If you see an animal being abused, you will most likely interfere. But be warned: Helping an animal in distress can get you in prison.

Two rescued piglets hunted by the FBI

Animal shelter volunteers were harassed by FBI in pursuit of two rescued piglets. The rescuer, Wayne Hsiung, was also charged with 6 felonies for saving these baby animals from their dire living conditions.

Why?

Wayne is the founder of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), an international network of animal rights activists. We’ll get to know DxE and their work, why they’re facing charges, and how one city may have started to pay the way for change.

Direct Action Everywhere

Also known as DxE, Direct Action Everywhere uses disruptive, non-violent, and informed methods to change the world for animals in one human generation. They were instrumental in the recent fur ban in California, and have shed light on some of the cruelest standard practices in animal agriculture.

DxE is known for their Open Rescues, where they removed abused animals from commercial facilities that monetize animal lives. In these open rescues, DxE exposes the violence hidden from us by the industries, rescue animals from their fate in these facilities, and tell the animals’ stories.

Imprisonment for helping mistreated animals

Because of these open rescues, numerous DxE activists face criminal charges including felonies. In 2019, 148 activists have been arrested for the group’s open rescue in Sonoma County alone.

In 2019, the group documented the horrendous treatment of animals by multinational companies – animals were so starved they were eating each other alive, spaces so cramped chickens had to stand on top of each other, pigs confined in cages no bigger than their bodies. They rescued two piglets from these awful conditions, and in result were charged with felonies. The group’s founder, Wayne Hsuing, is facing up to 70 years in prison and six felony charges.

Discriminating laws

Why are these animal rescuers being imprisoned?

Philippines

In the Philippines, animals are protected by the Animal Welfare Act. The law seeks “to protect and promote the welfare of all terrestrial, aquatic and marine animals in the Philippines.”

Despite supposedly seeking to promote the welfare of all animals, the same law denies eight animals the basic right to live. The law states, “The killing of any animal other than cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, poultry, rabbits, carabaos, and horses is likely hereby declared unlawful.”

California

There’s one city in California challenging this norm of discrimination. But even in California, law denies animals a fair treatment. AB 797 of California was recently amended to grant legal immunity to concerned citizens who rescue confined animals by breaking into cars. While the law has legalized rescue of animals from hot vehicles, making other animals suffer for extended periods of time continues to be allowed. AB 797 reads:

“Nothing in this section shall be deemed to prohibit the transportation of horses, cattle, pigs, sheep, poultry, or other agricultural animals in motor vehicles designed to transport such animals for agricultural purposes.”

The conditions these animals endure during their transport are horrendous – overcrowded to the point they can’t sit, devoid of any comfort, without any food or water, and exposed to the elements be it heat or cold. But by wanting to alleviate the suffering of these animals, you may be going against the law. Break someone else’s car, though, because a dog’s left inside? Sure, go ahead.

This discrimination in law is the norm worldwide, but one city may pave the way for change: Berkeley.

The first city to support right to rescue

In a landmark decision in 2019, Berkeley became the first city to pass a resolution supporting the rescue of animals from dire situations, including those in animal agriculture premises.

Activists charged with serious criminal charges for saving suffering animals are also supported by the resolution. It reads:

“The Berkeley City Council holds that the 21 individuals being prosecuted in Sonoma County were acting under Penal Code 597e to provide domestic animals sufficient food and water… and attempting to expose abuses of nonhuman animals in commercial animal operations.”

During the voting on the resolution, an overwhelming number of supporters showed up.

Ben Bartlett, a member of Berkeley City Council, said he was disgusted and horrified by the prosecution of animal rights activists who are doing the right thing.

The morality of legality

Racism, homophobia, and sex discrimination are frowned upon now but were once widely accepted and legal. Speciesism – the discrimination against animals species – is legal now, but does that mean it’s morally right?

The methods used by DxE are non-violent and, although they sound thrilling, are nothing new. Non-violent protests and civil disobedience have been used countless times in movements that are now widely supported. Martin Luther King, Jr. for one, used civil disobedience to attain his dream of equal rights for all. And if we cheer for Rosa Parks for standing up against her oppressor in 1955, we must cheer for the Rosa Parks of today.

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s March 2020 issue.

You might want to read:
– Animal rights advocate campaigns for stricter laws against animal cruelty
– Vanity vs victims: How to effectively rescue an animal off the street
– Amazon rainforest fires: What does this mean for the animals?