Episode 135 – Andrew Rowan

Andrew Rowan

Andrew Rowan

Andrew Rowan started in animal welfare in February 1976, as a Scientific Administrator at the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments in London, England. In 1978 he became the associate director for the Study of Animal Problems at the Humane Society of the US and then in 1983, proceeded to Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine as Professor and Chair for the institution’s Department of Environmental Studies.

He launched the Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy, the academic journal “Anthrozoos” and the first Master’s degree program Animals and Public Policy. In 1997, he returned to HSUS and took over Humane Society International which he ran for 20 years and grew it from a $1million a year operation to $20 million a year!

Andrew left HSUS in 2018 and started WellBeing International to seek solutions for people, animals, and the environment. WBI is committed to a collaborative approach in developing, engaging and supporting effective coalitions, generating accurate data and sound analysis, and the transparent reporting of both successes and failures. WellBeing International seeks to achieve optimal wellbeing for the triad of People, Animals, and Environment, emphasizing the intersections of the three elements, through approaches to build global health and happiness.


Website: https://www.wellbeingintl.org/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wellbeingintl/


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 Hey, Andrew, welcome to the program. Good to be here. I’m really excited to have you. You’ve got such a long career in animal welfare, so why don’t you give us a little bit of your background and kind of how you found the bug and got into this? Well, I’ve always been part of the animals. My grandfather was an Entomologist. My mother was a Pathologist. And so to survive, I either had to be a fine arts major or a scientist. So I sort of decided to join the family business and so I became interested in animals. Actually, I became interested in Biochemistry and ended up getting my PhD in Biochemistry. But after I finished that, I realized I wasn’t really that crazy about lab work. But I love the human-animal or the human interaction. So I decided to go into Science Policy. Through a couple of steps that led me to applying for a job in London for the fun  of medical experiments because I felt that if I did that, I may not be on the inside of scientific discovery, but people would know who I was. 

So I did that. And it’s been a fascinating career. I joined at exactly the right time. 1976 was the beginning of, if you will, the Animal Rights Movement. Peter Singer’s book had just appeared. Richard Ryder’s book in England had appeared on “Victims of Science”, Donald Griffin’s book “The Question of Animal Awareness” just appeared. There was a whole raft of people who are becoming interested in how we treat and how we deal with animals. So I started reading the stuff. I started speaking to people. I started representing the organization I was a part of. And I just became more and more interested, the more I dealt in it. I’ve always been interested in Science Policy, and in fact, that’s what led me into this area, was to have some sort of impact on Science Policy, and it’s proved to be a phenomenal opportunity. I must admit that most of my colleagues in the animal movement find my fascination with numbers a little weird, but that’s the way it is. 

So now, after that, I mean, you took this to another level. You were at Tufts University, and you established all sorts of things. The organization that I was with was tiny in London. For the first year I was there their total budget was £8000. So we’re not talking about a big group. And it was myself and a part time secretary, who was at the start, but I was with them for 2.5 years and we ended up with a symposium at the Royal Society in London, on the idea of alternatives to animal testing. Well, it was clear that this was not where I was going to stay, and I’d always been an exchange student in America, decided I wanted to try and get back to America. Heard about a job at the Humane Society. Applied and it ended up, I got the job. So I then, in ‘78, came over to the United States, to Washington. I was working as the Lab Animal Specialist for the Humane Society in their Institute of Study of Animal  Problems. After several years there, 4.5 to be precise, I was after the job Tufts to establish an animal welfare program, and I’ve always described myself as having a foot in two camps. One in the academic camp and one in the animal protection advocacy world. And so this was an opportunity to go back into the academic arena. The Dean at Tufts wanted me to establish a program on animal welfare that the veterinary school could be happy with. So that’s what I was asked to do.

 And so I spent 15 years at Tufts and during that time, started the Degree program. Launched the journal on   for the Delta Society. And I generally made a nuisance of myself, but again it was a great experience. And then I was recruited back from Tufts, back to the Humane Society, to come and help them with building a bigger and better organization, and one that’s had greater impact and spent the next 20 years with them. 

Yeah, it doesn’t sound like you shy away from a challenge. I’ve always enjoyed that. You know, I sometimes describe myself as being, you know, a gullible skeptic. So somebody says something and you sort of say, Well, that doesn’t sound quite right. It sounds intriguing. And so I will follow it up. In a sense, that’s why I got into frame. I mean, I had taken a very traditional scientific program, at Oxford. Done my PhD at Oxford. Then decided to go into Science Policy, after graduating from Oxford. But people were saying, Why would you do a research degree in Biochemistry and then go up and become part of the Animal Protection Movement? And part of it was, I remember seeing some of the frame one for the base of animals medical experiments literature when I was at Oxford and remember being intrigued by some of the materials and some of the ideas they’re putting out there. And I remember, I think, part of my lab, we all had different methods that we were using and different approaches. And I kept thinking, why are we all using different approaches? Why are we always during our experiments in slightly different ways? Shouldn’t we all be doing it in the same way? Very interested in the whole idea of methods development. And so I felt that this was getting in the frame would be an interesting way to start challenging methods.

