Animal rights activists are people living all over the world who spend some or most of their time protesting or otherwise working against factory farming, animal testing and other abuses of the animal kingdom. An animal activist believes that animals deserve to live happy, cruelty-free lives, and in addition they do something to help create a world where that is possible.
What many people don’t realize is that animal rights activists aren’t just the people you see holding up signs when you’re commuting to work in the morning. They’re certainly not violent protestors who burn down lab buildings with the animals inside.
In fact, they’re people you work with, people in your family, and people you pass on the street every day. Sure, some of them do hold signs and attend protests. Others are animal rights activists in their own way.
So what are animal rights activists — and should you maybe be one, too? Let’s dive deep into this subject and figure out what animal activism really means for people who love animals.
What Are Animal Rights Activists?
An animal rights activist is someone who believes in justice for all animals. They don’t condone animal testing, factory farming, or any other systematic mistreatment of animals, nor do they believe in harsh animal training methods, or other pursuits that cause animals pain or discomfort. A key concept is in the name — rights. Animal rights activists recognize animals as having much wider rights to exist and live freely than society in general currently does, and they work to make these rights a reality.
Most animal rights activists are either vegetarian or vegan, and many consider themselves environmental activists as well. Their primary goal is to end speciesism and create a world in which humans and other animals can live with one another in peace, without one species dominating another.
There are a lot of folks making major waves in the animal rights fight. Here are some high-profile names:
Wayne Hsiung is the co-founder of Direct Action Everywhere, an organization that investigates animal cruelty. He’s been actively involved in keeping businesses as honest as possible and standing up for animals.
Anita Krajnc made headline news when she gave water to pigs on their way to the slaughterhouse. She was arrested for criminal mischief in Toronto but was found not guilty. Krajnc founded Toronto Pig Save, which focuses on saving pigs from abuse and slaughter.
There are also folks like Simone Reyes, who became famous as Russell Simmons’s assistant and gave a powerful TEDx talk on animal rights. She’s worked with PETA and other organizations to raise awareness, stage demonstrations, and protest animal cruelty.
People are becoming animal rights activists every day, or just realizing that that’s what they’ve been all along. One example is Glenn Greenwald, who is best known for his work at The Intercept and for breaking the Edward Snowden story, and who has become a vegan and committed animal rights activist. His current project involves creating animal shelters to be run by homeless people, providing space and safety for both people and animals. He and his husband, David Miranda, have 24 rescue dogs themselves.
1866: The Year the First Animal Protection Group Was Created in the U.S.
The American Society of Prevention Against Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) was founded in 1866 by Henry Bergh. In that same year, it helped to pass the first American animal cruelty law to protect animals from abuse. The ASPCA has long fought against any person or organization that uses animals in inhumane ways.
Of course, the ASPCA is no longer the only animal rights activist organization in the U.S., and many more exist throughout the world. Each of these organizations strives not only to bring animal abuse to light and stop it, but also to educate people on the humane treatment of animals. Animal rights activists who belong to these organizations or who act independently often volunteer to teach classes, to clear out the homes of animal hoarders and rehome those animals, and to organize free or low-cost vaccines and neutering for household pets.
What Do Animal Rights Activists Do?
An animal rights activist looks out for animals at every opportunity. Most proactively organize events to help educate the public, protest against the inhumane treatment of animals, or celebrate animals in general.
You’ll find many animal rights activists lobbying state and federal governments for better laws to protect animals. These passionate people also spend time spreading the word about animal cruelty online, whether by writing blogs, posting on social media, creating YouTube videos, or chatting with others on forums.
Fight for Basic Animal Rights
Animal rights activists understand that animals can’t protect themselves from human greed. They don’t have the tools or voices to achieve their own liberation from labs and farms. Consequently, humans have to speak for them.
The goal is to identify situations in which animals might be in danger, then attempt to stop the cruelty. The vast majority of animal rights activists don’t believe in taking the law into their own hands. Instead, they work with law enforcement when necessary to help stop animal cruelty.
The ways in which animal rights activists fight for animal cruelty can vary depending on their abilities. Celebrities, for instance, often have larger platforms and seemingly make statements with a bigger impact. However, the young family that adopts a dog or cat from a rescue instead of buying one from a breeder makes just as big an impact in the life of that one animal.
