As we prepare for a few days of family, friends and giving thanks, I’m thankful for those who walked this path before me.
On Dec. 1, we’ll mark the 50th anniversary of the death of HSUS co-founder Fred Myers, a long-neglected visionary in the history of our movement. Myers’ greatest insight was that the animal protection movement of the 1950s, in examining the challenges to come in the succeeding decades, had a need for a new kind of animal organization – one that would take on the greatest national and global challenges in animal welfare. Myers’ premature death, at the age of 59, was a terrible shock for his colleagues, and a true moment of crisis for The HSUS. Fortunately, a cadre of individuals stepped into the breach and kept The HSUS moving forward and continued developing its capacity to confront the biggest issues of the day.
Fred Myers, one of the co-founders of The Humane
Society of the United States.
I often think about Myers and other early figures, because it is my responsibility to advance the mission of the organization they founded. I think their vision was inspired, and it syncs up with my view that we must strike at the root causes of cruelty, taking on the largest, most intractable forms of institutionalized cruelty. I often wish that it were possible for him and other HSUS pioneers to see just how far we’ve come in extending their vision. How pleased they would be to see us taking on factory farming, puppy mills, seal killing, animal fighting, and so many problems that they lacked the means to address and run to ground.
Their own early achievements, however, were not inconsequential, given that they began as a small start-up. By the time of Myers’ death, just nine years after the founding of the organization, The HSUS had helped to secure the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which did away with crude methods of slaughter like the poleaxe. When Myers passed away, The HSUS was already two years into its long-term probe of animal dealers taking dogs to laboratories. This is the very investigation which culminated in passage of the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act of 1966, after Stan Wayman’s Life Magazine essay brought the story to millions of Americans. Just last week, The HSUS released the results of an undercover investigation of dog-dealing to laboratories – a sign both of our staying power and of the intractability of so many problems we confront.
In 2014, we’ll celebrate the 60th anniversary of The HSUS, an organization that has relied on thousands of dedicated staff members to advance its programs over the many decades since Myers and others gathered in a Denver living room to launch their new organization, with great principle and high hopes. Without him, The HSUS would not exist at all. That’s the fundamental legacy of Fred Myers. He was a man of great vision, judgment and determination, and together with his colleagues, he introduced a bold new approach to humane issues. It’s made a big difference for millions of animals, and now it’s our task to finally solve some of these problems and to extend that enduring vision on the global stage.