“Promises, promises,” to the skirl of bagpipes
Soon-to-retire longtime Animal Concern campaign director John Robins, being a Scot who may never have seen a baseball game, is not known to have ever used a metaphor borrowed from baseball.
(See “Eejit” John Robins shuffles off after 41 years fighting for animals in Scotland.)
Robins is known, however, for keen skepticism of “Victory!” declarations from multi-million-dollar animal advocacy groups when all they have actually achieved is the equivalent of reaching first base, with second and third bases yet to touch before the final dash to home plate to score a run, and then nine more innings to play to secure a win.
Celebrating “history” that hasn’t happened yet
Compassion In World Farming issued such a declaration on June 30, 2021, headlined “EU ANNOUNCES HISTORIC CAGE BAN.”
In the first paragraph, Compassion In World Farming “wholeheartedly welcomed the European Union’s historic decision to phase out cages in animal farming across the continent by 2027.
Beneath a second all-caps subheading, “AN END TO CRUEL CAGES,” Compassion In World Farming alleged that the European Commission “plans to prohibit cages for over 300 million hens, mother pigs, calves, rabbits, ducks, geese and other farmed animals every year, looking at a phase-out by 2027.”
And “history” that maybe never will happen
But what did the European Commission actually do?
Below that, Compassion In World Farming acknowledged that the European Commission “announced that it will put forward a legislative proposal by the end of 2023 to phase out and ban the use of cages for farmed animals. That proposal will need the approval of the European Parliament and the Council of the EU.”
In other words, there is no “historic cage ban,” and no actual “end to cruel cages.”
Rather, two and a half years after Compassion In World Farming declared victory, the European Commission has promised to propose something which will still have to clear two legislative hurdles before the hypothetical “phase-out” begins, six years from the victory declaration at earliest.
Passing the buck, not the bill
Eurogroup for Animals issued a similar declaration on September 16, 2021 after “The European Parliament called on the European Commission to put forward an action plan to facilitate the reduction and replacement of animals in science.”
What did the European Parliament really do?
Explained Eurogroup for Animals, “The European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on the European Commission to establish a EU-wide action plan for the active phase-out of the use of animals in experiments. The plan shall include milestones and targets to incentivize progress towards the replacement of the use of animals with non-animal and human-based methods.”
European Union agency ignores own law
Not to be left out of anything that can be construed as a “victory” while having no tangible substance whatever, Humane Society of the United States president Kitty Block and Sara Amundson, president of the subsidiary Humane Society Legislative Fund, on September 26, 2021 claimed their own share of what they called “a momentous political victory in a region where recent setbacks have occurred for animals in laboratories.
“Top on the list of setbacks,” Block and Amundson were honest enough to admit, “is the revelation that the European Chemical Agency has disregarded the longstanding ban on animal testing for cosmetics [adopted by the European Union in 2013] by demanding additional animal data for dozens of cosmetic ingredients, which has already killed an estimated 25,000 animals.”
The European Chemical Agency is an office of the European Union. The European Union is directed by the European Parliament and the European Commission.
If the European Parliament and the European Commission cannot even secure compliance with their directives by their own in-house agencies, why should anyone of good sense become excited by their resolutions to develop plans, years from now, to introduce legislation which may or may not be adopted many more years from now, to likewise be ignored?
“Thrilled” that politicians say they will talk about live exports
Having left the European Union, the United Kingdom is now in the process of drafting new national legislation to replace the various European Union directives on animal welfare, enforced or otherwise.
Blogged Royal SPCA head of campaigns and public affairs David Bowles on September 22, 2021, “Here at the RSPCA, we’ve been campaigning to ban live animal exports for more than half a century. Today, we’re thrilled that the government has announced a consultation into finally ending the suffering of farm animals shipped on grueling journeys from the UK to the Continent.”
A “consultation,” in Parliamentary parlance, is the same thing as a “hearing” in U.S. governmental language. Bowles may indeed be thrilled that the U.K. government at least recognizes live animal exports as a topic worthy of holding a hearing about, but this, again, is the equivalent of reaching first base, a very long way short of becoming even a legislative proposal to ban live exports, let alone an actual ban.
Further to be remembered is that the powerful agricultural lobby has yet to come to bat against any ban on live exports that might actually be drafted and proposed.
Robins & the Royal SPCA
In fairness, Robins has not addressed any of the above recent examples of big animal advocacy organizations declaring victory prematurely, but probably only because ANIMALS 24-7––familiar with his views about similar declarations––has not yet asked him explicitly what he thinks of them.
It is also theoretically possible that Robins has not yet volunteered his tuppence, this time, out of diplomacy toward the major British-based animal charities involved, but Robins has rarely been suspected of undue diplomacy, even toward supposed allies, when they mislead animal advocates at expense of the animals they are supposedly helping.
