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Written by Scott Smith
You may have already heard of Brian Davies, a pioneer on the front lines of animal activism since the 1950s.
Over the past five years I’ve been writing extensively about animals, so needless to say, I have run into Mr. Davies’ name many times. By the end of this feature, you’re probably going to be asking yourself the same question I always ask myself when I read about him: “How did one man accomplish so much for animals all over the world?”
Let’s see where it all began.
Davies was born in 1935, in a coal mining region of Wales. As a result of World War II, he spent much of his childhood in the care of his grandparents. At age 11, when the war ended, Brian and his family moved to England. Nine years later, he and his first wife, Joan, moved to Canada in search of a better life.
In 1958, when Davies was 23 years old, a car hit a dog outside his home. Since there were no local vets available, he reached out to the Fredericton Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). They pointed him and the dog to the Fredericton Animal Hospital.
This act of kindness was the spark that ignited a lifelong journey as an animal welfare activist.
In 1961, Brian joined the New Brunswick Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NBSPCA), and during his time there he was involved in many facets of animal welfare.
With the backing of the NBSPCA, Brian was able to participate in multiple campaigns aimed towards helping to prevent animal cruelty. Most notably, Brian put his heart and soul into the campaign to stop the hunt for baby harp seals off the coast of Newfoundland. Eventually, he and the NBSPCA were front and center in the news because of the NBSPCA’s Save the Seals Fund.
By 1968, the NBSPCA voted to resume sole focus on the general protection of animals in New Brunswick, and split from the Save the Seals campaign. Davies held the line, and converted the Save The Seals Fund into the the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). Today IFAW is arguably the largest animal welfare and conservation charity in the world.
Davies led IFAW for 29 years and it’s still going strong today. IFAW has projects in over 40 countries, always staying true to its core mission statement, to “Rescue and protect animals around the world.”
I’ve been writing about animals for years, and had often heard of Mr. Davies, especially in connection with the Canadian seal hunt. Over the course of the decades of Mr. Davies’ and other activists’ struggles to stop the hunt, many from both sides have weighed in with their opinions. Proponents of the seal hunt insist it’s a humane process, that it’s not really that bad.
In 1966, when Davies witnessed the Canadian seal hunt for the first time, he said:
“Thirty meters ahead of me was a baby white seal on its back and the hunter was skinning it alive. I made an eye connection with that seal and I could feel the desperate terror and pain that it was suffering. You can’t make this humane.”
The seal hunt in Canada is one of the most barbaric slaughters on Earth. The word “humane” has no business being associated with this commercial carnage.
In the late 1970s and early ’80s, I caught footage of the seal hunt on television, and couldn’t believe my eyes. I’d never seen anything like that before. Then in the 2010s, when I started seeing comments that Davies had made about the seal hunt as far back as the 1960s, to say that his words resonated with me would be a huge understatement. Every year, commercial sealers still arrive on Canadian ice floes to kill thousands of baby seals between three weeks and three months old. Some are shot to death, but others have their skulls crushed with a hakapik, a hooked club with piercing metal tips. Their pelts are torn off and their bodies are left to rot on the ice.
David Barritt has been a colleague of Mr. Davies for 20 years. Of their joint work, he says, “I have worked with Brian for more than 20 years. I met him when he was running IFAW and he recruited me to help him stop the sealing in South Africa, which we did achieve. Then we went on to stopping the elephant cull in South Africa, which we also achieved.”
David also reflected upon one of Mr. Davies’ common sayings, which he would consider when faced with a difficult or expensive animal welfare challenge. He would ask himself, “What would the animals want us to do?”
Once Davies retired in the early 1990s, after leading IFAW for 29 years, he formed the Political Animal Lobby (PAL). Davies knew that politics play an enormous role in the realm of animal welfare and rights, and saw the need for an organization dedicated to changing policies at the highest levels of government.
One of PAL’s greatest achievements was the donation of $1,450,000 to the British Labour Party in 1997. This donation was decisive in the Labour Party’s ascension to majority party that year, clearing the way for the passage of The Hunting Act, which saved thousands of foxes, hare, and deer from vicious bloodsport-related deaths.
In the late 1990s, Davies then formed the Network for Animals (NFA), an organization that uses grassroots activism to support small animal rescues and generate worldwide animal welfare campaigns. NFA initiatives include seizing dogs from the Philippine dog meat trade, protecting elephants and rhinos from criminal networks in Tanzania and South Africa, opposing the seal hunt in Canada, providing disaster relief for animals, and ending organized horse fighting in the Southern Philippines.
Throughout it all, the core conviction of the NFA remains: “Decisive change for animals must ultimately involve political change.” In July of 2014, NFA expanded its work into the United States, as a 501(C)(3) charitable organization.
Mr. Davies turned 82 years old on February 4th, 2017. If you trace the path that led Davies from rescuing a dog in 1958 to his continued efforts that still lead him all over the globe in his fight for animal rights, it’s clear that he has an unbreakable kinship with animals. That kinship made it possible for one man to help reshape the way people think about animals.
Over the course of his decades-long commitment to animal activism, Davies founded the IFAW, PAL, and NFA. The odds of one person building three globally influential organizations in one lifetime is almost zero—but it happened anyway. Passion and love can defy all odds.
Any narrative of Brian Davies’ considerable achievements is incomplete, however, without mentioning his wife Gloria, who worked with him at IFAW and then co-founded NFA. The world is a better place because the Davies are in it. I hope to thank them in person one day, and to maybe make it to the ice floes in Canada to see the harp seals. What a gift that would be.
I want to thank Mr. David Barritt of Network for Animals for his assistance with this feature on Brian Davies.
See the original version of this article on Consumers Advocate.
Featured Image: Brian Davies with a harp seal on the Canadian ice floes. This image, and all images in this story via Consumers Advocate.