April 24, 2019

Animal Advocates

When it comes to protecting animals from harm, Animal Welfare Institute doesn’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, the nonprofit embraces diverse approaches to ensuring that their animal welfare agenda is spread far and wide.

“Animals intersect with almost every aspect of our lives and we have a tremendous impact on their existence,” explains AWI program director Dena Jones. “There are little things and big things that we can do to improve the existence of animals and that’s what we’re all about.” AWI advocates for pro-animal welfare policies and their efforts have contributed to the passing of significant legislation, including the Animal Welfare Act, Horse Protection Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, Endangered Species Act and Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.

The organization is also involved in several creative eff orts to end animal suffering. Its projects include developing a graphic novel about elephants and the ivory trade; creating a database of shelters that welcome victims of domestic violence and their pets; and chartering a plane to save companion animals out of a hurricane zone. “We wanted to do different things where we felt we could have an impact that was a little different than our main work” in public policy, says Jones. Although AWI has been active in a range of animal welfare initiatives since it was founded, the organization was created to address a specific issue: Lab testing on animals.

During a battle between pro- and anti-animal testing groups in the1950s, AWI founder Christine Stephens stepped in to referee. She believed that taking a “middle ground” approach to animal rights issues—while improving the welfare of the animals in laboratories—could help bridge the gap. It worked. AWI was behind the 1966 Animal Welfare Act, the first federal law regulating the use of animals in research.

Since then, the organization has expanded its efforts to include five program areas: Companion animals, farm animals, wildlife, marine life and animals in laboratories. Its other pro-grams tackle issues like free trade and humane education to address concerns over the impact of individual choices on animal welfare. AWI depends on memberships, donations, grants and bequests to fund its mission. The Washington, DC-based organization has an annual operating budget of $4.6 million; 94.6% of the funds are directed toward program goals, earning the nonprofit a coveted four-star rating from Charity Navigator, including a 100% score for accountability and transparency, and an A+ rating from Charity Watch.

In addition to financial capital, AWI also builds human capital, engaging with stakeholders from policymakers and scientists to industry leaders to pass pro-animal legislation. “Our approach to helping improve animal welfare and safeguarding animals is two-pronged: To change laws and trade policies that impact animals and to help change human behavior in regards to the choices people make in their lives and how those choices impact animals,” Jones says. “We feel like we’ve made progress but there’s still a lot more work to do.”