eight in 2009 alone. The deaths and injuries by shelter dogs were
inflicted by 14 pit bulls, two chows, two German shepherds, two
Labrador retrievers, a Presa Canario, a Doberman, a Great Dane,
and a hound. Nine of the victims were children.
These are not huge numbers, but just 27 deaths in 10 years
from exploding gasoline tanks destroyed the reputation and sales of
the Ford Pinto, once among the most popular cars ever made,
promoted and defended by a public relations machine much larger than
the animal sheltering community.
Progress in reducing dog attacks in general has gone rapidly
backward. Fourteen Americans and Canadians were killed by dogs in
2000; a record 33 in 2007; and 30 in 2009. Pit bulls killed seven
of the victims in 2000; a record 22 in 2009. Pit bulls disfigured
40 Americans and Canadians in 2000; 78 in 2009. But Rottweiler
attacks have declined, from three deaths and 24 disfigurements in
2000 to four deaths and nine disfigurements in 2009. Rottweiler
shelter intake also appears to be coming down, peaking circa 2005.
Dogfighting arrests dropped from 297 in 2000 to 87 in 2009.
Fighting dog seizures slipped from 896 to 750.
As there seems to be no indication that dogfighting is
actually reduced, and efforts to expose and prosecute dogfighting
have intensified since the high-profile arrest of football star
Michael Vick in April 2007, the explanation might be that
dogfighters are becoming much more sophisticated about evading
arrest. The same might be said of cockfighting. 1,508 alleged
cockfighters were arrested in 2000; just 656 in 2009.
Yet gamecock seizures barely changed: 7,995 in 2000, 7,917 in 2009.
Abuse & neglect
Strengthened laws and greater public interest in prosecuting
animal cruelty and neglect cases have markedly increased the numbers
of arrests and convictions resulting from most offenses against
At the rarest extreme, more people have been brought to
justice for dragging animals behind cars in each of the past four
years, an average of 18 per year, than in the entire decade of the
1990s. More people (22) have been brought to justice for bestiality
in 2009 than in the entire decade of the 1980s. At the most common
end, animal hoarding convictions, exclusive of puppy mill cases,
have nearly doubled in 10 years. But convictions of recognized
animal rescuers for neglect are also up 175%, as was discussed more
extensively in the November/December 2009 ANIMAL PEOPLE editorial.
Horse neglect and abandonment cases have not increased during
the past decade, somewhat surprisingly in view of the amount of
media notice focused on alleged horse dumping since the last U.S.
horse slaughterhouses closed in 2007. In truth, more horses were
impounded due to neglect or abandonment in 1996 (2375) than in any
year since, and the numbers since 2007 have remained below 2,000.
But horse slaughter in North America is not reduced. In the
year 2000, U.S. slaughterhouses killed 50,449 horses; Canadian
slaughterhouses killed 62,000. The Mexican horse slaughter industry
was just starting. In 2008, when no horses were slaughtered in the
U.S., 77,063 were killed in Canada; 56,731 were killed in Mexico.
Among the pretexts often cited for resuming horse slaughter
in the U.S. is the expense of holding increasing numbers of wild
horses impounded from leased grazing land by the Bureau of Land
Management. An estimated 39,500 wild horses roamed public land in
the U.S. west in 2000, while 9,807 horses had been impounded and
offered for adoption. Currently, according to the BLM, there are
37,000 wild horses still on the range, and 32,000 in captivity. As
obviously unviable as this situation is, the BLM is continuing to
capture wild horses at an allegedly unprecedented rate.
Fur & whaling
U.S. retail fur sales, as of 2007, the most recently
reported year, came to $1.3 billion, exactly the same as in 2001.
This, in inflation-adjusted dollars, meant the fur industry really
had not recovered from the crash of 1988-1991, when retail sales
bottomed out at $950 million. After two consecutive winters of
apparent steep losses, the U.S. retail fur trade may be close to
another contraction phase.