Robins and the Royal SPCA have long been on the same side of the live export issue and many other issues involving farmed animals.
Robins has even at times been complimentary of Royal SPCA efforts.
Foot-&-mouth epidemic could have marked a turning point
In 2001, for example, after an accidental import of foot-and-mouth disease into the United Kingdom caused the slaughter of six million cattle, sheep, pigs, and other hoofed animals in largely futile attempts to keep the epidemic from spreading, Robins reminded Animal Concern members that, “The hoof-and-mouth epidemic might have been prevented entirely if the Ministry for Farms & Food had responded effectively to humane concerns about Burnside Farm relayed to ministry inspectors in mid-December 2000 by Martin Coutts of the Hillside Animal Sanctuary Investigations Unit and the RSPCA.”
This case and several other cases of alleged neglect of farmed animals prosecuted by the Royal SPCA reportedly had links to the livestock dealer who was believed to have spread hoof-and-mouth throughout southwest England, with ties to more than 80 outbreaks.
“Maybe now farmers and politicians will finally realize that pigs, sheep, and cattle are sentient, living creatures, and not inanimate products to be shipped around like crates of cabbages,” Robins hoped, reiterating the longstanding Animal Concern call for a ban on al live exports and long domestic journeys for farm animals.
“If people are going to eat meat, the animals should be slaughtered as near as possible to the farms where they were reared,” Robins finished.
Seals & salmon are animals too
But, since 2008, Robins has repeatedly objected that the Royal SPCA farmed animal product certification program Freedom Food, now renamed RSPCA Assured, endorses farmed salmon from offshore pens whose personnel shoot marauding seals.
As well as railing against the egregious seal massacres, which allegedly most often result from breaks in poorly maintained sea pen netting, Robins has outspokenly denounced the cruelty to fish involved in salmon farming.
Animal Equality U.K. in February 2021 shared video with Stornoway Gazette reporter John A. MacInnes showing Scottish Salmon Company workers, in MacInnes’ words “leaving fish to suffocate on the floor, repeatedly coshing [clubbing] fish to kill them, and causing unnecessary pain and suffering by cutting live fish through the gills leaving them to bleed to death.”
Charged Robins, “Police Scotland, the Scottish SPCA, the Royal SPCA Assured scheme and retailers who sell salmon from the many floating factory farms in Scottish waters are all implicated in allowing this cruelty to go on, perhaps for the last forty years.
“They must investigate the whole industry with a view to bringing criminal charges,” Robins said, “not just issuing new codes of conduct which are not worth the paper they are printed on.”
(See Complaining that seals cause “stress,” farm cuts gills from salmon alive.)
“The Royal SPCA should lead by example”
Robins was comparably unimpressed when in November 2010 the Royal SPCA called for “mandatory closed circuit television in all British abattoirs,” to “improve the monitoring and enforcement of legislation and improve general animal welfare.
“The RSPCA believes that this is possible and many of the slaughterhouses currently approved by the RSPCA’s Freedom Food already have closed circuit television installed,” the RSPCA statement continued.”
Responded Robins, “’Many’ is not enough. The RSPCA can easily insist that all Freedom Foods endorsed animal handlers, from hatcheries and breeding farms all the way through to animal transporters and slaughter houses, have closed circuit television and recording hard drives installed. Before calling on everyone else to do something about it the RSPCA should lead by example.”
The Scottish SPCA & public pounds
Frustration with the Scottish SPCA, an organization entirely unrelated to the Royal SPCA, is something of a tradition for Animal Concern.
Formed in 1839, the Scottish SPCA did little, if anything, about for-profit dogcatchers who collected dogs and cats for vivisection, leading to the 1876 formation of the Scottish Antivivisection Society, reincorporated as Animal Concern in 1985.
When the Scottish SPCA finally did do something about cruelty to stray dogs and cats, it took over the job of operating the public pounds.
“Pound seizure” & shelter killing
This was the same response taken by the overwhelming majority of U.S. humane societies until the last decade of the twentieth century. Managing public pounds under contract to local governments kept strays out of laboratories, until many U.S. states passed “pound seizure” laws in the 1940s and 1950s that forced shelters receiving public funding to surrender animals for laboratory use.
Between 1976 and 1986, thirteen U.S. states which had mandated “pound seizure” finally did turnabouts and banned it. The U.S. National Institutes of Health quit funding experiments using random source cats in 2012, and quit funding experiments using random source dogs in 2014.
In the interim, though, U.S. humane societies killed millions of homeless dogs and cats per year––as many as 23 million dogs and cats per year in the early 1970s––initially on the pretext that this was more “humane” than allowing them to be vivisected.
