Three years ago, the American public roared in outrage upon learning of the killing of a beloved lion, Cecil, by an American trophy hunter. As terrible as that killing was, it was also a watershed moment for animal welfare – one that created a global furor against this senseless “sport” that’s dominated by wealthy Americans who use foreign lands as their playgrounds and reduce endangered and threatened animals to decorations for their homes.
One of the most prominent voices heard globally after the killing of Cecil was that of Ricky Gervais, the Golden Globe and Emmy winning comedian, actor and director who has long been a friend of all animals and who has partnered with us on many platforms at the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International, including dog adoption, ending the fur trade, animal testing for cosmetics, the international dog meat trade, and the exploitation of animals for entertainment such as bullfighting.
“I am struggling to imagine anything more beautiful than this,” Ricky tweeted, alongside a photograph of Cecil alive and well, signalling his sadness soon after the news of the killing went viral. In other contexts, Ricky has explained his dedication this way: “I speak for animals because they don’t have a voice.”
Over the years, following news of trophy hunts, including, more recently, the killing of a family of baboons in Namibia by an Idaho fish and game commission official, Ricky’s voice has continued to reach out to his millions of fans over social media and through the media, elevating the work we do in raising global awareness about trophy hunting, moblizing the shock and outrage felt by millions in reaction to news about trophy hunts, and adding to the momentum to ending it for good.
On Friday, it was my honor to present this remarkable supporter of our cause with Humane Society International’s first Cecil Award at the HSUS “To the Rescue!” annual gala in New York City. The award recognizes Ricky’s global advocacy against trophy hunting, and his outspoken, heartfelt crusades for so many animal issues.
Also a top honoree at this year’s gala was the luxury fashion brand Gucci, which received the Corporate Consciousness Award for showing that a highly successful company can take a stand against cruelty in its manufacturing policies.
When Gucci announced it was going fur-free last year, it was a pathbreaking moment for the fashion world: by shedding a product that results in the cruel killing of a hundred million animals each year, Gucci increased its appeal to the next generation of consumers who care about animals, while showing the fashion industry that fur was no longer fashionable. In the year since we have seen a cascade of fur-free announcements from a number of major names in fashion, including Coach, Michael Kors, Diane von Furstenberg and Burberry.
This year’s HSUS Innovator award was presented to fashion blogger and Humane Generation New York committee member Katie Sturino and, posthumously, her dog Toast. Toast, over the course of her life, made a huge difference for animals, from helping educate the public about the reality of puppy mills, to promoting adoption, to raising critical funds that benefit our mission. We are grateful to Katie for leveraging Toast’s audience in social media to make a positive impact and inspire other donors and dog lovers to step up their support of our work. Toast’s campaign with the Shelter Pet Project — a joint effort of the HSUS, Maddie’s Fund and the Ad Council — helped lead to more than 500,000 searches for adoptable pets on the Shelter Pet Project’s website.
The gala, chaired this year by Georgina Bloomberg and hosted by Tony-winning actress and singer Sutton Foster, supports the advocacy and hands-on work that the HSUS and HSI do for the rescue, care, placement and potential rehoming of tens of thousands of animals each year, including animals suffering in puppy mills, dogfighting rings, large-scale neglect cases and natural disasters.
Other attendees at the gala included Rob Thomas, Moby, Erich Bergen, Carole Radziwill and Loretta Swit.
There is still a long road ahead in achieving a world where all animals are treated with compassion. The fight against trophy hunting, in particular, has become tougher over the past two years, with the U.S. Department of the Interior loosening hard-won restrictions on trophy imports and attempts in Congress to whittle down Endangered Species Act protections. But there is also much to celebrate as we did the other night, and today we are back at work in our mission to protect all animals. With prominent individuals like Ricky Gervais and our other gala attendees, dedicated supporters and donors, and successful businesses understanding and embracing our cause, the wind is at our backs.