By Michael Barendse, Ed.D.Biographical Highlights
John Walsh worked for the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) from 1961 to 2006, when he retired from the position of International Projects Director. His work took him around the world, rescuing animals from flooding in Surinam, wars in Kosovo, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and volcanic eruptions on the island of Montserrat. Walsh is one of the inventers of the idea of disaster relief for animals. He and his teams have saved thousands of animals from suffering and death in every corner of the globe.
In 1961 John Walsh was working as a humane law enforcement officer for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. When he was summoned to the office of his supervisor, Walsh expected another lecture about damages done to the vehicle he drove. While he was committed to preventing the abuse of animals, Walsh was, evidently, somewhat notorious for the abuse of his vehicles in the pursuit of justice. Instead, Walsh’s supervisor told him of a wildlife disaster taking place in Surinam, where a hydro-electric dam was backing up water into a rainforest, threatening the habitats of thousands of animals. Walsh was asked if he would help with a rescue effort. He accepted the challenge, even though many people thought the task was impossible.
Walsh went to Surinam thinking that perhaps 3000 animals might be saved by the rescue effort. Walsh spent a year and a half living in the bush while directing the rescue effort. He and his crew ended up rescuing and relocating 9737 animals to a national park where their descendants still live in safety. This was the first of many interventions and relief expeditions carried out by Walsh and his employer, the World Society for the Protection of Animals. WSPA is an animal welfare organization, recognized by the United Nations, that works at the request of governments, not private individuals. WSPA focuses on the technical, logistical, and professional aspects of animal protection in the midst of disasters and war zones. The organization has more than 880 animal welfare groups in 153 countries that are part of its international alliance, including the ASPCA, and the Humane Society of the United States. WSPA’s disaster relief efforts generally include urgent veterinary care, disease containment efforts, mobile clinic dispatch, and rebuilding destroyed infrastructure such as veterinary clinics.
As WSPA’s International Projects Director, Walsh has coordinated animal relief projects all over the world. He has rescued wild camels in Saudi Arabia after the Gulf War, saved dogs from the volcanic eruption on the island of Montserrat in 1997, rescued a dog from a collapsed building in Kobe, Japan in 1995, and coordinated the effort to save the animals of the Kabul zoo in 2005. Many of these efforts have put Walsh in danger either from the animals he was saving, or the instability of the environment in which he was working. One day in 1992, an artillery shell hit a building where Walsh was attempting to make a phone call during the Bosnian war. He was unhurt but shaken by the close call.
Although much of what Walsh has accomplished has been in response to disasters, either man made or natural, he has also participated in attempts to mitigate the effects of potential disasters, such as the anticipated eruption of Popocatepetl in Mexico. He worked with authorities there to establish an emergency management system to cope with the impending threat.
Walsh has also been active in the effort to end whaling and seal hunting. He was the first American representative for animal protection at the International Whaling Commission meetings, and continues to call for a moratorium on commercial whaling and seal hunting.
Walsh retired in 2006 after a 40 year career spent rescuing animals and trying to better the conditions in which they live. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, Joyce, and their pets. One of the Walsh’s companions is “Plimmie”, a dog Walsh rescued on Montserrat and brought home with him. Walsh was awarded the WSPA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006 in recognition of his long service to the cause of animal welfare.
John Walsh is an example of the kind of person the animal welfare community really needs. He spent his career in the field actually delivering services to animals who needed them. In the process he took some extraordinary risks to his health and safety. His work could be used as a definition of the term humanitarian.
Ties to the Philanthropic Sector
The philanthropic sector, by supporting WSPA and its programs, enabled John Walsh to do what he did so well. Over 800 organizations world wide, including American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the Humane Society of the United States, have supported WSPA projects with money, time, volunteers, and supplies. Without that support the work of Walsh and WSPA would not be possible.
Key Related Ideas
- Animal Welfare: the compassion and respect due animals as living, responsive beings. Animals are entitled to kind and respectful treatment at the hands of humans, and this is not to be left to the compassionate impulses of humans, but is an entitlement that must be protected under the law.
- Animal Rescue: Programs that rescue animals who are in hazardous situations and which may provide emerge3ncy medical treatment if injuries have occurred. (http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/rim/classificationanddefinition.asp?stringname).
Related Nonprofit Organizations
- Best Friends is an organization dedicated to the rescue and shelter of animals in need. The organization operates a shelter at Angels Canyon, UT that currently shelters 1500 animals. (http://www.bestfriends.com).
- The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is dedicated to alleviating pain, fear, and suffering among animals and supports WSPA projects. (http://www.aspca.org).
- United Animal Nations is one of North America’s leading providers of emergency animal sheltering and disaster relief services and a key advocate for the critical needs of animals. (http://www.uan.org).
Related Web Sites
- The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (http://www.aspca.org)
- The World Society for the Protection of Animals at (http://www.wspa.org) is a good source of information on the activities of John Walsh.
Bibliography and Internet Sources
“Animals’ Best Friend.” South Coast Today. 11/04/97. (http://www.archive.southcoasttoday.com/daily/11-97/11-04-97/b011o46.html).
“February 2002, WSPA brings healing, hope to Kabul.” (http://www.wspa-usa.org/pages/756_wspa_brings_healing_hope_to_kabul.cfm?outputtytype...).
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