It’s been 25 years since Friends of Animals received a diary transcript from a young man who worked for many years as a crew member of a large travelling circus and printed it in Action Line. The diary was riddled with Animal Welfare Act violations—from depriving animals of food and water and elephants being badly beaten to injured animals being forced to perform.
“The people here have become so callous,” he wrote. “Animal abuse is a daily occurrence and no one think’s it’s unusual! They have come to accept the idea that the animals’ well-being is secondary to the performance. I’m sorry to leave. But I don’t want to become like them. So maybe the best thing I can do for these animals is to walk away now and tell my story.”
Lifting the veil on what’s wrong with imprisoning animals in circuses for entertainment so the public could become outraged by such exploitation was the best thing that young man could have done for those animals.
His actions were consistent with the fabric of Friends of Animals, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. We have never defined success simply by lawsuits won or lost. Success also comes in raising awareness, and not watering down principles, while inspiring social movements.
And nothing reflects FoA’s substance and ability to win the public on our view of a problem and solution than the demise of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which shuttered its doors in May, citing declining attendance, changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups as contributors to its termination. We are fortified by this victory, however, we know there’s more work to be done because there are still other circuses in business.
“We think this reflects a change in what people view as family entertainment,” said Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals. “This change is one we had been fighting for for decades. It’s gratifying and proves once again public backlash matters.”
AN UPHILL BATTLE
In Connecticut, FoA had its work cut out for it over the last few decades in terms of putting Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus out of business, as one of its co-founders, P.T. Barnum, was born in Bethel, Conn. and later made nearby Bridgeport his home. He donated land for city parks, served as mayor and even sheltered the animals there in the winter. Just a short drive from FoA’s headquarters in Darien, the P.T. Barnum Museum still pays homage to the man it claims created the “Greatest Show on Earth.”
The museum’s executive director even mourned the announcement that the Ringling Bros. would close its tent doors for good in May 2017 in a blog post: “No matter what year or moment in time, the nature of humankind is to be curious, explore, learn and advance our lives. We all pursue joy and well-being for ourselves, for our children and grandchildren, and we know that it is our divine right to be happy. P.T Barnum acknowledged ‘happiness’ as his sole purpose and even said, ‘The noblest art is that of making others happy.’”
FoA sees nothing noble in making human animals happy if doing so means exploiting non-human animals and causing them to suffer. That’s why every time Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus came to Bridgeport, our members and supporters peacefully protested (similar efforts were duplicated in other states as well.)
Members and supporters were armed with signs and our “Ringling and Reality” brochures, which dispelled all the myths the Ringling Bros.’ marketing team perpetuated, like trainers and animals have a wonderful relationship, tricks are based on natural behaviors and the captive breeding program is essential to the survival of the Asian elephant species.
One FoA staff member recalled that there was no escaping the organization’s signs and messages. People always stopped to read them and asked for information. Using a megaphone, FoA pointed out the inaccuracies of everything the circus program sellers shouted out to the public.
Staff and supporters were bolstered by hearing things like “I hadn’t thought of it that way”; “I didn’t know”; and “I won’t come back next year.” FoA also took out ads in newspapers depicting elephants exploited by the “Saddest Show on Earth.”
And beyond protests and leafleting, FoA encouraged the public to boycott sponsors of the circus and asked charitable organizations not to back the circus with fundraisers. In Bridgeport, FoA even took the Board of Education to task for letting Ringling Bros. make the circus part of the school district’s curriculum.
OUR WORK MUST GO ON
Circuses such as the Garden Bros., Universoul and Shrine, as well as many others, continue to do business and deny wild animals the ability to express their natural behaviors such as having extended social groups and living on large territories.
Like Ringling Bros., the remaining circus environments cannot provide for normal social groupings, which includes things like young elephants not leaving their mothers’ side for eight years, and the presence of male elephants, who are too dangerous to use in circuses.
And animals in the remaining circuses still perform through various forms of coercion. No free-living animal performs such choreographed stunts for human onlookers naturally. From tigers jumping through flaming hoops to elephants dressed up like Vegas dancers, animals caught or purposely bred for circuses live highly unnatural scenarios rather than the lives of freedom they ought to be leading.
