The National Museum of Animals & Society, established January 2010, is dedicated to enriching the lives of animals and people through exploration of our shared experience. Read more...
National Museum of Animals & Society Blog
Before starting the National Museum of Animals & Society, I had the great pleasure of working for a wonderful , precedent-setting organization: Farm Sanctuary. As the nation’s leading farm animal protection nonprofit, they work to protect farm animals from cruelty, inspire change in the way society views and treats farm animals, and promote compassionate vegan living.
While we’ve become a very dog- and cat-centric society, farm animals have been at the forefront of historical efforts for animal protection. Richard “Humanity Dick” Martin, the 18th century parliamentarian from Ireland, passed the first modern law in defense of animal welfare, specifically for oxen, sheep and other pastoral critters. Since then the ASPCA, MSPCA, and other domestic groups gained their footing by targeting the treatment of horses in the city and the incredibly long and tortuous transports farmed animals faced around the turn of the century.
Since its founding in 1986, Farm Sanctuary has dramatically influenced and changed many landscapes in our society. One of the most incredible, in my humble opinion, is that of farm animal geriatrics. Because the majority of farm animals are killed while they are still quite young, Farm Sanctuary – in providing a safe, forever home to their rescued animals – have become the experts in farm animal geriatrics, especially for factory-farmed animals. Their caregivers face and treat on a daily basis the consequences of selective breeding, overuse of antibiotics, and a callous industry that neglects the basic needs and welfare of these animals.
On the political scene, Farm Sanctuary has launched, passed and paved the way for landmark legislation to ensure basic protections for farm animals. In fact, this was how I first got involved with the organization. As a teen in Florida, I gathered more than 8,000 signatures to ban gestation crates, a confinement system for pregnant sows that restricts their movement for the good part of 4 years. (Due to their frequent insemination, sows are in these crates unless they are giving birth, and will be kept in production until their productivity drops off, which is around 4 years.) Pigs in Florida are now protected in the constitution – imagine that! A federal ban is on the horizon for these intensive confinement systems as well as those used for egg-laying hens (battery cages) and calves (veal crates).
But what I think Farm Sanctuary does best is highlighting the emotional world of farm animals. Like us and our companion animals, cows, pigs, chickens, ducks and the rest of the barnyard residents maintain friendships and love interests. They enjoy frolicking, caring for their little ones, and investigating new enrichment in their pastures (mud bath, anyone?). You too can see the sentience and intelligence of farm animals firsthand by visiting a farm animal sanctuary. Thanks to Farm Sanctuary, many similar sanctuaries have popped up in their wake across the country and abroad too.
Farm Sanctuary is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and I was only too glad to be a part of the festivities by organizing the Los Angeles Walk for Farm Animals fundraiser. Taking steps towards compassion for all beings is something we should all embrace. Lace up!
C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) was a prolific writer throughout the the 1940s and ’50s. Not to be confined to one field, he wrote on and in every genre imaginable. As a professor at both Oxford and Cambridge, his area of specialty was medieval studies. But he worked with linguistics, and later, heavily with philosophy and theology after a dramatic conversion from atheism to Christianity. Today he is noted in academic circles as being an insightful literary critic. To most of us, he is probably most famous for penning the children’s series The Chronicles of Narnia, which was the bestselling children’s series until Harry Potter and effectively paved the way for the fantasy genre as it is today. In the midst of his sea of writings concerning many other areas, particularly in the midst of post-war trauma, Lewis is very rarely considered an animal welfare activist.
However, Lewis was incredibly passionate about the cause of animals, and during his time was very vocal about animal welfare. It is obvious to anyone who picks up a work of Lewis’ fiction that he loved animals. The Chronicles of Narnia, for example, deal with a world populated mostly by talking, sentient animals, with the most significant and most central character being a wise lion named Aslan. Animals are also featured heavily in his Space Trilogy, which features lush visions of life on Mars and Venus, where animals live in harmony with the inhabitants. However, Lewis’ real “activism” is most evident in the final books in both these series respectively.
In The Last Battle (1956), the final book in the Narnia series, the sentient animals who had so long lived as equals with their human counterparts are enslaved by the humans and treated like real-world work animals. This appalls all of the protagonists and the reader, and is clearly meant to inspire shock and horror. Throughout the series, Lewis had made readers think of his animal characters as empathetic, well-rounded characters; to see them treated as real-world animals is intentionally jarring and disturbing.
