For me, as for so many others, the best part of this holiday season is time with family and the spirit of giving. I would be lying if I said I didn't like receiving gifts--and I'm telling the truth when I say that the best ones are the gifts my 12-year-old makes with her own little hands.
My favorite family tradition, which we started a few years ago, is this: on Christmas day, after all of the gifts are opened and we've had a walk in the woods, we sit together as a family and pour over letters from charities we've given to in the past, and charities profiled in the Catalogue for Philanthropy, and decide which ones to give to before year-end. The list grows longer each year as we reduce what we spend on each other and increase what we give to make the world a better place.
There are animal groups included, to be sure: farm animal sanctuaries, for instance, since my wife works at the Humane Rescue Alliance (companion animals) and I work at Born Free USA (wildlife). But, there are also charities that provide hospice care to impoverished people at the end of their lives, that support the legal rights of women subjected to domestic violence, and that help with housing improvements for the less fortunate.
What a wonderful feeling writing those checks, signing holiday cards, and sealing those envelopes!
Of course, being a family of vegans and working in the animal protection field myself, the one thing we don't have to worry about is getting gifts that are not compassionate. There are no fur-trimmed boots or leather coats; no tickets to a circus; no exotic animal pet; and no turtle shell jewelry. Sadly, we know that people all across America haven't yet gotten the message and still engage in a cruel holiday, whether knowingly or unwittingly. They give gifts made of animal fur; they engage in animal-based entertainment; they give live turtles or monkeys as pets; and they give elephant ivory.
Whether it's a compassionate Christmas, a compassionate Chanukah, or any other winter holiday celebration, animal cruelty should never be involved.
Thankfully, there is a growing family of animal supporters around the world who reject any form of animal cruelty. There is a legion of Born Free USA supporters, our extended professional family, who supports our work. There is the Born Free USA family of staff, volunteers, and consultants who make our work to save animals everywhere possible. Knowing that all of you are out there is truly a gift.
There are many people who support our work. There are also many people who loathe being asked for money. Raising money is hard work. However, I know in my heart that when we ask for financial support--at any time of year--it's because we have so much work to do to help others.
We have to shut down cruel animal acts and stop the trade in primates as pets; we have to save foxes, bobcats, coyotes, and raccoons from the barbaric cruelty of the steel-jaw leghold trap; we have to save elephants, rhinos, lions, cheetahs, and wild dogs from the destructive international wildlife trade; we have to stop the breeding and display of tigers in America for photos; and we have to rescue every monkey we can from laboratories, roadside zoos, and people's homes, and give them lifetime care at the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary.
There's a lot of work to do, but thankfully, there are a lot of compassionate people out there! And, my sincere wish for this holiday season is that, at dining room tables across the country, there will be families considering which charities are worthy of support--because they, too, want to have a humane holiday and make the world a better place. I hope that Born Free USA and other worthy animal organizations are on their gift list!
Happy Holidays and Keep Wildlife in the Wild,