Some circuses greenwash what they do by claiming to breed endangered species. Generally, they ignore the key point of animal rights: Life matters, but freedom matters just as much. The good news is that cities and towns like Stamford, Conn.; San Francisco; West Hollywood; Ketchum, Idaho; Quincy, Mass., Greenburgh, N.Y., and Plattsburgh, N.Y., as well as several others, have taken matters into their own hands by passing ordinances prohibiting the use of wild and exotic animals in traveling shows and circuses.
In the media last year, Plattsburgh, N.Y., city council members credited FoA’s anti-circus demonstrations and education for playing a role in their decision to pass a resolution banning the use of city facilities for captive-animal performances. New York City is currently considering a ban, and FoA testified at a public hearing in October 2016 in support of the legislation.
What truly uplifted FoA was listening to youngsters testifying that they don’t want to see wild animals in circuses. Six-yearold Charlotte Moore told legislators that some animals just don’t belong in circuses. “I really want to get rid of them,” she said. “They treat them badly and they have to be without their families.”
And most recently New York City banned all live animals in circuses, New York State banned elephants and Delaware, Ohio, banned wild and exotic animals in circuses because of public backlash. A local resident and a group of likeminded friends gathered more than 1,000 petition signatures opposing the Florida-based Circus Pages Circus from coming to town and presented them to the Delaware City Council.
“This was really driven by the people coming to council,” Darren Shulman, the city’s law director, told the media. “I also think it’s a little bit of an end of an era and people thinking differently about animals.” And that has been Friends of Animals’ goal all along—for people to no longer tolerate or consider acceptable the purposeless exploitation of animals for amusement. If the show must go on, let it do so with human animal performers who are willing participants. Goodbye and good riddance, Ringling Bros.
“We don’t have time to take baby steps, “ says Adam Sobel, the head chef and founder of The Cinnamon Snail—the country’s first all-organic and vegan food truck and now restaurant located at The Pennsy in New York City. Sobel is referring to the crisis that the earth finds itself in due to animal agriculture, human overpopulation, pollution and our wanton disregard for planet Earth.
So Sobel did something profound—a favor to humankind: He learned how to cook unbelievably good vegan food. Scientists everywhere agree: Cutting out meat from our diets is the single best thing we can do for the planet, animals and our health.
But a lot of people still need to be convinced that it’s a delicious way to live. Genius is one of those words—like “awesome”—that shouldn’t be thrown around with abandon. It should mean something. But Adam Sobel—thousands of his fans will back me up on this—is a culinary genius.
He understands the alchemy of fresh herbs, spices and ingredients from the plant kingdom. What he creates is, without a trace of hyperbole, magic.
There’s a reason Friends of Animals asked Sobel to cater its 60th anniversary party in July—because the food is, well, awesome. Cinnamon Snail was launched on the holiday of love—Valentine’s Day—in 2010, as an expression of love for all animals. Sobel had been working in vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants for a dozen years prior to launching Cinnamon Snail, but he felt like the clientele was already vegan or vegan friendly. Sobel wanted the challenge of making people who weren’t living a plant-based lifestyle fall in love with vegan cuisine.
He had the idea that healthy, crave-worthy vegan food needed to be taken to the streets, so people could, as Sobel puts it, “connect the dots for themselves.” Sobel knew that the key to converting the masses was making it easy for them to experience delicious food.
“Once you eat vegan food that is in fact even yummier, and leaves you feeling better than non-vegan food, it becomes very hard to justify continuing to consume animals,” he said. Countless people have opened a vegan restaurant, with varying degrees of success. No doubt there are now world-class vegan restaurants all over the world.