Most animal rights activists also walk the walk. In addition to protesting animal cruelty, they do their best to make sure they don’t contribute to it. They eat vegan diets, avoid wearing products made from animal hide, fur and leather, and don’t use consumer goods made from animal by-products.
Save Animals From Exploitation
Animals can be exploited in numerous ways. Animals used in laboratory testing often undergo extreme pain, fear, discomfort, and finally death. The same is true of animals that are used in sports (both illegal and legal), such as dog fighting or bullfighting. Some animal rights activists specialize in a particular form of animal exploitation. They might target factory farms to dissuade farmers from raising animals for meat, eggs, and milk in inhumane ways, for example.
Activists use their voices, too. These days anyone with a cell phone can capture an act of animal cruelty, send it to the police, post it on Twitter, or otherwise make it known. The same people can use social platforms to educate their audiences and bring animals’ plights to public attention.
Make Sure Animals Are Treated With Dignity
The goal of an animal rights activist is to make sure that all animals are able to lead lives as unencumbered by humans as possible. They make sure animals aren’t kept in habitats that don’t meet their needs, and that people don’t catch wild animals for the purpose of domesticating them.
Many people who fail to treat animals with dignity do so out of ignorance rather than malice. A rancher who doesn’t know better, for example, might turn out horses or cows on inadequate pasture, or fail to seek veterinary attention when necessary.
Most animal rights activists oppose animal testing in all its forms, and sometimes monitor breeding, boarding, and veterinary practices to make sure all animals come and go with dignity, including animals who must be euthanized due to serious illness or injury.
Monitor the Use of Animals for Entertainment
Animals have long been used for human entertainment, whether they’re performing at a venue like SeaWorld or used in movies and television shows. The ASPCA and other organizations frequently monitor entertainment venues to make sure animals receive appropriate care. Forcing animals to work for 18 hours a day on a movie set is not appropriate. Neither is forcing an animal, domesticated or not, into a situation in which he is uncomfortable.
With the Internet, it’s easier than ever for animal rights activists to spread the word about animals mistreated for entertainment purposes. You might have seen the video shot on the set of “A Dog’s Purpose.” A German shepherd’s handler tries to force the dog into a pool of water resembling rapids. The animal clearly doesn’t want to go into the water, and the handler even says so.
Later in the video, after the dog is successfully forced into the water, he goes under. It’s uncomfortable to watch, but it also provides an accurate portrayal of how animals are sometimes forced to work for human entertainment. No doubt many animal rights activists will boycott “A Dog’s Purpose” for this very reason. As should anyone with a functioning moral compass.
How to Be an Animal Rights Activist
If you’re interested in becoming an animal rights activist, you don’t have to choose a particular method or group. In fact, you can advocate for animals all on your own.
1. Educate Yourself Regarding the Issues
Reading this article is an excellent first step toward becoming an animal rights activist. Please check out the other articles on this site to learn as much as you can about animal welfare. There is no right or wrong place to start — start anywhere. There are numerous issues related to animal welfare, from factory farming and animal testing to the use of animals in entertainment and the broad spectrum of abuse that pets suffer at the hands of their human companions.
Animal rights activists need to make change happen in the world, and getting people to listen to them is crucial. This may seem like an uphill struggle. Those who enjoy eating meat and who consider animals “less than” (whether by conviction or just by default) can put up arguments that seem cogent at first. But if you know your facts your voice can stand out from the crowd. Memorizing climate impact statistics and reading up on factory farming processes can help, but as long as you understand the history of animal cruelty across the world, and the impact it continues to have on the environment, humans, and other animals, you’ll be in good shape.
The more you know about how animals are treated in the United States and around the world, the greater an impact you can have on how those animals are treated in the future.
2. Make Lifestyle Changes
Animal rights activists are very careful about what they consume. They don’t want to contribute to animal cruelty in any way, so they monitor what they eat and purchase. If you’d like to become an animal activist, consider making a couple of lifestyle changes of your own.
Become a Vegan or Vegetarian
There are lots of myths about vegetarianism and veganism, most of which don’t hold up to even cursory scrutiny. Yes, you can still get plenty of macro and micronutrients. Yes, you’ll still have sufficient energy to work out, play with your kids, and get your work done. And yes, you still get enough protein — enough even for the heaviest gym workouts. For immediate evidence, see Nimai Delgado, a vegan bodybuilding pro who has never eaten meat in his life, or Patrik Baboumian, a vegan and 2012 European Powerlifting Champion.
