I have in front of me three appeals for funds. The first is from a national animal rights organisation which promotes vegan, cruelty-free living and exposes institutionalised animal exploitation with undercover investigations. The second is for an animal sanctuary which rescues not only cats and dogs but also farmed animals such as chickens, goats and sheep. The last request is from a local refuge which works in practical ways to help people, including their children and companion animals, who are abused by their partners.
Each one wants me to support their work by making a donation. But my funds are limited. It is not possible to help everyone. Which one should I choose? Which is a priority? Which lives or dies?
Here, then, is the dilemma for those of us with limited funds who care about animals when we read the mail and E-mail sent to us by various organisations. But this quandary is not restricted to animal advocates and the animal rights movement. It is also true for those who care about social justice and generally support charities, non-governmental organisations and not-for-profit groups.
I must determine whether I can support any or all of these appeals. Is one more urgent than the other? Or more important? Whose need is greatest?
Finding answers to these questions prompts more in turn.
What am I seeking to accomplish with my donations? To help genuinely? Instant emotional gratification? Assuage guilt? Seek long-term solutions to entrenched problems? Do I have a personal mission that guides me? If so, what is it? How much difference can I really make? Is this the best way to help? In order for me to help animals must I also support the work of advocacy organisations and sanctuaries and refuges for people and their children and companion animals who are abused?
Personal questions such as these also inspire similar ones directed toward social justice movements.
What are their missions? Are there any long-term objectives? Short-term goals? Is it, for example, intervening in abusive situations? Bringing public attention to egregious examples of abuse? Attracting the media’s attention? Challenging institutional exploitation? Promoting alternatives?
It is all of these things and much more.
But this questioning prompts yet more. This time it is deceptively simple but demands a complex answer.
How is accomplishment to be measured?
Is it by public opinion? Quantity and quality of media coverage? Growth of organisations and their influence? Public policy? Policy statements and election pledges made by political parties? Regulations and laws passed and their enforcement? The practices of industry and commerce? Academic research? Statistics? Lives saved?
Even before they can be answered, there is still one more question. Again, deceptively simple but complex to answer.
Who is responsible and should be held to account?
These are the questions which run through people’s minds when they are confronted with appeals for funds.
Which to choose? Whose need is greatest? Is this the best way to help? What are their missions? How to measure effectiveness? Who is responsible? Are donations used well?
I am familiar with all of these questions and more. Over the years many animal advocates have asked them of me. What do I think, for example, about a particular organisation? Do I support them? Should I give them money? I have heard such and such, they say, and ask me, What do I know? I also ask myself the same questions when I consider the groups I support.
My four key values in animal rights — truth, compassion, nonviolence and interbeing — guide me on how to answer all of these questions. They help me to understand the problem of animal cruelty and exploitation and determine effective ways to act for animals. They also lead me to reason that the problem is not with the animals themselves but with us.
We are the problem. We cause the suffering.
I believe the fundamental problem of animal exploitation is us. Human attitudes, behaviour and beliefs are the cause. Animal exploitation is the effect.
The animal rights challenge begins and ends with us.
We are the solution. We can stop the suffering.
So, which one, if any, or should I support all three of the appeals in front of me?