But what makes Cinnamon Snail stand out and triumph is its bold flavors and hybrid menu that is comfort-cuisine-meets-good-for-you. Inspired by Vietnamese, Thai, Indian and other traditional cuisines from around the world, items on the menu fill you up while nourishing the body. There are things like miso teriyaki grilled tofu with roasted Brussels sprouts, black sesame gomasio, arugula, and wasabi mayo on a toasted pretzel bun and Thanksgiving Sandoo (porcini mushroom seitan and parsnip sage bread pudding, with cranberry orange relish, marinated kale, and roasted garlic aioli on toasted baguette). And so much more.
And then there are the desserts, which no one claims are good for you (unless you count emotionally good for you in which case unbridled joy is an immediate result), that include delicate pastries, moist cakes and the doughnuts Cinnamon Snail are known for throughout New York City.
Never, ever go to New York City without getting a doughnut from Cinnamon Snail.
Sobel published a cookbook in 2015 called Street Vegan, which I naturally purchased the day it came out. Not only is it beautiful and full of inspirational recipes, but it does something very rare for a chef of increasing prominence: It gives away most of the Cinnamon Snail’s secrets.
So in your own kitchen you can recreate recipes for most of the food Sobel is known for—including the doughnuts. The most important thing I learned is that umboshi plum vinegar is a magic elixir that makes everything taste better.
I also learned that making doughnuts is time-consuming and tedious and that it’s much more fun to buy them rather than make them. But I live 694.8 miles from Cinnamon Snail, so, sometimes, I have to get in the kitchen, get dirty, make dough and do some tedious work, because—trust me on this—this food is worth it.
Cinnamon Snail at The Pennsy: On the corner of 33rd street & 7th avenue in Manhattan—convenient for folks visiting Madison Square Garden, and Amtrack, NJ Transit, and LIRR commuters.
Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. seven days a week. Visit their Facebook page for info about the food trucks.
What can one person do to slow and reverse climate change? Especially when progress to slow climate change seems to be under attack by members of our own government. But the truth is there are lifestyle changes that you can make too that, in some combination, can help reduce your carbon impact. Check out our Top 10 below and consider implementing them into your life to make a difference for the entire planet.
- Get involved Take a few minutes to contact your political representatives and the media to tell them you want immediate action on climate change. Remind them that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will also build healthier communities, spur economic innovation and create new jobs. And when you are at the polls this November, vote for politicians who support effective climate policy
- Cutback on your waste Garbage buried in landfills produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Keep stuff out of landfills by composting kitchen scraps and garden trimmings, and recycling paper, plastic, metal and glass. Let store managers and manufacturers know you want products with minimal or recyclable packaging.
- Change the way you think about transportation Walk or bike whenever possible. Not only will you reduce your carbon footprint, but your overall level of health will improve and you will save money on parking and gasoline. Take public transit or carpool whenever possible. When purchasing a vehicle look for one with better mileage. Increase your fuel economy when driving by sticking to posted speed limits and avoiding rapid acceleration and excessive braking. Plan and combine trips and errands. This will save you both time and money as well as reduce wear and tear on your vehicle. When travelling long distances, try to take a train or bus rather than flying or driving.
- Make every drop count Conserve water by fixing drips and leaks, and by installing low-flow shower heads and toilets. Challenge yourself to a speed shower. Turn off water while brushing teeth or shaving. Treating and transporting water requires energy, while water conservation results in reduced energy requirements and carbon emissions.
- Switch to “green power” Research where your power is coming from—wind, water, coal, or solar—and talk to your power provider to determine if a greater percentage could be coming from renewable resources. Encourage power providers to switch to green power and, if possible and/or economically viable, switch to a company offering power from renewable resources.
- Think about what you’re planting When gardening, select native plants that are well suited to your climate and require minimal watering and attention. Better yet, plant a tree, and it will provide shade and soak up carbon from the atmosphere.
- Make smarter food choices: Meat and dairy production are both contributing greatly to climate change. Methane is the second most significant greenhouse gas and cows are one of the greatest methane emitters.Their grassy diet and multiple stomachs cause them to produce methane, which they exhale with every breath. We recommend adopting a plant-based lifestyle. Check out our guides here.
