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From fires and floods to a global pandemic and a president who refused to accept reality, 2020 will be remembered as a year most of us would probably rather forget. The pandemic actually benefited animals in some ways; circuses had to cancel public performances, for instance, fewer horses were run to their deaths on racetracks, and wild bees enjoyed cleaner air.

And the COVID-19 virus put more attention on the international wildlife trade, since markets selling live animals have been linked to the spread of disease. Even the fur industry was impacted.

Although 2020 was in many ways a year of injustice—let us never forget the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Mannie Ellis, Andres Guardado, and so many other people of color at the hands of police—the past 12 months have also offered some reasons to celebrate. Here’s a look at a dozen of the top stories for animals this year.

1. Judge says vegans deserve same legal protection as religious people (January)

The year began with an encouraging decision by a UK judge, who said he is “satisfied overwhelmingly” that ethical veganism meets the criteria to qualify as a philosophical belief. “It is cogent, serious and important, and worthy of respect in democratic society,” said judge Robin Postle, ruling that ethical veganism meets the criteria required for it to be a philosophical belief protected under the Equality Act 2010. The Act makes it illegal for someone to be discriminated against because of protected characteristics, including religion or belief, race, sex, age, and physical ability.

The case was brought by Jordi Casamitjana, an ethical vegan, who said that his employer, the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS), fired him after he told his colleagues that the organization’s pension fund was being invested in companies involved in animal testing. Jordi eventually agreed to a settlement with the LACS and wrote a memoir about his experiences, Ethical Vegan: A Personal and Political Journey to Change the World, which was published this month. He says the LACS has since changed its auto-enroll pension arrangements to make them “ethical.”

2. France moves to ban mass live-shredding of male chicks (January)

Among the dirtiest secrets of the egg industry is that every year it kills 7 billion of the male chicks it breeds shortly after they hatch. And one of the most widespread methods for killing the chicks is to dump them in machines called macerators—horrific devices that shred the birds to pieces while they are still conscious. Animal advocates worldwide have been agitating for an end to this practice for decades, and now France will become one of the first countries to halt it when the ban goes into effect sometime in 2021.

3. Mexico bill to ban cosmetic testing on animals passes first stage (March)

With each country that outlaws cosmetics testing on animals, the world grows one step closer to a global ban on this insidious practice. Mexico announced this year that its Senate had voted unanimously to ban such testing. If the law passes, it will make Mexico the 40th country (and the first in North America) to prohibit testing cosmetics on animals. The bill will next be considered in the lower house in the Mexican legislature, the Chamber of Deputies.

4. Chicago bans horse-drawn carriages (April)

As of January 1, 2021, Chicago will join many other cities around the world that have abolished the use of horse-drawn carriages. These carriages, which often take tourists through busy traffic in all kinds of weather, have meant tremendous suffering for horses. “We’re very thankful,” said Jodie Wiederkehr, executive director of the Chicago Alliance for Animals, a grassroots organization that has been agitating for an end to the horse-drawn carriage trade for years. “We’re very proud of our grassroots work. We did all this work on our own time with no pay.”

The City Council approved an ordinance to halt the issuance of new licenses and prohibit the city from renewing any of the 10 existing carriage licenses, which will expire at the end of the year. Read my interview with Jodie here.

5. Calgary Stampede cancelled (April)

One of the first signs of the year that the coronavirus pandemic might offer a silver lining to animals came with the announcement that there would be no Calgary Stampede in 2020. Canada’s century-old event attracts more than a million visitors a year who come to see a wide variety of rodeo-style events, including bull riding, steer wrestling, and the notorious chuckwagon races, which have killed more than 70 horses since they began keeping track in 1986. Unfortunately, we’ll probably see a Calgary Stampede event in 2021.

Also in April, news came that the coronavirus would mean the cancellation of the running of the bulls spectacle, held every July in Pamplona, Spain.

6. Thanks to sheltering in place, animal shelters are empty (April)

Many people saw the era of social isolation as the ideal time to rescue a dog or cat, leading shelters across the country to report a significant increase in the number of animals they were able to adopt out or place in foster homes. “Adoption rates have skyrocketed,” said one shelter administrator. “Dogs are being adopted quickly and all the dogs we sent into temporary foster homes [about 70] when we closed in March were adopted.” Rescue groups are seeing a similar increase. Foster Dogs Inc., a New York-based nonprofit that helps get dogs out of shelters and into foster homes, says that last year they had about 140 applications a month; that increased to 3,000 this year.

7. Could lockdown be the death of bullfighting in Spain? (May)

Bullfighting was already struggling to remain relevant when the coronavirus hit Spain this year. Long a target of animal rights campaigners, the blood sport attracts fewer and fewer spectators, especially among young Spaniards, who question the link between “culture” and the killing of bulls (a poll in May found that nearly half of Spaniards want bullfighting banned). With the country on lockdown, matadors and torture fans alike were forced to stay home for much of the year, which was a huge economic blow to the industry. It could be that the coronavirus will do what animal rights activists have not been able to, and the bullfighting industry has asked the government for financial assistance. Click here to add your name to the petition urging Spain not to use public funds to subsidize bullfighting.

8. Australia’s ban on animal testing for cosmetics comes into effect (July)

Perhaps you heard that on July 1, 2020, Australia’s Industrial Chemicals Act 2019 came into force. The Act restricts the use of new animal test data for cosmetics safety testing. From this date, any new industrial chemicals solely used in cosmetics cannot use new animal test data to prove safety, whether the chemicals are being manufactured in or imported into Australia. 

While this sounds great, in practice the country falls short on a total animal-testing ban. For example, in the case of multi-use substances used in cosmetics as well as other products such as household cleaners, paints and air freshener, companies may still submit new animal test data under certain circumstances. It also only applies to chemical ingredients used in cosmetic products, not the products themselves. And it permits products sold in China, where tests on animals are mandated by law for imported and special-use cosmetics, to be sold in Australia, provided companies also demonstrate equivalent non-animal test data where appropriate.

9. Colombia to become first South American country to ban animal testing for cosmetics (August)

A stronger ban on animal testing may be the one passed in Colombia this year and set to take effect in 2024. While that’s a long time to wait and will mean the suffering of many more animals, at least this one applies to ingredients and cosmetics products, regardless if they were imported or manufactured in Colombia.

10. Poland, the world’s third largest fur producer, votes to ban fur farming (September)

For years, Poland has had the dubious distinction of being one of the biggest killers of animals for fur (an estimated 6 million minks), ranking just after China and Denmark. Campaigners in Poland have long agitated for the closure of Polish fur farms, and they hope to secure a victory soon. In September, photos and video footage taken by an activist working undercover on a Polish mink farm were released and revealed appalling suffering. Soon after, a bill came up in the lower house of the Polish Parliament—and supported by the country’s ruling party—that advanced animal protection legislation to ban breeding animals for fur as well as ritual slaughter for exports and the use of wild animals in circuses.

Not everyone in the Polish government supports the bill, however, and it’s gotten quite a bit of pushback from the agricultural industry, which fears it could somehow hurt the meat trade, and from those who see fur farming as a cultural issue. The bill next goes to the Senate, though sadly the draft legislation for the ban does not include rabbits. In November, Polish President Andrzej Duda said he strongly opposes the ban.

11. “Buddy,” the beefalo who escaped slaughter, still on the lam (November)

Yes, there were bigger news stories of the year—stories in which more animals were affected. But the saga of a lone beefalo (a cross between a cow and a buffalo) captured the public’s imagination and had even meat-eaters advocating for his freedom. It began on August 3, when the beefalo later dubbed “Buddy” escaped from a transport truck as he was being moved into a Connecticut slaughterhouse. Eluding all attempts to catch him, Buddy roamed the forested hills of Litchfield County and was big news by the end of the month. Plymouth police used various traps and drones, but Buddy outsmarted them. In September, the Plymouth police union set up a fundraiser to buy Buddy from the farmer who “owned” him and thus ensure the animal would not be sent to slaughter. The police say that Buddy will go to a sanctuary for farmed animals in Florida—if they ever catch him.

12. UK dairy farms have a year to stop killing male calves (December)

A cruel and common practice in the dairy industry is to kill newborn male calves, since they don’t lactate. New rules mean the UK’s dairy farmers will have until the end of 2021 to prove they no longer do this. Advancements in technology mean farmers can use “sexed semen” to reduce the number of male calves born. An estimated 60,000 male calves are now killed on-farm in the UK every year.


