World Society for the Protection of Animals disbands "member society" network

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  January/February 2012:

World Society for the Protection of Animals disbands “member society” network


LONDON–Animal charity leaders around the world mostly
responded with mixed apprehension and frustration to the World
Society for the Protection of Animals’ decision,  unveiled in stages
during late 2011,  to cease any pretense of remaining the umbrella
for a federation of member societies.

WSPA was formed in 1981 by merging the Dutch-based World
Federation for the Protection of Animals,  founded in 1951,  with the
International Society for the Protection of Animals,  created earlier
by merging programs of the Massachusetts SPCA,  Royal SPCA of
Britain,  and the Humane Society of the United States.  The World
Federation for the Protection of Animals had always been an umbrella
for member societies,  organized initially to lobby the United
Nations for the adoption of a Charter of Rights for Animals.

Ancestral to the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare,
sporadically promoted by WSPA,  the charter was updated from an
earlier document presented to the League of Nations in 1924 and 1926.
From inception,  there was tension within WSPA between
exercising autonomy as an advocacy organization and fulfilling the
roles of a membership society,  expected to represent the views and
needs of the members.

On October 21,  2011 the balance tipped.  “WSPA has made some
changes to its structure which includes moving away from its status
as a membership organization,  with member societies,  to working
with wider communities of NGOs,   private businesses and
governments,”  WSPA e-mailed to more than 450 newly disenfranchised
member societies in more than 110 nations.

WSPA chief executive Mike Baker on December 14, 2011
confirmed “WSPA’s ongoing movement from a membership organisation to
a global campaigning force for animal welfare.”  E-mailed Baker to
the former member societies,  “We recognize this has led to a
significant change in the way we work.   However,  we are confident
that the decision to reallocate our resources to support our priority
campaigns will help us to achieve significant and lasting change for

Baker announced that the former WSPA membership web pages
would be replaced in March 2012 with a new web site “open to any
organisation,  association or business with an interest in animals,”
which would be involved in “discussions on climate change,  poverty
and the many other global crises impacting massively on animals’

The abolition of member societies represents an abrupt turn
away from the direction outlined by the WSPA Strategic Plan
2005-2009,  adopted by the WSPA board of directors in June 2004.
Harking back to the original purpose of the World Federation for the
Protection of Animals,  the strategic plan emphasized that “Having
the support of an international society and worldwide network
recognized at the United Nations and Council of Europe makes
proposals stronger and more convincing to decision makers.”

Said WSPA board member Andrew Rowan,  who also heads the
Humane Society International division of the Humane Society of the
U.S., “WSPA’s decision to change its structure was made through
consultation with former member society organizations,”  but none of
the many former member societies that ANIMAL PEOPLE asked for comment
acknowledged having been consulted.

Rowan said the changes would “add significant benefits to
former members and to the entire animal welfare community,”  adding
that “WSPA will run a series of regional workshops,”  and would
“provide advisory support on matters such as grant application and
campaign development,”  but these have all been parts of the WSPA
program for 30 years.

New partners

Dispensing with member societies sidesteps the need for WSPA
to persuade membership to refrain from vocally criticizing recent
initiatives such as promoting backyard poultry production in India
and partnering politically with traditional dairy farmers in Britain,
ostensibly to forestall the growth of intensive confinement animal
husbandry,  and undertaking various projects with Heifer
International,  whose “zero grazing” techniques are in gist intensive
confinement animal husbandry practiced on a village scale.

“By making animal welfare an essential part of the global
debate on sustainability,”  Rowan told ANIMAL PEOPLE, “WSPA expects
to garner more support for projects such as the Universal Declaration
on Animal Welfare,”  which has had a much lower profile during
Baker’s tenure than under his predecessor,  Peter Davies.
“Integral to this strategic shift,”  Rowan continued,  “will
be WSPA’s networking and collaborating with organizations and
decision makers outside the movement.  WSPA will continue to work
closely with its local partner organizations to deliver significant
and lasting change for animals,”  Rowan finished,  but who those
local partner organizations might be,  in absence of member
societies,  remains unclear.

