Priscilla Feral was born wired for confrontation…and with a deep love for animals and nature pumping through her veins. It’s no wonder that in 1974 she was hired on the spot by Alice Herrington, the first president of Friends of Animals, an international non-profit animal rights organization, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.
When Feral asked about the job description for FOA’s public information director position, Herrington told her she needed “to be able to stir up a hornet’s nest.” Feral, who took over as president in 1987 when Herrington retired, has been doing that since she joined the FoA staff.
In the 1980s Feral and FoA garnered national attention for tipping off a major Connecticut newspaper that U.S. Surgical Corporation in Norwalk, Conn., a manufacturer of surgical staplers, was needlessly using and killing thousands of dogs each year in the course of training its salespeople to demonstrate and market its products.
The investigative piece featured exclusive interviews with former Surgical employees and sales operatives who detailed the tortures inflicted on the dogs. FoA then initiated a campaign to widely publicize the company’s cruelty and to further expose its entire animal-abusing network, from unscrupulous dog dealers and salespeople who operated on dogs, to the insensate profiteers running USSC—chief among them the company’s founder Leon Hirsch. FoA held more than 100 demonstrations outside U.S. Surgical attracting thousands of protestors.
Because of that effort, more than 20,000 physicians and surgeons came to agree with FoA’s position, that what U.S. Surgical was doing was non-essential and unconscionable.
When FoA became a target of infiltrators and was bugged by microphones planted by U.S. Surgical, Feral and two other advocates disguised themselves in wigs and garish outfits so they could gather information at a shareholders' meeting and remain undetected. It wouldn’t be the last time Feral had to go “undercover.”
In 2006, before FoA filed a lawsuit to ban the trophy hunting of endangered African antelopes in the United States, Feral pretended to be a freelance writer and took a tour of one of the Texas ranches where the killings take place.
Feral has been instrumental in evolving the organization from its humble beginnings as the most comprehensive low-cost spay neuter program in the country to an organization that places critical habitat, wildlife protection and veganism at the core of animal advocacy and has become the lead wild horse advocacy group in the nation.
The gutsiness of the group that continues today is a reflection of Herrington and Feral. In its early years FoA changed the face of North American animal advocacy, eschewing mere regulation of exploitative practices and instead seeking prohibitions, including hunting, trapping, poisoning and killing animals for fur.
Herrington’s struggle in the late 1960s to end kosher slaughter exemplified the early tensions between vegetarian ethics and cultural norms. Herrington staunchly maintained that a true ethic of respect would transcend human cultural differences. In 1975, Friends of Animals issued a 24-page pamphlet recommending “complete relief from participation in the confining, breeding, rearing and slaughter of animals for food products.”
Before Feral joined FoA, she was working at a company in Wilton, Conn., that had been illegally stockpiling whale oil for use in one of its cosmetics. “I blew the whistle, called the Department of Commerce to investigate, checked out at the end of work that day and vowed not to return,” recalled Feral.
“I realized I had likely blown my chances of working for a profit-driven corporation, and after a career-counseling meeting with an all-female feminist group, I applied to Friends of Animals. I had been a member of Friends of Animals since having two kittens spayed and neutered in 1969, and the idea I could work for a group that captured my heart seemed remarkable.” FoA’s mission today goes well beyond advocacy with hands on work.
In 2007, FoA took over management of a primate sanctuary in Texas that cares for more than 350 animals. The relationship with Primarily Primates began in 1988 when Feral came across three monkeys and a chimpanzee named Joe in a rundown roadside zoo in New Orleans when she was on a lunch break from the Summit for Animals, a yearly event she attended.
“ I offered the owner a personal check of $100 to purchase the primates, and after he accepted it, I returned to the meeting, asking the lawyers in attendance for help,” Feral recalled. “Then a friend from San Antonio told me to call Primarily Primates. The sanctuary accepted the monkeys and chimpanzee, and when I visited them a couple of months later, they had all been successfully worked into social groups, were living outside and appeared to thrive.
