When I look back on this year’s wins for animals, what I am most struck by is a genuine sense of accomplishment. Yes, we have a long, long way to go. But from the skyrocketing popularity of veganism to the bans on various forms of animal cruelty, 2017 has been a year of encouraging news. Here’s a look at some of the top stories.
1. Croatia bans fur farms (January)
The year got off to a great start with Croatia’s prohibition on fur farms going into effect on January 1. The ban—which comes 10 years after the introduction of the 2006 Animal Protection Act—applies to the few remaining chinchilla farms and was the result of both activists and the general public speaking out against this cruel industry. Indeed, more and more countries have or are considering legislation to ban fur farming, including Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway.
Hoping to lead by example, Germany’s Federal Minister for the Environment Barbara Hendricks banned animal flesh from being consumed at all official government functions. “We want to set a good example for climate protection, because vegetarian food is more climate-friendly than meat and fish,” she said. Animal agriculture has been linked not only to climate change (accounting for nearly 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions), but to species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, deforestation, soil degradation, and habitat destruction.
In what was hailed as a milestone for animals, Guatemala adopted one of the world’s most comprehensive anti-cruelty laws—legislation includes protections for animals used in research and circuses, wildlife, and companion animals. It also establishes bans on animal testing for cosmetics and on dogfighting and sets penalties for spectators of this blood “sport.”
When activist Anita Krajnc ignored a truck driver’s demand that she cease giving water to the thirsty pigs he was driving to an Ontario slaughterhouse as he was stopped at a red light in June 2015, she was not only charged with criminal mischief, but video of the confrontation was shared around the world. Anita’s case quickly became a flashpoint of debate, with her defense team famously contending that “compassion is not a crime.”
Though the judge did not necessarily agree with the argument that pigs are persons, not property, he cleared Anita of the charges, which carried potential jail time and a hefty fine. “I think one should always follow their conscience,” she told me days after the judge dismissed the case. “You feel good knowing that what you did was right. You can’t control what other people do, but you can control what you do. So you have to stand up for what you believe in.” (You’ll find the full interview here.)
This was one of the biggest stories of the year, and activists had good reason to celebrate. After nearly 150 years of abusing elephants, tigers, lions, horses, and other animals, the self-described “Greatest Show in Earth” finally ended. Officially, Ringling’s owners blamed high operating costs and declining ticket sales. But activists had been campaigning against the company almost since the beginning. (Indeed, in 1918, the Jack London Club, named in honor of the late author and animal advocate, staged walkouts from circus performances, which led to the company eliminating big-cat cage acts in 1925, but Ringling brought them back four years later.)
Unfortunately, Ringling’s demise does not mark the end of circuses with animal acts. To learn what you can do, please visit circusprotest.com.
In a vote of 132 to nine, Czech government officials passed a ban on fur farming this year. “This is a victory which proves that killing animals for fashion’s sake is no longer supported among the Czech politicians,” said Chamber Environment Committee chair Robin Böhnisch. “I hope that our legislators will set an example for their colleagues in other countries where fur farming bans are currently being discussed.”
The ban—which goes into effect January 31, 2019, after passing through the country’s Senate—will require the closing of nine remaining fur farms, which collectively hold some 20,000 foxes and minks captive in small battery cages every year and kill them by anal electrocution or gassing.
About 100 Chinese activists took part in this remarkable rescue, stopping a transport truck in Guangzhou, a city known as the largest hub for dog and cat meat consumption in the world. Activists said they were assisted by local police and discovered the truck driver did not have a health certificate for the dogs, which is a legal requirement when transporting animals in China. After a standoff that lasted 10 hours, the animals were released from the tightly packed cages. (While some 10 million dogs are consumed in China every year, let’s remember that billions of cows, chickens, pigs, sheep, and other animals are annually raised and killed for their flesh in the United States.)
As the saying goes, the truth hurts. And truth is just what the UK nonprofit Go Vegan World was speaking when they placed a national newspaper advertisement stating that “humane milk is a myth—don’t buy it.” The ad continues with text that reads, “I went vegan the day I visited a dairy. The mothers, still bloody from birth, searched and called frantically for their babies. Their daughters, fresh from their mothers’ wombs but separated from them, trembled and cried piteously, drinking milk from rubber teats on the wall instead of their mothers’ nurturing bodies. All because humans take their milk.”
When dairy farmers complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that the ad was inaccurate and misleading, the ASA sided with the vegan campaigners and gave it their approval, saying, “Although the language used to express the claims was emotional and hard-hitting, we understood it was the case that calves were generally separated from their mothers very soon after birth, and we therefore concluded that the ad was unlikely to materially mislead readers.”
9. Gucci drops fur (October)
Citing the “deprivation and cruelty suffered by fur-bearing animals,” fashion giant Gucci announced it will end its use of fur, beginning with its spring collection. “Gucci’s decision will radically change the future of fashion,” said Simone Pavesi, manager of animal-free fashion at the Italian animal rights group LAV. “As fashion becomes more and more ethical, supply chains that revolve around animals will be a thing of the past.”
Gucci will join the Fur Free Alliance, an international group of more than 40 organizations that campaigns on animal welfare and promotes alternatives to fur in the fashion industry.
In a move aimed at breaking the puppy mill and kitten factory supply chain, California lawmakers banned pet stores from selling dogs, cats, and rabbits who do not come from animal shelters and rescue organizations. Not only will this help weaken the unscrupulous trade in “pet” breeding, but it will ease overcrowding in shelters throughout the state. The law, which sets an important precedent for the rest of the country, takes effect on January 1, 2019.
“The use of wild animals for entertainment purposes in circuses can no longer be permitted” in Ireland, said the country’s Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed. “This is the general view of the public at large and a position I am happy to endorse. This is a progressive move, reflective of our commitment to animal welfare.”
Because other EU nations had established bans on animals in circuses, some campaigners feared Ireland would become a “dumping ground” for animal circuses that had been legislated out of other European countries. The ban begins January 1, 2018.
12. Man rescues rabbit from brush fire (December)
It may seem insignificant in terms of lives saved, but when a California motorist left his vehicle to save a rabbit from a raging brush fire, the video captured by a news crew went viral. As you watch the emotional scene, remember that this is a man who is risking his life to rescue not his beloved companion, but an animal he just happened to see on the side of the road. (As of mid-December, there is some controversy about the identity of the bunny rescuer, but that takes nothing away from this heroic deed.)
Other stories of the year worth noting:
Dog shoots hunter (November)
Most U.S. adults oppose trophy hunting (November)