CHANGING THE PARADIGM OF HUMAN-ANIMAL RELATIONS
A CONVERSATION WITH ANIMAL PROTECTION HERO AND TRAILBLAZER,
FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, ELLIOT M. KATZ, DVM
Our mission is to end animal exploitation, cruelty, and abuse by protecting and advocating for the rights, welfare, and habitats of animals, as well as to raise their status beyond mere property, commodities, objects or things.
By Jonathan Arkin
Albert Schweitzer and St. Francis of Assisi may not be on the layperson’s shortlist of animal rights activists, but the forward-thinking pair ranks high on the scale for the multifaceted organization In Defense of Animals (IDA) and its founding president, Dr. Elliot Katz.
For Katz and his influential animal advocacy organization, Schweitzer the humanist and St. Francis the missionary are two individuals among many who personify IDA’s mission.
A MISSION INSPIRED BY GREAT THINKERS
TO CREATE A MORE COMPASSIONATE WORLD
“I have devoted the latter part of my life doing everything in my power to change the way people see and act towards other species.” said Katz, who emerged from veterinary college at Cornell University with a mission. Many great people have inspired me throughout the years, such as St. Francis of Assisi and his powerful message. 'Not to hurt our humble brethern is our first duty to them, but to stop there, is not enough. We have a higher mission, to be of service to them wherever they require it.'.
As Founder and President of IDA, Katz has embraced the daring insights and ideas of several great thinkers to fashion a credo of his own – one that drives society into a more responsible and humane way of thinking. “Our mission is to end animal exploitation, cruelty and abuse by protecting and advocating for the rights, welfare, and habitats of animals, as well asto raise their status beyond mere property, objects, commodities and things.”
IDA PROGRAMS: A WORLDWIDE REACH
With programs and campaigns underway in Cameroon, Africa (where IDA operates its chimpanzee sanctuary), South Korea (working in concert with South Korean organizations), and ambulance services, veterinary clinics, and educational outreach in Mumbai, India, with more local efforts in Grenada, Mississippi (a 64-acre sanctuary for abused and abandoned animals), and with staff in locations from Colorado to Oregon to New York to Pennsylvania to California – IDA has emerged as one of the most progressive independent charities in America. The mission is not only to rescue, advocate for, and provide sanctuary and veterinary care, but also to instill a deeper and more profound consciousness about other species, in captivity and in the wild.
And while expressing a great deal of respect for other animal-rights groups, Katz believes IDA is unique.
Feeding time for 140 resident dogs in Mumbai, India
IDA’S SIX DISTINCT PROGRAMS: ANIMAL PROTECTION, ADVOCACY, RESCUE, SANCTUARY, HABITAT PROTECTION AND VETERINARY CARE
“To a great extent, it’s because I am a veterinarian that I try to be available, as best as funds will allow, to deal with and be supportive of issues others have taken on,” said Katz, defining what differentiates his organization. “We not only protect the rights of animals, but we are also an advocacy and a welfare organization as we give sanctuary to animals, and work to protect their habitats. That enables us to look at the broad picture. We do our best not to turn our backs on animals in need. When funds are available, we do everything in our power to help. Most recently, we helped animal victims in such disaster-stricken areas as Haiti, Chile, Brazil, and Australia.
ONE VETERINARIAN’S “HORRIFIC” INTRODUCTION TO THE UNETHICAL TREATMENT OF ANIMALS
The long, compassionate road to action began in Ithaca, New York, when Katz was attending Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and found himself wrestling with the moral dilemmas of veterinary education.
“I saw adoptable dogs from shelters being mutilated and killed by inexperienced veterinary students being forced to do surgical procedures on animals, and teachers showing little or no regard for the dogs who were being mutilated. Katz said. “That’s how veterinary school started for me. The suffering and mutilation of healthy adoptable dogs was horrible. There was no sense of compassion or caring. What a bleak message it sent to the veterinarians of the future. Veterinary college in those days was a horror show, week after week. Any student who cared deeply about dogs or cats was seen as weird and strange. Veterinarians who went into small animal practice were looked down upon as simply doing it for the money.
Despite threats of expulsion, Katz refused to take part in the cruel surgical practice labs.
THE DEFINING MOMENT FOR KATZ AND ULTIMATELY FOR IDA : A CAMPUS VETERINARIAN UNDER ATTACK FOR REFUSING TO CLOSE HIS EYES TO THE GROSS IRRESPONSIBILITY AND TO THE RAMPANT ANIMAL CRUELTY TAKING PLACE IN THE RESEARCH LABORATORIES OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY CAMPUS.
It was this unique story, however, that unfolded on the West Coast, where Katz lived with his family, which led to his defining moment, one that would launch him into activism and, ultimately, the founding of In Defense of Animals. Katz describes the beginning:
THE (FOUNDING) PRINCIPLE OF “REVERENCE FOR LIFE:” SCHWEITZER’S IDEOLOGY COURSING THROUGH THE IDA CAMPAIGNS
One of the chimpanzees at Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center in Cameroon, Africa
“I have incorporated the ideas of St. Francis, and I’ve also embraced the vision of Albert Schweitzer – that “the thinking man (person) must oppose all cruel customs, no matter how deeply rooted in tradition or surrounded by a halo,” Katz said.