This was also the year that activist Regan Russell was killed. Regan had been campaigning for animal rights since 1979 (she was also active for women’s rights and the Black Lives Matter movement). On the morning of Friday, June 19, 2020, she was attending a peaceful demonstration outside a pig slaughterhouse in the Canadian city of Burlington, Ontario. She was standing outside the slaughterhouse entrance—waiting to give water to pigs being brought in on one of the hottest days of the year—when the driver of an animal transport truck suddenly accelerated, turned in her direction, and ran her over. “He went straight at her,” said one witness.

Regan’s death came two days after the passage of Bill 156, ag-gag legislation intended to prevent activists from, among other things, showing compassion to thirsty pigs by giving them water as they are transported to slaughter. After a “comprehensive investigation,” local police determined that the truck driver did not hit Regan intentionally, and he was charged with careless driving causing death—basically a traffic ticket. Regan’s death is the subject of a new documentary short by Earthlings filmmaker Shaun Monson, There Was a Killing.


Other stories of the year worth noting:

Golden Globes go vegan (January)

Cows communicate using unique voices (January)

12 rabbits rescued from medical testing laboratory (January)

Borden files for bankruptcy (January)

Ben & Jerry’s will no longer claim their ice cream comes from happy cows (January)

U.S. states join global push to ban animal-tested cosmetics (February)

13-year-old animal activist Genesis Butler named Marvel hero (February)

Maryland ban on sale of dogs, cats in pet stores upheld (February)

Deer rips into hunter’s face (March)

Cow has avoided police capture for months in South Florida (March)

Canada Goose will stop using new fur (April)

China signals end to dog meat consumption by humans (April)

Slaughterhouses close due to COVID-19 (April)

Shenzhen becomes first Chinese city to ban consumption of cats and dogs (April)

USDA agrees to limit wildlife kill program in 10 California counties (April)

Former pork farmer rescues pigs now (April)

Duck market closes (May)

Alderman moves to close legal loophole in Chicago’s puppy mill ordinance (May)

Dutch MPs vote to close mink farms after virus cases (June)

GlaxoSmithKline halts its use of near-drowning test (June)

China increases protections for pangolins (June)

Dolphins learn how to use tools from peers, just like great apes (June)

Ban on sale of animals in pet stores passes New York Senate (July)

Lockdowns spared millions of animals from becoming roadkill (July)

San Francisco fur ban upheld as challenge is dismissed (July)

2 rescued pigs honor the memory of slain animal rights activist Regan Russell (July)

Reno City Council bans dog and cat sales (July)

Germany bans sow stalls (July)

Ringling’s retired circus elephants to move to conservation center (September)

Grizzly bear kills hunter (September)

Nordstrom to stop selling fur and exotic animal skin products (September)

Governor signs bill banning sales of dogs, cats, and rabbits in California (September)

Czech Republic bans cages for egg-laying hens (September)

France to ban use of wild animals in circuses, marine parks (September)

France to ban mink fur farming (September)

Clothing store Winners going fur-free across Canada after animal rights protests (October)

San Antonio bans pet store sales of dogs from breeders (October)

Israel moves to ban ‘immoral’ animal fur trade (October)

World’s biggest fur auction house plans to liquidate assets (November)

Turkey’s animal rights legislation underway (November)

Fur industry faces uncertain future due to Covid (November)

Gray wolves will be reintroduced in Colorado (November)

New Zealand High Court rules farrowing crates for pigs unlawful (November)

“World’s loneliest elephant” moving to sanctuary, with help from Cher (November)

England and Wales to ban live animal exports in European first (December)

Bees witnessed using tools in nature for the first time (December)

U.S. House votes to ban trade in big cats as pets and as props for roadside zoos (December)

Young ravens rival adult chimps in a big test of general intelligence (December)

Goat who escaped being auctioned for slaughter in October is reunited with mother and brother at sanctuary (December)

Thai rescuer gives CPR to baby elephant hit by motorbike (December)

Beginning January 1, 2021, the streets of Chicago are going to look a little more animal-friendly. Gone will be the horse-drawn carriage operators who have been plying their cruel trade in the Windy City for 150 years. On April 24, the Chicago City Council voted to ban them. Chicago joins other cities in banning horse-drawn carriages, including Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada; Salt Lake City, Utah; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Biloxi, Mississippi; Camden, New Jersey; and several cities in Florida. (Despite years of protesting, horse-drawn carriages still operate in New York City.)

Instrumental in getting the ban passed was the Chicago Alliance for Animals (CAA). For more than three years, this grassroots animal advocacy organization frequently documented horses being denied water and forced to pull carriages in heavy traffic through extreme heat, thunderstorms, and blizzards. They lobbied lawmakers to support the ban, and now that the ban has passed, they are liaising with reputable sanctuaries to arrange homes for the horses—if their owners choose to allow them the safe and peaceful retirement they deserve.

Jodie Wiederkehr, CAA’s executive director and founder of the Partnership to Ban Horse Carriages Worldwide, took some time to answer my questions about her work and the group’s remarkable campaign.

What inspired you to become an animal activist? 

I’ve cared deeply about animals since I was very young. I remember at around the age of nine or 10, my father was yelling for me to come inside on Christmas Eve. I was sitting outside in the snow next to the kennel of our neighbor’s little terrier dog, who had nothing but a barren dog house and frozen water. I would bring him treats and fresh water.

While inside in our cozy finished basement with a roaring fire, we ate a big dinner and a lot of cookies and candy and then opened presents. All the while, I thought about Cinnamon all alone in the cold.

That love of animals stayed with me all through my childhood and through college when I started volunteering with my sister Jamie to ban the steel-jaw leghold trap in Illinois.

From then on, I’ve been working toward a path to liberate animals from suffering.

There are so many ways people exploit animals. What is it about the horse-carriage industry that makes you want to see it banned?

I care greatly about all animal issues, but whenever I see horses where every part of their being is controlled with straps and clasps and they’ve got all this metal junk in their mouth and when they can’t get flies off their legs, I get so incredibly sad. It’s just pure exploitation, and it’s so unnecessary!

And this whole notion that they were bred to do this work or that because they’ve been doing it since the dawn of time somehow makes it okay is a lousy excuse, as we all know that “tradition” does not equal “right.”

Can you walk us through the important steps you and CAA took to help get this ban passed?

We used a variety of methods, but the most important aspect of our work was to educate ourselves on Chicago’s laws regarding the horse-carriage trade, document the multiple violations on a regular basis, and then send that documentation to the agency tasked with monitoring and enforcing the laws as well as to the aldermen and mayor. We then submitted Freedom of Information Act requests for the results of our documentation and sent press releases to the media.

We also took action every day with our Daily Action Alerts—DAAs for short—where we contacted all the aldermen, the mayor, and tourist outlets in Chicago and informed them of the constant animal welfare violations, as well as those that impacted public safety.

We attended Aldermen’s Ward nights; testified at City Council almost every month for nearly two years; had monthly, peaceful educational outreach down by the carriage stand, where we held signs and a banner; asked people to sign our petition; urged everyone we spoke to to contact their alderman or, if they lived outside of Chicago, to please contact the mayor.

We also asked any businesses, legislators, animal advocacy organizations, celebrities, etc., to sign our Endorsement Pledge. In the end, we had more than 200 Endorsement Pledges representing millions of people who wanted a horse carriage ban in Chicago.

In addition, we fundraised last fall to deck out a pedicab urging people to say no to inhumane horse carriage rides.

What was the general reaction of the public when you were doing outreach?

When we first started our peaceful educational outreach in summer 2015, we would occasionally get some pushback and people claiming that horse carriages are not inhumane and that the horses are treated well, but as the years went on and we continued to educate the public on how often the horses were overworked, under-watered, and worked in extreme temperatures, the arguments nearly ceased. At times, we had groups of 10 or more people standing around us waiting to sign our petition.

Did you get any comments from horse-carriage operators during your campaign?

We never spoke to or communicated with the carriage operators or passengers. Our goal was to document the violations and abject cruelty and educate the public, not engage with those who have no empathy for and who profit off the voiceless.

You also worked on a successful campaign to ban greyhound racing in Massachusetts, which went into effect in 2010. Do you see any similarities in these two campaigns? 

Yes, definitely! With both campaigns, we exposed the animal exploiters’ constant flouting of the law. And as the statewide volunteer coordinator on the greyhound campaign, I was responsible for calling my volunteer coordinators each Monday and asking them if they called their volunteers. It was not easy, as many didn’t want to talk to me. That made me realize if we really want a more humane world, we must be willing to give a little of our time to this very important cause. So now, when I put out my DAAs, I expect people to take action, and I explain to my volunteers that complaining about animal abuse and sad emojis will not ban horse carriages or help animals in any way.

