While animal-related causes are a priority to some devoted philanthropists, such as the Animal Grantmakers Association, they have traditionally been underrated by thought leaders and in policy priorities. It's hard to imagine, say, President Obama bringing up the treatment of animals in American factory farming systems -- abhorrent by any measure -- during a State of the Union address. Our society frequently writes off donations to animal charities as knee-jerk or emotional impulses -- well meaning, but hardly a serious attempt to tackle urgent global concerns.
But animals are far from a fringe concern. They are integral to pressing international problems: global poverty, environmental sustainability, public health, and disaster recovery. Almost one billion of the world's poorest people rely on animals for transportation, food, and income; working to ensure adequate protection of these animals before and following disasters is critical to preserving livelihoods in the developing world. In North America, the number of animals currently suffering in the confines of factory farming is in the multibillions, and we have the potential to significantly better their lives and our food quality by enforcing higher standards for them.