Dr. Jane Goodall, Cesar Chavez, Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Professor J.B. Neilands are but a few of the individuals that ignite the imagination of Dr. Katz and his ongoing fight for a better world.
THE CENTRAL MISSION OF IDA: TO CHANGE THE WAY HUMANS VIEW AND TREAT OTHER ANIMALS, REPLACING THE TERM "OWNER" WITH THE TERM, "GUARDIAN"
“Our goal: to change the way society views animals – that animals should be viewed as sentient beings who deserve to be treated respectfully and responsibly. The Guardian campaign expresses the core principles of the organization’s mission.
The central tenet of the Guardian campaign is that animals should not be viewed as mere commodities, property, objects, or things to be exploited, abused, abandoned, or killed at an “owner’s” whim. This shift in the relationship between humans and other animals will lead to a more humane, protective, respectful, and responsible relationship with the beings with whom we share our homes, our lives, our planet.
A lucky puppy rescued from a local puppy mill, now happily living at Hope Animal Sanctuary
CHILDREN WHO LEARN RESPONSIBILITY, COMPASSION AND RESPECT FOR ANIMALS ARE MORE LIKELY TO BECOME COMPASSIONATE ADULTS
To quote Edwin Sayres, President of the ASPCA:
“The term ‘guardian accurately describes the relationship of perpetual care that is needed to teach children respect, compassion and kindness for domestic pets. Studies show that children who learn compassion and respect for animals have a better chance at becoming compassionate adults and responsible community members, and are less likely to behave violently towards others.”
Hope Animal Sanctuary Director, Doll Staney and rescued friends
The idea of acting as a guardian is reflected in IDA’s print and online publication, Guardians, says Katz, and in its “inspirational and motivational stories about individuals who are making a difference for animals. Guardians features informative articles about the plight of animals, the galvanizing work of activists, and ways that [we] can help animals in [our] own communities and around the world.”
Rodney, cast out because he is blind – now happily munching grass at the Hope Animal Sanctuary
WORKING TOWARD A NEW DEFINITION OF THE WORD “ANIMAL” – TO MEAN A SENTIENT, EMOTIONAL BEING THAT NEEDS AND DESERVES OUR PROTECTION
"If the Guardian campaign is successful, it will forever change the concept of "animal" from a "thing" that humans must control and dominate to a sentient being who deserves to be treated responsibly, with compassion and respect.
"In addition to all the thousands of lives that IDA has saved, if I have had some small part in a paradigm shift as to how we relate to other species, then I will feel I have lived a life worth living."
Hope Animal Sanctuary in Mississippi
THE ULIMTATE GOAL: A “HANDS-ON” APPROACH TO RAISE AWARENESS AND IMPLEMENT PRACTICES THAT CREATE A MORE JUST AND COMPASSIONATE WORLD
Katz is excited about IDA’s scope and reaching out to even more animals in need; in fact, he has coined an expression to support the marriage of IDA maxims and its wide net of activity: Thinking AND doing.
“It’s the thinking and actually doing…putting into practice the ideas that will ultimately make a difference for the beings with whom we share our world. It’s the ‘doing’ that will make me feel that together, we have fulfilled a dream of making the world a more peaceful, just, and considerate place,” Katz said. “It boils down to ‘hands-on’ action: it’s the hands-on rescue; it’s campaigning to stop animal cruelty in laboratories, fur and factory farms, puppy mills, circuses and zoos; it’s raising awareness to those who don’t know or think about the daily cruelty and suffering; it’s calling for people to think and act as the guardians, the advocates, the protectors of animals.
While the Guardian campaign, one of many undertaken by IDA (see below), will continue as the central voice of advocacy and rescue work for IDA staff and volunteers, Katz offered a word of inspiration:.
Paraphrasing Harriet Beecher Stowe, “It is a matter of taking the side of the weak against the strong, something the best people have always done.”
These days, with the ever-increasing interest in animal rights and vegan lifestyles, Katz is pleased with the part he and the IDA staff have played, and continue to play, in saving lives and changing minds.
More lucky puppy mill rescues
VOLUNTEERS ARE ALWAYS WELCOME: “THERE IS A PLACE FOR EVERYBODY”
In reaching out to an intended audience of animal lovers, institutions, and the curious, Katz says that IDA can also attract interested parties to become involved as volunteers. “Every person, whatever skills he or she possesses are welcome,” said Katz. “Our programs are so broad, there’s a place for everybody. Our magazine, our Web site, our weekly e-newsletter, our blogs are full of suggestions on how to participate—from making donations to writing letters, to making phone calls, to attending protests, the list goes on and on. Volunteering allows one to be part of something larger than oneself.
“The simplest way to get involved is to receive our free weekly e-newsletter, to contact us, fill out a form, and simply ask, ‘How can I help?’ or tell us how you would like to help. Simply changing what you eat or what you wear will help bring about a more compassionate world, but there is much more you can do than that, such as educating others by distributing our literature or attending international days of protest and education.”
In addition to promoting the Guardian Campaign, which is working to shift both the legal and conscious definitions of "animal" in our daily life, IDA continues it's work as an international watchdog and advocacy organization, ready to speak out against animal exploitation and cruelty everywhere in the world. Information on major campaigns can be found at the links below:
Jonathan Arkin is a graduate of the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. He currently lives in southern California.