How can people support the Chicago Alliance for Animals? 

Please join our Facebook page and take one minute to do our DAAs. Follow us on social media, and if they are able to financially support us in any way—even $1 a month will help—that would be greatly appreciated! We passed this ban in the third-largest city in the U.S., without a horse collapsing in the street or a serious or deadly accident, in less than three years without any paid staff.

What advice do you give to activists who want to help ban the exploitation of horses?

I would urge them to join the Partnership to Ban Horse Carriages Worldwide and the Chicago Alliance for Animals (CAA) on Facebook and Twitter (here and here, and here and here), participate in our daily actions and communicate with me and activists around the world on a regular basis so we can work together to ban this archaic relic worldwide.

And, most importantly, never give up!

To make a donation to CAA, click here.



Because aquatic animals are often excluded from the legal and regulatory frameworks that provide some protection for other non-human animals, the Animal Law Clinic at Lewis & Clark Law School, part of the Center for Animal Law Studies (CALS), launched its Aquatic Animal Law Initiative (AALI) in 2017. As a way to help to protect and promote the interests of aquatic animals, they have set April 3 as the first-annual World Aquatic Animal Day.

“At the Center for Animal Law Studies, we are educating attorneys to advance protection for all animals,” says Pamela Hart, executive director of CALS. “Many of our law students are passionate about helping aquatic animals. World Aquatic Animal Day gives students an opportunity to raise awareness about the global threats aquatic animals face, along with ways in which each of us can make a meaningful difference.”

The day will both celebrate and help the public understand more about these often-forgotten non-human animals who live in or near water—in other words, not only such animals as fishes, octopuses, corals, whales, and dolphins, but also polar bears, penguins, amphibians, and sea birds. “Sometimes these animals are not even categorized as animals,” says Kathy Hessler, clinical professor of law at Lewis & Clark. “That’s part of the work of AALI—to let people know where these gaps are.”

“The idea is to educate people,” says AALI Fellow Amy Wilson. “Who do we mean when we say ‘aquatic animals’—who’s included in this category? What are the threats that they face? What does the law say? What are different ways that people can protect them?” Adds Professor Hessler: “We want people to take a beat—take a minute—to think about these animals and then maybe choose whatever advocacy is comfortable for them.”

Among the actions you can take:

Educate: Help others understand the threats aquatic animals face. (Click here for more information.)

Recycle, Reduce, and Clean-up: Collect and recycle plastics. Reduce your use of plastics or products containing microbeads.

Get Active: Sign or start a petition supporting a ban on single-use plastics (such as this one or this one) or other practices that threaten aquatic animals.

Get the Word Out: Write a blog post or letter to the editor of your local paper about issues facing aquatic animals.

Use the Law: Identify issues in your jurisdiction that negatively impact aquatic animals; work to effect positive change through legislative initiatives, lawsuits, and agency guidelines.

For the complete list of AALI suggestions, and more information about World Aquatic Animal Day, click here. (Note: These suggestions were compiled before the coronavirus crisis hit the United States. Please stay safe in your activism and observe social distancing guidelines.)


It wasn’t very many decades ago that campaigns for animal protection were largely focused on the treatment of dogs and cats. But in the last 10 years, we have seen what were once considered fringe issues—such as animal captivity and farmed animals—move from the margins to the mainstream, and this year saw some tremendous victories. Consider that more and more cities and countries are making an effort to ban trophy hunting, animal testing, declawing, elephant rides, and shark fins. Even the fight against fur, which seemed to be slipping through the fingers of the animal rights movement, made tremendous strides in 2019. None of these would have been possible without a seismic shift in the public’s attitude toward how we treat animals—coupled with their growing embrace of vegan foods. Can you imagine just a few years ago consumers clamoring for plant-based options the way they do today? This is one of the principal reasons dairies are going out of business. (So, activists: keep fighting the good fight!)

Yes, 2019 was full of misery as well. But it’s time to celebrate some wins. From foie gras to fur, here’s a look at a dozen of the year’s top stories for animals.

  1. U.S. Supreme Court Upholds California Ban on Foie Gras (January)

Ever since a California law banning foie gras went into effect seven years ago, those who enjoy or profit from this cruel product have devoted their time and money to getting the ban lifted—and activists have been diligently fighting them. The law was challenged in a 2012 lawsuit by foie gras producers from the Canadian province of Quebec and New York’s Hudson Valley and by a Southern California restaurant chain, after which a U.S. district judge ruled that the ban violated the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act, which prohibits states from imposing their own conditions on the sale of bird flesh. In 2017, the California state attorney general appealed the ruling, and two years later, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed it. But the appeals court put a stay on the ban so that the plaintiffs could petition the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case. Now, by refusing to listen to further arguments, the highest court in the land affirmed that the “fatty liver” of force-fed ducks and geese cannot be produced, served, or sold in California.

  1. Sheep Farmer Takes Lambs to Sanctuary Instead of Slaughterhouse, Goes Vegetarian (January)

Two-lambsAfter nearly 50 years of raising and killing animals for food, farmer Sivalingam Vasanthakumar of Devon, England, had a dramatic change of heart. While taking 20 lambs to the slaughterhouse, he turned around and drove them nearly 200 miles, delivering them instead to the 92-acre Goodheart Animal Sanctuaries. “I just couldn’t cope any more and I had to say no,” he said, noting that he had made the same journey many times before and could always sense the terror the lambs felt. “They would try to hide in the back of the trailer and wouldn’t want to come out. I would have to push them out, it was very stressful for me and the animals.” He said he’s a vegetarian now and will grow vegetables rather than raise animals. Goodheart manager Dave Bourne said this was the first time a farmer had brought lambs to the sanctuary.

  1. Colombia Bans Recreational Hunting (February)

Citing the need to protect animals and the environment, Colombia became the second country in Latin America (after Costa Rica) to ban hunting for recreation. “Animals are not things, they are beings with feelings,” said magistrate Antonio Jose Lizarazo, who was behind the legislation. The ban, which goes into effect on February 6, 2020, was the result of a lawsuit filed by activist and attorney Laura Santacoloma, who sought to have recreational hunting outlawed as environmentally detrimental to a country with such remarkable biodiversity.

In trying to fight the ban, hunters in Colombia apparently argued that shooting animals for fun fit into the national culture and that it was even an educational pursuit.

  1. Australia Bans Use of Data from Animal Tests in Cosmetics (March)

When the Parliament of Australia finally passed the Industrial Chemicals Bill 2017, it began a new chapter in the history of Australian animal rights. The new law takes effect on July 1, 2020. Under the legislation companies will be banned from using data taken as a result of animal testing when introducing a new chemical or ingredient for the beauty market. According to the Department of Health, “As technology has advanced, there has been an international move away from the use of animals for this purpose. Animal tests are expensive, time consuming to conduct and are questioned on both ethical and scientific grounds.”

The ban is far from perfect, as it only applies to ingredients used exclusively in cosmetics products. Also, although the ban restricts companies from relying on animal test data for regulatory testing, it does not necessarily ban tests on animals. This means that products sold in China—where tests on animals are mandated by law for imported cosmetics—may still be sold in Australia provided companies also demonstrate equivalent non-animal test data where appropriate. But it’s a step in the right direction.

  1. Cuba Has Its First Animal Rights March (April)

In what is considered to be the first independent protest of any kind allowed in the country in decades, activists in Havana, Cuba, organized a short but significant march on behalf of animals. More than 400 animal advocates, some carrying signs, walked about a mile with their dogs and chanted slogans as they demonstrated peacefully and called for an animal welfare law.

“It’s not easy to see the situation of many abandoned animals, who roam the streets without food and safe medical care and are mistreated by irresponsible people,” said co-organizer Beatriz Batista. “That’s why this type of action is very important at this time, when Cuban society is gaining awareness and is increasingly involved in this issue.”

“It’s unprecedented,” said Alberto Gonzalez, co-organizer and publisher of The Ark, an online Cuban animal-lovers magazine. “This is going to mark a before and an after.”

Marches in Cuba had until now been strictly controlled by the government and were mostly limited to demonstrations celebrating the 1959 revolution or religious processions.

