Saving Fluffy to Changing Society: The many faces of animal welfare

By Dr. Sandra Neumann

Tuesday morning. Media are exploding with the story of Fluffy. Found in a dumpster Fluffy is seriously injured and needs major veterinary care. Unfortunately, we’re all too familiar with this or similar scenarios. Abandoned, neglected, abused pets left to die and rescued at the last minute.

These stories grab the headlines and touch our hearts. Animal welfare in action. Thinking about a topic for this article I thought it may be a good opportunity to give some recognition to the countless individuals who improve the welfare of animals but are rarely the focus of such media attention. They work behind the scenes and usually do not make the headlines. For them there are no spotlights, no interviews on Oprah, no going viral. They work quietly. Stubbornly. And sometimes at personal and professional risk, questioning the status quo.

They are the ones who butt heads with their colleagues and superiors trying to offer alternatives to things that “…we’ve done like this for over fifty years.” They are the ones who shift societal values, setting new directions that will improve the welfare of hundreds of thousands of animals in the future. They are the ones who propel society forward to a new level of animal welfare. They are a hundred people changing the minds of a thousand, changing the minds of ten thousand, changing the minds of a hundred thousand.

Who are these relentless fighters for animal welfare? And where can we find them?

Everywhere.

Animal welfare advocates work in the most likely and the most unlikely of places. They can even be found amongst groups that are often attacked for their lack of animal welfare. And they are active in some areas we may not even directly associate with animal welfare in the first place.

They are:

  1. The many employees of SPCAs and Humane Societies who, often underpaid, work so very hard trying to improve the lives of animals in their care and spend hours taking care of them the best they can with often very limited resources.

  2. Individuals who volunteer their time at a shelter or a sanctuary or provide expertise as a member of a board, a committee, or a working group.

  3. Researchers changing testing protocols so fewer and fewer – and maybe at some point in the future, no animals at all – need to be used to get results.

  4. Producers who recognize that if they treat their animals well and keep them healthy and happy their animals will provide for them and their families.

  5. Hunters who ensure an animal is killed with a clean shot and sometimes spend hours tracking a wounded animal to minimize its suffering.

  6. Trappers working on the development of more humane traps that kill instantaneously so animals are spared the panic they experience in live traps.

  7. Members of the entertainment industry who are slowly moving away from animal-based performances and look toward groups like Cirque du Soleil for inspiration on how to entertain people without the use of animals.

  8. Individuals working for pest control companies trying to find the most humane way of removing so-called “pests.”

  9. Social workers who understand the link [between domestic violence and animal abuse] and try to encourage interagency cooperation and reporting.

  10. Legislators who try to change the status of animals in law so they are no longer considered “property.”

  11. Animal Protection Officers who enforce animal welfare legislation, often removing animals from impossible situations and laying charges so that these crimes can be appropriately punished.

  12. Prosecutors who take animal abuse seriously, recognizing it as a both a legal and a community safety issue.

  13. And yes, even some politicians (though few and far between) have been known to brave the ingrained opposition to propose changes that benefit animals.

For some animal welfare is part of their job or profession but many more go above and beyond because animal welfare is their passion. Their fight continues long after the spotlight has been shut off and the media frenzy has died down.

Let’s not forget these individuals who work quietly and tirelessly to improve the lives of countless animals, one day at a time, one project at a time. If you have a minute, think of them. If you meet any of them, thank them.

“The most important legacy you will ever leave is your vision planted in the minds of your disciples and a passion as strong as a storm in their hearts.” – Shannon L. Alder

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