 And one of the things that happened in those early months after I joined frame was I went around talking to people in industry and talking to people in academics and the people in industry told me that what they did was great. It was very humane, very necessary. But if I really wanted to see wasteful use of animals I should go to the academic world. And then I went to talk to people in academics, and they said what they did was great, very necessary, very humane. But if I really wanted to see animal abuse, I should go into industry, you know. And so you get these two messages that are in conflict and you think what’s going on here? So I mean, I just delved into the history. I delved into the scholarship around them. Why we’re concerned about this and how we can make the world a better place. And I have to say, that in 1976 I was looking at the whole idea animal testing and toxicity testing because I felt that that was probably an area where we, as animal activists, could have the most impact. In 2007 the National Academy of Sciences produced a report saying the future of toxicity testing is not animal method. I never thought that in my career I would reach the point where I could say, OK, we’re gonna end animal testing. But we are, you know, it’s gonna happen in 5, 10, 15 years, but we’re gonna end it.

 What did things look like when you took over HSI in 97? It was just getting started, right? Just getting off the ground. Well, it would have been around, HSI was formed in 1991. Okay. But the reason it was formed was because there were people at HSUS who wanted to engage with international organizations. So they felt that they needed an international operation, if you were, so that they could do that. In fact, some of the international organizations required you to have officers in at least three different countries. And so one of the things HSI did was establish an office in Europe and another one in South Central America. Now they have offices in three different countries. They were eligible to apply to attend international meetings. So that was the original idea behind HSI was simply that. Provide opportunity for HSUS employees who were interested in things like whaling and some stopping whaling, to go and attend something like the International Whaling Commission.

 But when I joined in ‘97, Paul  , the then CEO, wanted to expand the role of HSI and once just rebuild it. And so we started building. We had a small staff. We’ve hired a fellow who had a lot of international experience to take over as sort of Director, Executive Director of HSI. Then we started building a hands on program. We had a whole raft of programs on international treaties that were in a separate section of the organization. But we started building hands on programs, disaster response, dog and cat programs, in different parts of the world and slowly began to build that. And so by 2004, we then pushed everything together into one organization. HSI, as it is today, really started in 2004. And so I spent the next 13 years running HSI in that form, it was again, a very good time. I estimate that in 2000, international animal groups were spending about $30 million a year on the International Animal Protection program. By 2017 they were spending $300 million a year. Wow. So there’s a huge increase in just international activities and then you can see in China today, for example, in 2000 maybe, the number of organizations, animal protection organizations, could count on the fingers of one hand. Today there are thousands, you know and so all driven by local Chinese. This is not something where international groups have established offices in China, although some have. But these are all local groups. And just last year I attended the 11th Asia for Animals Conference in China. There were 2000 people, 2000 people there. Countries from all over Asia, and it was hosted by a Chinese animal group. That’s amazing. So I mean, yeah, it’s really interesting what’s happening there. In India, there have always been a bunch of animal groups and they’ve become more professional. They’re raising more money. They’re able to do more. There is now a federation of Indian Animal Protection organizations that is standing, its footprints in Delhi. So you know, you could just see the growth occur. In Africa, where we had the third African Animal Welfare Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, this last year. This year there will be the fourth in Ghana. So again you can see these movements and these associations, developing and strengthening. Very gratifying. 

So now what did the role of HSI, when you were doing it, what did it involve too? Because obviously you can’t take on the entire world. So were you hoping to spark some of these groups and provide organization and structure? HSUS has launched an operation or Expo, Animal Care Expo, back in the 1990’s. And what we did in 1998-99 was we started an international segment. We would invite people from the rest of the world to come to the Animal Care Expo. It had opportunities for people to meet other animal activists and things like that, and that has expanded. I mean, we started off with maybe 40 or 50 attendees. That’s now a couple of hundred attendees from 40 or 50 countries every year. And I always remember we used to have a program in the evening where we would get everybody who are the international attendees in the room. Then we would ask them to sort of talk about what they were doing in their country. And the South African woman, who happened to be living in Peru, got out and started talking about how, you know, in Peru, where she was living, there was no animal protection activities. There was nobody she could talk to about what she was interested in. But yeah, she really and she burst into tears. You know, saying this is really, it empowers me, it re-energizes me, and I am going back to Peru and work even harder and so on. 

