Connecticut Animal Welfare Groups Passionately Protect Animals
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In his seminal 1923 work The Philosophy of Civilization, Albert Schweitzer wrote, “We must fight against the spirit of unconscious cruelty with which we treat the animals. Animals suffer as much as we do. True humanity does not allow us to impose such sufferings on them. Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living things, humanity will not find peace.” Roughly 80 years later, comedian Ricky Gervais said, “Dear intelligent people of the world, don’t get shampoo in your eyes. It really stings. There. Done. Now f--king stop torturing animals.” As time goes on, we, as “intelligent” people, still abandon our cats and dogs to the streets in harrowing numbers, hunt wild animals for sport and slaughter them inhumanely for food. Fortunately, there are many animal rights and animal welfare organizations in Connecticut working to secure our animals’ well-being.
Here are just a few.
Friends of Animals
Darien, (203) 656-1522 (friendsofanimals.org)
Established in New York in 1957 by Alice Herrington—and relocated to Darien in the 1980s under its current president, Priscilla Feral—the national organization Friends of Animals (FoA) initially had one goal in mind: to reduce the number of stray cats and dogs in the United States by offering low-cost spaying and neutering. It established a program whereby pet owners across the country could apply for and purchase a certificate (now $65), redeemable at a nationwide network of participating veterinarians. To date, FoA has issued 2.6 million of these certificates, which averages to nearly 35,000 procedures a year.
The organization has also led the charge in changing national attitudes about strays, robustly supporting the “no-kill” shelter movement that got underway in the 1990s, and endorsing the TNR, or trap-neuter-release approach for communities dealing with ever-expanding populations of feral cats (free-roaming strays abandoned by their owners, who have returned to a wild state—and the offspring of those cats). While the euthanization of shelter animals nationally is still carried out at an alarming rate—4 million a year, according to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)—those numbers appear to have declined dramatically of late in our state. According to the publication Animal People Online, Connecticut earned the commendable distinction of having the lowest shelter euthanization rate of all 50 states in 2012 (a total of 2,012 cats and dogs, or 0.6 per thousand, while the nationwide rate is 13.8 per thousand).
Over the years, as the FoA has acquired increasing competition from local grassroots organizations that also offer low-cost spaying and neutering—Connecticut has several, as well as a state government program offering discount vouchers to low-income households—its mission has expanded to include other national (and global) animal rights issues. It operates a wild-animal sanctuary in San Antonio, Texas, Primarily Primates, for abused animals caught up in the exotic pet trade and biomedical research.
In July, FoA joined with the endangered-species advocacy organization WildEarth Guardians in a suit against the National Marine Fisheries Service for “failure to grant Endangered Species Act protections to several imperiled marine species,” including the queen conch and whale shark. This summer, they also defended the rights of San Antonio’s carriage horses, calling for residents to speak out against a proposed regulation change that would permit drivers to work the horses in heat above 95 degrees with shorter rest periods than usual. (Soon thereafter, the city council passed an ordinance banning this proposal.) FoA has taken on animal-rights issues specific to Connecticut as well, one of its best-known actions being a lawsuit brought against United Illuminating in the 1990s over UI’s attempted eradication of monk parakeets (targeted for their inconvenient habit of building nests atop utility poles).
“We lost the lawsuit,” says Feral, “but there was such a community uproar that UI finally did stop killing the birds. That’s what I think animal advocacy work really is—it’s a form of community organizing.” Most recently, the group has been in the news for its opposition to the state’s proposed bear-hunt lottery bill.
Friends of Animals has been praised over the years for being one of the first organizations in the modern animal-rights movement to draw a distinction between “rights” and animal welfare. “The rights of wild animals are best respected by keeping our hands off of them,” Feral says. “The rights of these animals to simply live can be observed if we aren’t carving up all their habitats, poisoning or shooting them. But there’s also an animal-welfare standard in terms of providing animals that are dependent upon us with enrichment, decent housing, good health care and socialization, and a terrific diet. All the things that animal-rights proponents believe in are addressed by adhering to this standard.”