Last Friday I attended the first conference of Let the Animals Live, Israel's leading animal welfare organization. It was held in Habima Theatre in Tel Aviv. I estimate that there were about 150 people, fewer than I expected.
The host was actor Avi Grayinik, one of many Israeli celebrities known to support this organization. The event started with greetings from founder and spokeswoman, Eti Altman, a true animal welfare hero.
Let the Animals Live CEO, Yael Arkin, described the organization's history, activity, and achievements. The non-profit was founded by Eti Altman in 1986. It maintains a no-kill policy, and tries to save the life of every animal rescued. They have a large shelter housing about 200 dogs and 100 cats, and a clinic with space for 60 animals, as well as some local branches. There is a help line for reporting injured/trapped animals, and two rescue units operating throughout the country, including military bases. The organization operates a TNR (trap, neuter, release) program for feral cats, and of course spays and neuters all animals prior to adoption. There is an education program for children, From Violence to Compassion, in Arab villages in northern Israel. The legal department has been responsible for many court rulings on animal welfare and animal rights.
The next speaker was Adv. Yarom Halevy, who described the organization's court case against human-crocodile fights at Hamat Gader resort. In 1994-1995 the resort put on a show in which a man sat on a juvenile crocodile, bent its head back 90 degrees, turned it on its back, and punched it in the neck. The case went through three court levels, and the Supreme Court eventually ruled in Let the Animals Live's favour, and banned the fights.
Then we heard a fascinating talk from Dr. Ariel Tsovel about the mutual influence between humans and animals. He described the theory of Wolfgang Schleidt, that early humans learned some of their social habits from living and hunting in collaboration with packs of wolves. In contrast to the usual narrative whereby humans domesticated wolves, leading to the evolution of dogs, Schleidt considers early humans and wolves to have co-evolved, and mentions some behaviours common to wolves and humans that are not found in primate societies: mutual reliance among pack members, caring for injured individuals, living in dens, and herding prey animals. This interesting proposal would undermine the ideology of human superiority and show that early humans were an equal part of the animal world.
The final lecture was by Adv. Yossi Wolfson. He described the principles behind animal rights, starting with recognizing that an animal is "someone", not "something", and discussing speciesism. Since humans extend the same rights to all humans, regardless of their skills or sensitivity, surely other animals are on the same scale and deserve if not complete equality, at least compassion?
Following these lectures the participants could take part in round table discussions. I chose one on systemic action for animal welfare, led by Adv. Yonathan Spiegel. He described the type of court cases and legislation proposals the organization has initiated, and we talked about issues such as hunting and a requirement that any animal given for adoption should be neutered first. He noted the difficulty in changing people's traditional perceptions, and my conclusion was that the legal efforts need to be accompanied by widespread education and public awareness work.
I enjoyed the conference, but found it to be a bit disorganized. The lectures started late, which meant I had to leave before the end and missed the Q&A session. It was also not clear what the audience was meant to be. Many participants seemed to be staff or volunteers, but the lectures were aimed at a wider audience. I would have liked to hear more about the work of shelter volunteers and foster care providers.
On the way home I saw a two-legged dog taking a walk with a wheel contraption attached to its hind section. It seemed happy, and the sight made me grateful that there are people in the world willing to give injured animals a chance at a good life.