Women’s History Month



The month of March is dedicated to Women’s History, and as such, this week we’re going to look back to some of the most influential women who have graced the animal industry. These are the women who made great strides to get us to where we are today, and inspire us to keep moving forward and to keep fighting. You may notice how some of these women don’t have direct link to pet ownership but it’s important to recognise their impact on our world and the animals that inhabit it.  

Dr Sophia Yin graduated from University of California in 1993 with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. Having worked in a private practice Yin recognised that more pets were euthanised due to behavioural problems, rather than medical. This discovery led to Yin returning to university to study animal behaviour and obtained her Master’s degree in Animal Science. Yin was the president of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviour and lectured around the world on animal behaviour and low stress handling for dogs and cats. She focused on desensitisation combined with classical and operant conditioning. Yin’s specific approach to behavioural training used the combination of positive reinforcement, negative punishment (rewarding desired behaviours, and removing rewards for unwanted behaviours) and the need to observe the animal, as well as the trainer’s body language. Yin’s work on low stress handling was the developmental steppingstone that led to the fear free movement we see today.  

Professor Joyce Tischler is lovingly referred to by many as the “Mother of Animal Law.” Tischler got her law doctorate in 1977, and when she graduated, there was no category of law that protected the rights of animals. For more than forty years, Tischler has dedicated her career to improving animal welfare through the legal system. Not only is she internationally recognised for her work, but has spoken on global animal protection issues in over ten countries. Tischler also founded the ALDF in 1979 (Animal Legal Defence Fund,) which was the first non-profit organisation dedicated to protecting animals through the legal system. She served as the director for twenty-five years where through litigating renowned cases for protecting the interests of animals, she expanded the rights of animals and helped shape the legal field as we know it today. 

Jill Robinson is a British animal welfare activist whose work throughout Asia helped rescue over 400 bears in China and Vietnam and alerted the global population to the cruel practices of bile farming. Jill started out by spending twelve years as a consultant for the International Fund for Animal Welfare in Hong Kong where she witnessed widespread animal cruelty. In order to re-educate the population she founded Dr. Dog, which was the first animal therapy of its kind which worked to change people’s views about dogs. In 1993, Robinson visited a bear bile farm in China. At the time, Robinson claims that approximately 10,000 Asiatic black bears were being held in cages on  similar farms in horrific conditions. Robinson spent seven years negotiating with the Chinese government and researching how the bile was used. Her work helped in leading to the Chinese government signing a pledge to release 500 bears from the bile farms with the worst conditions. Robinson founded Animals Asia Foundation and established a bear rescue centre in Chengdu in order to house the bears. Her foundation then went on to establish a similar sanctuary in Vietnam, and in 2014 Robinson announced plans to convert a bear bile farm with over 150 Asiatic black bears into another sanctuary. In 2017 Robinson worked alongside the Vietnamese government to end Vietnam’s bear bile farming by 2020 and rescue the remaining 1,000 bears kept in cages. 

The Gilded Age took place in the late 1800s and was a time of rapid economic growth. During this time it became fashionable for women to wear hats decorated with plumes of feathers. These feathers were taken from bluebirds, woodpeckers, warblers, owls and herons and thousands of which were killed each year for the trend. In 1896 Harriet Lawrence Hemenway and her cousin Minna B. Hall began hosting tea parties for the wealthy women of Boston where they discussed the trend and urged the women to join a society for the protection of birds. As more high society women joined the cause, Hemenway and Hall were able to organise meetings between the social elites and prominent ornithologists. This paved the way to the creation of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, where over 900 women joined and counted for half of the officers and leaders of local chapters. Hemenway and Hall recruited William Brewster (a leading ornithologist) as their first president. By 1897 the group used its growing political power to have the state of Massachusetts outlaw the trade of wild bird feathers. Other states then followed suit until 1913 when the Weeks-McLean Bill (Migratory Bird Act) was enacted on a federal level and put an end to the practice for good.  

Emilie (Lizzy) Augusta Lind af Hageby was born to a prominent Swedish family. The start of her career as a prominent anti-vivisection activist began in 1900, in Paris where she and a friend visited the Pasteur Institute. They were horrified by the vivisection they saw there, which was the practice of performing operations on live animals with and without anaesthesia for science. When they returned to Sweden they joined the Nordic Anti-Vivisection Society, and in 1902 attended the London School of Medicine for Women in order to gain medical knowledge needed to be better activists. The women’s collage did not perform vivisection, but students were able to attend demonstrations at King’s College and University College. Lind af Hageby and her friend kept a diary which became a 200 page manuscript detailing the horrific practices of several researchers. The allegations if true would have violated the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1876. The manuscript was printed into an expose which caused an immediate scandal which was nicknamed the “Brown Dog Affair.” There was an immediate lawsuit against the two women and unfortunately the researcher won their libel case, but the public outrage lasted for many, many years after. In a time where women did not have the right to vote, Lind af Hageby and her friend took to the streets and continued to hold rallies and advocate for the rights of the animals being vivisected. In 1906 Lind af Hageby co-founded the Animal Defence and Anti-Vivisection society with the Duchess of Hamilton. Lind af Hageby drafted a petition that was distributed in several languages all around the world called ‘An Anti-Vivisection Declaration.’ In 1909 she also organised the first international conference for anti-vivisection activists and in her later years opened an animal sanctuary of 237 acres which still operates in England today.