  1. Indian Court Rules That All Animals Have Legal Personhood (May)

On May 31, the Punjab and Haryana High Court ruled that animals, including birds and fishes, have legal rights like humans and declared citizens the “guardians of the animal kingdom” with a duty to ensure their welfare and protection. The ruling came after 29 cows were packed and transported nearly 400 miles in appalling conditions from Uttar Pradesh to Haryana. “We have to show compassion towards all living creatures,” wrote Justice Rajiv Sharma. “Animals may be mute but we as a society have to speak on their behalf. No pain or agony should be caused to the animals. Cruelty to animals also causes psychological pain to them. In Hindu Mythology, every animal is associated with god. Animals breathe like us and have emotions. The animals require food, water, shelter, normal behaviour, medical care, self-determination.”

The decision saw the court issuing several “mandatory directions” for the “welfare of the animal kingdom” in Haryana. This isn’t the first time such a judgement has been declared in India. Last year, the Uttarakhand High Court accorded the status of “legal person or entity” to animals in the northern state, and in 2014, India’s Supreme Court ruled that all animals should have constitutional and legal rights.

  1. Canada Bans Keeping Whales and Dolphins in Captivity (June)

orcaCanada’s House of Commons passed the Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act, known colloquially as the “Free Willy” bill, which was introduced in December 2015. It bans keeping whales, dolphins, and porpoises in captivity and bans their use in performances. Cetaceans who are already in captivity are grandfathered in by the bill, however, meaning Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario, can keep all the animals they currently exploit—55 beluga whales, five bottlenose dolphins, and one orca—even though they strongly opposed the bill. Phil Demers, a former Marineland trainer-turned activist, called the bill’s passing a “historic day for Canada.” He has been an outspoken critic of Marineland and says keeping mammals in captivity is abusive. “This is validation for all the concerns that … former Marineland employees and activists alike have been stressing for many decades.” Former Senator Wilfred Moore, who introduced the bill four years ago, said, “We have a moral obligation to phase out the capture and retention of animals for profit and entertainment. Canadians are calling upon us to do better—and we have listened.”

  1. England Bans Wild Animals in Traveling Circuses (July)

Coming into effect in January 2020, the Wild Animals in Circuses (No. 2) Bill is the result of more than 20 years of investigations and campaigns by animal protection organizations, including Animal Defenders International, which began exposing circus cruelty in the UK in 1993. “Travelling circuses are no place for wild animals in the 21st century and I am pleased that this legislation will put an end to this practice for good,” said Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who introduced the bill in May of this year. The legislation follows similar bans recently passed in Ireland and Scotland and a ban under discussion in Wales.

  1. Zoo Trade in Baby Elephants Banned Internationally (August)

After a contentious debate at a meeting of parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species held in Geneva in August, the member countries decided to impose a near-total ban on snatching African elephants from the wild and selling them to zoos. The decision was strongly opposed by Zimbabwe, which, along with Botswana, is the main provider of wild African elephants to zoos outside the continent and tried to block the vote, saying they view elephants as an “economic opportunity” and should be allowed to sell them. The ban went into effect on November 26, 2019.

  1. California Becomes the First State to Ban Fur Trapping (September)

Demonstrating that just because a practice is “tradition” doesn’t mean it’s worth keeping, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law the Wildlife Protection Act of 2019, banning the trapping of animals for fur. “Fur trapping is a cruel practice that has no place in 21st century California,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who authored the ban bill. “The fact that the majority of California taxpayers overwhelmingly disapprove of this archaic practice and have been unknowingly subsidizing it for years is simply unacceptable.” Trapping animals for their skins has had a long history in California, dating back 200 years, when thousands of trappers plied their trade while cruelly killing countless bears, rabbits, beavers, racoons, coyotes, otters, foxes, and other species.

  1. California becomes the first State to Ban Fur Products (October)

AB44_TY_California_2Just weeks after banning fur trapping, California took an even bigger step into a compassionate future by banning the manufacture, sale, and display of clothing, shoes, slippers, hats, keychains, or handbags with fur. After signing it, Gov. Newsom called the legislation “one of the strongest animal rights laws in U.S. history.” It even bars residents from donating fur products. Other states may soon follow in California’s footsteps: Hawaii and New York have introduced their own fur-ban legislation.

The Fur Information Council of America condemned California’s ban, which goes into effect on January 1, 2023, as being part of a “radical vegan agenda” and has threatened a court challenge.

  1. Animal Cruelty Officially Becomes a Felony Across the U.S. (November)

I admit I debated whether or not to include this among the top 12 victories of the year—which is always a subjective list anyway. On the one hand, this new anti-cruelty legislation is a significant statement against animal cruelty, making it a federal crime to crush, drown, suffocate, sexually exploit, stab, or burn animals (thus making it easier to prosecute the makers of so-called “crush videos,” which I examine in detail in Bleating Hearts). On the other hand, it does not cover the estimated nine billion farmed animals raised and killed every year for food in the U.S., nor does it include fishes killed through fishing or animals killed by hunters. So we’re left wondering: just what is animal cruelty? And the answer to that should never be subjective.


Other stories of the year worth noting:

Veganuary ends on record high with 250,000 participants (January)

Pig escapes transport to slaughterhouse and ends up in Iowa animal sanctuary (February)

Chimps use branch as ladder to escape from Belfast zoo enclosure (February)

Milk sales declined by $1.1 billion last year (March)

Escaped lamb finds home in sanctuary (March)

Dick’s Sporting Goods removes guns from its stores (March)

Madrid bans wild animals in circuses (March)

Rhino poacher killed by elephant and eaten by lions (April)

Animal rights protest causes chaos in Melbourne (April)

Norway to end fur farming (April)

How a B.C. cop crossed the protest line for animal rights (April)

Rescued ‘bile bears’ find sanctuary in Vietnam (April)

Prada bans fur (May)

‘Historic day for Scotland’ as beavers get protected status (May)

Hundreds of animal rights activists march against slaughterhouses in Paris (June)

Nevada becomes second state to ban cosmetics testing on animals (June)

Animals trapped in notorious Russia ‘whale jail’ begin path to freedom (June)

Fur farming banned in Ireland (June)

Canada becomes first G7 country to ban shark fins (June)

New York becomes first state to ban cat declawing (July)

Wild animals in circuses to be banned in Wales (July)

79% of respondents say they would support a federal law prohibiting animal testing for cosmetics (August)

Record 12,000 vegan activists march for animal rights in London (August)

SeaWorld blames ‘radical animal rights activists’ as British Airways cuts ties (August)

Illinois becomes latest state to ban animal testing for cosmetics (August)

The ACT become the first jurisdiction in Australia to change the legal status of animals from being purely ‘property’ to sentient beings in their own right (September)

Animal rights activists win free speech ruling in California (September)

Squirrel blocks woman’s path then leads her to injured baby by ‘tugging at her leg’ (September)

Taylor Swift cancels Melbourne Cup performance, animal rights activists applaud (September)

California bans most animals from circuses (October)

Scottish farmer drives 275 miles to rescue lamb she sold for meat (October)

Hen escapes egg farm by hiding out in delivery truck (October)

Slovakia bans fur farming (October)

New York’s elephant act ban goes into effect (October)

TripAdvisor will no longer sell tickets to attractions that breed captive dolphins and whales (October)

Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s ditch fur (October)

California’s oldest dairy is closing its doors after more than 125 years (October)

Queen to go fur-free for first time says official dresser (November)

This orangutan’s ‘personhood’ victory brings hope to U.S. animal rights movement (November)

Paris moves to ban wild animals from circuses (November)

Tuna seller Bumble Bee files for bankruptcy (November)

Cambodia to ban elephant rides at Angkor Wat (November)

Russia releases last of captured whales into the wild (November)

The Humane Cosmetics Act is now in front of Congress (November)

Biggest U.S. milk company files for Chapter 11 (November)

New York City bans foie gras (November)

House approves bill to eliminate sale of shark fins nationwide (November)

Newfoundland fur farm closes due to sagging market (December)

Federal judge halts enforcement of Iowa’s newest ag-gag law (December)

Ontario passes new animal welfare legislation with stiffer penalties (December)

Greeting card company stops selling images of captive apes after campaign by animal rights protestors (December)

Half the UK population is cutting back on meat or giving it up, according to market analysts Mintel (December)

Russian circuses face calls to ban performing animals (December)

Federal judge blocks law that would stop ‘fake meat’ from marketing with ‘real meat’ terminology (December)

Anti-fur activism is on the rise. What does that mean for Canada Goose? (December)


fur-killsThere has been a lot of great news about animal-based fur in the last couple of years. Not only did California just become the first state in the U.S. to ban the production and sale of fur, but it banned fur trapping. New York City is also considering a ban on fur sales. Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s made headlines this month when they announced they would no longer sell fur, adding their names to an ever-growing list of department stores, designers, and fashion houses—including Burberry, Calvin Klein, Georgio Armani, Gucci, Michael Kors, Prada, and Ralph Lauren—that have gone fur-free. In 2018, designer Donatella Versace, long known for her support of fur, said, “Fur? I am out of that. I don’t want to kill animals to make fashion. It doesn’t feel right.” Meanwhile, Norway and Slovakia recently said they are closing their fur farms, joining more than a dozen other countries in Europe that are banning fur farming and removing an important link in the supply chain. Even London Fashion Week ditched animal fur last year.

