Thursday, May 7, 2009

Be Kind to Animals Week

That my birthday falls during national “Be Kind to Animals Week” is a coincidence that I find amusing each and every year. Were I one to put a lot of stock into karma or predestination, the correlation of these two events could lead one to believe that my passion for animals was scarcely a choice I made, but rather a path on which I was fated to walk.

This year there are a myriad of things going on in the world to give one pause, if they stop to think about it all, yet I have to say that I am about as hopeful as I’ve ever been on behalf of my furry friends.

In California, Prop 2, the bill requiring changes in the confinement of farm animals, passed by a 2 to 1 margin. In a state so heavily invested in agriculture, that’s an amazing victory, but its passage also gives hope to those in other states hoping to change the nature of agribusiness.

Though there still isn’t a comprehensive statewide measure to do more to reduce the homeless pet population, more and more legislators are introducing bills that reflect the changing nature of animal welfare. Right now I’m busy tracking seven different state bills that deal with animal issues as diverse as the docking of cow’s tails, to dog fighting, to spay and neuter reform. Seeing multiple legislators willing to bring these items to our state government lets me know that even if we don’t win every victory, there are more and more people willing to fight the good fight.

I am heartened when, in recent years, I’ve read the lists of best-selling books and see works such as The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin. These books ask serious questions about animals (factory farm animals, in this case) and our treatment of them. That they were widely enough read as to appear on best-seller lists for months on end speaks volumes about the progress we made.

I’ve watched as the chant for adoption over purchasing pets has grown stronger and stronger. As pet stores use space to allow homeless pets another chance, rather than peddling puppy mill puppies. Are we all the way there? No, not yet, but we’re a darned sight closer than we were even a decade ago.

Zoo animals, particularly elephants, have drawn wide-spread attention over the conditions of their lives, sparking discussions across the nation about what is best for them. Several elephants have been relocated from solitary, difficult conditions to sanctuaries where they can roam and be with others in a pack, as is their nature. What was once a completely accepted practice, that of keeping animals in concrete displays for the entertainment of people, has become a quest to provide the best environment possible for captive species, even if the best environment means removing them from public view. Just the fact that people are thinking about their needs over our desires signals progress.

People are open and proud about being a vegetarian or even a (gasp) vegan and find far greater acceptance than they did twenty years ago. It’s a rare restaurant I go to that does not offer a vegetarian option on their menu. You can go to a standard grocery store and find vegetarian products stocked on store shelves. And whether you do it for health, for ethical reasons or for food safety concerns, there’s a greater level of understanding and acceptance of the path you tread.

Cruelty-free products are becoming available in more mainstream retail locations every year, as people become more aware that our cosmetic and cleaning product needs don’t have to be met by sacrificing our fellow earthlings. Compassion can be demonstrated not only with our voices, but with our wallets as we restock our make-up case or our furniture polish. As our numbers grow so, too, do the number of companies willing to accommodate us.

Yes, there are still miles to go, and sometimes the road seems all but impassable. The homeless pets keep coming in to the shelters, people continue to ill-use animals and some folks will plain, flat-out never get it.

But this week, this National Be Kind to Animals Week, the European Union voted to ban imports of all seal products to try and force an end to Canada’s annual hunt. And the needle moved yet again.

I’ll take that cosmic birthday gift. Can’t wait to see what I’ll get next year.


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