By choosing a vegan diet, you send the message that you don’t consume animal products. Your visits to the grocery store don’t put money in the coffers of the animal agriculture industry. As more people turn toward vegetarianism and veganism, more farming businesses will need to pay attention if they want to preserve their profits.
Become a Cruelty-Free Consumer
It isn’t just what you eat that makes you an animal rights activist. Avoid buying products that have been tested on animals in the laboratory or that come from animal hide and other parts of the body. When it comes to clothes, avoid not just fur, but also leather. It is often mistakenly thought to be a meat byproduct, but much leather is produced by raising and killing animals specifically for that purpose. Wool and down are some other animal products that may cause tremendous suffering.
A conscious consumer who cares about animal welfare will avoid using any products that contribute to animal cruelty. Additionally, products made from natural substances tend to have less impact on the humans who use them and are safer for pets and children in the home. Educating yourself on cruelty-free products will help you navigate the store shelves with more awareness. It’s not as hard as you might think. Companies have made it easier on consumers by announcing their cruelty-free practices on packaging.
3. Take Part in the Cause Publicly
If you’re comfortable with it, you can also contribute to animal rights activists’ causes directly. Start by attending a protest or march, or by writing about animal welfare on the internet. Bookmark websites like Sentient Media and the ASPCA so you can amplify their social posts and raise more awareness.
The more you put yourself out there, the easier it becomes. If you’re truly passionate about becoming an animal rights activist, don’t stay hidden behind your computer. Step out into the public spotlight. If you live near a major city, you can likely get in touch with people who can help. You’re not alone, so don’t assume you have to stand in the spotlight by yourself.
Donate to Animal Rights Organizations
Many animal rights organizations have a serious lack of funding. They’re struggling to do good work, but they can only go as far as their budgets allow. Both monetary and in-kind donations can have a huge impact.
You can write a check to an organization, drop off supplies at a local animal shelter or farm sanctuary, or collect money from friends and family members. You might even get your office involved in a project to fund an animal rights organization. If you are interested in how to do the most good for animals with your money, take a look at the research and rankings by Animal Charity Evaluators. One key point is that of the meager total funding going to animal rights issues today, most goes towards local shelters. While shelters are of course important, the sheer number of animals in the U.S. suffering on factory farms is over 1,000 times the number of companion animals entering shelters. So if you are looking to make an impact, consider focusing on the rights of factory-farmed animals.
Many initiatives create crowdfunding campaigns, like Glenn Greenwald’s project for rescue shelters that hire homeless people, Abrigo Hope. You can contribute to Homeless People & Animals Together on GoFundMe right now to help his vision become a reality.
Finding ways to contribute financially to these initiatives makes you part of them. But if you can’t give money, maybe you can figure out how to give your time.
Get Involved With an Animal Rights Organization
If you want to get even more involved, donate your time as well as your cash. Ask your local animal rights organization what they need and how you can help. While cleaning out animal pens, licking stamps, or updating websites might not sound exciting, every small administrative task helps an organization to thrive and do more good.
Donating your time, as mentioned above, is a great alternative to giving your money. Every nonprofit needs help with something, and you don’t always have to be physically present. Use your skills or your trade to help organizations in need.
Use Your Voice
If you have a smartphone or a computer, you have a voice. Join as many social media networks as possible and use them to spread your ideas. Call out organizations and businesses that contribute to animal cruelty, join conversations with other animal rights activists, and make your opinions known.
Use your strengths here. If you’re most comfortable talking to people, make YouTube videos. If you like to write, voice your opinions through the written word. We all have strengths, so use yours to fight for animal rights.
You have your own unique perspective. Consider sharing your story about why you became vegan, or the bond you formed with your rescue dog. Talk about how you used to work in a slaughterhouse and expose what you learned there. You could even interview a local animal control officer to learn more about what they see every day.
What You Can Do
Animals have rights. All animal rights activists have at least that belief in common, though they also tend to share other core beliefs, values, and ideals. How you get involved with animal rights organizations is completely up to you. Simply refusing to buy products that contribute to animal cruelty is a step in the right direction. Lead by your actions and words. Focus on making your friends and family members aware of the cruelty that animals face, by standing up for your animal friends at every opportunity.
Do you consider yourself an animal rights activist? Do you think you’ll become one?
Grant is the co-founder of Sentient Media. He currently lives in Brazil and has traveled across dozens of countries on assignment.