12 Things You Can Do To Help Animals

1. Keep Animals Off Your Plate

Every year in the U.S., billions of chickens, turkeys, cows, and pigs are raised in miserable, filthy conditions—cramped together without access to the outdoors, denied their most basic instincts, mutilated without painkillers, and crudely slaughtered. Billions of fish and other aquatic animals die in fishing nets and fish farms. There are virtually no laws to protect animals raised for food, and the incredibly high demand for cheap meat, milk, and eggs makes offering individual care to billions of animals virtually impossible. But animals aren't the only ones who suffer at the hands of factory farming. Our society's consumption of meat, eggs, and dairy products is directly linked to serious health problems, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, and more. Raising billions of animals for food also devastates wildlife and the environment. Millions of tons of fecal waste contribute to soil erosion, water pollution, and ozone depletion, and vast amounts of wasted grain, water, land and pesticides are expended in farming animals. Over-fishing and aquaculture are equally devastating to marine ecosystems. To get started, find some vegan (no meat, dairy, or eggs) recipes on the Internet or pick up a vegan cookbook, and try out some new foods at a local health foods store. With so many delicious vegan foods available, you'll be surprised how easy changing your diet is. Remember that each time you eat a plant-based meal, you are making a difference for animals, the environment, and your own health.

2. Choose Cruelty-Free Products

Many consumer products, from cosmetics to cleansers, are tested on animals. When we choose cruelty-free products, we support ethical companies that know pouring toilet bowl cleaner or nail polish down rabbits' throats or in their eyes is neither ethical nor reliable for establishing a product’s safety. Take a moment to look for the statements “Not tested on animals” or “Cruelty-free” on the packaging. Otherwise, assume the product was tested on animals. Visit www.idausa.org for lists of companies that do and do not test on animals.

3. Don’t Wear Animal Skins

Animals are not fabric! Animals killed for fur, leather, suede, wool, angora, down and silk suffer immensely and unnecessarily. Boycotting these items reduces the demand and withdraws financial support for industries that profit from them. Fabrics not made from animals, including comfortable, fashionable non-leather shoes, are readily available from many mainstream and specialty stores and via online cruelty-free shopping sites.

4. Be a Guardian — Not an Owner

Much animal exploitation stems from the outdated belief that animals are our property and we are their owners. A simple shift in words can combat this harmful mindset. Calling ourselves animal guardians signifies a higher level of responsibility, respect, and compassion for him or her, and brings about a more humane world by modeling respectful language and behavior. Several cities have changed their legal ordinances to reflect this important distinction. Are you an animal guardian? Spread the word. Where you see or hear the term “animal owner,” introduce the idea of animal guardianship by speaking up or by writing to columnists, editors and publishers. For more information on how your community members can become official animal guardians.

5. Rescue, Adopt, Spay and Neuter

Each year, millions of cats, dogs, rabbits and other companion animals are killed in shelters because there are far more animals than adoptive homes for them. By rescuing or adopting instead of buying from a breeder or pet store, you can make a difference for an animal in need. Prevent shelter overpopulation by spaying (for females) or neutering (for males) your animal companions to ensure that they do not reproduce. IDA’s public service announcement, “Adopt and Save a Life,” has aired on CNN and on stations across the country. Contact IDA if you’d like to get this PSA aired in your community.

6. Boycott Animal “Entertainment”

Animals in circuses are trained through pain and intimidation, and spend most their lives cramped in cages while being transported from one location to another. Cruelty to animals is the main attraction at the rodeo, where severely injured animals are often denied painkillers and taken straight to the slaughterhouse. Zoos deprive animals of their most basic social and environmental needs, teach visitors little about animals, and are ineffective at preserving endangered species. Similarly, captive dolphins and whales suffer and often live only a fraction of their natural life spans. You can make a difference by boycotting animal “entertainment” and educating others to do the same.

7. Donate to Cruelty-Free Causes

Most universities and health charities use animals in research (called “vivisection”) that causes severe pain and death, even though there are many non-animal-based technologies that are cheaper, more reliable, and more humane. Because different species respond differently to diseases and drugs, data from one species cannot be reliably applied to another. Encouraging preventative steps to promote good health and strengthening and enforcing environmental regulations would do far more good for human health. Next time you are solicited by a health charity that funds vivisection, instead of sending a gift, write a letter urging the group to switch to non-animal-based technologies.

8. Protect the Environment

Because animals live in trees, on land, and in water, they rely on a stable climate, habitat, and food chain. One cannot protect animals without also preserving their habitats. By making environmentally conscious choices, we can make a difference for all species. Taking public transportation or driving more fuel-efficient cars reduces our contribution to global warming and, along with going vegan, is the best way to lessen our impact on the environment. Since all consumer products are made from the Earth’s resources and eventually end up in a landfill, reducing the number of products we use, reusing products when we can, and recycling products we cannot reuse significantly lessens our impact on the Earth.

9. Learn More

The more you know about issues affecting animals, the more effectively you’ll advocate for them. There are many books, magazines, and websites that can bolster your commitment to animals with a philosophical framework, facts and statistics.

10. Spread the Word

Talk to your friends and family about how they can help animals. Writing concise, polite letters to newspaper and magazine editors (be sure to include your contact information), requesting more vegan options at restaurants or supermarkets, and urging companies to adopt animal-friendly policies, make a big difference. IDA would be happy to send you materials to distribute. Leaving brochures in cafes, doctors’ offices, animal shelters, or other places is easy and effective. Get involved with a local animal rights group, or consider starting your own with a few friends. Be creative! Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to speak out for animals at a school, festival, house of worship, or community center.

