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Rescues, bans, and protests—any way you look at it, 2012 was an eventful year for animal activism. As I began reflecting on the last 12 months, I was heartened by just how vocal people were, and how their speaking out for animals helped to create positive changes. Our voices didn’t always result in an all-out victory, but even when they didn’t, we can still claim some success. Rather than rank these stories, I’ve put them in chronological order. Here are 12 for ’12:

1. Ireland bans puppy mills (January)

The year got off to a promising start as puppy farming was outlawed in Ireland. Puppy farms (or puppy mills) are commercial dog-breeding facilities that put profits above animal welfare—they’re like the factory farms of the pet industry. Irish dog-breeding establishments are defined as premises that keep six or more female dogs over the age of four months who are physically able to breed. These facilities became so ubiquitous in Ireland that the country was known as the Puppy Farm of Europe. Puppy_mill_Ireland

Unfortunately, not everyone has gotten the “Adopt, Don’t Buy” message, and many people continue to purchase dogs. In Ireland, puppy mill dogs have frequently been sold through small ads or the Internet and shipped to England at hugely inflated prices. The animals typically suffer from severe health problems and congenital conditions.

With the passage of the Dog Breeding Establishments Act 2010, which went into effect on January 1, all breeders must be registered with local authorities and they must keep dogs in housing that is clean and not overcrowded. The dogs must be given exercise and bedding material, as well as food and water, and female dogs must have no more than one litter of puppies in a year. These provisions will be enforced with mandatory veterinary inspections, and a register of breeders will include only breeders that meet the new standards.

2. Thousands of hens rescued from egg farm (February-March)

It’s been called the largest rescue of farmed animals in California history. More than 4,400 hens were saved from an egg farm in Turlock after the owner simply walked away from the operation and left behind 50,000 birds. Weeks went by before someone alerted authorities, but by that time, some 20,000 of the hens had starved to death. Others fell into giant manure pits under their cages and drowned. Twenty-five thousand more had to be euthanized. Farmed animal sanctuaries Animal Place, Farm Sanctuary, and Harvest Home took on the responsibility of caring for the hens and finding homes for them. In the meantime, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the law firm Schiff Hardin sued the owners of the egg farm to hold them responsible for their heinous cruelty. The farmers sought to have the case dismissed, but on December 5, the court rejected the farmers’ arguments, permitting the case to move forward.

3. Japan ends whale-slaughter campaign with less than a third of its target catch (March)

Everyone enjoys stories where the bad guy loses. So you gotta love that Japanese whalers went home with far fewer whales than they’d hoped for this year. According to Japan’s Fisheries Agency, whalers killed 266 minke whales and one fin whale, well below the approximately 900 they had been aiming for when they left Japan in December of 2011. “The catch was smaller than planned due to factors including weather conditions and sabotage acts by activists,” an agency official said. “There were definitely sabotage campaigns behind the figure.” Hot in pursuit of the whale killers was Sea Shepherd, hurling stink bombs at the boats and using ropes to try to tangle their propellers in a series of exchanges, which have seen the whalers retaliate with water cannon.

Every winter finds the Sea Shepherd crew plying the frigid Southern Ocean actively interfering with vessels from Japan’s Institute for Cetacean Research (ICR) as they search for whales to kill and “study.” A registered nonprofit, ICR claims it has no commercial stake in the hunts, yet whale meat from their government-subsidized “research” continues to be sold in Japanese seafood markets. Last December, the Fisheries Agency admitted that it had diverted US$29 million from Japan’s March 11, 2011, tsunami relief fund to subsidize the country’s whaling program and protect it from animal activists. The money evidently was used to equip the Shonan Maru 2 with unspecified security equipment designed to win the battle against Sea Shepherd.

With Sea Shepherd’s latest campaign about to begin, it will be interesting to see how they respond to the recent court injunction prohibiting them from attacking Japanese whaling ships.

4. Panama bans bullfighting and other cruel “sports” (March)

On March 15, Panama’s National Assembly approved an unprecedented bill—the first in the world to explicitly ban all forms of bullfighting, from the traditional Spanish corrida to so-called “bloodless” Portuguese-style bullfighting; despite the name, bulls are killed after leaving the bullring. Since bullfights were not taking place in Panama, this was a preemptive measure: With bullfighting losing ground in other countries (even Mexico City, home to the largest bullring on Earth, is considering a ban), Panamanians wanted to ensure the blood sport wasn’t exported there.

