Sometimes we forget that there are people all over the world fighting for change, educating others, rescuing animals and inspiring solutions that will make our world a kinder place. Here, we celebrate nine extraordinary women on the front line of animal advocacy.
Thanks to a project by acclaimed photographer Jo-Anne McArthur and Dr Keri Cronin of the Department of Visual Arts, Brock University, we can take inspiration from some of these talented women. Together, they show us just how many ways there are to effect change, and how one person can make the world of difference.
What kind of person starts a political party that focuses on protecting animals and leads it to great success? Please step forward Marianne Thieme. Devastated by the 2002 elections in her homeland, the Netherlands, where farmers’ representatives were lobbying to reverse animal welfare measures achieved over 20 years, Marianne decided to fight fire with fire. She determined to launch a political party that would not only maintain protections for animals, it would expand them. She co-founded Party for the Animals.
‘You can imagine how people mocked us’, she says. ‘But from the very beginning Party for the Animals had powerful support from feminists, famous authors, intellectuals and opinion leaders – all people ‘who saw us as the next emancipation movement. After the liberation of slaves, women, giving rights to children, the next logical step was to consider the interests of animals seriously, to look beyond the interests of our own species.’
Thieme’s party has come a long way. Today Party for the Animals has five seats in the House of Representatives, three seats in the Dutch Senate and one MEP.
After a decade in the United States, Ahmad returned to her home country of Bangladesh and there adopted three street dogs. She had them vaccinated and sterilised, put collars on them and took care of them, but she felt that locking them in her tiny flat all day would be cruel and so they – like many others – lived on the streets. Ahmad wasn’t worried; all the neighbours knew they were hers.
But then one of them, a sweet trusting soul named Kashtanka, was caught by the culling gang and poisoned to death. It was an experience that utterly changed Ahmad’s life. Soon after, she founded Bangladesh’s first animal welfare organisation, Obhoyaronno – which roughly translates to ‘Sanctuary.’ In 2012, she launched a vaccination and sterilisation programme, and in 2014, following Ahmad’s campaigns, Dhaka city agreed to end dog culling. It was an important victory, but she was just getting started. Ahmad petitioned the city to end dog and cock fighting, and again was successful.
She then turned her focus to promoting veganism. As a result, local schools have now adopted Meatless Mondays and the number of vegan foods available in local shops and restaurants has grown. She gives talks, holds brunches, started a vegan meal delivery service and offers cookery courses. She is a powerhouse of advocacy!
“Even the worst day of doing something is better than the best day of doing nothing. It’s more difficult to do nothing.”
Nebiyeloul was living in New York on 9/11. The smell that hung in the air after the attacks is still etched in her memory, but she couldn’t pinpoint what it was until she passed a street vendor selling hamburgers. And then it struck her – it wasn’t hamburgers. The epiphany made it suddenly very clear to her: we are all the same.
In 2011, Nebiyeloul returned to her native Ethiopia and co-founded International Fund for Africa (IFA), which serves humans and animals alike. It includes vocational training for people with limited economic opportunities, improved sanitation in schools, a program that helps girls make reusable menstrual pads, significant investments in maternal and newborn health care, mobile clinics for working animals, sterilization and vaccinations for street dogs, a donkey sanctuary and so much more.
“Animal flesh and human flesh, when you burn it, it’s one smell. That’s when I said no more animal products.”
It all began for Akhtar as a child, when she would join her mother to protest pigeon, deer and turkey hunts, travelling long distances along the coast to attend demonstrations. When a hunter pulled a knife on her mother, she recalls her mother saying quite calmly, ‘Go ahead, I dare you’. Such courage within compassion had a profound effect on Akhtar.
Akhtar brings incredible compassion and integrity to her work. A leader in the field of animal ethics and neurology, has looked closely at vivisection. She argues that animal experiments are largely ineffective because we can’t rely on them to predict human outcomes due to interspecies differences in physiology. The questions we should be asking, she says, are: ‘Is animal experimentation the most useful and most effective way to get information today? Do animal experiments accurately predict what we are going to find in humans?’ Akhtar’s work in this area demonstrates that the answer to both questions is a resounding no.
It all began when, aged eight, Theo picked up an anti-vivisection magazine and came across a photo of a dog with his head weakly hung across the bars of his wooden cage. A sign above him read: ‘No food. Just water.’ He was being used in a starvation experiment. Soon she was donating her lunch money to help animals in labs.
She joined the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS) first as a board member, and later as its executive director. With Theo at the helm, NEAVS persuaded the first veterinary school to end ‘terminal surgery labs’ in which dogs were killed, spearheaded the campaign that stopped chimpanzee research in the United States, and rescued hundreds of animals from lives of torture. Each is an incredible achievement. Together, they constitute an extraordinary step forward for the animal protection movement.
“You have to be the kind of person who won’t take no for an answer.”
6. Haile Thomas
Haile is a vegan activist and social media influencer who founded the non-profit The Happy Org when she was 12 years old. She wanted to bring plant-based nutritional education to youth in some of the country’s most underserved communities and to empower young people and their families to make health and lifestyle choices that are good for them, for animals, and for the planet. She still serves as its CEO.
The Happy Org provides nutrition and humane education to young people through cooking classes, summer camps, and in-school programmes, and through this work, Haile is improving individual health outcomes and, in turn, public health outcomes for entire communities.
7. Cora Bailey
Founder of the organisation Community Led Animal Welfare (CLAW), Cora has dedicated herself to helping animals across Johannesburg’s townships for nearly three decades. It began in 1991, back when she was a board member for the local SPCA, before South Africa’s first democratic elections and in the midst of apartheid and a vicious civil war.
After massacres, Cora would visit their scenes to collect the animals who had been left behind, injured and starving but she learned quickly, that if you want to help animals, you have to help humans, too. Today, CLAW’s has a clinic, a shelter and mobile clinics in the townships. It also distributes food, runs community gardens, assists child-headed households, and teaches people how to care for the sick and dying.
Lumka is an emergency first responder for Community Led Animal Welfare (CLAW) in South Africa, which brings her face to face with dire suffering on an almost daily basis.
In South Africa it is common for people to keep dogs for security reasons and she has seen many instances where dogs are deliberately kept underfed in the hopes that they would then, in turn, act as better guard dogs. But, Lumka tells them, you can’t expect dogs to act as security if they are hungry. She encourages people who leave their dogs tied up outside to bring them in.
Lumka was taught compassion for animals when she was young by her father, and – having lived with many rescued animals – she tries to show people how to pay attention to animals’ needs and what they are trying to communicate.
“We just need to look deep into them, to understand their feelings and to listen to them.”
With more than one hundred dogs in her shelter outside Kathmandu, it is hard to imagine that Sneha once did not even like dogs. It was only when one of those puppies, a dog named Zara, found her way into Sneha’s heart that everything changed. When Sneha came home from work one day to find a neighbour had poisoned Zara, Sneha was devastated. ‘In Hindu culture, when a family member dies, we don’t eat anything for 13 days. I did this for my dog.’
Zara’s death changed the way Sneha saw the city’s street dogs. She started feeding them and paying for space at a local kennels. Within a month, the kennel was full, but the animals’ need was still so great. Sneha sold a house she owned and set up Sneha’s Care. She is now one of Nepal’s most vocal and visible animal advocates and has successfully campaigned for the introduction of the country’s first animal welfare laws.
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