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March 21, 2011

Celebrating Animal Protection and Looking Ahead

I was so pleased to be with so many supporters, nominees, and celebrities at this past Saturday’s Genesis Awards, which celebrated its 25th year of recognizing the news media and the entertainment industry for incorporating animal protection themes into their reporting or creative works. The Colbert Report won in the comedy category for mocking bullfighters. The Oprah Winfrey Show won an award for a series of pieces on animal issues, including one exposing Japan’s dolphin slaughter, while How To Train Your Dragon carried away an award for an inspiring message about tolerance and respect for all living creatures. Here’s a list of the winners and the nominees (watch video highlights below, and tune in to Animal Planet at 7 p.m. ET/PT on Saturday, April 30 to watch, with an encore presentation on Sunday, May 1 at 9 a.m. ET/PT).

I mentioned to the assembled audience that we were gathered in Los Angeles at a time when foreign affairs dominates the front pages of America’s newspapers, and observed that some might think that our concerns about animals are disconnected from these events.

Obviously, the democratic uprising in North Africa and the Middle East that began in Tunisia and spread throughout the region has nothing directly to do with animals. But, as I write in my forthcoming book, The Bond, the movement for the protection of animals could never have happened without the political reforms that began in the United States and the other parts of the west more than 200 years ago. The core components of our western democracies were built from the ground up at that time—an expression of the rights of the individual, free speech, and democratic governing by the people. These principles set the stage for later reform movements to end slavery, to provide for women’s suffrage, to promote civil rights, and in time to promote animal protection.

From its first stirrings in our country in the 19th century, animal protection has always been deeply connected to the broader principles of justice and fairness and the rights of the individual. We could not have a movement for animal protection before the values set forth in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were in place. And the best hope for animal protection across the world rests on the successful spread of these democratic ideals to nations that have long known only autocracy and dictatorship. The progress of a civil society flows from the rule of law and democratic government—the enhancement of women’s rights, the protection of free speech, and the growth of a robust non-profit sector. I personally wish for the success of the people in the streets from Bahrain to Libya, among other reasons, because it will be good for the people and, down the road, it will be good for the plight of animals.

We are also obviously riveted by what’s happening in Japan, which is reeling from a triple catastrophe wrought by nature—the earthquake, the tsunami, and the nuclear incident.

Japan, as those of us immersed in animal welfare know, has not been a nation known for its kindness to animals. It is the world’s leading whaling nation, and it has a shameful record on other wildlife protection issues. But there are many more animal protection groups in the nation now than there were five or 10 or certainly 20 years ago. These groups have established a beachhead, and now is our moment to support them and encourage their work within Japanese society.

Just as Hurricane Katrina was a moment when we saw the evidence of the human-animal bond at work, those same opportunities exist now in Japan, and that’s just one reason why we are providing funding and expertise to animal protection organizations there and sending a planeload of much-needed supplies.

As I also write in The Bond, so many of us in American society have different passions—and that’s a good thing. Some are deeply committed to curing diseases that afflict people, or protecting the environment, or sheltering the homeless or fighting poverty. And so many of us here are deeply concerned about fighting cruelty to animals.

In that pluralism of concerns, we have the matrix of a civil and compassionate society. We are so lucky to have so many people, in their own ways and with their own focus, working to build a more humane society. It is all tied together, driven by the same impulses to be good and decent to the less fortunate.

It is important that none of us be bystanders in the presence of so many problems in society. The prospects for change and social change increase dramatically through collective action of socially aware and active people.

HSUS tries every day to harness the energy of millions of people aware of animal cruelty and determined to do something about it. We remind the nation as a whole and increasingly the people of other nations of the world about our instinctive kinship with other creatures and of our responsibilities to the less powerful. HSUS is committed to taking on the biggest forms of cruelty, whether factory farming, animal fighting, puppy mills, or seal clubbing. And we intend to do our part within a civil society to call for the decent and humane treatment of all beings.

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