The new animal protection law, signed by President Ricardo Martinelli in November, also prohibits dog fighting, hare coursing, and greyhound racing, and it contains such strong regulations on circuses that it will effectively ban the use of animals in their performances. Sadly excluded from the law are bans on cockfighting and horse racing.

5. Italian activists liberate 30 beagles from Green Hill (April)

When animal advocates in Italy get active, they open a serious can of whoop ass. The story of the liberation of 30 beagles destined for vivisection is actually just one element of a much larger narrative—one with an ending that makes this, in my view, the most inspiring victory of the year. The drama began in October 2011, when five members of the group Fermare Green Hill got onto the roof of the beagle delivery building at Green Hill, Europe’s largest farm breeding dogs for research, near Milan. Among the clients of Green Hill are university laboratories, pharmaceutical companies, and the notorious Huntingdon Life Sciences in England.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Tino Verducci, a member of Fermare Green Hill, when he was in California for the recent Animal Liberation Forum, and he explained the impact of the roof occupation. “We managed to get five people on the roof for 30 hours. That was crucial, because we brought cell phones, video camera, computer, and so we managed to get media. We had TV, radio—all sorts of media. Being on the roof, we could hear the dogs. You have to bear in mind the perception of the people at home, who were listening to the puppies and dogs crying. As soon as the activists came down, all Italy went against vivisection. A poll a few months after said 86 percent of the Italian population was against it. This put a lot of pressure on the Italian government, and it raised awareness about activism. Every day for the next six months we continued our campaign to close down Green Hill. The pressure of the people was very beneficial because the Italian government decided to set up a law to ban vivisection for cats, dogs, and primates.” When I ask when the law goes into effect, Tino smiles. “In Italy, things go very, very slow,” he says.

beagle2All the media attention raised awareness and the ire of the Italian public, so it was no surprise when at least a thousand people showed up for a demonstration outside Green Hill on April 28. Protesters—some carrying signs reading “We are the 86%”—were so motivated to take action that a few hundred boldly stormed the facility and came back with a mother beagle and dozens of puppies. Dramatic photos of these animals being gingerly handed over the fence were posted around the world. Police arrested a dozen demonstrators and reportedly took back a few of the puppies. “Very important, though, is that the people in the local town were helping the activists by hiding the dogs—they knew police were checking everyone,” explains Tino.

Two months later, police raided Green Hill, where they discovered more than 100 bodies in the freezers. “Italian law states that any animal born must be microchipped and their birth recorded. The police found that the dogs in the freezers did not have microchips or birth records. This is crucial, because they were breaking the law. Police also found that [Green Hill’s owner] Marshall Farm, from the USA, tried to manipulate data, so police were very suspicious about all this.” The government seized some 2,700 dogs, according to Tino, and has shut the facility while it conducts its investigation. Meanwhile, the dogs have been placed in adoptive homes. Faced with the possibility they’ll have to relinquish the animals to Marshall Farm, the dogs’ guardians are ready to fight. “The people have said, ‘They’ll get the dogs over my dead body,’” says Tino. Rescued_beagle

Fermare Green Hill is set to take on Harlan Sprague Dawley, Inc., which breeds not only beagles, but marmosets, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, mice, gerbils, and hamsters, as well as hybrid, mutant, and transgenic animals. Bolstered by their latest success, Tino seems pretty confident. “Green Hill was a lesson to the vivisection industry and to activists everywhere that when people work together, they can change anything,” he says.

6. Activists block access to New Zealand’s largest egg producer (June)

EnrichedCageComparisonAfter an undercover investigation revealed that the conditions hens endured inside colony cages were little better than battery cages, campaigners with New Zealand Open Rescue and the Coalition to End Factory Farming spent four months creating a protest against New Zealand’s biggest egg producer: Mainland Poultry. The company had been testing colony cages, which are set to gradually replace existing battery cages over the next 10 years.

Deirdre Sims, Marie Brittain, and Mengzu Fu suspended themselves from the top of steel towering tripods on the road and chained to a gate, forming a blockade. The action “effectively shut down Mainland Poultry and halted the distribution of cruelly produced eggs to their suppliers,” said spokesperson Carl Scott, who last year spent a month inside a cage to protest the eggs Mainland sells. NZOpenRescue

“We risked our lives that morning, but Mainland Poultry now realize that we are highly capable of shutting them down, so it was definitely worth it,” says Deirdre. “This action served as a strong warning to Mainland Poultry and the egg industry that we are escalating our efforts. Our undercover investigation inside this Mainland Poultry colony cage facility revealed that hens are still suffering inside cages. We witnessed tens of thousands of birds crammed into colony cages, which are nothing more than modified battery cages. After decades of campaigning against cruel cage systems, enough is enough.”

