Our story so far
Animal Aid Director, Andrew Tyler, offers a few thoughts on the society’s continuing progress.
Animal Aid’s 30-year anniversary is the perfect time to recall the lessons of the past so that we can face the future better armed. Our objective – shared with the rest of the animal rights movement – is of heroic proportions. It is to end animal exploitation and cruelty. Knowing how far short we fall of that goal leads to some dark moments. But succumbing to defeatism is an indulgence we can’t afford. If we don’t continue striving to make things better then they will get worse. And our own lives will be more sorrowful, knowing that we chose to remain inactive in the face of great injustice.
We are far from inactive at Animal Aid. In fact, I am immensely proud of the work that we do, proud of our staff, of our UK-wide network of volunteer campaigners and of the movement to which we belong.
An outsider might regard those words as pious and even self-deluding. But the truth of them has sustained me personally over the challenging years that I have worked as Animal Aid’s Director.
So what have we learnt in 30 years? My own principal lesson is this: It is astonishing how much a small group of people can achieve if they are determined and unrelenting, and approach their goal in a rational manner. Numerous businesses involved in the dark arts of vivisection, pet dealing, fur retailing, zoo keeping and ‘gamebird’ shooting have closed down as a result of such focused pressure. And Animal Aid can claim its fair share of those successes.
Among our proudest accomplishments was to play the central role in stopping Cambridge University from building a massive new primate research centre – a battle that culminated, during 2003-4, in a successful public inquiry and a subsequent High Court challenge to the Deputy Prime Minister. Other notable gains over the years have included the virtual elimination of animal dissection as part of school science lessons; and pressing the John Lewis store group, which ran a large pheasant shoot for decades on its country estate, to close down the bloody operation. The Focus DIY chain ended its pet sales as a result of our campaigning; the massive annual bird fair, staged for decades by Cage & Aviary Birds magazine, also ended; and we played a leading role in getting a formal ban on pet fairs.
Such gains would merit just one cheer if they had not been accompanied by more resonant changes of attitude throughout society. Over the past 30 years, vegetarianism has moved from weirdo status to a diet widely recognised as benefiting human health and the environment, as well as one that spares animals great suffering. In recent times, veganism has also taken on a positive sheen. The general public now know the word and several celebrity A-listers have been keen to declare themselves dairy and meat-free.
It is true that this past year has been a tough one because of the assault on our movement by the vivisectionists and their allies in big business, government, the media and the judiciary. But there have also been positive developments.
The Political Party for the Animals won two parliamentary seats in the November 2006 Dutch general election.
The President of Slovenia declared himself to be a vegan and an anti-vivisectionist. His name is Dr Janez Drnovsek.
And a leading neuroscientist and Oxford graduate publicly announced his vehement opposition to that University’s planned new animal research laboratory. Marius Maxwell, a neurosurgeon at a specialist spine centre in the US, declared: ‘Many of my Oxford colleagues in world-class scientific laboratories, and in the humanities, are privately aghast at the ability of a small group of media-savvy vivisectionists to hold the debate hostage and thereby besmirch the international reputation of their university.’
Revelation and education are at the core of what we do. Education of the young is especially vital if, in the future, we want stewardship of the world in saner hands than at present. The quality and range of Animal Aid’s work in schools is incomparably greater than even three years ago, let alone 30.
I wrote earlier of the principal lesson I have learnt while working at Animal Aid – that small numbers of focused, dedicated people can achieve big successes.
There is another lesson worth sharing with you: we must never allow ourselves to be isolated from other social progress movements and branded as violent nuts with whom the ‘decent majority’ have nothing in common. We know that this is the outcome sought by the reactionary vested interests that are responsible for the stepped-up assault on our movement. But out on the streets, in the schools and in the wider world, we have a great deal of support for our message of compassion. With that thought in mind we can go forward with confidence.
How Animal Aid began
Animal Aid’s founder and first Director was the remarkable Jean Pink, a primary schoolteacher living in Tonbridge. A local librarian suggested she read Peter Singer’s book, Animal Liberation. Its shattering descriptions of animal exploitation in research labs and factory farms not only transformed Jean’s life but also marked the beginning of a vital new chapter in the fledgling animal rights movement.
She quit her job in 1977 and founded Animal Aid. Working initially from her kitchen table, she produced leaflets and petitions revealing the previously concealed horrors of vivisection. The established national anti vivisection groups were at that time in something of a slumber. So Jean took her message to the streets. Between November 1977 and July 1978 she organised and participated in more than 40 demonstrations in towns throughout the South East. Animal Aid grew in stature and the issue of vivisection rose high on the news agenda. Jean remained with the society she founded until 1984, by which time she had recruited Mark Gold as her successor (see Jean’s own account of those early days). Mark broadened Animal Aid’s remit to include all aspects of animal exploitation. He led the society for 12 years – a highly innovative period during which he launched the Living Without Cruelty concept, with its Christmas and summer fairs and a still-growing range of merchandise that is produced without resorting to animal exploitation. Allied to Mark’s concern for animal suffering is a sensitivity to the damage our greedy consumer culture does to the environment. He is the author of several books and reports on these subjects – and, happily, is still part of the Animal Aid team, editing Outrage and playing a key role in our 30-year anniversary celebrations.
- Our 16-month campaign resulted in Wyevale Garden Centres – the UK’s second biggest pet dealer – announcing the end of all pet sales (barring fish – whose sale we will continue to oppose).
- Our six-year campaign to expose widespread tax dodging by shoot operators has landed the industry with a bill of more than £20 million in unpaid VAT.
- Our long-standing campaign to inform the public about the thousands of annual horse deaths, that the racing industry has long kept hidden, is now attracting substantial national media coverage.
- Before Christmas, we provoked a national debate through our argument that promoting gifts of farm animals to destitute communities in the ‘developing’ world simply adds to human impoverishment and produces an animal welfare nightmare.