That’s part of what’s happened with building these communities is part of what’s happened through HSI and through what we were doing on the international arena. And we tried as hard as possible not just to tell people what to do and how to do it, but try to help them. So Okay, well, you want to try and do this? Here are some ideas that might work for you, and this is how we might be able to help. It doesn’t have lots of money. We couldn’t, some of the organization’s were building up small grants to a lot of these groups, but we didn’t have a lot of money. But we try to focus.

And one of the things we started in about 1998- 1999, was a board member of the Humane Society wants us to do a sterilization project in the Bahamas. He had a house on Abaco. So we did the project. The community where they were, had about 400 street dogs. One of the things that we did was we didn’t just go down and do the sterilization. We sent a statistician into Abaco, to actually do a survey. So we did a survey of how many street dogs there were? What people thought of them. And that sort of thing. Then we sent the veterinarians in to do three clinics and at the end of the clinics we had sterilized about 450 dogs, which is about the number of street dogs in the community. And we sent them back in to do another follow up survey. And we identified with people and said the dogs are friendlier, they’re healthier. We didn’t know they were, but the people thought they were. And this is our first project, and we then started to build dog projects around the world and ended up working with the government of Bhutan to sterilize all the street dogs in Bhutan, which ended up being about 70,000. Although it took us about 6 years to reach the target. So I mean, it’s been a fascinating program.

 And now I mean, you asked about WellBeing International. Well, one of the things that we want to do at WellBeing International is a global dog campaign. We think we can do a lot better than we’re doing. There are a lot of people out there taking care of dogs, street dogs. I think we can do a lot better. I think it will convert most of the street dogs into, you know, cared for pets or care for dogs in homes. So we’re going to try and see how far we can get in that regard. Identify activities that people can do that will improve the status of dogs but also improve the community. In one community that we’ve been helping for about 20 years now, the number of dog bites has gone down by ⅔. All we did was sterilize the street dogs. There was no sort of attempts to reduce dog bite numbers. That should happen. Interesting.

 I really love the fact that what you focused on is not trying to lecture and not trying to tell, but really to understand the community support, you know, provide them resources. I really think that’s a good approach. Yes, it doesn’t happen as often as it should, unfortunately, but it’s something that really, I’ve observed really does work. Um, it’s sort of like building a great team. The ideal thing to do is to identify the strengths, address the weaknesses, and then get out of the way and that people get on. You want to empower people to do what they can do, maybe help them in little bits and areas of the weakened. But otherwise, you know, let them get on with it. And people see that what they’re doing is having an impact. One of the things about this is you can’t do it for 1 year, for 12 months, that’s not long enough. It has to be 5, 10, 15 years, in order to really see the impact of the street dog project.

 Now one of things I noticed you’re doing at WellBeing is you’re focused on people’s animals and the environment. So talk a little bit about why that, that seems to be such a big, vast focus area. It is a vast focus area, I wasn’t really ready to hang up my roller board. And so the issue was, What do I do now? And my wife had also retired, and she was in the human arena, as she had been working on nonprofit human relief organizations, human development groups and things like that. And her skill sets complement mine. We said, Why don’t we start the nonprofit? She came out with the name WellBeing. It’s nationalized. I said, absolutely. That’s the answer. She came up with the tagline Solutions With People, Animals and Environment. I said, absolutely. So, it’s all her idea. But when you look at problems around the world, it’s always people, animals and environment. They’re never in isolation. It’s like, you know, you want to help dogs in a city in India. Well, the dogs are interacting with people. They’re also interacting with the environment. I mean, you know, you’re one of the reasons why we went into Bhutan was because the street dogs were keeping tourists awake at night. They were barking all through the night, and people, the tourists were complaining about it. Well, one of the reasons they’re barking is because they’re engaging in all sorts of reproductive behavior, challenging each other for dominance and so on. And when you sterilize them, that stops. So what we found happening when we sterilized the dogs, in the capital city of Bhutan, was barking just went down radically. There’s still some barking, but you could sleep through that, you know. I mean, so it’s you’re improving the environment for the people. You’re improving the situation for the dogs because they’re healthier. They’re not breeding. Breeding is a very stressful activity. If they’re not breeding, they don’t get mange at the same rate. They don’t get these dreadful transmissible venereal tumors, awful things. And they’re just generally in better shape. So you’re helping the dogs. You’re helping the people. And the dogs that are roaming around are not chasing wildlife. You’re helping the wildlife too.