In the final book in the Space Trilogy, That Hideous Strength (1945), there are two distinct factions, one obviously good, and one very clearly evil. The good faction has many animals about their headquarters, who behave charmingly despite their ferocious nature — a wild bear is kept as a house pet, among others. The bad faction, by contrast, has no respect for animal life and uses them in hideous and vicious experiments, including vivisection (the practice of dissecting still-living animals) from which one can constantly hear them shrieking in pain. Here, as in other places in Lewis’ writing, vivisection is characterized as one of the cruelest and most senseless acts humans are capable of doing. This disregard for the feeling of animals is one way in which the antagonists are distinguished as irredeemably evil. Furthermore, one of the most redeeming moments occurs when the animals are allowed to exact revenge against their tormentors, and there is never any question of which side the reader is meant to be on.
Lewis did not only acknowledge the subject of animal welfare in his fiction, however. In his theological text The Problem of Pain (1940), Lewis dedicates an entire chapter to the subject of animals, where he refers to animal suffering as “appalling.” The book is a discussion of what theological purpose pain has, and while Lewis found in his faith suitable justification for the pain one feels as a human, he admits, in this chapter, to wrestling with the idea of animal pain. It was very obvious to Lewis that animals suffered physical and even emotional pain.
It’s important to look at Lewis’ views in perspective. At the time, most Western religions did not place any emphasis on animal welfare or fair treatment. Scientific practices were increasingly utilitarian, with animals subjected to cruel experimentation with little justification other than that humans were “more evolved.” Lewis was one of the only people during this period to really address the topic of animal suffering in light of both religion and science, and given his wide audience his influence in the many subjects he wrote upon is monumental. Lewis believed that taking a stance for animal welfare was not only kind, but the proper thing to do — as a Christian as well as a thinking, feeling human being.
Petfinder, the online searchable database of animals in need of homes, has declared the week of September 17-25 to be Adopt-a-Less-Adoptable-Pet Week. Animals usually considered “less adoptable” include senior pets, cats tested positive for FIV, large or “aggressive breed” dogs such as pit bulls, white rabbits with pink eyes, and all animals with special needs or preexisting medical conditions. With most people interested in only adopting puppies or kittens, even adult animals that would be considered highly desirable in their younger days can languish in the shelter system or foster/rescue homes for months.
Consider Yogee, a spaniel/Border Collie mix with The Dawg Squad in Los Angeles. Found in Westchester with a microchip sourced to Highland Park, when his guardians were contacted they said that Yogee had been missing for so long that they assumed he was dead and had gotten another dog. They didn’t want Yogee back. At 12 years old, this sweet-tempered and cuddly boy still has a lot of love to give and deserves a family that will appreciate him.
Then there’s Buzz, a black domestic short hair not even a year old. Born with a deformed eye, Buzz watched all his brothers and sisters get adopted while he stayed behind, overlooked and unwanted. A playful people-lover, Buzz is waiting to find his forever home at A Cat’s Tale in Hawthorne.
Finally, there’s beautiful Erishkegal, a pink-eyed white rabbit with RabbitMatch in Los Angeles. Likely purchased at a pet store as a baby bunny, Erishkegal’s original guardians had no idea how to care for a rabbit and never bothered to clean her living space. As a result, Erishkegal’s feet, tail and belly are permanently stained orange from being forced to sit in her own urine.
All domestic animals – not just the superficially “cute” or purebred ones – deserve a chance to find love. Check out Petfinder’s gallery of “less adoptables,” submitted by the rescue groups who care for them, for even more unfortunate stories of sweet animals in need of forever homes.
Freekibble.com, the website which rewards users for answering fun and simple trivia questions by donating pet food to homeless dogs and cats, is today contributing all of their proceeds to help pets in Vermont and North Carolina displaced by Hurricane Irene. The best part is, you don’t even have to answer the trivia question correctly to have ten pieces of kibble donated on your behalf!
Freekibble was launched in 2008 by an 11-year-old girl in Bend, OR, by the name of Mimi Ausland. Freekibble’s primary goal is “to provide healthy, nutritious food to the dogs and cats at shelters who are working so hard to see that none of their animals go hungry.” Anyone who has worked or volunteered for a city shelter knows how dire things can get when the city’s budget cannot meet the animals’ needs. Through Freekibble’s partnership with sponsor Halo, their website now helps to feed thousands of animals in shelters, rescues and food banks across the country. Since its inception in April of 2008, 619,029,020 pieces of kibble have been donated! (Probably more by the time you read this.)