11. Lobby Your Legislators

Legislators need to know that your vote depends on their opposition to animal suffering. Local animal groups and the offices of your state representatives can tell you what bills are pending and to whom you should write. Visit the Government Guide to find your legislators’ contact information.

12. Support the Animal Protection Movement

Volunteer your time, talents, services, and funds to IDA or other animal protection organizations. In order to be successful, the Movement must have the resources to bring animal issues to the public’s attention. Contact IDA for information about volunteer opportunities and giving options such as our monthly pledge or car donation programs.

Shilo

"He's beautiful." And by "he," they mean him, Shilo, the horse I rescued from the killers four years ago. I paid the horse trader $50 more than the slaughterhouse would have paid him to keep him from putting that little grey Arabian onto the livestock truck bound for Texas. I liken it to the way Oskar Schindler bought freedom for 1100 Jews. Shilo is a healthy, sound, purebred Arabian. And one of the sweetest animals you could ever know, especially in light of the abuse he's suffered in human hands. Not only was he on his way to slaughter for human consumption abroad when I found him, but he had been used and seriously injured in the U.S.-based Mexican horse-tripping rodeos, known as the "Charreadas." I don't know how to respond to "He's beautiful." "Thank you"? For what? I didn't make him. I didn't create him. I can't take credit for his grace, his spirit, his fire.The moment leaves me feeling awkward. Speechless. There's a fine line among us. We recognize that animals have interests in their own lives, that they feel, think, reason, sleep, eat, drink, play, mate, dream, and die. But to whom do they belong? In your mind--as in mine--they belong to no one. Just as you belong to no one. Just as I to no one. But, under the law, animals "belong" to those who have bred, raised, possessed or purchased them. They are, legally speaking, our property. And we, legally speaking, are their owners. Except in rare cases, injuring or killing a dog or a cat, say, is a violation, not of the rights of the victims, but of the animals' "owners." In other words, the wrong committed wasn't to the animal involved, but to the property of the human being who owned that animal. Damages are paid by the violator to the owner, and the value is determined as to the monetary "cost"of the injured or killed animal. So I find myself, in those moments when visitors are admiring Shilo, unable to respond accordingly. I feel foolish thinking what they would think if they knew I didn't consider Shilo mine, even though I've paid to rescue him, pay to feed and house him, to train and groom him, to transport and medically care for him, even though I have the receipt in my hand from the kill buyer, proving that Shilo, under the law, belongs to me. It is difficult in those moments because I recognize that the law of the land, and the commonwealth itself, are speaking a completely different language than I am. At the risk of appearing the fool, on occasion, I've found myself appealing to the sensitivities of others. "He's beautiful." "Thank you," I say. I was sharing an e-mail with a new contact on the internet in regard to the slaughter of American horses for human consumption in France. And in our dialogue, I found myself using words that grated in my conscience--such as "owner." I was catering, again, to the ingrained conditioning of others so as to not appear the crazed animal rights activist. On second thought, however, our community has risen quite well above the semantics of language. Animal shelters don't encourage the general public to come in and "buy" or "purchase" a dog or cat. No. They encourage them to come in and "adopt" an animal. It isn't until the cash is exchanged and the documents are drawn, that the word "owner" appears in the dialogue. As long as we regard other creatures as property to be bought and sold, to be owned or mastered, we--as humans--will forever distance ourselves from the essence of our species: our ability to hold sacred the natural world, to view the other lives around us as gifts given to us by a great spirit, and, in so doing, regain our empathy. If we cannot--for animals--relinquish our rights to ownership, they will continue to suffer immeasurably--as did America's blacks suffer in the grip of human bondage--because their suffering will never be weighed for what it is, but for what it costs their legal "owners" in terms of the damages done to said owners' property. I'm guilty of it myself. Instead of remembering that long-term goal--animal liberation--I struggle in the difficulties of the moment and sometimes give in to my anxieties. But until we liberate our language, we will never liberate animals. It begins with us. It begins by removing the words "owner" and "property"--and any variation of those words thereof--from our vocabulary, no matter the social consequences. Until we take that step, the court systems cannot follow. "The law may tell us we can own animals," says Jeffrey M. Masson, author of the ground-breaking book, When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives ofAnimals, "but the law also told us in the past that men owned their wives,and parents owned their children. We know this was wrong." Masson is also co-chair of the newly founded international campaign, "They Are Not Our Property; We Are Not Their Owners," spearheaded by In Defense of Animals. "We can be animals' friends," Masson adds, "their companions, their helpers, stewards and caretakers." Even their saviors. But we are not their owners... They are not our property. Does it sound familiar? It should. Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, wrote, "The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were notmade for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men." But, then, you already know that. Just as I know it. It's time, however, to brave new territory--in this case, by liberating our language. The In Defense of Animals' pledge--which it is asking you to sign onto--is simple: "Whereas, I believe that all animals deserve to be treated and respected as individuals with feelings, needs, and interests of their own, and whereas I believe that animals are not commodities or property to be bought or sold, disposed of, exploited or killed, I hereby pledge always:to live my life with an ethic of respect and consideration for all animals, rather than one of ownership in which animals are considered mere property. to adopt and rescue rather than buy or sell animals. to represent myself as a caretaker, guardian, companion, protector and friend of animals rather than their owner or master. to strive at all times to make the world a more just and compassionate place for all beings, human and non-human alike. "They are not brethren," Henry Beston writes about animals in The Outermost House, "they are not underlings. They are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth." Shilo is a fellow prisoner. But he paws the ground and dances in place, arching his neck, as if he knows he's being admired. And then the inevitable response: "He's beautiful." I have found a new answer. "Yes," I say, "he is."