With all these advancements for fur-bearing animals, it’s tempting to think fur is finally dead. Sadly, it’s not, and activists can’t make the mistake of believing we’ve crossed the finish line—yet.

Just as many people are surprised to learn that whales are still being killed—they ask, “Didn’t that end in the eighties?”—activists have not put the final nail into fur’s coffin. After anti-fur campaigns in the sixties, seventies, and eighties, it looked like the industry was on its last breath, but fur made a comeback in the 1990s, buoyed by newly affluent buyers in China, South Korea, and Russia. By 2004, the global fur industry was worth $11.7 billion. Now, according to the International Fur Federation, the industry is valued at $40 billion. In the U.S., fur hit a 17-year high last year with $531 million in sales, up from $337 million in 2014.

So what happened? Part of the answer is that the fur industry found new markets for its cruel products. They began targeting the next generation of consumers with dyes to create a “modern” look. They hired new celebrity models. They looked beyond coats, gloves, and hats and used fur to adorn household items like furniture as well as shoes, keychains, pillows, scarves, and cat toys. And they created thinner fur garments that could be worn in warmer climates.

They also got into design schools, subsidizing the fur used by students—even in high school.

One of their biggest efforts has been the greenwashing of fur. As I discuss in Bleating Hearts, to divert consumer attention away from animal cruelty, the industry now touts fur as the ultimate “eco fashion,” such as in the Fur Council of Canada’s print ad featuring a model decked out in fur beneath the headline “Environmental Activist.” The ad copy explains that “wearing fur also helps protect nature, by supporting people who live on the land.” By “people” they mean trappers, who “depend on nature for their livelihoods.” Absent from the ad is any mention of the millions of “trash” animals trappers routinely kill while they are being “stewards of Earth.”

Indeed, the Council would have us believe that fur garments and accessories only come from animals caught in the wild. “In nature, each plant and animal species generally produces more offspring than the land can support to maturity,” reads the their website. “Like other species, we live by making use of part of this surplus that nature creates.” This is a preposterous lie, as far as the fur industry is concerned, because the majority of fur used in the trade is produced in farms from animals specifically bred for this purpose, and they know it. (Canada’s market for fur-farmed animals is three times the size of its wild-fur market.) A 2011 study on the environmental effects of mink-fur production found that it takes 11 animals to produce 1 kilogram of fur, and that the industry has a higher impact than other textiles in 17 of 18 measurement categories, including global warming and toxic emissions.

But fur’s carefully orchestrated comeback goes even deeper.

“The animal rights movement once before underestimated the fur industry and prematurely celebrated its supposed imminent demise,” says Ryan Shapiro, PhD, a longtime animal rights activist and now executive director of the transparency organization Property of the People. “Not only did this allow the industry to rebound, but the fur industry is just as committed to eliminating the animal rights movement as we are to ending it.” Ryan notes that documents he has obtained from one of his many Freedom of Information Act lawsuits against the FBI reveal it was the resurgent fur industry in the late-1990s that secretly met with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to coordinate a federal assault on the animal rights movement. “It was the fur industry that pushed the DOJ and FBI to target the animal rights movement as a terrorist threat. It was the fur industry that gave the DOJ and FBI lists of activists and organizations it wanted neutralized. And it was ultimately this lobbying behind closed doors by the fur industry that gave rise to today’s Green Scare. The fur industry poses a double menace, both to animals and the movement for their liberation. We cannot rest until this vicious industry is entirely eradicated and consigned to the dustbin of history.”

Not everyone agrees that recent victories mean activists might shift their efforts to other campaigns.

Camilla Fox, executive director of Project Coyote in California, says she doesn’t believe the state’s new anti-fur legislation will slow down activists. “I think if anything success like this re-inspires people to stay engaged and continue pursuit of related issues—especially if they’re tapped into email alerts from organizations like ours to stay apprised of what other issues need attention.”

And Camille Labchuk, executive director of the animal law organization Animal Justice and one of Canada’s leading animal rights lawyers, told The Star that the recent fur-related bans in the U.S. and Europe have created an “unstoppable momentum” that she hopes will extend to her country, where activists continue to take action against outdoor clothing company Canada Goose for its use of down and coyote fur.

I hope they’re right. We’ve come a long way, and we do indeed have momentum, but I fear we could see a repeat of the nineties, with fur coming back strong, especially if the industry has the FBI and DOJ watching their back.

“Activists need to keep the pressure on fur to make sure that it stays away for good,” says animal rights advocate lauren Ornelas, who attended her first anti-fur protest in 1987. “We just need to keep reinforcing the fact that non-human animals are not ours to exploit.”

What You Can Do

Looking to get involved but don’t know where to begin? One place you can start is the Fur Free Alliance, an international coalition of animal protection organizations working to end the deprivation and cruelty suffered by fur-bearing animals both in wild trapping and industrial fur farming. They offer a number of fact sheets that you can use in your activism, which can be as simple as talking to family and friends about this issue, sharing information on social media, or signing petitions like this one, this one, or this one. You can write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Or you can participate in a Fur Free Friday protest on November 29 (do an online search for an event in your area). You can even speak directly to retailers that still sell fur and tell them you won’t shop there until they remove the cruelty from their racks. And you can contact fashion brands that use fur in their designs and tell them you won’t support them. Of course, you can also contact companies that have ditched fur and thank them! Whatever steps you take, large or small, each one makes a difference for the animals.


Nearly four centuries years ago, philosopher and physicist Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) condensed the art of persuasion to its core. He argued that the best way to change someone’s mind is to be empathetic. “We must put ourselves in the place of those who are to hear us,” he wrote in his book Pensées (“Thoughts”). “When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false.”

In other words, being powerfully persuasive begins by saying, “You’re right.”

Pascal’s persuasion premise has two fundamental steps:

  1. To convince someone they are wrong, you must first clarify where they are correct.
  2. Then, you should guide them to conclude on their own that their original opinion was wrong.

In an interview with Quartz, University of Texas at Austin psychology professor Arthur Markham says Pascal was spot on. “One of the first things you have to do to give someone permission to change their mind is to lower their defenses and prevent them from digging their heels in to the position they already staked out,” he says. “If I immediately start to tell you all the ways in which you’re wrong, there’s no incentive for you to cooperate. But if I start by saying, ‘Ah yeah, you made a couple of really good points here, I think these are important issues,’ now you’re giving the other party a reason to want to cooperate as part of the exchange. And that gives you a chance to give voice your own concerns about their position in a way that allows cooperation.”

Blaise Pascal

Naturally, I wondered how this principle could be applied to animal activism. My first stumbling block was how does an activist tell someone who eats or otherwise exploits animals they are right? After some contemplation, I realized I was thinking of it the wrong way. I could never tell someone they were right for eating meat, for instance, but I could find common ground with them—like most people, I grew up eating animals—and I could agree that eating plays a central role in our culture. So, instead of haranguing someone for eating animals, I might approach them from an empathetic viewpoint in which I admit that I, too, enjoyed eating meat, dairy, and eggs for many years. (Finding common ground with people is a time-honored approach in one-on-one activism, but you’d be surprised how often advocates opt for scolding instead of conversations.)

Because people are more apt to change their minds when we affirm the value and truth in at least some of what they have to say, not when we attack their opinions and habits, I might guide the conversation toward discussing the importance of sharing meals, which clearly plays a significant role in our society and is another area where we can find common ground. As I wrote in A Vegan Ethic, “One of the principal reasons we cling to that habit of meat-eating is that it’s a group ritual filled with emotional potency—transporting us back to a wonderful childhood memory in Grandma’s kitchen, for example, barbecues with Dad, or enjoying a holiday meal in which a dead animal has always been the centerpiece.” Thus establishing some commonality with this person (i.e., I used to eat animals, too, and I completely understand the cultural significance of dining with others), I might mention that in addition to the social aspects, the pleasure of eating is about the taste and texture—at least for most people—and these can now be replicated with plant-based meats and the proper seasoning. (In this case, I would assume that someone wants the experience of eating “meat” before turning them onto whole foods.)

