Simon Cowell’s signature tart tongue enjoys worldwide fame for its crisp critiques of singers on talent shows American Idol and X-Factor. Little may the shows’ contestants know, however, that Cowell cherishes a singular soft spot for the howls, cries, and screeches of four-legged warblers.
In that vein, the media mogul is tendering nothing but praise for the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) and its Universal Declaration for Animal Welfare (UDAW) campaign. The initiative seeks to generate worldwide consensus on the need to protect animals everywhere from cruelty, ignorance, and neglect.
Speaking to his passion for this ambitious effort, Cowell says, “The World Society for Protection of Animals struck a chord with me, as it’s a global charity that recognizes the needs of animals around the world. If globally the need to protect animals is recognized properly through the UDAW,” he continues, “it will go a long way to help stop the cruelty all over the world by ensuring there is a global set of expectations about animal treatment.”
A NEW STANDARD FOR A NEW ANIMAL ORDER
Supported by governments and animal-welfare organizations, political leaders and lay individuals the world over, the UDAW aims to act as a catalyst for positive change in policy toward animals across all continents, economies, and cultures. Under the auspices of the WSPA, the world’s largest alliance of animal-welfare societies with more than 900 member organizations spanning 150-plus countries, the UDAW boasts a formidable network of grassroots and institutional support.
To date, more than 2 million people have voiced their backing for the campaign, which is ultimately aimed at endorsement by the United Nations (U.N.). Such support from the U.N., the premier global authority in human rights, would set a new standard for animal rights that would exert pressure on governments from the Congo to Canada.
Voicing the optimism behind the campaign is Sharanya Prasad, U.S. programs manager for the World Society for the Protection of Animals, who contests, “We strongly believe that the UDAW will be very effective in preventing animal cruelty worldwide. It will provide a set of general principles that acknowledge and emphasize the importance of animal welfare. With this global benchmark in place, governments, animal-welfare stakeholders, and animal-welfare organizations will have a guideline for enacting new animal-welfare standards or, in some cases, improving existing laws.”
As a global initiative, the UDAW contains goals that reflect the scale of the challenges at hand. Numbered among the charter’s primary objectives are increased protection for animals farmed at intensive, industrial levels, wild animals hunted and persecuted for commercial profit and in the name of entertainment and sport, stray cats and dogs who are often killed and poisoned brutally en masse, and working animals like mules, donkeys, and horses who are chronically malnourished and worn down into lameness and disease.
Illustrating the extent of just some of these collective problems, Prasad says, “There are few laws and resources that protect the well-being of horses, donkeys, mules, and other working animals who help half the world’s people maintain their livelihoods. Many of these animals work for long hours without rest or water. Wounds from badly fitting equipment, disease, and poor nutrition cause them terrible suffering.”
She similarly states of the earth’s approximately 1 million stray cats and dogs, “They are sometimes feared and persecuted by people terrified of catching diseases like rabies. Very few local authorities have laws regarding the humane treatment of such animals, so poisoning, shooting and electrocution—all of which can cause slow and painful death—are common.”
MAKING THE POLITICAL PERSONAL
As the famous face of the UDAW indicates, however, the impetus to support the campaign may well have less to do with an intellectual appreciation of animal cruelty at large and originate instead from a more personal place—and nothing, Cowell feels, could be more natural.
“I’ve always loved animals. When I was growing up, we had pets, and I was taught early on that you have to respect animals,” Cowell reflects. Remarking on the resonance animals have for him personally, he says, “All of the animals I have ever known, especially dogs, either like someone or they don’t. They can run up to some people and lick them, yet with others they just walk off because they are nervous. I always think that kind of thing probably says a lot. I honestly believe they have a sense about people and what they are like. But their charm is also their trust; when you have a pet, they have to trust you to take care of them. And that’s why I get so angry when you see animals hurt by [guardians] whom they trust.”
And although Cowell doesn’t have pets currently “simply because I travel too much to take on the responsibility,” he still keeps the door open for an animal in his life. He isn’t about to play critic with an animal’s pedigree, but embraces mixed breeds and strays with admirable democracy of affection. “If my life ever changes to mean I could give a dog the attention [he or she] needed, I wouldn’t buy the dog from a pet shop. I’d go to a rescue shelter. Or I’d go to a friend who couldn’t take care of the dog. It’s not where the dog came from—it’s the dog. I get really annoyed when people start telling me about the make and the model of their dog as if the dog was a car. A dog is a dog, no matter what background they’ve got. Often the mutts, the strays have got more personality than a highly bred pedigree.”
NOTING PROGRESS ONE COUNTRY AT A TIME
Although Cowell’s own personality bears no danger of disappearing from public consciousness, he fears for the possibility that animal cruelty, without enough publicity, may. “Anywhere that an animal is being treated badly is horrific. I think the danger is always that people don’t act on things unless they see them with their own eyes. Sometimes it’s a bit like ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ and you have to remind people sometimes that things are going on all the time.”
Animals being exploited for commercial gain or persecuted out of fear and ignorance may not be seeking publicity, but positive soundings coming from the UDAW’s increasing momentum are only to their benefit. According to Prasad, the movement to promote increased legislation against animal cruelty is catching cross-continental fire.
“The UDAW steering committee of Kenya, India, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, and the Republic of the Philippines lead a group of governments whose officials have stated support, which also includes the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Tanzania, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Slovenia,” says Prasad. Likewise, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), Commonwealth Veterinary Association (CVA), and Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE) have officially stated their espousal of the development of a UDAW, adds Prasad.
Reflecting on some of the most inspiring recent examples of solidarity, Prasad states, “In February, Indian national Shashi Tharoor pledged his support for the development of the UDAW at the United Nations. By doing so, he became the 2 millionth signatory to support the Animals Matter Campaign, which was a fantastic milestone.” In the U.S., she proudly notes expression of support by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
“Our goal with the UDAW,” she summarizes, “is to encourage global governments to put laws in place that end these forms of animal cruelty. We want governments—and their people—to recognize that animals are living beings who have instincts, interests, and natures and can experience pain. And because of this, they deserve our consideration and respect.”
Eliminating animal cruelty through a global charter may easily sound idealistic and even naive. That said, it’s probably safe to assume that Simon Cowell, of all people, conducted a thorough reality check before endorsing this global venture. And his verdict of the feasibility of creating a new world order of humane animal treatment? “I’m confident of the success of the UDAW campaign because it’s the right thing to happen,” Cowell plainly asserts before adding, “It’s getting great support, but it always needs more.”
Written By: Melissa Wiley