WSPA history under Baker suggests that “local partner
organizations” may include government agencies and entities promoting
animal agriculture whose activities and policies many former member
societies oppose– especially those of vegetarian or vegan creed.
“WSPA has done a great deal to help struggling animal
protection groups,  particularly in developing countries,”
acknowledged Working for Animals founder Christine Townend,  who
cofounded Animals Australia with philosopher Peter Singer in 1980,
and for 18 years headed the Indian animal welfare charity Help In

“However,  if they plan to change their status in this way,”
Townend told ANIMAL PEOPLE,   “then they should be absolutely open
and divulge their new constitution alongside their old constitution
to all the member societies and gain their approval.  As I understand
it,”  Townend continued,  “the initial impetus for WSPA was to bring
together many animal protection groups so they could exchange
information and support each other globally.  If this original aim is
forsaken by the WSPA board,  then maybe another international
federation will be required to replace the original WSPA,  in which
the member societies have voting rights and full say.”

Noted Soi Dog Foundation president John Dalley,  from Phuket,
Thailand,  “WSPA already announced it would no longer be giving
grants to member societies.”  But Dalley saw little actual change
likely to result from the WSPA restructuring.  “Working with
governments has always been one of their main claims,  though I have
seen little evidence of it,”  Dalley told ANIMAL PEOPLE.

Dalley recalled having approached both the WSPA head office
in London and a regional office in Bangkok “regarding using their
influence to help stop illegal dog exports” to foreign meat markets.
“Replies were to the effect that,  ‘We believe this is an issue that
should be handled by a local NGO,'”  Dalley said.  “This did not stop
them from using this subject to fundraise,”  Dalley noted.  “WSPA is
conducting direct face-to-face fund raising in Thailand outside
supermarkets and shopping malls,  specifically about bears on bile
farms,”  the focal issue of the Animals Asia Foundation since
inception,  “and dogs being exported from Thailand to Vietnam.”
Said Animals Asia Foundation founder Jill Robinson,  “We have
raised the disconnect with WSPA many,  many times.  WSPA has the
clout and resources to bolster and help a great many projects,”
Robinson added.   “So,  if ‘working with wider communities of NGOs’
means greater support and funding of welfare groups and individuals
in developing countries,  then I look forward to seeing more.
Campaigning on issues means funding them,”  Robinson acknowledged,
“and fair play is critical to local groups when funds are requested
for projects that many of them lead.  For example,  disaster relief
often requires funds being directed immediately to groups on the
ground.  During disasters,  for example the Indian Ocean tsunami in
2004 and the Japanese earthquake in 2011,  we posted the coordinates,
bank details,  and updates from the local groups,  in order that
people around the world could respond directly and quickly to the
problem at source.   I believe that initiatives such as this are the
tools that have ‘a huge impact on the welfare of animals,'”  Robinson
said,  “and look forward to hearing more of WSPA’s plans.”

Strategic direction

Charged Asian Animal Protection Network founder John
Wedderburn,  of Hong Kong,  “WSPA’s membership structure was
ill-conceived and never functioned well.  The organization was always
executive-led and the views of humble members were ignored.  I was
appointed an advisory director in the early 1990s,”  Wedderburn
recalled,  “but quickly discovered that [then director general] Andrew Dickson had no interest in my opinions and no interest in
helping the member societies.  In 1998 I suggested that the food at
their biennial conference  should be vegetarian and was told it would
be impolite to their guests to not serve meat.  One month later I
received a letter telling me that my term as advisory director had
come to an end.   They never could be bothered with the views of
their members,”  Wedderburn reiterated.  “It will be easier now for
them to pay themselves big salaries.  Having said all that,”
Wedderburn finished,  “they do have some very good initiatives and
some excellent staff.  It will be easier for them now to administer
these assets.”