Later the pretext for the killing became simply “Too many animals, too few homes,” until decades of spay/neuter work reduced shelter intake to the point that “no kill” sheltering came into vogue in the mid-1990s.
The same situation prevailed in the United Kingdom.
Profitable pound contracts
“I was shocked to learn,” Robins wrote in January 2010, “that instead of keeping their promise to force local authorities to meet their duty of care to stray dogs, the Scottish SPCA has turned it into a lucrative money earner. Every council tax payer in Scotland is subsidizing this. Instead of doing the dirty work for councils, the Scottish SPCA should get out of the lucrative stray dog business and take care of animals whom no one helps.
“As around half of all stray dogs are reclaimed by their owners within a day or two of being taken off the streets,” Robins suggested, “it makes sense to leave local authorities, who have a statutory duty to care for stray dogs, to deal with these animals, thus freeing up the SSPCA’s charitable funds to care for animals which have no-one to look after them.”
Instead, Robins pointed out, the Scottish SPCA “put itself in the ridiculous situation where it had to kill perfectly healthy dogs to make space for new animals brought in under local authority contracts, who were likely to have been reclaimed by their owners within a matter of hours.
“This situation came to a head in December 2005,” Robins recalled, “when an Scottish SPCA employee at the Milton of Dumbarton Animal Welfare Centre openly admitted to the press that several dogs had indeed been put down to make room for new animals coming in.”
Obstacles to getting lost animals home
The Scottish SPCA announced in 2008 that by mid-2009 if would give up holding pound contracts, and would no longer kill healthy animals.
Entering 2010, however, the Scottish SPCA “still had contracts with at least eight local authorities,” Robins observed. “It was even more distressing to learn that the Scottish SPCA had created two big drawbacks to getting animals back to their owners.
“One,” Robins alleged, “is the extremely high fees” the Scottish SPCA charged communities to hold impounded animals, “which are then reclaimed, at least in part, from pet owners.
“The second is that the Scottish SPCA has “taken on contracts to deal with strays in areas where it does not have any holding kennels.
“Many people,” Robins charged, “especially the elderly and those on low incomes, find it very difficult to make the necessary repeated trips to distant animal welfare centers to check to see if their dog has been brought in. Once they have found their dogs, many will be unable to raise the money to get their dogs back.
“These two issues are in addition to the continued failure of the Scottish SPCA to introduce a system where animals brought into shelters can be linked to reports from owners of missing pets, by which owners can be contacted when a possible match for their pet is brought in.”
No help for animals after hours
Igniting Robins ire in January 2010 was that, “At 2 a.m. on Sunday morning I received a phone call from someone who had taken a badly injured cat to the Scottish SPCA Milton of Dumbarton Animal Welfare Centre, only to find it closed and the Scottish SPCA unavailable by telephone. Luckily I was able to advise, and as a result the cat has been operated on, identified by her microchip, and returned to her grateful owner.
“Instead of making money out of a 9 to 5 stray dog business,” Robins suggested, “the Scottish SPCA should provide a proper 24/7 rescue service for injured wildlife and other animals who have no one else to care for them.”
Eleven years later, the Scottish SPCA may have resolved some of the issues Robins mentioned in 2010, but some remain unresolved, and as in the U.S., where COVID-19 has proved to be an all-purpose convenient pretext for humane societies and animal control agencies cutting back services and accessibility, the situation appears to be getting worse instead of better.
“24-hour animal welfare organization” doesn’t answer calls
Recently wrote Robins, “I’ve just had an idea for a campaign for whoever takes over from me.
“Tonight the Animal Concern Advice Line had yet another call about a stupid animal, a fox cub this time, who had the audacity to venture out after dark and become injured outside of office hours.
“The young woman whose car the fox decided to play chicken with had already phoned our national animal welfare organization, the Scottish SPCA, only to get their answer machine message telling them to call back in the morning. That was a pity, as the incident took place in Stirlingshire, not very far from the Scottish SPCA national wildlife hospital.
“I suggested the caller try Scottish Animal Welfare. According to their web site, they are “Scotland’s only 24 hour animal welfare organization.”
Hopes crashed when that option was answered with “Sorry no one is available to take your call”.
“In the end I had to advise the by now frustrated and upset caller that she had done her very best, she was now putting herself at risk on an unlit country road, and she would have to leave the injured fox and phone the Scottish SPCA at 8:00 am and tell them where the fox was.
“Give the animals alarm clocks”
“Here’s my idea for a campaign. We employ an animal education officer to visit wildlife in their natural habitat and teach them basic road safety. We could also give them alarm clocks to get the lazy critters out of their beds in the morning. Half the problems are caused by the lunatic nocturnal habits adopted by foxes, badgers, hedgehogs, deer, owls and many other creatures.