Now I can move on to the second step of Pascal’s premise and try to guide them to conclude that their own opinion was incorrect. One way to do this is to illustrate how eating animals is likely inconsistent with their values concerning animal welfare. Most people consider themselves compassionate, and they frankly don’t understand how their habit is in dramatic contrast to their benign self-image. For meat-eaters, getting to this point—overcoming their morally tormented psyches so they can devour the flesh of animals guilt-free—takes a bit of clever psychological maneuvering, including no small amount of cognitive dissonance, that inner mechanism that is constantly searching for ways to justify harmful or unethical behavior. No one wants to look like a hypocrite.

One justification an omnivore typically makes is that animals are not thinking, feeling beings, so getting killed for food means nothing to them. Trouble is, we are learning more about animals every day, and it’s quickly becoming apparent that the animals with whom we share this planet not only think and feel pain but dream, plan for the future, grieve the loss of loved ones, and share with us a host of other attributes we used to believe applied only to humans. There is emerging evidence to suggest that some animals may even have a sense of humor.

If someone knows animals have rich inner lives, would they be less likely to eat them? Maybe. But perhaps a more direct way to encourage them to make the connection between their latent values and what they put on their plates is companion animals. In conversations with meat-eaters who seem open to sincere discussion, I often ask if they have or have ever had a companion animal; almost everyone answers “yes.” Then I ask them how they would feel if their dog, cat, rabbit, horse, etc., were subjected to the kind of cruelty animals raised for food suffer (and I might even remind them that animals one culture regards as “pets” can be considered “food” by another; it’s all a matter of perception).

Of course, we are only planting seeds here. Those major barriers to change—convenience, tradition, pleasure, and fear—affect everyone differently, and it can take someone years to “get it,” if ever. Moreover, vegan advocates are working against a massive, decades-old marketing machine supported by the deep pockets of animal agribusiness and subsidized by the government. This machine fills screens, airwaves, print media, and (perhaps most insidious of all) public schools with such deceptive messages as “beef: it’s what’s for dinner,” “milk: it does the body good,” and “the incredible, edible egg.” It is also responsible for such lies as the humane myth and the protein myth.

In the face of not only animal cruelty and human health but the ever-increasing climate crisis, there has never been a more critical time for vegan advocacy. Using empathy in persuasion can also be applied to other forms of activism, whether you’re agitating against animal captivity, fur, animal testing, or other forms of exploitation and abuse. I am not suggesting that Pascal’s approach should necessarily be adopted by all activists, but I believe we must be open to new tactics and strategies—even if they are centuries old.




There’s no question that social media has benefited animal advocacy in remarkable ways over the last decade. Activists are using platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to organize protests, promote veganism, distribute online petitions, announce campaign updates, post news about animals ready for adoption, share animal rights documentaries, and much more.

But social media has a dark side, and I’m not just referring to its insidious influence on the election process or the amplification of hate. Companies leverage the expertise of “attention engineers,” who use our psychological vulnerabilities to make social media apps and platforms as addictive as possible. Why? Because your attention—the hours you spend on your mobile device, for example—results in profits for these companies. Facebook, for instance, uses algorithms to track your preferences and present you with content your online history tells them will make you feel good. Then you’ll see an ad, followed by more fun content—and another ad. Meanwhile, companies such as YouTube and Netflix will automatically play a related video just as the one you’re watching ends. They put the burden on you to decide when to stop.

Did you know that Steve Jobs never intended the iPhone to have third-party apps like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook—or be anything more than an improved iPod that can make calls? True, even the original iPhone had Internet capabilities, but that was more of a bonus feature. If you look at the presentation Jobs gave in 2007 to introduce the iPhone (at about 36 minutes in), you’ll see that the “Internet” segment was all about email, Google maps, and weather widgets. Interesting.

The overuse of social media is something I’ve been thinking about for years, and I explore it a bit in the new edition of Striking at the Roots. As I consider it more and more—and I probably use social media as much as anyone—what has me concerned is how its use can specifically affect the well-being of animal activists and, by extension, their activism.

In addition to the many consequences of spending too much time on social media—such as the impact it has on our self-esteem and creating a fear of missing out on fun others are experiencing—animal advocates may be particularly vulnerable to other side effects. Here are some examples.


Animal activism is hard. Although many people claim to “love animals,” for instance, the vast majority of these same people continue to eat, wear, and otherwise exploit them. Challenging these behaviors can leave activists feeling disheartened, to say the least.

Add to this the constant barrage of graphic photos of animal cruelty that stream on social media, the offensive comments from trolls under posts, and outright cyberbullying, and online platforms can prove dangerous to our mental health. A study of 1,787 young adults in the U.S. published in 2017, for instance, found that participants who used 7–11 social media platforms had substantially higher odds of having increased levels of both depression and anxiety symptoms.

During her 12 years working for one nonprofit, Marsha Rakestraw had to monitor social media, where she was constantly confronted by scenes of animal suffering. “Having to immerse myself in that quagmire of harm and pain day after day for more than a decade has taken its toll,” she says. “Especially in the last few years of being in that job, I’ve felt that I’ve lost all sense of joy.”

Another activist, Meg York, had a similar experience. “Social media has contributed to, or possibly created, my compassion fatigue,” says Meg. “On Facebook, I have unfollowed most of the nonprofit organizations that I have liked, as I cannot bear witness to unending cruelty. It undermines my ability to be an effective activist, as I find myself mired in despair, overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem, and unable to change the reality for the specific animals who are suffering in the videos and pictures.”

I am not implying for a moment that animal advocates are the only people susceptible to depression. What I mean is that animal activism is already a depressing endeavor, and so activists may be especially exposed to the feeling of despair that social media can lead to.

Reduced attention span

Justin Rosenstein, the former Facebook engineer who created the “like” button, is among a growing number of high-tech experts who now warn against the lure of social media, which they believe severely limits a person’s ability to focus and possibly lowers IQs. “One reason I think it is particularly important for us to talk about this now is that we may be the last generation that can remember life before,” Rosenstein says.

A reduced attention span could affect anyone’s life. For the activist, it could result in a gap in learning about the issues, for example, or impact their ability to share a meaningful conversation with someone, whether it’s at a conference table or a dinner table.

Diminished human interactions

Animal activism very often relies on making connections: mingling with new people, overcoming social anxieties, and inspiring others to see the link between animal exploitation and their consumer choices. While making connections on social media can be great, there’s nothing that equals the power of making such connections in person. Unfortunately, a growing body of evidence suggests that social media is undermining family relationships and harming people’s ability to interact competently in an offline setting. Former Google Design Ethicist Tristan Harris, described by The Atlantic as “the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience,” warns in his TED talk that social media technology is “changing our ability to have the conversations and relationships we want with each other.” Consider this: In which form of communication would you gain more insight about someone—an online post or a face-to-face conversation? Clearly, there is a much higher quality of connection when we speak with someone directly.

As activist Sherry Morgado puts it, “I found that I was coming to rely too much on social media as a form of activism, and neglected one-on-one interaction, which I believe has much more power and authenticity. In personal interactions, there is an opportunity for a dialogue, to ask questions, and to read facial expressions and body language. I have come to feel that social media is just too removed from that energetic space between people where the possibility for real change can happen.”

Weakened decision-making

Spending too much time on social media affects your ability to think for yourself and form your own opinions. One study demonstrated how participants were more open to peer pressure within social networks. Of course, animal activists tend to be committed to their principles, but we should all treat with caution anything that impacts our capacity for informed decision-making.

Loss of social etiquette

Social media has no room for verbal nuance, tone, or body language, which are among the many important cues that help humans navigate the complex world of interpersonal communication. Because many posters of online comments can remain anonymous—or they believe they are calling out hypocritical behavior—they often give in to the temptation to be judgmental and rude.

“One of my biggest struggles with social media is dealing with all the negativity,” says Cathy O’Brien. “Many people seem to be very quick to judge and attack others, often with extreme hostility. As an activist and a human, my desire is to cultivate more compassion and respect for all beings. I want to put my voice out there and be an advocate for the issues I believe in, but I want to do it in a way that helps create more compassion and caring; I don’t want to be part of the negativity and hostility.”

