AP: Celebrating 100 years of “Be Kind to Animals Week”

April 29, 2015

LOS ANGELES (AP) — These days, people pay piles of cash to pamper their pets, but problems remain on the farm and in the slaughterhouse, on movie sets and at animal shelters — even in the wild.

That’s why the American Humane Association is touting its past to move animal welfare forward. It’s celebrating 100 years of Be Kind to Animals Week, which draws celebrities, politicians and everyday enthusiasts each May to raise awareness about the plight of animals.

Day spas and designer duds for dogs are the norm now, but inhumane treatment springs up in places from puppy mills to jungles, where animals are killed for their tusks or pelts. In ways, there’s more work to do than when kindness week started in 1915.

Celebrities have asked people to combat different problems throughout the years, and history shows notables from Eleanor Roosevelt to Shirley Temple and John Wayne have a soft spot for helping animals.

No star is taking the lead this year, but the week will be expanded, lasting through 2015. Association leaders will make television appearances, hold open houses and provide materials to teach children compassion.

An interactive retrospective about the week’s history will appear online, and the group will tour schools with its traveling museum and a fleet of famed Red Star Rescue trucks used to save animals during disasters.

“It warms my heart because here we are, just as relevant today as we were 100 years ago,” said association President and CEO Robin Ganzert.

The group urges Americans to take a pledge on Kindness100.org to help animals by purchasing humanely raised eggs, meat and dairy; getting a pet from a shelter to cut down on euthanasia; watching movies featuring the “No Animals Were Harmed” end credit; and visiting zoos and aquariums to learn about wildlife conservation.

A century ago, the kindness celebration started amid World War I and the toll it took on horses. Before the war ended in 1918, 10 million horses would die on European battlefields.

Over the years, celebrities showcased different ways to help animals:

— In 1936, Shirley Temple asked people to watch out for animals crossing the road.

— In 1966, “Bonanza” star Lorne Green urged Americans to look out for “dognappers” and cattle rustlers.

— In 1972, comedienne Carol Burnett aimed to teach families, especially children, how to take care of newly adopted pets.

— In 1982, actor Clint Eastwood, an Oscar-winning producer and director, emphasized the importance of safety for entertainment animals. “I won’t allow a scene where animals are mistreated. I won’t tolerate it and never have. There’s no movie that’s worth it,” he said.

The campaign has faced opposition when many thought the focus should be on people, not pets, including during World War II.

“I believe there is great value in continuing to train children in the proper attitude toward their pets,” first lady Eleanor Roosevelt countered in her syndicated newspaper column on April 13, 1943.

Learning compassion at a young age took root for veterinarian Marty Becker, who has taught millions of children about animals on “Good Morning America” and “The Dr. Oz Show.”

Growing up on a small Idaho farm, he had to collect eggs from the chickens before school. It took too long and he got pecked too much, so Becker tried scaring the chickens away to make it easier.

“It worked really good. They flew off the nesting boxes,” he said.

But his father found out and laid in wait, giving Becker the same scare he’d given the chickens — teaching him that animals deserve the same compassion as people.