THE BLOG
11/21/2014 05:05 pm ET Updated Jan 21, 2015

The HSUS Celebrates a 60-Year Quest to Stop Cruelty to All Animals

Simon Winnall via Getty Images

It was 60 years ago, on November 22, that four individuals founded The HSUS, with grand ambitions but only a few nickels in their pockets. At the time, there were just 500 or so local humane organizations scattered across 3,100 counties. Like islands, with scant connection and sense of unity, they lacked resources and, to a degree, a connection to a cause larger than their own operations. They were often disassociated from the larger dynamics driving animal homelessness and cruelty. It was within this context that our founders stepped up to provide effective national leadership and vision. The HSUS didn't seek to duplicate the work of local groups, but helped them run better and to grow the humane movement as a whole.

Above all, Fred Myers and the other founders of The HSUS resolved to confront national cruelties beyond the reach of local societies, and to restore the broad scope of the early humane movement's focus on a full array of animal cruelties. They crafted an ambitious motto: "Every field of humane work -- everywhere!" They somehow scraped together enough dollars to sustain an organization aligned with their vision and committed to helping all animals.

In the post-World War II era, their first campaigns helped pass a federal humane slaughter law and restrict the seizure of pets from shelters for use in animal experiments. They realized that we would not be able to rescue our way out of the problems -- but needed to prevent cruelty by raising awareness, professionalizing our entire field of work, and driving sound public policies and corporate reforms.

If Myers and the others could see us today, I think they'd be very pleased that The HSUS, more than any other organization, has framed the debate about animal protection in society. They could never have anticipated the range and reach of our work in 2014. With nearly 1,000 staff members and consultants, and millions of volunteers and other supporters, we're confronting the biggest forms of cruelty, no matter how maligned or disregarded the animal or how entrenched the abuse.

  • Three decades ago, just four U.S. states had felony penalties for malicious animal cruelty and only a dozen made dogfighting a felony -- with a half dozen states actually allowing legal cockfighting. Today, malicious animal cruelty and dogfighting are felonies in all 50 states, and cockfighting is banned in all states. It's a federal felony to engage in animal fighting or to sell videos depicting animal cruelty.
  • A decade ago, nearly all veal calves, pregnant pigs and egg-laying hens were confined in crates and cages so small that the animals could barely move. Since then, we've successfully campaigned to lead the veal industry to completely phase out veal crates (by 2017) and gained wide acceptance from leaders in the egg industry that they must abandon barren battery cages. We've also caused several big pork producers to phase out gestation crates, and more than 60 major food retailers -- from McDonald's to Costco to Safeway -- to stop buying from factory farms that confine the animals so severely. Prop 2, our landmark 2008 ballot measure to give farm animals more space to live, is set to take effect on January 1st, 2015.
  • Just this year, with Humane Society International helping drive the reforms, the European Union and India -- with nearly 1.7 billion consumers between them -- forbid selling any cosmetics products tested on animals in-country or anywhere else in the world. The U.S. government is moving nearly all the chimpanzees it owns from laboratories to sanctuaries and has stopped funding research that involves dogs and cats acquired from "random source" dealers.
  • Only three nations in the world continue to conduct commercial whaling, while whale watching is now a multi-billion-dollar industry. We've reduced Canada's seal slaughter by 75 percent, upholding an EU ban on imports of seal skins, and restricted the import of tuna that is not dolphin-safe, into the United States.
  • Today, 45 states restrict the keeping of dangerous wild animals as pets, and the federal government restricts importing and transporting a wide range of species, including several species of large, constricting snakes and big cats, for the pet trade. We have helped pass more humane breeding standards for dogs in 35 states, and, at the federal level, banned imports of dogs from foreign puppy mills, and finally achieved federal oversight of Internet sellers of dogs and cats. We've normalized the discussion of spay-and-neuter and adopting, and helped drive the reduction in euthanasia over the last 40 years from 15 million dogs and cats to three million today.

We are heartened by this progress but mindful of immense challenges ahead. Here's what we see in the years to come:

  • Ending euthanasia of healthy and treatable pets in the United States and protecting street dogs globally: In the United States, by expanding our Pets for Life mentorship programs, we'll be helping communities where there are an estimated 23 million pets living in poverty and where their caretakers do not have access to spay/neuter and other critical wellness services. HSI will expand its sterilization and vaccination programs, focusing on Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Mauritius, Mexico, Nepal, Panama, the Philippines and Puerto Rico, which together have an estimated 25 million street dogs.
  • Reducing suffering for billions of animals on factory farms: We will continue to take this issue head on -- seeking the elimination of extreme confinement and promoting the substitution of more humane practices, conducted principally by family farmers. Because we believe it not a practical goal to raise nine billion animals humanely and sustainably, we'll encourage consumers to reduce their meat consumption, just a bit, starting in the United States. Making better food choices -- say, by skipping meat one day a week -- will yield enormous results for human health, the global environment and animal welfare.
  • Securing animal cruelty laws throughout the world: Today, approximately half the nations around the globe have some form of anti-cruelty legislation. We will seek to convince at least 20 additional countries to adopt statutes in the next 10 years, with the ultimate goal of building a comprehensive, global legal framework against cruelty, as we've done across the United States.
  • Curbing wildlife cruelty and ushering in a new era of humane wildlife management: We will target the worst abuses of wildlife and urge a more enlightened paradigm of wildlife management, characterized by use of non-lethal methods to control wildlife conflicts, a more active use of fertility control and other technologies to manage wildlife populations humanely, and the promotion of non-consumptive wildlife tourism. We'll push states to ban the use of highly toxic lead ammunition by sport hunters, outlaw the possession of dangerous wild animals as pets and at roadside zoos, and halt the reckless killing of marine mammals and terrestrial predators, especially by inhumane means.
  • Replacing animal testing and research with 21st century science: The HSUS and HSI will drive progress toward replacing animal testing with transformative research and technologies, adding Brazil, China, Russia and the United States to the community of nations that forbid cosmetics testing on animals. We'll also work with the leaders of the world's top scientific nations -- in the European Union, United States, Canada and Japan -- to fully replace animal tests with a new conceptual framework and advanced, human-biology-based technologies, with the goal of substantially ending toxicity testing on animals by 2025.

And, of course, we'll continue fighting to stop the slaughter and soring of American horses, end the killing of dogs for their meat in Southeast Asia, restrict the private ownership of wild animals, stop the trade in ivory and rhino horn, end shark finning, rescue animals in need, and do so much more.

More than anything, animals need a powerful, strategic organization that can provide immediate relief and rescue, as well as shape opinion and drive corporate and public policies. That's what you have in The HSUS. But as we take our movement to the next level of success, we need your active support and participation more than ever. Let's look back with pride on the past 60 years and celebrate this milestone in our history. But let's also unite to drive even more meaningful reform in the months and years ahead.

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P.S. A humane future also begins with you. Have a look at our vision for what lies ahead, and tell us yours as well.

This article first appeared on Wayne Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.