- Repurpose Rather than discarding or recycling clothing and household goods, give them a chance at a second life. Gently used clothing can be donated to charity or exchanged with friends and family. Old T-shirts can be repurposed into rags for cleaning. Household goods can be donated to charity or sold at a garage sale. Through repurposing, the amount of waste being sent to landfill sites is reduced, there is no need to use energy for recycling, and others can benefit from your used items.
- Stop Cutting Down Trees Every year, 33 million acres of forests are cut down. Timber harvesting in the tropics alone contributes 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere. That represents 20 percent of human-made greenhouse gas emissions and a source that could be avoided relatively easily. And when purchasing wood products, such as furniture or flooring, buy used goods or, failing that, wood certified to have been sustainably harvested. The Amazon and other forests are not just the lungs of the earth, they may also be humanity’s best short-term hope for limiting climate change.
- Support and donate Please consider becoming a member of Friends of Animals and helping us mitigate the disastrous effects of climate change on our environment and the wildlife who rely on it. You can also join us on social media and sign up for our email alerts here.
That was the message of the more than 200,000+ people who descended upon Washington DC, on April 29, the 100th day of Trump’s presidency, in a powerful demonstration of unity for climate action. Recognizing that the new administration has already taken actions to weaken environmental protections of air and water, and to enable fossil fuel exploitation on public lands and in waters, Friends of Animals was compelled to provide a voice for animals and to demonstrate we plan to fight harder than ever for their protection.
Friends of Animals decided to become a partner in the People’s Climate March because our Wildlife Law Program places wildlife and critical habitat at the center of our advocacy, and we know that climate change is altering key habitat elements that are critical to wildlife’s survival while putting natural resources in jeopardy overall.
Species may not be able to adapt to this rapid climate change or to move fast enough to more suitable areas as their current areas become less suitable for them. It inspired us to see so many take to the streets in D.C. to speak up for our planet and all the creatures we share it with.
We were among the demonstrators who braved temperatures above the 90s to march from the Capitol building down Pennsylvania Avenue, chanting phrases like “The oceans are rising and so are we,” “water is life,” and “keep it in the soil, can’t drink oil!” before surrounding the White House complex and staging a choreographed sit-in, some beating their chests 100 times to symbolize both the president’s time in office and the heartbeat of the environmental movement.
The movement stretched far beyond Washington, however, with sister climate marches also held in Denver, Chicago and San Francisco and around the world, including London and Lisbon, Portugal. Unless significant action is taken now, global warming will likely become the single most important factor to affect wildlife since the emergence of humankind. There is no Planet B, so please continue to support Friends of Animals so we can ensure a safe future for human and non-human animals alike.
Director Michael Harris discusses its trailblazing work.
FOR MANY YEARS YOUR WORK WAS FOCUSED ON TRADITIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES. SO, WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO TYPES OF LITIGATION FRIENDS OF ANIMALS WAS WILLING TO PURSUE?
Before I joined Friends of Animals (FoA) full time in 2013, I considered myself pretty much an expert in most aspects of wildlife protection in the United States. Indeed, since my days as a student at Pitzer College in the 1990s, I have been part of the fight to protect our natural world from reckless human economic development.
After I went to law school, I spent more than 13 years working on legal cases to protect wildlife, representing some of the largest and best known environmental organizations in the United States. Like most of my colleagues at the time, I approached my work with a precise perspective. Namely, that the best way to protect wildlife was to focus on saving specific places and habitats.
Outside of concern that a specific animal might die, I rarely, if ever, spent much time considering my work from the viewpoint of the animals living in those places. That all changed in 2008 when I became the director of the environmental law clinic at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law and inherited Friends of Animals as a client. The clinic had been representing FoA on two cases at the time I was hired by the university.
The first was a lawsuit seeking legal protections for 13 species of macaws and parrots to prevent these birds from being imported into the United States as pets. The second was a lawsuit to eliminate the sport-hunting of captive addax, Dama gazelle and scimitar-horned oryx on private ranches in Texas.
