October 4 marks World Animal Day, a global day to celebrate animals and to recognize their many plights across the globe. For animal advocates, the day is also an opportunity to consider the progress that has been made in recent years toward advancing greater compassion, respect and justice for animals.
Of note: Invasive biomedical research on chimpanzees has come to an end—driven as much by evolving attitudes toward the species as by evidence of their inadequacies as models for human diseases. Revelation of a failed University of Missouri experiment, in which beagle puppies were blinded and killed to test eye medication, has led to public outcry and revulsion. A growing number of countries are banning the use of animals to test the safety of cosmetics –passage of the Humane Cosmetics Act would enable the U.S. to join this list of enlightened nations.
The tide is turning. And many of those who once accepted the use of animals as the best (or, indeed, the only) way to advance science are finding themselves increasingly left to defend cruel, archaic, unethical practices while modern science and technology are developing human-relevant methodologies that are already paying huge dividends in the form of smarter, more humane solutions that are better for both people and animals.
Incremental progress is also being made to protect companion animals and wildlife, for animals on factory farms, in entertainment and sports. In some cases, the legal system is extending greater protection for animals. On the other hand, numerous exposés of animal cruelty and the growing list of endangered and threatened species are urgent indicators of the many catastrophic threats to animals.
World Animal Day is a reminder that the fate of humanity is linked to that of earth’s other species and that our treatment of them is the true measure of human character.