7. California’s ban on foie gras takes effect (July)

It was more than seven years in the making. In 2004, California legislators passed a law prohibiting the sale of any product derived from the force-feeding of birds to enlarge their livers. The law—the only one of its kind in the United States—kicked in on July 1. The seven-and-a-half-year grace period was intended to give foie gras producers time to devise a less-cruel method for creating fatty livers. To no one’s surprise, they couldn’t.

California’s only foie gras producer, Sonoma Artisan Foie Gras, closed shop at the start of the ban. The state’s other previous suppliers—foie gras farms in New York and Quebec—have seen their sales in California evaporate since July 1.

For an insider’s view on this issue, lauren Ornelas has written a great blog post detailing how she and other activists achieved this victory.

8. Ben the Bear is granted permanent sanctuary (August)

Photo: PETA

Ben today. Photo by PETA

For six miserable years, Ben was confined to a tiny, barren kennel at a roadside zoo in North Carolina. He paced the concrete, gnawed at the metal fencing, and endured filthy conditions. After years of legal wrangling, including a lawsuit filed by ALDF and PETA, a judge signed an injunction allowing Ben to reside permanently at a California sanctuary operated by the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). Today, Ben enjoys a huge habitat, with grass, trees, and his own pond. When lauren and I visited Ben recently, we were told he spends every night sleeping outside—even in the rain—although he has a comfortable den. “He just loves being in the grass,” the PAWS docent said. Six years of sleeping on concrete will do that to you.

Click here for a short video telling the story of Ben’s rescue.

9. Adidas gives kangaroo skin the boot (September)

Its shoes have been worn by athletes since the 1920s, and today Adidas is one of the largest sportswear companies on the planet, thanks in part to its knack for innovation (it introduced, among other design enhancements, arch supports and spikes in track-running shoes). For years, Adidas manufactured several lines of football (soccer) cleats from the skins of kangaroos, thus subsidizing what the nonprofit Animals Australia describes as the largest land-based commercial wildlife slaughter in the world.

Central to the commercial killing is the debatable premise, perpetuated by farmers and ranchers, that the country’s estimated 25-60 million ‘roos are agricultural “pests” who compete with sheep for forage and destroy crops. With many Aussies convinced the destruction of these herbivorous marsupials is justified, the Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia makes a great effort to promote the animals as food and fiber resources. The primary argument made by most animal welfare groups is not that the kangaroos are being slaughtered, which is bad enough, but that the methods used for killing them are inhumane. Hunters are supposed to adhere to Australia’s National Code of Practice, a set of guidelines intended to minimize the pain and suffering of targeted kangaroos. According to the Code, shooters must hit the animal in the brain. Since hunting occurs at night at distances of 50 to 100 meters (164 to 328 feet), accurate shots to the head are difficult at best.

The Code also states that hunters must not kill protected species, and they should avoid shooting female kangaroos who have dependent young—two more directives that are impossible to fully comply with, particularly under nighttime shooting conditions. Only six of the 55 kangaroo species are allowed to be killed for commercial use—the Eastern Grey, the Red, the Western Grey, the common wallaroo (also called the Euro), the Bennett’s wallaby, and the pademelon (a type of wallaby)—but in the dark, who’s to say which species of kangaroo is being destroyed? Furthermore, baby kangaroos are considered a worthless byproduct of the industry, so when a mother ‘roo is targeted, her babies are also killed, multiplying the tragedy. Should a weaned baby (called a young-at-foot joey) escape being shot when his mother is killed, he hops off into the night to die by starvation, dehydration, or predation from foxes, hawks, or dingoes. There are also pouch joeys who are dragged from their dead or dying mother’s pouch; after experiencing the trauma of mama’s murder, these orphans get their heads cut off, bludgeoned, or bashed against the tow bar of a vehicle. Such are the killing methods recommended in the Code.

In September, after years of campaigning by Viva!, Viva!USA, and other groups, Adidas announced it was phasing out its use of kangaroo skin.