Activists who participate in such online hostility may think they are doing the animals a service, but they are just helping depict activists as insensitive bullies.

Unhealthy sleep patterns

Interruption of regular sleep patterns is among the hallmarks of a social media addiction. Lack of sleep is not only damaging to our health, but it can affect our productivity and cognitive performance. Any animal advocate who wants to put quality time into their activism is going to need quality sleep. Along with eating well, it’s one of the fundamental steps we can take to avoid burning out.


Am I saying animal activists should stop using social media? No. Social media is an important tool, and its influence in the movement will probably continue to grow as new, more powerful platforms are created. But social media should never be a substitute for on-the-street, grassroots campaigning. If you are able to address the public in person about how animals are exploited, please do so. I don’t mean you need to be confrontational; indeed, making a vegan meal for an omnivore or sitting down to share an animal rights documentary with them can often have a more positive impact than holding a protest sign in front of a slaughterhouse.

Moreover, I encourage activists to use social media and our devices with more intention. You might also consider a digital detox, including such steps as:

You might even reduce your use of social media by cutting out one or more platforms or going without them altogether for a week or a month. You may be amazed by how much more you get done, how it improves your sleep, and how it lifts your mood. It might even make you a more effective activist.

I will speaking more about the importance of self-care at the Animal Rights National Conference in July. I hope to see some of you there.


Because I have readers around the world, I generally try to make this blog appealing and useful to all. But there is an issue in my home state of California right now that concerns me a great deal, so I will make this post brief and to the point.

Last December, Assemblymember Laura Friedman introduced AB 44, which would prohibit the sale and manufacture of new fur products throughout the state. This is encouraging, but there is a wrinkle: another assemblymember, Marc Levine, has North Bay constituents who make a living killing rabbits for food, and they’ve asked Levine to create an exemption for rabbits, so the fur of these animals can be sold after slaughter. Sadly, it seems Assemblymember Friedman is considering an amendment that would exclude rabbits, as this article explains. (Note: The article is accompanied by an image of rabbits in cages.)

The bill has been working its way through the legislative process and is currently with the Appropriations Committee. If your assemblymember is on this committee, please call them and ask them to support AB 44—and to support it without any amendment that exempts rabbits. As you may know, rabbits are used in countless fur products—from pet toys and glove trimmings to hats and coats—and to exclude them from a ban would be heartbreaking. Please join me in advocating for them.

The fur industry is lobbying hard against this bill, so every voice of support helps. Calling legislators is very simple and nothing to be nervous about. Your call will be answered by an aide, and you just say, “I am calling to ask the assemblymember to support AB 44 and to not support any amendment that would exempt rabbits from the bill.” The aide will ask where you live and possibly your name, and that’s it.

Step 1: Find your representative here:

Step 2: See if they are on the Appropriations Committee here:

Step 3: If they are on the committee, please call them today!

(If your representative is not on the committee, you can call them later in the legislative process, when every assemblymember’s support will be important!)

And if you do not live in California but know someone who does, please forward this post to them.

Thank you!


Earlier this month, Procter & Gamble Co., the corporate conglomerate responsible for the manufacture of everything from toothpaste to face moisturizer, announced it had joined with the Humane Society International’s (HSI) #BeCrueltyFree campaign, which seeks to ban animal testing for cosmetics in all major global beauty markets by 2023. This is certainly good news, as P&G has been notorious for blinding, burning, maiming, and killing thousands of animals such as rabbits, dogs, hamsters, and guinea pigs every year, all while testing the toxicity of product ingredients.

The media announced the news with headlines such as “P&G joins the campaign against animal testing as Humane Society International’s new partner” (Cosmetics Business), “Procter & Gamble backs the eradication of animal testing” (Yahoo News), and “P&G joins effort to ban animal testing for cosmetics” (Cincinnati Business Courier). So far so good.

Then, a headline on the vegan-friendly site One Green Planet declared, “Procter & Gamble’s brand Herbal Essences is officially cruelty-free!” Actually, no, it’s not. A look at the Herbal Essences website shows their hair care products contain ingredients that definitely come from animals, including protein from silk and honey from bees, as well as some ingredients that sometimes come from animals, such as glycol distearate, stearyl alcohol, and glycerin.

We saw something similar occur last November, after the cosmetics brand CoverGirl (which P&G owned from 1989 to 2016) stopped testing its products on animals. “Cosmetics Giant COVERGIRL Certified As Cruelty-Free And Given Leaping Bunny,” proclaimed Plant Based News. Yet CoverGirl continues to use animal-derived ingredients, including collagen, beeswax, and lanolin.

In addition to those ingredients, a beauty or personal care product could contain, for example, allantoin (cow urine), ambergris (whale vomit), carmine (crushed-up beetles), civet (anal gland of civet cats), fish scales, gelatin (cow or pig bones, tendons, or ligaments), lard (fat from pig abdomens), mink oil, pearl powder (from oysters), placenta (sheep organs), squalene (shark liver oil), or tallow (cow fat) and still earn “cruelty-free” certification from HSI or Cruelty Free International, the latter of which issues its Leaping Bunny symbol to companies that do not test on animals.

And hence the problem. When we in the animal rights/vegan movement use a term like “cruelty-free” to describe a product, others reasonably expect it to mean it is free from any cruelty—including animal ingredients.

Or human exploitation. For years, Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P.) has been raising awareness about the use of the worst forms of child labor, including slavery, in the chocolate industry, and calling companies—especially “vegan” companies—to task for sourcing their cacao from areas where slavery is known to be used. As F.E.P.’s founder and executive director lauren Ornelas has said many times, “Just because something is vegan doesn’t mean it’s cruelty-free.”

She extends this principle to exploited farm workers, as well, noting that the people who grow and harvest the fruits and vegetables adored by vegans and omnis alike are among the most abused laborers in the food system, imperiled by extreme weather, agricultural chemicals, and sexual abuse.

Let me be clear. I applaud the efforts of HSI and Cruelty Free International—neither of which implies that their certification means a product is vegan—and other organizations working to eliminate animal testing around the world; vivisection has long been a blight on humanity. But when groups, companies, or individuals use “cruelty-free” to only indicate products not tested on animals, or they ignore the human suffering that goes into “vegan” products, we dilute the meaning of the term and confuse those whose hearts and minds we are trying to win through our advocacy.*

This may sound like a trivial issue, but words matter. And as we try to help people make truly kind choices, we owe it to everyone—the animals, workers, consumers, and ourselves—to be accurate.


*Note: The Vegan Society’s trademark—a sunflower growing from the V in “vegan”—is used by brands internationally to signify a product contains no animal ingredients and has not been tested on animals.


As I reflect on 2018, I am struck by what a landmark year it was for animals. Of course, we celebrate any victory, however small, but this year we were able to applaud some truly significant wins. Fur bans immediately come to mind, as do bans on circuses using animals. And let’s not forget the stories on animal testing. Will 2019 be the year that the United States finally takes note of societal changes and decides to ban animals in captivity, animal testing, and fur? As animal advocates, we have big hurdles to overcome in reaching those goals, but they are achievable. In the meantime, let’s look a deeper look at a dozen of the year’s biggest stories that activists worldwide had a hand in. After all, we deserve some good news.

1. Switzerland bans boiling lobsters alive (January)

Animal advocates have long argued that crustaceans feel pain and therefore tossing a conscious lobster into a pot of boiling water is extremely cruel. This year Switzerland became the first nation in the world to ban the practice, citing that pain lobsters feel. The new legislation was driven by research, including a study by Queen’s University in Belfast that found crustaceans are sentient creatures. “These studies show that lobsters, like other animals, experience pain and distress,” said Stefan Kunfermann, a spokesperson for the Federal Office of Food Safety and Veterinary Affairs.

2. Norway to shut down all mink and fox fur factories by 2025 (January)

This news came as a big surprise to the Norwegian Fur Breeders Association, with one spokesperson saying, “We’re shocked, shaken to the core.” Of course they were. The country has nearly 300 fur farms, which kill some 700,000 minks and 110,000 foxes a year. But times are changing, and the country’s leadership recognizes that fur is falling out of fashion.

