20 Years of SUST - An Animal Welfare Foundation Celebrates Anniversary
The large animal welfare network that has been built up over the last 20 years of the foundation is enormously valuable: well over 100 animal shelters and animal welfare projects in Switzerland and just as many abroad have been and continue to be significantly supported by our foundation. We have been able to provide material and food, work days on site, consultations and reorganizations, renovation work and offer countless animals shelter, food and a basis for a new life.
In addition, we were able to train and educate many veterinarians and animal welfare activists, carry out castration and relief campaigns and achieve a great deal for the animals through education and information.
Together with our partner organizations, we have been able to lend weight to many animal welfare issues, share resources and expertise, and complement each other.
Below is an interview with Executive Director Susy Utzinger on our 20th anniversary:
On September 7, 20 years ago, you established your foundation. What prevails: The joy of what you have achieved or the awareness that there is still a lot to do?
Susy Utzinger: It is clearly the awareness that there is still a lot to do. Basically, it is sad that animal welfare organizations are necessary at all and the longer we work in this field, the more we realize the urgent need for our work.
Where have you been able to make the most difference with your foundation?
SU: Animal welfare successes are difficult to measure in the area where they change people's awareness and/or actions and thus affect the welfare of animals. I think we have been able to achieve a great deal in this area over the past 20 years. In fact, in these 20 years, we have performed many tens of thousands of castrations, delivered several hundred tons of relief supplies, supported, reorganized and optimized many animal shelters, and conducted countless continuing education courses in the field of animal welfare.
What have been the biggest obstacles in your work? Where have there been setbacks?
SU: There are always setbacks where financial or personal interests are involved. We experience this especially when it comes to political decisions (for example, whether hundreds of thousands of street dogs should be killed or rather neutered) or also in the area of puppy mills: In these horrible dog reproduction facilities, pedigree dogs are kept and bred under the worst conditions in order to sell them as cheaply as possible to the West. Also the fur industry lets animals suffer unspeakably, in order to produce cheap fur and make thereby much money.
As an animal rights activist, you are not always welcomed with open arms. How do you go about it, for example, when you want to persuade a farmer to castrate his cats?
SU: It actually works the same way as with shy animals (that's not meant pejoratively at all): We first have to create a certain trust, make it clear that we mean no harm and that the farmers will not suffer any disadvantage from our action. But as long as there are still people who get young cats from the farm for a 20-er Nötli (because the vaccinated, healthy animals cost more in the home), there is no reason for many farmers to have their cats neutered. As a result, countless unwanted/surplus young cats are killed on Swiss farms every year. Just as innumerable are sick on farms, on factory sites and in allotments.
There are animal welfare activists, who approach the "clearing up" differently. They enter stables and publish shocking pictures, block or sabotage slaughter transports. Do you support this approach?
SU: Our organization adheres to the legal templates, we do not carry out illegal actions. Nevertheless, I do not condemn all of these actions: It has often been pictures from just such activities that eventually got a movement rolling. It is sad when animals suffer from such actions instead of an improvement of the situation. Then it is not animal protection but rather poor ego actions.
Switzerland is considered an exemplary country when it comes to animal welfare. How do you see that? Where is there still a need for action?
SU: We have a great animal protection law, but that is no reason for us to rest on our laurels. In our country, a lot of things happen in secret - and many of us assume that what we don't see doesn't happen. Especially in the farm animal sector, it would be valuable if consumers were informed openly and honestly about what the circumstances are in our country. Only those who are fully informed can also make the right decisions. A simple example: Many milk consumers do not know that a cow must give birth to a young in order to give milk (just like any mammal mother - it is the same for humans) - and these people also do not know how much the animals suffer from being separated from each other shortly after birth (the mother is needed for milk production). Also the suffering of the "worthless" male young animals of milk cows is unknown to many.
You also say: Many abuses in animal welfare are caused by false love of animals. What exactly do you mean by that, what do you encounter there?
SU: Such abuses always arise when there is more self-love than animal love. It is sometimes difficult for those affected to distinguish between the two. Two examples out of countless: Whoever feeds hungry animals but does not castrate them, promotes the reproduction of unwanted animals. Those who take in countless homeless animals, but cannot properly care for them, cause great animal suffering.
Through your commitment, you have already saved the lives of thousands of animals or helped distressed animals to a better life. Yet there are tens of thousands more who are neglected or mistreated. How do you deal with that fact?
SU: It's a sad fact and at the same time what drives me to keep going. Our work is probably never over (at least I probably won't live to see it) and we have to constantly adapt to new situations, new problems and new emergencies. It's a matter of attitude whether you want to give up or keep fighting steadily. I decided for myself a long time ago that giving up is not an option.
And how do you cope with all the suffering you encounter?
SU: The animal suffering that I see and also the suffering that I know exists is very painful for me (as it probably is for every human being). I try to turn this pain into strength. Strength to continue to do this work and to achieve even more improvements. Nevertheless, of course, tears flow from time to time for me as well.
The 20th anniversary comes at a difficult time. To what extent did the Corona pandemic affect your work?
SU: Corona required us to react quickly: Missions had to be cancelled, emergency plans had to be drawn up. Fortunately, we were able to step in very quickly with food deliveries for our Swiss and also for our foreign partner organizations.
At the moment, the work is taking place under difficult circumstances. Regardless of this, what are your next projects?
SU: In the fall we are already planning the missions for the next year. I sincerely hope that next year we will be able to travel again without any problems and we are already putting together our teams. Currently, we are conducting our advanced trainings. Since we cannot hold our SUST Academy in the large lecture halls at the university this winter semester due to Corona, we will rely more on webinars in the future.
Animals, animal welfare have played an important role in your whole life. Will that remain a life's work?
SU: I sincerely hope so. This is my life's work (even if it takes me to my limits from time to time).
And what does Susy Utzinger do when she is not looking after the welfare of animals?
SU: I can no longer work 16-hour days without interruption. The older I get, the more I realize that I also have to take care of myself in between. That happens when I go hiking, jogging, or even during a cozy TV evening on the sofa (always with my dogs, of course).