When Hurricane Irene swept through the eastern United States at the end of August, it left a trail of devastation in its wake. Parts of Vermont are still dealing with the aftermath of extreme flooding, and over 11,000 people in North Carolina have registered for federal assistance, with a current estimate of $400 million worth of damage done in that state alone. Read more about what the Central Vermont Humane Society, a beneficiary of today’s Freekibble donations, are doing to help the four-legged victims of this natural catastrophe.
Give Freekibble a click today to help support animal welfare, the ingenuity and generosity of kids like Mimi Ausland, and the pets and people displaced by Hurricane Irene. It’s an easy and painless way to make a difference and show your support.
Yesterday was Labor Day, a U.S. federal holiday which celebrates the economic contributions of America’s workers by giving them a day off. This got me thinking about working animals – police dogs, workhorses, pack mules, and all the others – and how much they contribute to the workforce, not just in our country but the world over. My musings and Google searchings led me to SPANA (Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad), a U.K.-based charity founded in 1923.
Started by a mother and daughter after witnessing the mistreatment of working animals while on a tour of North Africa, SPANA works in some of the world’s poorest countries to offer assistance and free veterinary care to working animals, as well as education to the families and drivers who depend on these creatures for their livelihood. By working to help both the animals and their guardians, SPANA not only rescues suffering animals from further mistreatment based on ignorance, they also foster respect and understanding in the people who are often the victims of crushing poverty and hunger themselves.
“Families often rely on their animals for survival and can be devastated if their horse or donkey is ill or injured and unable to work,” SPANA’s website explains. “There is a lot of misunderstanding about how best to treat a suffering animal and in some cases traditional treatments can cause more suffering to an animal. Taking time to speak to owners about the causes of an illness or injury and educate children about animal welfare helps prevent future suffering.”
These days SPANA works primarily in Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Mali, Syria, Mauritania, Ethiopia and Algeria, where their 21 mobile veterinary clinics provided treatment to over 380,000 working animals last year alone. They have done additional outreach in another 25 countries, and have been on the scene to respond to emergencies in Zimbabwe, Chad, Iraq, Kenya and Sudan.
Right now, SPANA is working in East Africa to help stem the effects of the terrible drought which has thrown 12 million people and their animals into crisis. The group has been working hard to provide food to livestock close to starvation in order to prevent a further humanitarian crisis for the famine-ravaged people of Ethiopia and northeast Kenya. “The poor pastoralist communities depend on animals for their livelihoods – for milk, for trade, for transport,” says SPANA. “Without animals their future is bleak.”
You can donate now to SPANA’s African drought relief efforts, or simply take the time to read more about the current situation and SPANA’s work. I think they’re an incredible charity working diligently to save the lives of both animals and people in need of assistance, care, and understanding.
Here at the Museum, we’re interested both in how animals have changed our human society, as well as the effect humans have had on animal society. Today, our newest education intern Karly Abreu offers us a look at Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673), a poet and early advocate for animal welfare.
In her day, Margaret Cavendish was an unusual woman. She was a member of the English aristocracy, known popularly as the Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. She was an accomplished writer in a variety of genres, being a pioneer of science fiction but also well known for prolific philosophy and poetry. Highly logical, she was also a scientist. She was, most notably, one of the earliest supporters of animal welfare.
During Cavendish’s lifetime, the late 1600s and early 1700s, animal welfare was considered a trivial subject. English society generally agreed upon the idea that man had dominion over beast, and left it at that. Cavendish, as a scientific mind, believed that animals had intelligence and wisdom that was beyond the human ability. She rejected the idea that God’s gift of the soul was only given to man.
While her ideas on animal nobility are prevalent in her 1666 novel The Blazing World, which features a world of human-animal hybrids, her ideas are most on display in her compelling poem “The Hunting of the Hare.”
Published in 1653, this poem is told from the point of view of a hare named Wat, and describes in detail the horror and helplessness Wat feels while being hunted. The poem both humanizes the hare by giving him palpable emotions and an identifiable name, and dehumanizes those hunting him by making them seem foreign and dangerous. In this way the poem builds much sympathy for the hare, and ends with an admonishment to consider God’s gift of animal life and the needless waste in sport hunting. It ends with a damning line that accuses men of a God complex and the sin of Pride:
[Man is] so Proud, that he only thinks to Live, / That God a God-like Nature him did give, / And that all Creatures for his Sake alone / Were made, for him to Tyrannize upon.
