Others have tried for nearly 200 years
ASHEVILLE, North Carolina––“We’re a traditional dog and cat rescue group,” opened Brother Wolf Animal Rescue community outreach manager Caitlin Campbell in a recent media release, “and we’ve started a campaign to encourage fellow animal rescue groups across the country to adopt a public vegan policy in response to the urgent crises of climate change and mass species extinction now underway.”
Similar campaigns have been attempted since the formation of the Royal SPCA in 1824, and with increasing urgency at least since Earth Day 1970, when advocacy of a meatless diet was briefly advanced as part of the environmental agenda.
But perhaps the timing is finally right.
Flood & fire
The need to address global warming with more than just politicized hot air has been felt in recent months through the impacts of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, plus catastrophic wildfires in California.
The contributions of the meat and dairy industries to global warming were meanwhile underscored by a November 6, 2017 report jointly published by the advocacy organization Grain, the Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy, and the Heinrich Boll Institute.
“Three meat companies––JBS, Cargill and Tyson––emitted more greenhouse gases last year than all of France, and nearly as much as some of the biggest oil companies, like Exxon, BP and Shell,” Grain, IATP, and the Heinrich Boll Institute pointed out, adding that “Twenty meat and dairy companies emitted more greenhouse gases in 2016 than all of Germany, which is by far Europe’s biggest climate polluter.”
Though comparable data was presented at Earth Day 1970 teach-ins, the humane societies and other animal advocacy organizations of that era conspicuously ignored it.
Allegations of a “mass species extinction now underway” were also part of the Earth Day 1970 pitch both for caring people and organizations to go meatless.
Indeed, Earth Day 1970 was declared in part to help promote passage of the Endangered Species Act, adopted in 1973.
The claim of an impending “mass species extinction” was an emotive part of the campaign leading up to the first Earth Day, at a time when the U.S. still had a small commercial whaling fleet (disbanded in late 1969), wolves had been extirpated from the Lower 48 states nearly 50 years earlier, and even bald eagles, the national bird, once common in every state but Hawaii, were in free-fall decline.
Few documented species losses
But while the notion that Earth is experiencing “mass species extinction” caught on, gaining cultural momentum ever since, serious science suggests otherwise.
Such claims “are based on computer modeling, and documented losses are tiny by comparison,” observed science and climate journalist Fred Pearce in a 2015 analysis for Yale Environment 360.
“Only about 800 extinctions have been documented in the past 400 years, according to data held by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature,” Pearce summarized. “Out of some 1.9 million recorded current or recent species on the planet, that represents less than a tenth of one percent. Nor is there much documented evidence of accelerating loss.”
Biodiversity is up
Indeed, the pace of documented species loss has been far exceeded by the pace of species discovery, and––since the advent of recombinant DNA research––of human-directed species creation.
Even where some extinctions have been confirmed, chiefly on islands, species introductions are “more than compensating in local species richness for the restricted endemic forms that have disappeared,” in the words of University of New Mexico biology professor James H. Brown and University of Georgia Institute for Ecology assistant professor Dove Sax, who laid out the details in the April/June 2007 edition of the journal Conservation.
But biomass of humans & “food animals” is ever-greater share
While net biodiversity is up, however, it is true that net biomass of wildlife on land has declined lately. The total biomass of mammals, birds, and reptiles may be greater than ever before, but an ever greater proportion of that biomass consists of humans and the animals we raise to produce food, chiefly cattle, pigs, and chickens.
Net biomass of animals at sea is much harder to calculate. However, the combination of overfishing, climate change, destruction of spawning habitat, and acidification eroding the shells of shellfish appear to have tipped the balance steeply away from the species humans most often eat, toward more abundance and diversity of jellyfish since before the evolution of vertebrates circa 450 million years ago.
In short, even without any plausible threat of mass extinction, or a “Sixth extinction,” as the notion is often phrased, giving up meat will help to enhance wildlife abundance.
Can Brother Wolf sell the idea?
But can Brother Wolf sell the idea to the humane community?
First, while Brother Wolf is dog-and-cat-focused, despite the promotional rhetoric offered by Caitlin Campbell, it is anything but “a traditional dog-and-cat rescue group.”
Indeed, founder Denise Bitz has frequently emphasized in previous media communications that Brother Wolf is not very traditional in much of anything.
Founded in 2007, operating from multiple locations in western North Carolina, with 48 employees, raising $3.2 million in 2015, more than seven times as much as in 2011 and more than 25 times as much as in 2009, Brother Wolf might more accurately be described as one of the fastest-growing and most ambitious non-traditional dog-and-cat charities in the world, more-or-less modeled after the Best Friends Animal Society.
Indeed, from 2006 to 2013, Brother Wolf executive director Paul Berry was the Best Friends Animal Society general manager.
Despite sharing the Asheville metropolitan area of just 425,000 people with two other humane organizations of significant size, the $2.9-million-a-year Asheville Humane Society and the $2.5-million-a-year Humane Alliance, Brother Wolf seems to work comfortably with both, and with most of the many other dog-and-cat rescue organizations serving neighboring counties.
