SeaWorld: Not feeling the love

Many of you are familiar with the Best Friends mission: To bring about a time when there are No More Homeless Pets. It’s the organizing principle around which we build all of our work. However, you may be less familiar with our organizational vision: A better world through kindness to animals.

While our daily focus continues to be on ending the killing of cats and dogs in America’s shelters, Best Friends believes that our quality of life and, indeed, the survival of our world depend upon relationships characterized by kindness and respect for all animals and their environments. For us, those relationships begin with the animals who we take into our human circle as friends and companions.

But it doesn’t end there.

If you saw the 2013 documentary Blackfish, then you likely came away with at least a heightened awareness of the cruelty involved in keeping orcas captive, as well as the safety issues that trainers of orcas have faced over the years. The recent news that Tilikum, the “star” of SeaWorld’s San Diego show, was dying has been followed with more news that SeaWorld is ending its orca breeding program.

In a joint announcement with the Humane Society of the United States, SeaWorld has pledged its commitment to an entirely new future as a company — a future driven by humane values in keeping with public expectations.

Certainly there are doubts and questions about how a for-profit company with a checkered record on animal issues will be using still-captive orcas for decades to come. And it’s hard not to ask if this isn’t simply a PR move in the midst of suffering shareholder reports. But either way, if SeaWorld sticks to its pledge, it would mean a big difference now and into the future.

This is yet another sign that we are in the midst of significant social change with regard to how we treat animals in the wider world around us, and that the no-kill movement is among the leaders driving this change.

One of the most powerful arguments for companies like SeaWorld to treat animals better is that they will ultimately be more successful by being humane-centered organizations. For a public company like SeaWorld, few things are more compelling than the bottom line. It appears to be working, as SeaWorld stock closed almost $1.50 higher (more than an eight percent gain) on the day of the announcement.

SeaWorld’s sea change comes at a time when we’re also seeing significant gains in the animal welfare movement. Just a few months ago, Feld Entertainment, the company that owns the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus brand, told the world that it would be retiring elephants from traveling shows, after decades of advocates calling for them to do so.

And food production has changed radically, thanks to pressure from consumers and animal groups. Major egg suppliers are now going cage-free, as their customers (ranging from average consumers to giants like McDonald’s and Costco) have demanded better treatment for egg-laying hens. Restaurants are taking note as well, as the demand for animal-free dining options has exploded. Plant-based food chains such as Native Foods and Veggie Grill are popping up across the country.

The no-kill movement is also seeing massive gains. We’ve moved from the is-it-really-possible phase to the let’s-get-it-done era. As of today, more than 200 communities across the country are saving more than 90 percent of the animals coming through their shelter systems.

Our own programs around the country are on track to succeed, with the entire state of Utah on the precipice of achieving that same level of lifesaving, along with our effort to turn L.A. into NKLA. Each year we profile some of these communities at our Best Friends National Conference. Their impressive achievements through progressive programs reflect an undeniable truth: In communities large and small, urban and rural, no-kill is the future.

Many still feel that such efforts are “too little, too late” to put off the collapse of the natural world as we know it. Only time will tell, but here at Best Friends we believe that, together, we will Save Them All.