The poem was shocking at the time both for villainizing a common aristocratic sport and for calling attention to the livelihood of animals. This is a trend which Cavendish would carry through most of her writing, as in her similar poems “The Hunting of the Stag” and “Dialogue with an Oake,” as she continually criticized the faults of man against the nobility of nature. Perhaps too aristocratic to be considered merely an eccentric, Cavendish made waves in her social circles. Her connections and unique opinions even allowed her an audience with the Royal Society, a social circle known for their scientific experiments, many of which were done on animals.
While Cavendish did not change the laws, she was noble and respected enough to garner attention in her society and gain an audience with those most responsible for influencing said laws. In a time and place where neither women nor animals were taken very seriously, Margaret Cavendish accomplished much.
Companion animals aside, the majority of Americans interact with animals on a daily basis primarily through their dietary choices. And in breaking down the numbers, where 10 billion land animals are slaughtered each year for consumption, food ethics and farm animal welfare become a very important discussion to be had in our society – one that affects many more animals than say those found in the nation’s shelters, parks, etc.
The Pew Charitable Trusts is “driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. Pew applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life.” Realizing the vastly important role animal agriculture plays in society, a Commission was formed on Industrial Farm Animal Production (PCIFAP) to “conduct a comprehensive, fact-based and balanced examination of key aspects of the farm animal industry. Commissioners represent diverse backgrounds and perspectives and come from the fields of veterinary medicine, agriculture, public health, business, government, rural advocacy and animal welfare.”
By now, most Americans should be aware and concerned by industrial agriculture, an industry that keeps animals concentrated in factory-like warehouses and confined to a point where movement is severely restricted, and the issues it brings to the table. Public health, the environment, animal welfare and rural communities are all effected by the move towards raising animals in these concentrated systems rather than the traditional, extensive, decentralized family farm system.
In their latest report, Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America, The Trust recommends the following solutions to the problems, which you can read more about in their accessible Executive Summary:
Do you think these six objectives, if met, will fix our broken food system?
NMAS recognizes the power of our food choices and the votes we cast (for better companies, values, nutrition…) with our dollars each time we make a purchase. With this in mind, we’re proud to announce the details on our Fall Lecture Series’ Symposium, Ethics and Your Plate: A Conversation on Animals and Food, taking place on Saturday, November 12th at the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum. We hope you can join us for this stimulating day that will explore contemporary issues surrounding animal agribusiness through presentations by speakers representing a variety of perspectives from vegan to the “ethical omnivore.”
Reverence for Life is a concept developed by Dr. Albert Schweitzer (b. 1875), a jack of all trades. Trained as a musician, medical doctor, and man of God, Schweitzer was also a dedicated humanitarian and friend to animals.
Our education intern, Caroline Shapiro, spent a good amount of time researching the life and accomplishments of Dr. Schweitzer for a featured article on our website. On the subject of Reverence for Life, she discovered that:
“While traveling downriver to tend to the ailing wife of a missionary, Schweitzer’s mind suddenly struck on a simple three-word phrase: Reverence for Life. In Schweitzer’s concept of the universe, all living things – mammals, reptiles, fish, birds, insects, plants, fungi, bacteria – were united by their will to maintain that common status: to keep on living. “I am life that wills to live in the midst of life that wills to live,” he wrote. In translating this to an ethical viewpoint, he believed in the simplest terms that “it is good to maintain life and to promote life; it is evil to destroy life and to restrict life.” Those who are a part of the chain of existence have a duty and a responsibility to maintain and promote other life, and above all respect and cherish all other organisms’ right to exist. Reverence for Life. Such a simple philosophy; such a revolutionary idea.”
Schweitzer would go on to win a Nobel Peace Prize for this philosophy, one that would also become part of the National Museum of Animals & Society’s mission:
The National Museum of Animals & Society is dedicated to enriching the lives of animals and people through exploration of our shared experience. To this end, NMAS promotes reverence for life and compassionate ethics in advancing healthy, meaningful interconnections with the animal world.
In this day and age, museums can recognize that as a society we have values. Museums are a place to not only learn the facts or see objects on a particular subject, but to gain perspective on how these facts or objects affect us and the world in which we live. And what do we do with the information or insight once we have it?
NMAS agrees that all animals have a will to live, and that this one precept should be kept in mind when we’re talking about the animals in our midst. And like Albert Schweitzer’s hospital in Lambaréné which treated people and animals, NMAS follows the same approach. This is a Museum for people, but it’s also a museum for animals; a place where both voices can be heard.