3. Wild animals to be banned from circuses in England by 2020 (February)

When England said this year that it plans to join the growing list of nations that have banned circuses that use animals—including Austria, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru, Romania, and Singapore—some of us might have been confused. After all, the government had pledged to do this way back in 2014. The use of animals in circuses is as cruel as it is archaic: animals are “trained” using physical punishment and deprivation, and studies show they spend up to 99 percent of their time confined in cages, carriers, and other enclosures that are typically one-quarter the size recommended for the same animals in zoos. This ban is long overdue, and it’s shameful it might not go into effect until 2020—but let’s hope they follow through this time.

4. Mexico City bans dolphinariums (May)

Mexico’s capital is an inspiration. They banned circuses with animals in 2014 (the country quickly followed the city’s lead), and last year they banned dolphin performances and swim-with-dolphins programs. This year they decreed that businesses could not even keep dolphins (or sea lions), and for good measure they banned so-called “dolphin therapy,” since, according to Mexico’s Ecological Green Party, “there is no scientific evidence that these animals help as effective treatment to people.”

5. South Korea rules killing dogs for meat is illegal (June)

Although some media sources reported this as an outright ban on eating dog meat, the South Korean court simply declared that meat consumption was not a legal reason to kill dogs. The ruling came in a case brought by the animal rights group CARE against a dog farm operator. Animal advocates are hopeful that the decision will indeed lead to a ban on dog meat in the country, where 1 to 2 million canines a year are killed for human consumption. “It is very significant in that it is the first court decision that killing dogs for dog meat is illegal itself,” said Kim Kyung-eun, a lawyer for CARE. Dog meat is something of a gray area in South Korea. There is no specific ban (yet), but officials have invoked hygiene regulations or animal protection laws that ban certain slaughter methods to crack down on dog farms and restaurants. In November, authorities shut down the country’s largest slaughterhouse (see link under “Other stories of the year worth noting” below).

6. Luxembourg becomes 10th European country to ban fur farming (June)

When Luxembourg updated its animal welfare statue after 30 years in June, it not only strengthened protections for animals, it included a nationwide ban on fur farming. The new law, which was proposed in 2016, is based on the assumption that animals are “living non-human sentient beings with a nervous system scientifically capable of feeling pain and experiencing other emotions” including “suffering and anguish.” The Luxembourg Government Council added: “Animals are no longer considered as a thing, but as gifted non-human living beings with sensitivity and holders of certain rights.” Can you even imagine a government making such a statement five years ago?

7. New packaging for Barnum’s animal crackers frees animals from their cages (August)

This may seem silly to some—I mean, it’s a little box of cookies, and in a world filled with suffering and injustice, surely there are larger issues to focus on. But optics matter. When we see animal captivity on something as innocuous as a cookie box, it normalizes oppression. Changing this packaging, which for more than a century featured animals locked in cages, illustrates how the status quo won’t be tolerated. Another example of how times change: the cookies’ namesake circus, Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey, went out of business last year.

8. London Fashion Week goes fur-free for the first time in its 35-year history (September)

The news that London Fashion Week was ditching animal fur for the first time in its history came on the heels of fur-free announcements from a number of high-profile fashion houses, and it was a major victory. (It’s probably no coincidence that there had been an increase of anti-fur protesters at London Fashion week—from 25 in 2016 to more than 250 at the shows in September 2017.) The results of a survey by the British Fashion Council (BFC) found that none of the designers on the official schedule had plans to use fur in the collections they planned to show this year. “The BFC survey results reflect a cultural change based on ideals and choices made by designer businesses, international brands as well as consumer sentiment but also encouraged by the stance of multi-brand stores who are moving away from selling fur,” said the BFC in a statement. The survey is part of the BFC’s Positive Fashion initiative, which is a platform designed to support industry best practices and encourage positive changes.

9. New Zealand bans the cruel practice of mulesing (September)

I knew almost nothing about mulesing until I was researching Bleating Hearts, so I don’t expect most people to be aware of this procedure, which is common in the wool industry. As I wrote in that book, because of how sheep have been bred to grow wool, feces and urine are prone to collect on their backsides, creating an ideal environment for the blowfly to deposit eggs. (This is called myiasis, but sheep ranchers have another name for it: flystrike.) The eggs hatch into swarming maggots, which eat into flesh and can kill the animal within days. As a way to prevent flystrike, ranchers use shears to cut two large swaths of wrinkled, wool-bearing skin from beneath the sheep’s tail. To save the industry money, anesthesia and painkillers are almost never used. The open wound eventually scars, becomes smoother, and is less susceptible to flystrike. The mutilation takes about a month to heal; in the meantime, the wound itself is an inviting place for blowflies to lay their eggs. The animal advocates who have been working on this issue for years will tell you that the best step you can take for sheep is to avoid wool products altogether.

10. California becomes the first state to ban cosmetics testing on animals (September)

No, it’s not perfect, but California’s ban on using animals for cosmetics testing is still a significant victory. Going into effect January 1, 2020, the law will restrict manufacturers wishing to “import for profit, sell or offer for sale” all cosmetics produced with animal testing. Moreover, while 37 other countries have banned animal testing, the United States has remained neutral, with the FDA stating that although it doesn’t require animal testing, it “advises cosmetic manufacturers to employ whatever testing is appropriate and effective for substantiating the safety of their products.” The California ban could help bolster support for the federal Humane Cosmetics Act, which would eliminate the practice of animal testing for cosmetics nationwide.

California has been a leader on this issue for years. In 2000 it outlawed animal testing when appropriate alternatives are available, and in 2014 it passed the Cruelty Free Cosmetics Resolution, which urged Congress to prohibit animal testing for cosmetics. While the ban has some loopholes—companies can continue to fund animal testing for products and ingredients sold in countries where such testing measures are required by law, for example, and there is an exception for products for which no alternative experimentation procedures exist—it is a major step forward in the campaign to end the use of animals as test subjects.

11. Los Angeles bans the sale of fur (September)

Just months after San Francisco became the biggest city in the United States to prohibit fur sales (see link below), LA passed its own ban. “Los Angeles is one of the fashion capitals of the world, and if we can do it here, we can do it anywhere and hopefully we will be an example for the rest of the country and the rest of the world,” said Los Angeles City Council Member Paul Koretz, a sponsor of the measure. “We hope that New York City and Chicago and Miami are all watching.” The city ordinance affects fur apparel and accessories ranging from mink coats to rabbit’s foot charms.

12. New Jersey becomes first state to ban circus animals (December)

In a year that saw a number of circus bans, what makes this story a bit more newsworthy is that New Jersey is the first state in the US to prohibit “wild” animals in circuses—significant because the United States has traditionally been reluctant to forbid circuses that use animals (or, frankly, to strictly enforce animal welfare laws). The ban is named “Nosey’s Law” after a 36-year-old African elephant with arthritis who was routinely abused with bullhooks and cattle prods while traveling the country with a circus; she is now being cared for at a sanctuary. The NJ ban also covers parades, carnivals, fairs, and petting zoos.


Other stories of the year worth noting

Dog shoots rabbit hunter (Jan)

Vancouver Aquarium will no longer keep whales, dolphins in captivity (January)

Animal rights ad not misleading, despite complaint it shows ‘extreme approach to dairying’ (January)

Cow escapes on way to slaughterhouse, smashes through metal fence, breaks arm of man trying to catch her, then swims to safety on island in lake (February)

Wales announces ban on circuses (February)

How Australian animal activists took on the cattle industry and won (February)

San Francisco bans sales of fur (March)

DKNY and Donna Karan ditch fur (March)

India bans import of seal fur, skin (April)

Costco sells 1 million vegan burgers in 60 days (April)

Researchers uncover plant-based vitamin B12 breakthrough (May)

Sales of cow’s milk decline as consumers switch to plant-based options (June)

Baby cow escapes slaughterhouse and is raised by deer family in snowy forest (June)

Lauren Ornelas becomes first woman of color inducted into the Animal Rights Hall of Fame (July)

Wales bans circuses (July)

Burberry goes fur-free (September)

Sri Lanka to ban animal sacrifices (September)

Canada’s Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphin Act clears the Senate (October)

Fashion leader Diane von Furstenberg announces fur-free policy (October)

Portugal bans wild animals in circuses (October)

Coach goes fur-free (October)

South Korea closes dog slaughterhouse amid activist pressure (November)

The end of animal-testing in China is in sight, says regulatory expert (December)

Ethical veganism could be considered a religion in landmark tribunal case (December)

Chanel bans fur and exotic animal skins (December)

Farm bill outlaws cat and dog meat in the US (December)

Virgin Trains is officially first UK rail operator to offer vegan-friendly menu (December)

Gradually, nervously, courts are granting rights to animals (December)


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