At first blush, these two cases were not significantly different from my work in the past. Both involved the federal Endangered Species Act and all the species involved were clearly endangered because of reckless human destruction of habitat. But while the legal work was the same, the client clearly was not.
FoA was the first organization I had encountered that sought to use the law, not just to protect animals from harm, but to advance an animals’ rights to live his or her life without human interference. I quickly learned that FoA and its staff is obsessively dedicated to this principle. For example, while FoA undoubtedly desired to prevent the destruction of macaw and parrot habitat in their native lands, of equal motivation was the belief that each individual bird imported to the United States did not deserve to be ripped away from her home, family and life to be subjected to life-long, involuntary servitude as a pet.
Likewise, while seeking legal protection for captive antelope in Texas would not directly improve the extremely degraded habitat of these species in Africa, it would hopefully prevent humans from forcing such animals, and others, into captivity in the future to satisfy the blood-cravings of hunters. As someone who had dedicated his career to environmental issues, this was a fascinating, and motivating, perspective to discover.
It did not take me long to realize the potential FoA’s work had to change the direction of environmental law. Under the current system, wildlife protection is all about compromise—we will develop so many acres of a specific habitat to save this many acres more.
Over time, these compromises multiple in number, to the point that the “saved” habitat becomes fragmented and unable to support the creatures that once depended on it. But if we instead acknowledged the rights of the individual animals, would it not become more difficult to justify compromising their lives for our comforts and needs?
WAS THIS YOUR MOTIVATION FOR WANTING TO LAUNCH THE WILDLIFE LAW PROGRAM AT FRIENDS OF ANIMALS IN 2013?
Absolutely. It became clear to me that “animal activists” had often failed to fully utilize the large array of local, state, federal and international environmental laws to protect the rights of animals to live free from human interference. At the same time “environmental activists” often utilize these laws, but do so to achieve broad environmental objectives that may not always protect the rights of free-living animals.
Thus, I worked with FoA’s President Priscilla Feral to create a program to utilize the law for a singular purpose: to ensure the right of all wildlife to live in an ecosystem free from human manipulation, exploitation or abuse. In carrying out this work, we try our best to not purport to know what is best for any wild animal. Instead, we only seek to be a surrogate for these creatures in the human-controlled courtrooms and legislatures around the world where humans too often make horrific judgments about the fate of wild animals.
WHAT ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF THE WILDLIFE LAW PROGRAM OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
From the standpoint of winning legal cases in the courts, the program has clearly been most successful in protecting wild horses in the American west. Since we first entered this area of public lands management, we have had victories that have prevented the roundup and removal of thousands of horses in Nevada, Wyoming and Montana. We also have several cases currently before judges that might protect many more horses in the next few years.
I think it is beyond dispute the FoA has had more success in preventing these roundups and forcing BLM to comply with laws like the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act than any other advocacy organization. However, for me our greatest successes so far have not simply been court victories. It is how our work is rapidly transforming the focus of wildlife policy.
For example, and this is closely related to our wild horse work, many advocates have begun to believe that the best means of conserving certain species is to tolerate a certain level of human management. It is hard, however, to reconcile any significant level of human management with the desire to allow certain animals to live free and wild.
Any system of wildlife law that would control where an animal may live, whom she may live with, where she can go, and when she can reproduce is not only wrong ethically, it is a practical failure. It is because of our aggressive work that these simple truths have not been completely lost in the policy debate.
WHAT ARE YOU EXCITED ABOUT GOING FORWARD?
Our first three years as a program was all about establishing ourselves. We were very active in filing cases and carving out specific areas of work. I feel we have done that very well. Our next phase as a program is to develop a consistent philosophy on respect species-specific, basic capacities: life, bodily health, bodily integrity, play, sense/imagination/thought, emotion, practical reason, affiliation, and control over one’s environment. The right to ethical consideration we seek is not the granting of specific substantive rights to animals, like the right to life, freedom, etc. It is, however, a pathway to strengthening legal protections for animals. By requiring decision-makers and others to maintain a dialogue about the human impact on animal well-being it is believed that societal and legal beliefs regarding the rights of other animals will change for the better.