10. Bill and Lou make headlines (November)

It didn’t have the happy ending we were all hoping for, but the story of oxen Bill and Lou became a flashpoint for the debate about animals raised for food. Think about it: When was the last time so much attention was focused on two farmed animals? Their story was told in The New York Times and on NPR, among many other media outlets. James McWilliams frequently blogged about Bill and Lou as the drama unfolded and is currently writing an e-book about them. (Meanwhile, it should be noted, tens of millions of cows were being slaughtered with scarcely a peep of objection from most observers.) Bill_and_Lou

Some said all the interest in Bill and Lou only served to promote Vermont’s Green Mountain College (GMC), whose agriculture program exploited the two bovines for a decade and then, when Lou injured his leg and could no longer pull a plow, declared the pair should be killed and fed to the students. So vociferous was the public outcry that GMC found itself defending the economic, environmental, and ethical basis of its program. Citing health concerns, GMC says they euthanized Lou on November 11. It was a heartbreaking blow to countless people who’d asked the college to allow both animals to be placed in a sanctuary such as VINE, which had campaigned tirelessly on behalf of the oxen. But there’s no doubt in my mind that were it not for the pressure brought to bear on GMC, Bill would be dead, too. (He’ll evidently be kept alive on the campus farm.) Moreover, the conversation about these two animals fueled the general discussion about viewing animals as mere resources.

11. Costa Rica bans hunting as a sport (December)

Following a unanimous and final vote from Congress, Costa Rica became the first country in Latin America to ban hunting as a sport. Under the new law, those caught hunting can face up to four months in prison or fines of up to $3,000.

Costa Rica is one of the world’s most biodiverse nations, attracting foreign hunters in search of exotic cats and traders from the pet industry looking to snatch colorful parrots.  “We’re not just hoping to save the animals but we’re hoping to save the country’s economy, because if we destroy the wildlife there, tourists are not going to come anymore,” environmental activist Diego Marin, who campaigned for the reform, told local radio.

This is also Costa Rica’s first proposal that came to Congress by popular initiative, with 177,000 signatures calling for the ban submitted two years ago.

12. The Netherlands Senate votes to ban fur farming (December)

In the last decade, the Netherlands’ mink farming industry has grown from three million to an estimated six million minks killed every year, making them the world’s third largest producer of mink “pelts,” after Denmark and China. This month the Dutch Senate voted to ban mink fur farming, which comes after a 2012 inquiry by the Ministry of Agriculture revealed that 93 percent of the nation disapproves of killing animals for their fur. Mink fur farmers will have until 2024 to get out of this bloody business. The final step is a sign-off by the relevant Dutch Minister and the Queen.

Mink_FarmThe Netherlands’ fur industry currently operates 170 mink farms. Mink are typically kept in barren wire cages measuring little more than the length of a human arm. In their natural habitat, these animals would enjoy environmentally rich riverbank territories of up to three square miles. Due to the extreme stress of confinement, farmed mink routinely engage in self-mutilation and other abnormal behaviors.

The country banned fox fur farming in 1995 and chinchilla fur farming in 1997. The ban on mink fur farms will mean that in 12 years, fur farming in the Netherlands will be a practice about which the Dutch will shake their heads and say, “Can you believe we used to do that to animals?”

All in all, a pretty good year, I’d say. Is there a victory you think should have made the list?

In a few days, thousands of men and women from around the world will gather in Pamplona, Spain, to take part in the Fiesta de San Fermín—a nine-day, non-stop celebration in honor of a third-century saint. The “highlight” of the fiesta is the encierro—the running of the bulls. Each morning partygoers gather to run in front of six bulls and two steers as they make their way from the corral on one side of town to the bullring on the other. Foolhardy participants call it a thrill, a once-in-a-lifetime adventure they can go home and tell their friends about. For the bulls, it always ends in death.

Twenty years ago this week I was one of those foolhardy participants. I was neither a vegan nor an animal advocate at the time. My 1992 self knew nothing about the world of animal cruelty. I ate from the table of ignorance and wore the skins of animals without a single thought about who they might have come from.

But that summer, something in me shifted—a flickering of awareness, if you will—and it began in Pamplona.

It was a cool July morning when I stood among a throng of revelers packed into Ayuntamiento Square in front of Pamplona’s town hall. The Spaniards around me loudly prayed:  “A San Fermín pedimos, por ser nuestro patrón, nos guíe en el encierro dándonos su bendición.”  (“We ask San Fermín, as our patron, to guide us through the bull run and give us his blessing.”) The little prayer imbued the event with a feeling of spiritual significance.

The course, unchanged since the new bullring was built in 1852, is a mile of narrow cobblestone streets, freshly hosed down to remove the previous evening’s detritus, and barricaded with heavy timbers to keep the charging bulls in place. Many of the runners wore the traditional white shirt and pants with a red sash and carried a rolled-up newspaper.

