[Ed. Note: For more, read Some Good News and Some Victories for Animals in 2011]
By Heather Moore, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
2011 was tough—when people weren't bemoaning budget cuts, lining up outside job fairs or fretting over the stagnant housing market, they were listening to worrisome news about the war in Afghanistan, political shootings and natural disasters. But things weren't all bad. There were signs of progress and reasons to be positive, especially when it comes to issues that impact animals. As we head into the new year, let's reflect upon some of the things that made 2011 memorable for animals.
Eight of the nation's largest financial institutions, including MetLife, Goldman Sachs, PNC Financial and U.S. Bank, stopped using glue traps after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) explained that animals who get stuck in them often suffocate and die slowly. The Social Security Administration, Georgia Institute of Technology and Toronto District School Board—the fourth-largest school district in North America—also agreed to use more humane methods of rodent control.
While this is hardly revolutionary, it is indicative of a larger social movement to reform practices that harm animals. Many people are now less likely to accept activities that cause suffering—and it shows in our laws and business practices.
In 2011, West Hollywood became the first city in the U.S. to ban the sale of fur. City council members in Toronto and Irvine, Calif., banned the sale of cats and dogs in pet stores. Rodeos and circuses that feature exotic animals were also prohibited in Irvine, and Fulton County—the most populous municipality in Georgia—banned the use of bullhooks, sharp steel-tipped devices that are commonly used to beat, jab or yank on elephants.
The American Zoological Association (AZA) announced a new elephant handling policy that will nearly put an end to all bullhook use at all AZA-accredited zoos by 2014. The Toronto Zoo decided to close its elephant exhibit and send its remaining elephants to the Performing Animal Welfare Society Sanctuary. The City of Santa Ana Zoo announced it would put an end to the Santa Ana Zoo’s 25-year old elephant rides. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture slapped Feld Entertainment, the owner of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which routinely uses bullhooks to "discipline" captive elephants, with a $270,000 fine—the largest settlement of its kind in U.S. history—for repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act.
Also in 2011, eight top advertising agencies pledged never again to feature great apes—who are often torn away from their mothers shortly after birth and beaten in order to force them to perform on cue—in their advertisements. Capital One pulled an ad featuring a chimpanzee and pledged not to use nonhuman primates in its advertisements again. The blockbuster film Rise of the Planet of the Apes featured CGI animation to create realistic-looking apes without exploiting and abusing animals.
U.S. Army officials announced that monkeys will no longer be used in a cruel chemical nerve-agent attack training course at Aberdeen Proving Ground. The University of Michigan, Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City and Naval Medical Center San Diego began using sophisticated simulators instead of live cats for intubation training. And the world's largest tea-maker, Unilever—maker of Lipton and PG tips—stopped experimenting on pigs and other animals just so that it could make health claims about its tea.
Aspen, Colo., became the first city in the U.S. to launch a comprehensive Meatless Monday campaign—local restaurants, schools, hospitals and businesses are now promoting plant-based meals on Mondays. The board of commissioners in Durham County, N.C., also signed a "Meatless Mondays" resolution, and several more celebrities, including Russell Brand, Eliza Dushku and Ozzy Osbourne, went vegan in 2011. The Rev. Al Sharpton also ditched meat from his diet.
Many of these developments were brought about, at least in part, by PETA, but everyone can bring about change simply by resolving to be kinder, greener and healthier in the coming year. By taking simple steps such as buying cruelty-free products, choosing meatless meals, wearing animal-friendly fashions and enjoying animal-free entertainment, we can all help make 2012 even better than 2011.