In November 1958, perhaps before your grandparents were born,
I was a five-year-old boy who already read newspapers as intensely
as other children read comic books. I cried when I reading that
the Russians had launched a little dog named Laika into orbit,
the first living creature from earth to fly in space, and that
she would burn to death during reentry from orbit. Only long afterward
did we learn that Laika had died soon after launch.
My parents tried to comfort me by telling me about how homeless
stray dogs and cats were then killed by the millions just because
there were too many of them. I first saw this for myself in 1961,
at age eight. By then I was already secretly committed to changing
And I had experienced the further realization that whatever
the world allows to be done to animals will be done to people,
too. I had seen photographs of both the inside of slaughterhouses
and the Nazi massacres during World War II, and had realized that
it was really all the same thing: it began with the belief that
animals could be killed without moral consequence, and spread
when some people became convinced that other people's lives and
suffering mattered no more than the lives and suffering of animals.
But as a child, and for many years afterward, I did not know
what exactly I could do to bring about the humane changes that
I knew were necessary. My first idea, back in 1958, was to declare
that when I grew up, I would start sanctuary to save all of the
homeless dogs and cats. This is what almost everyone thinks of
first, but there were so many homeless dogs and cats that I realized
fairly soon that trying to shelter them all was an unrealistic
Meanwhile, the problem of homeless dogs and cats was only a
small part of the greater problem of animals not being treated
as worthy of moral consideration.
I finally decided that I would start a newspaper to educate
the world about animals. On April 12, 1961, the day the Russian
astronaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to fly in space,
I sat down with paper, pencil, and crayons to draw the newspaper
I wanted to publish.
I put the story of Yuri Gagarin flying in space at the bottom
of page one, explaining that it was better for humans to fly in
space and return home safely, than for dogs to be launched to
their deaths. At the top of page one, in the most prominent space
in my newspaper, I put an article about a cow who ran away from
At the time, I was told that my news judgement was deficient,
because the Yuri Gagarin story was more important. Many people
would still think so.
But I did grow up to start a newspaper to educate the world
about animals. I produced that newspaper for 22 years, and then
started a web site that does the same job, reaching many more
people, more often.
Looking back, I think that the human entry into space exploration
has probably been the second most important news topic of my lifetime.
The most important has been the expansion of human compassion
for animals. Part of the reason why this has been the most important
news topic is that becoming able to understand and share empathy
with often very different living beings will be essential if space
exploration ever brings us into contact with life elsewhere in
As participants in the "Biggest Little Friend of Animals"
educational activities, all of you are helping to do the work
that I looked for ways to do at your age. Each of you have found
your own useful ways to contribute to reducing what my now deceased
animal advocate friend Henry Spira called "the universe of
What you may not realize is that you are not only reducing animal
suffering in your own place and time, but also contributing to
the future of humanity. The ethic of kindness and compassion that
you help to advance today will help to establish a kinder, more
compassionate world for your children, and their children, and
perhaps eventually for worlds far beyond our imagination.
Merritt Clifton, editor