At 8:00 a skyrocket boomed, and workers in the corral prodded the bulls through the open gate. People around me surged forward, pushing and stumbling. Everyone was watching for the bulls, craning their necks as they moved forward. Rounding a street corner, one bull slipped and fell on the slick cobblestone and was gored in the back by the bull behind him. The crowd watching the run thought this sickening sight was wonderful, and they cheered. Runners with newspapers whacked the other bulls as they ran past.

I turned right onto Estafeta Street, the event’s main drag of a quarter mile. Looking over my shoulder I saw four bulls, each weighing in excess of a thousand pounds, charge through the crowd, their brown heads and sharp horns rising and falling. The bulls thundered by, their imposing bulk surprisingly graceful. Never had I been so close to an animal so large, and I was surprised to see fear in their eyes.

Out of the narrow street, the bullring was a hundred yards ahead, but once the last bull was inside, the doors were swung closed. I made my way inside through the main entry off the plaza and joined an arena filled with spectators watching scores of bull-runners now taunting the bulls. They smacked them with their newspaper clubs in an effort to corral them into a holding pen beneath the stands. These same bulls would die in the afternoon bullfights. The audience cheered as young men poked and teased these regal animals, mocking them in their fate.

As I sat in the arena stands, I felt a deep wave of regret. Whatever excitement I had felt at participating in the encierro was suddenly eclipsed by contrition; in experiencing the fiesta, I had become a party to this spectacle. For the first time in my life, I saw these animals not as a commodity to be exploited, but as noble individuals wanting to live as much as I do.  And so I cheered when one of the bulls caught a young man from behind with his horns and, in one adroit movement of his massive neck, threw the man up and over his back. The man sailed over the bull and landed in the dirt like a discarded marionette.

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It is not uncommon for horses to be seriously injured or killed in bullfights.

Bullfighting is morally indistinguishable from dogfighting or cockfighting; perhaps the only difference is that in bullfights, humans play a more hands-on role in the torment of vulnerable animals. In the bullring, men on blindfolded horses chase the confused bull in circles and repeatedly stab the large lump of muscle on his back with lances. (It is not uncommon for the bull to gore a horse, who is then dragged off.) Next come the banderilleros—men who thrust sharp, brightly colored sticks into the bull’s neck. Dizzy and weak from blood loss, the bull then faces the “brave” bullfighter for his final moments of agony. The bullfighter is actually called the matador, which is, appropriately, Spanish for “killer.” The matador’s goal is to plunge a sword between the animal’s shoulder blades. The animals almost never die instantly, and even with the tremendous blood loss, they remain conscious as the matador cuts his ear off as a trophy. Fully cognizant and in indescribable pain, the bull is dragged from the bullring by ropes tied around his back legs.

*******

Not wanting to witness a bullfight, I left the Plaza del Toro and made my way back to Estafeta Street and found several tourists dressed in white shirts and pants with red sashes. They were pondering the sight of bull’s blood on the cobblestone. “That’s where he got it!” said a drunken man of about 25, pointing at a smear of crimson near the curb. Was I the only person to travel to Spain, run with the bulls and then feel shame?

It didn’t happen overnight, but soon after visiting Pamplona I began regarding all animals with an abiding respect. Gradually, I stopped eating cows, chickens, pigs and sheep, and I visited farms where these animals are cared for and allowed to live their natural lives. Watching them interact with other animals, it occurred to me that compassion is my religion, celebrated in kindness toward all beings. No scripture, no rituals, not even a prayer to a patron saint—just a reverence for all life.

Today, Pamplona’s Fiesta de San Fermín is greeted with protests.

*******

Around the world, opposition to bullfighting has been steadily growing. The Canary Islands (a nationality of Spain), for example, prohibited this bloody pastime in 1991, and last year, Spain’s Catalonia parliament banned bullfighting in the region. “We Catalans do not want bullfighting anymore,” said one observer. “Finally, it’s over.” This is Spain we’re talking about—a nation for whom bullfighting has been an entrenched tradition for centuries. But other governments are also taking heed of protests. Panama banned the spectacles this year, as did Colombia’s capital city of Bogotá. Mexico City is also considering a ban. In Portugal, the municipality of Viana do Castelo demolished the city’s only bullring and built a science and education center on the site. “The defense of animal rights is not compatible with spectacles that torture and impose unjustifiable suffering,” said the city’s mayor. The mayor’s sentiment reflects an increasing abhorrence to bullfighting worldwide, yet this blood “sport” is being exported to countries such as China and South Korea.

For more information about bullfighting and what you can do about it, please visit www.stopbullfighting.org.uk and the International Movement Against Bullfights.


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