“If they were out and about during the day, there would be less chance of them being hit by cars, and if they do cause an accident due to their careless behavior, there may well be an officer of the Scottish SPCA or Scottish Animal Welfare available to give them help.
“On the other hand,” Robins suggested, “it might be easier to persuade the Scottish SPCA to employ some nocturnal inspectors to provide cover at the time of day when wild animals are most likely to need help. What is needed is a 24/7 phone line backed by 24/7 emergency rescue provision.
“With flexible work patterns and working from home becoming the norm,” Robins guessed, “it should not be too difficult or expensive to bring animal rescue into the 21st century.”
Songbird Survival Trust vs. crows, magpies, & cats
Even more annoying to Robins are purported animal advocacy organizations whose programs include killing some animals, often by extremely cruel means, on purported behalf of others.
“Regretfully, no matter what hat I put on––Animal Concern, Save Our Seals Fund or Animal Concern Advice Line––my lonely little brain cell cannot cope with mounting the high quality campaign required to combat the Songbird Survival Trust,” Robins has written, “and others intent on killing crows and magpies, who would love to be legally able to kill raptors and pussy cats.
“This is an issue I have been campaigning on, in a small way, for many years,” Robins mentioned. “Last year I reported two incidents of people, one in Glasgow and one in Helensburgh) using Larsen Traps,” which use one crow in distress to trap others, “to catch and kill magpies and crows in their gardens. Despite the fact that both people were operating the traps illegally, the police simply told them how to do it legally and let them get on with it.
“A simple equation of nature”
“Corvids and songbirds have co-existed for hundreds of thousands of years and their numbers naturally fluctuate,” Robins continued. “When there are a lot of songbirds to feed on the number of corvids will grow. When songbird numbers drop (either through predation or the type of severe winter weather we had in 2010) the number of corvids also drops. As songbird numbers recover so too will the numbers of the birds that eat them – it’s a simple equation of nature which only gets upset when that very unnatural species numpteous numpteous gets involved.
“You can see that in the way that some seabird species have changed their diets and habitats, taking more young birds, moving inland, and raiding trash bins, in response to massive commercial overfishing, which denies them their natural food source.”
A good word for ANIMALS 24-7
Often Robins has cautioned animal advocates “to be very selective about what groups and campaigns you choose to support. Check them out before parting with your cash.
“Apart from organizations which may not be all you think they are, you must also be aware that there are some straightforward scams using animals to con people out of cash,” Robins warned, for instance by “offering rescued pedigree dogs who need to be rehomed from places like Mexico or the southern states of the U.S.A.
“The animals are free to a good home but you will need to send $500 to $1,000 to pay to have the animal vaccinated and flown to you!”
Finished Robins, on September 20, 2021, “ANIMALS 24-7 cuts through a lot of bullshit and provides ‘the movement’ with a view of itself which many might find uncomfortable.
“I wish more grassroots campaigners were reading ANIMALS 24-7,” Robins said, “as it would open their eyes to the grubby reality behind the glossy facade of many of the big organizations.”
On one hand, I understand why so many individuals and groups are so quick to claim “victory” and “progress”–animal advocacy, as most of us know, has very few true wins and is a cause we take up with the implicit knowledge that we will, for the most part, never see the sweeping societal changes needed to end cruelty to animals in our lifetimes. In the meantime, we all have to find a way to navigate the fact that most of the people we interact with and care about directly participate in and and perpetuate this cruelty.
Most longterm animal advocates have known newbie activists who burn with passion for the cause and end up flaming out. They not only leave activism, many even go back to eating animals.
So in order to keep people donating, engaging in social media, and so forth, a lot of these big groups crow victory at the drop of a hat. Or they talk as if the end of some decades- or centuries-long struggle is just around the corner if you just give some money or share this meme. Think about it–How long have big groups been proclaiming the imminent abolishment of the fur industry or the Canadian seal hunt?
Annoula Wylderich says
I agree with Lindsay. . .animal advocacy can seem frustrating and deflating, with few significant wins that come so very slowly. I’ve watched enthusiastic newcomers to the cause eventually give up when they’ve felt that their efforts were in vain. It’s easy to become depressed and hopeless.
I’m sure one reason for these “victory” announcements by large organizations is to keep the momentum going and people engaged. However, it can backfire when those who participated in the campaigns come to realize that what they’ve been given to assume is not consistent with the reality of the outcome. It’s important to keep people properly informed so they don’t feel misled. Really, it requires a balance of maintaining honesty while providing encouragement to keep up the good fight.
Jamaka Petzak says
So step right up and get your “free” orange T-shirt, folks!
Sharing to twitter with gratitude and the exhaustingly usual array of emotions.