Instead of emphasizing high-volume adoption from the Brother Wolf facilities, Bitz told Bryan Fanney of the Raleigh News & Observer in January 2013, her organization “passes on the animals that we think traditional shelters can place,” to “take the ones who have medical issues or behavioral problems.”
Frequently that means pit bulls and Rottweilers.
The Asheville Humane Society in June 2015 rehomed a pit bull who killed six-year-old Joshua Strother just a few weeks later. Pit bulls and Rottweilers from other North Carolina shelters and rescues seriously injured at least five people in the first 10 months of 2017.
But if Brother Wolf has had any such incidents, word of them has yet to reach ANIMALS 24-7. Engaging in high-profile pit bull advocacy, Brother Wolf may just have been lucky.
Vegan policy since 2015
Brother Wolf adopted a vegan policy and formed the subsidiary organization Asheville Vegan Outreach in 2015. This was hardly a traditional direction for dog-and-cat rescue groups even in the coastal cities with the greatest concentrations of vegans, let alone in the rural South.
Indeed, persuading dog-and-cat rescue organizations to adopt even relatively conservative vegetarian polices governing the food served at their own fundraising events has been a hard sell since 1830, when Royal SPCA of Great Britain cofounder Lewis Gompertz bailed the six-year-old society out of bankruptcy, but was expelled for advocating veganism, then called Pythagoreanism.
First Earth Day
The word “vegan,” though coined by Vegan Society founder Donald Watson in 1944, was still generations from winning widespread public recognition in 1970.
But the ideas now advanced by Brother Wolf were advanced at Earth Day 1970 teach-ins by scientists including Population Bomb authors Paul and Anne Ehrlich, resource economist Lester Brown, Small Is Beautiful author E.F. Schumacher, toxicologist Bruce Ames, Diet For A Small Planet author Frances Moore Lappe, and entomologist Ron Stecker, among others.
Together, they pointed out that no action accessible to every individual can do more to prevent hunger and conserve fossil fuels, water, forest and topsoil than abandoning meat.
Nor does any action do more to show regard for fellow living beings, many prominent speakers mentioned, than ceasing to eat them.
HSUS & ASPCA rejected the message
They challenged the humane community to help lead the emerging environmental movement toward a vegetarian future––meaning, for most of them, a vegan future.
Sixteen years elapsed before the Humane Society of the U.S. very tentatively tested, then cancelled a “Breakfast of Cruelty” campaign recommending cereal for breakfast instead of bacon and eggs. The “Breakfast of Cruelty” campaign was abandoned, some HSUS higher-ups admitted, because it made donors uncomfortable.
Five years after that, in 1991, the American SPCA sacked the late John Kullberg, after Kullberg had headed the ASPCA through 14 years of unprecedented growth, because Kullberg had advocated vegetarianism against the wishes of meat-eating board members.
Meat-chompers ate the movement
The generation of environmental organizations formed around the first Earth Day meanwhile soon set aside their early endorsements of vegetarianism to seek greater public acceptance; sought political clout by courting hunter/conservationists; and eventually allowed hunter/conservationists to set the agenda.
By the 10th Earth Day, in 1990, the environmental movement had already been swallowed by the meat-chomping old guard it originally opposed.
Animal rights, vegetarian, and vegan organizations have since then made many efforts to persuade dog-and-cat humane societies to stop serving meat at public events. The first noteworthy success came in 1995, when the original No Kill Conference series became the first conference serving the dog-and-cat sector to introduce a meatless policy.
The Humane Society of the U.S. adopted a meatless policy for HSUS conferences and events ten years later, in 2005. But to this day few of the local and regional dog-and-cat organizations sending delegates to HSUS events each year have meatless policies, and neither HSUS nor any other national organization specifically serving the dog-and-cat rescue community has pushed hard in that direction.
“Animal welfare organizations have been challenged”
On the contrary, and with dismaying frequency, local dog-and-cat rescue charities still promote fundraising events featuring meat products and even crabs and lobsters who have been boiled alive.
Said Campbell, “It is true that animal welfare organizations have been challenged in the past to adopt vegan policies. Our plea to animal welfare and rescue groups comes from being on the front lines during disaster response and connecting the dots between these disasters and the cataclysmic animal industries. Our disaster recovery work in response to catastrophic floods and wild fires across the southeast has increased significantly over the past few years. These catastrophic events can set back years of progress in the areas we serve, as thousands of animals can be displaced by a single event in just a matter of days or weeks.
“We know we can no longer depend on government or industry to create meaningful change. If we have any hope for real change, it will come from the grassroots.”
Ethical responsibility toward every animal
The Brother Wolf campaign centers on trying to collect at least 100,000 signatures on an electronic petition urging animal charities to adopt meatless policies.
But can 100,000 signatures succeed when even the example of millions of donors contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to actual vegan and vegetarian charities has not? When vegan food products are already sold in almost every supermarket?
Some day local humane societies and rescues may mostly go vegan or vegetarian, but that day is likely to come only when––and if––those organizations accept an ethical responsibility toward every animal, not just the dogs and cats who currently claim almost all of their attention and concern, and of course attract most of their resources.