But these numbers do not include the use of cheap fur trim on
garments, mostly imported from China as byproducts of killing
rabbits, dogs, and cats for human consumption. Though importing
dog and cat fur into the U.S. and Europe is illegal, detecting it in
small amounts is sufficiently difficult to make enforcing the laws
The rapid rise of animal advocacy within China may
significantly reduce consumption of dogs and cats. Meanwhile,
encouraging consumer rejection of fur trim remains essential to
keeping the fur trade from attracting new customers.
Innumerable issues might appear at a glance to have gone
backward abroad, with a second look showing reason for optimism.
For example, the self-set Japanese and Norwegian whaling quotas have
increased from 560 and 549 in 2000, respectively, to 985 and 885 at
present–but neither nation appears to have killed the full quota in
either 2008 or 2009.
As a second case in point, the destruction of Zimbabwean
wildlife and the Zimbabwean humane sector that began with the land
invasions of 2000 has continued. Yet Zimbabwean animal advocates and
organizations still exist, and from recent communications, seem
optimistic about soon being able to rebuild and resume their work.
History may show that the growth of animal advocacy in the
developing world during the first decade of the 21st century was a
turning point toward a changed relationship with animals throughout
human culture, away from the attitudes which have prevailed since
the beginning of agricultural animal husbandry. Among the milestones
were that India, Turkey, and Costa Rica adopted national dog
sterilization programs; the indigenous Kenyan organizations Youth
for Conservation and the Africa Network for Animal Welfare repeatedly
rebuffed the well-funded efforts of Safari Club International and
others to restart sport hunting, halted in 1977; and the number of
active animal advocacy organizations outside the U.S. and Europe
appears to have increased at least tenfold.
Among the animal advocacy organizations enjoying the greatest
economic growth during the past 10 years, People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals more than doubled donation receipts, from $14.5
million to $31.2 milion; the Humane Society of the U.S. also more
than doubled donations, from $36.6 million to $87.2 million;
PetSmart Charities nearly tripled receipts and disbursements to other
animal charities, from $3.5 million to $10 million; the Best
Friends Animal Society sextupled donation receipts, from $6.2
million to $37.5 million; and the World Society for the Protection
of Animals increased donation receipts sevenfold, from $5.9 million
to $44.6 million.
Four of these five organizations, with PetSmart Charities
the exception, markedly escalated investment in overseas programs
during the decade. PetSmart Charities is not structured to work
outside the U.S., but–via ANIMAL PEOPLE and Best Friends–was a
significant contributor to relief efforts after the December 2004
Indian Ocean tsunami.
Barely existing at the beginning of the 21st century, the
Animals Asia Foundation is now raising $4 million per year in support
of humane work in China, South Korea, and Vietnam. The number of
active U.S. affiliates of humane societies in the developing world,
as of 2000, could have been counted on one front paw of a six-toed
cat. There are now many dozens.
ANIMAL PEOPLE helped to inspire the explosive growth of
humane work abroad, by sending free subscriptions to every humane
organization; by reporting about overseas issues, beginning before
most of the U.S.-based big organizations were much involved abroad;
by helping to organize and fund the Asia for Animals and Middle East
Network for Animal Welfare conferences; by relaying funds from U.S.
donors to foreign animal charities; and by walking many of the
foreign animal charities through the steps required to incorporate
U.S. affiliates to raise funds for them.
We receive some complaints from readers and donors about
allegedly devoting too much page space to international issues, but
far more often we hear from readers who are relieved and excited that
at last there are open channels enabling them to become directly
involved in helping animals in some of the neediest parts of the
The stasis of World War I trench warfare ended after help
arrived from abroad. Much as we dislike war metaphors, a
fast-growing global alliance of animal advocates is enabling the
animal cause to challenge entrenched forms of exploitation along a
broader front than ever before. Not long ago international
networking could be done only by big businesses and governments.
Now animal advocates are networking quite routinely across all
national and cultural boundaries. Animal use and abuse remain as
bloody as ever, but new hope and energy have become as ubiquitous as