“If you see something that’s wrong, you’ve got to do something about it.” — Henry Spira
“I don’t think that one can articulate a satisfaction with harming another being whether it’s human or nonhuman.” — Henry Spira
I would like to introduce you to Henry Spira, one of the world’s most effective animal activists. His life is testament to how individuals can make a real difference in this world. I got to know about Henry Spira a week ago in my readings. I was struck by his courage and determination to end animal cruelty in strategically creative ways. I was further moved by his simplistically beautiful attitude towards life. He was happy and contented devoting his life to animal welfare despite having next to nothing in conventional terms. To me, his existence was extraordinarily meaningful and worthwhile! It would be unforgivable if I did not share his story.
Spira did not think of animals until 1973 when, at the age of 45, a friend dumped a cat on him to look after. That started his love affair with animals!
Spira was successful in his campaign against animal testing which led Revlon, Avon and other cosmetics companies to change their testing procedures so that many now do not test on animals and can therefore say “not tested on animals” on their products.
His full-page advertisement in The New York Times in 1980 – famously featured a rabbit with sticking plaster over the eyes – asked “How many rabbits does Revlon blind for beauty’s sake?”
“Imaging someone placing your head in a stock. As you stare helplessly ahead, unable to defend yourself, your head is pulled back. Your lower eyelid is pulled away from your eyeball. The chemicals are poured into the eye. There is pain. You scream and writhe hopelessly. There is no escape. This is the Draize Test. The test which measures the harmfulness of chemicals by the damage inflicted on the unprotected eyes of conscious rabbits. The test that Revlon and other cosmetic firms force on thousands of rabbits to test their products.”
Within a year, Revlon donated US$750,000 to a fund to investigate alternatives to animal testing, followed by substantial donations from Avon, Bristol Meyers, Estée Lauder, Max Factor, Chanel, and Mary Kay Cosmetics, donations that led to the creation of the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing.
Spira also successfully campaigned against sex experiments on cats at a renowned American Museum and the export of monkeys to the US for military research. Similarly his other campaigns saved millions of animals from being tortured.
Peter Singer, a philosopher and Spira’s friend, told us that Spira’s life lacked what most of us would deem a good life. He lived in a spartan, rent-controlled apartment in the US. He did not go to movies, theatres, concerts or fine restaurants. He did not marry nor did he have children. Up to his death, he did not have holidays for 20 years.
Yet, at the age of 68 having cancer and facing an imminent death, when asked by Peter Singer about his activist life over the past 20-30 years, Spira said that he had no regrets and would have led a similar life if he had his time again.
Spira also emphasised that he had chosen his life because he felt good about what he did rather than some sense of duty to do the right thing. He said “…you’ve got to enjoy what you are doing to be effective. What you’re doing is what you’ve absolutely got to be doing, not because you feel you’ve got to do it but, rather, because this is what your life is about.”
Spira was motivated by a worthwhile pursuit. He said “I guess basically one wants to feel that one’s life has amounted to more than just consuming products and generating garbage. I think that one likes to look back and say that one’s done the best one can to make this a better place for others. You can look at it from this point of view. What greater motivation can there be than doing whatever one possibly can to reduce pain and suffering.”
Rest in peace Henry Spira (June 19, 1927 – September 12, 1998).
You did not just make a difference – you had a profound impact!
Thank you very much from the animals and animal lovers of this world.
You can read more about Henry Spira in the book “Ethics into Action ” by Peter Singer. It is a highly inspirational account of one man’s unrelenting quest to stop animal suffering.