“WSPA has not been of much use as an international
organization for many years now,”  agreed People for Animals founder
Maneka Gandhi from Delhi,  India.  “Its board and staff basically
believe in meeting every so often in exotic countries in the name of
animal welfare and using animal funds.  No host country has
benefitted from their trips,”  Mrs. Gandhi alleged.  “I do not know
what their change of policy stands for,  since it is so jargonised
that it is difficult to interpret,  but i suppose at the end of the
day it probably means to justify what they are doing anyway.”
E-mailed World Animal Net founder Wim de Kok,  a former WSPA
staff member who now represents the Austrian animal charity Vier
Pfoten in the U.S.,  “I was surprised.  During most of its existence,
more specifically during the last decade, WSPA has put much effort in
growing its society membership.  WSPA was the only membership
organization of its kind,”  de Kok told ANIMAL PEOPLE,  “and they are
losing a unique selling point that provided the organization with a
certain authority in the global community.  WSPA membership,
particularly in developing nations,  provided much needed
authoritative backing to better deal with their governments on animal
welfare matters.  These are the principles on which WSPA was founded.”
Strengthening WSPA membership and advancing the Universal
Declaration on Animal Welfare were priorities for Peter Davies,  WSPA
director general 2002-2008.  “I am out of touch with WSPA,”  Davies
told ANIMAL PEOPLE.  “I am happily busy chairing the Brooke Hospital
for Animals and chairing the Marjan Centre for the Study of Conflict
& Conservation at King’s College,  London University.  Indeed,  even
if I was involved with WSPA,  it would be inappropriate for me to
comment,”  Davies said.

“We would have preferred that WSPA had continued to develop
the member society programs,”  said Egyptian Society of Animal
Friends chief executive Ahmed al Sherbiny.  “ESAF has received a lot
of assistance from WSPA,”  al Sherbiny recalled,  “and they supported
our conferences.”

“I wish WSPA had moved toward strengthening the member
society program instead of ending it,”  agreed Tsunami Animal-People
Alliance founder Robert Blumberg,  who has volunteered in support of
animal charities in Egypt,  Georgia,  and Sri Lanka. “Periodic visits
by WSPA to member societies were useful in providing feedback to
improve organizations,”  Blumberg said.

But Africa Network for Animal Welfare founder Josphat Ngonyo
was supportive of the WSPA transition.  “At first I did not
understand what WSPA was up to,”  Ngonyo told ANIMAL PEOPLE,  “and
even wrote a personal note to Mike Baker in protest.  I have,
however,  come to understand their restructuring as geared to fulfill
a different but important animal advocacy niche,”  Ngonyo said.
“Dogs Trust believes that the recent organizational changes
at WSPA could prove to be very positive,”  offered Dogs Trust chair
Clarissa Baldwin.  “Grassroots initiatives,  such as the
International Companion Animal Welfare Conference,”  which Dogs Trust
cofounded and sponsors,  “have proved to be hugely successful in
recent years.  WSPA’s new structure should allow them to better
co-ordinate their efforts with these initiatives.”

Realities on ground

But animal welfare philanthropist Robert Smith,  who has
funded major street dog aid projects in Turkey and Romania,  was
skeptical.  “I suppose the WSPA trustees are entitled to change their
structure and way of working if they want to,”  Smith told ANIMAL
PEOPLE.  “Maybe they no longer want or cannot afford to dole out
funds to member societies.”  Smith did not recall WSPA as ever having
been much help to his work.

“A few years ago I told someone at WSPA that she was wrong in
stating that neuter/return was inappropriate for cities and towns,
and that she was welcome to visit us in Oradea,  Romania to see the
proof,”  Smith said.  “She never took up my offer.  A year or so
ago,”  Smith added,  “I had to ask WSPA and Dogs Trust not to
announce in Romania that they agreed with humane euthanasia in
certain circumstances,  because although I also agree with it if
there is no alternative,  in practice this would have been a seal of
approval for mass killing,  which would be neither useful nor humane,
and would have produced a schism in the animal welfare community.”
The Romanian government in November 2011 adopted an animal
control law,  ostensibly based on the western practices recommend by
WSPA.  “To the casual observer,  the law is reasonable,”  Smith said.

“In practice it is a license to municipalities to waste public money
on futile,  sporadic dog killing and dumping.  Further,  those
municipalities which kill and dump will sabotage all the hard work of
municipalities and NGOs which are implementing neuter/return.”
Concluded Smith,  “I am not sure that the large western
charities,  or rather the charity professionals working for them,
really understand the practicalities and reality on the ground in
underdeveloped countries such as Romania.  They seem to think that
you can rely on the good intentions,  honesty and conscientiousness
of politicians and public officials. With European Union influence
things are slowly improving in Romania,”  Smith said,  “but most
politicians still abuse their power,  are motivated by self-interest,
and care more for their own careers than they do about improving the
lot of people or animals,”  dooming strategic approaches based on
working with governments.           –Merritt Clifton

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