 Now is the focus of WellBeing, is it primarily on companion animals, or is it expanding from there? We’ve got three or four major strategic areas. So the dog campaign is one, and we’ll probably extend into cats as well, because that’ll sort of carry on from the dogs. We’re looking at a program, looking at human population and human consumption, which are really challenging. The globe cannot sustain the number of people we have, consuming at the rate that the United States consumes, it just can’t do it. So we need to cut both consumption and population group. And it’s interesting thing is, we’re part of the campaign launched by a British reproductive health organization, and the reason they launched it and tried to recruit conservation groups to get involved was because they said the U.N. projects that there’ll be 11 billion people in the world by 2100, but this organization says it doesn’t have to be that way. If we simply eliminate unintended birth, the human population will stabilize 8.8 billion. That’s 1.2 billion less than 11 billion. Added  by 2100 will be back to the same population that we have today. So imagine wildlife is gonna, in Africa, the projections are that Africa will go from 1.2 to 4 billion people by 2100. With four billion people in Africa, there’s not going to be any lions. There aren’t gonna be any leopards. Aren’t going to be any elephants, giraffes, hippos, rhinos, except in some small, especially monitored reserves, you know. I mean, it’s just not going to be a wild constant that it has been for most of people’s existence, most of your existence. We need to do something about population. 

The other end of the scale of the first world end. We need to do something about consumption, much more recycling, much less primary consumption. Part of that comes back to meat eating as well, because meat, the current estimates are that 77% of agricultural land is devoted to producing meat for consumption, but it only produces 23% of the protein that we need. Doesn’t make sense when you add up the numbers. That’s right, that’s just ridiculous. I mean, we’re not trying to sort of say that everybody has to stop eating meat . We think that’s step two ambitious at this point in time. But we’re going to sort of talk about, you know, how do you feel better? Eat less meat. It’s you exercise more, consume less. Recycle. I mean, there are a whole bunch of behaviors that will make you feel better on the planet. We’ll maybe survive. Sure.

 So what do you see is next for Wellbeing? What’s your hope for the next few years? Well, we hope to find a funder who will help us really develop the infrastructure for the global dog campaign. And what that means is that we want to develop a database that people can access, people can store their data in. We need to have evidence that particular projects work and how they work and how we can improve them. And there’s very little material data on these projects together. People will tell you I sterilized 20,000 dogs but well, what happened? You know. And there’s very little data on what happened. So we want to start establishing a database where people do that. We want to identify four or five Flags of Project where we can help track the data and help show what happens when you do this and how we can change the world for dogs and people all together.

 We want to, as I say, develop a campaign on population and consumption. We’re concerned about plastics. On the whole, you know what’s happening in the oceans with all this plastic garbage. And yet, you know, only about 8% of plastic garbage ends up in the ocean, so if that small percentage of the plastic is produced, then we should be able to keep it out of the ocean. So our hope here is that we could get the zoos and the aquariums in the world to start campaigning on this type of issue. They’ve already identified, this is a problem, but they’re not campaigning. But we’re hoping that maybe we could get you know the big aquariums and the big zoos to actually start campaigning and reaching out to the public, saying we gotta do something about it. Changed the way we behave, especially in China, because that’s where a huge lots of plastic in the Pacific garbage patch is coming from. It’s coming down the river from China. So focus on the Chinese zoos and aquarium associations. See whether we can get them to pay more to help get this idea out to the public and then actually do something.

 So that’s what we’re hoping to get with one of our partner groups is engaged in building  an activity between wildlife so that wildlife can get from one parcel to another without having to be shot, run over by cars or whatever. And so that’s something that’s really important, that we need to diminish the amount of new linear infrastructure. Every time you build a road, it decreases the space available for wildlife. And so we just need to start being more attentive and more careful about how we build and how we develop the roads. There was a proposal that was gonna be funded by the Chinese to build a road from the Indian Ocean through the Serengeti to some resources up on Lake Tanganyika and that would have just destroyed the Serengeti. We would have divided Serengeti in two with this big road going through the middle of it. Right. For now, that’s been stopped.

 There was another proposal to drive a road from Kathmandu to Chiplun, that national park into India. They need better infrastructure, but not through Chiplun. You know, we need to preserve these places. And if you do drive a road down to Kathmandu to India, you need to put over parsons so that the animals could go from one side to the other without being run down by trucks. I mean, we’ve got ambitious goals, but, you know, the idea is if you aim for the sun,  maybe you’ll make it. Right. No I love it. And I think these are, like you said, ambitious goals. But you’re definitely not somebody that shies away from a fight. And you’ve proven that. So I’m excited to see what you’re gonna do in the next few years. Well, I am too..

 Andrew, this has been great talking to you, and I appreciate you sharing your story and everything. Is there anything else you want to mention before we wrap things up today? Well, I just like to tell people on the podcast, I just like to say that you want to find us, our website is wellbeingintl.org, though its WellBeing International with intl.org. That’s all I’d like to say. Absolutely, we’ll make sure to link it in our show notes, and I really appreciate you coming on to talk to me today. My pleasure. Thanks very much for the stick.

 Thanks for tuning into today’s podcast. Be sure to subscribe to your favorite podcast platform and feel free to leave us a review so we can help even more animals. Also, don’t forget to sign up with Doobert.com to join the tens of thousands of Dooberteers across the country and around the world helping animals and the organizations working to save them.”

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