I considered that a miracle and felt Friends of Animals should become a friend of the sanctuary and support them each year to help with animal care and renovations. In 2007, we took over management of the sanctuary.”
FoA also sponsors the remarkable Chimpanzee Project in The Gambia in Africa, as well as funds the protection and recovery of three endangered African antelope species—scimitar-horned oryxes and two species of gazelles, in Senegal.
“From my first trip to West Africa in March 1989 to Liberia, I was devoted to creating or assisting a chimpanzee sanctuary in the chimpanzees’ African homeland,“ Feral said. “After setbacks in Liberia and Ghana due to civil or tribal wars, we were invited to partner with the Gambian government and Janis Carter to sponsor the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Project at the River Gambia National Park in 2008. In 2000, we first supported Carter’s work to census free-living chimpanzees in Senegal, and through this field work met other conservationists in Senegal who became essential to assisting us with anti-poaching work in Niokolo Koba National Park.”
FoA’s anti-poaching work also included providing airplanes to Kenya Wildlife Service as well as supporting training for pilots. Whether its work in the United States or abroad, Feral has never thought about giving up.
“I’m not a quitter, and I haven’t found FoA’s substance or style duplicated in the animal advocacy or environmental field. “I’ve never thought about throwing in the towel, even experiencing how grisly fighting wolf hunters in the government and in the field is,” Feral said.
Friends of Animals took on wolf hunters when it launched a successful tourism boycott of Alaska in 1992. After 53 howl-ins in 51 cities across the United States, Gov. Walter Hickel cancelled a horrible planned wolf control program. “Howlers” would ask members of the public to pledge their support of the tourism boycott of Alaska by filling out postcards, which were then sent to the governor.
The travel industry even supported FoA’s boycott—putting the economic screws to Hickel’s administration. Hickel later called for a Wolf Summit in January 1993, where Feral befriended the late wolf biologist Gordon Haber, a fierce wolf advocate. FoA would go on to commission some of Haber’s startling, crucial findings.
Another tourism boycott with accompanying howl-ins was called in 1993 when another wolf-control program was activated. By January 1994, Friends of Animals had organized another 90 wolf “howl-ins” across the U.S. in many dozens of cities, publicizing them through membership and paid advertising along with approximately 50 organizations that offered support.
When Tony Knowles became governor in 1994 and replaced Hickel, Alaska saw eight years of progressive changes for wolves. “We dug in in Alaska. We used every resource we had; we threw everything in but the kitchen sink and used whatever political muscle we had to blow up the tourism boycott and make it better,” recalled Feral. “We were told the state lost more than a million dollars in tourism revenues.”
It was a strategy Feral and FoA never forgot and has become part of the fabric of the organization. “When you go to the wall and keep applying creative pressure—that persistence, perseverance and tenacity will pay off. Can we say our style as a pressure group always pays off? In Alaska, it did.”
Accomplishments from the last 6 decades
1957–1960 FoA became the leading force for preventing the births of too many dogs and cats and their mass killings in shelters by administering a nationwide low-cost spay-neuter program to help rescue groups and pet-owners avoid the high costs of altering. FoA has made possible more than 2.7 million procedures, continuing at a pace of close to 28,000 procedures annually.
1960s 1966, FoA established a legislative arm of the organization to better assist with humane legislation. Today the Wildlife Law Program has its own offices in Denver, Colo. In 1968, FoA led the movement to end the seal kill in Alaska. Also FoA sought prohibitions on the exploitive practices of hunting, trapping, poisoning and killing animals for fur.
1970s FoA initiated the movement in Congress to protect whales, sea lions, walruses, porpoises and other marine animals, which resulted in the 1972 passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. FoA also campaigned successfully to ban the catching of tuna with dolphin-killing nets. FoA was the first national group to hold anti-fur protests to pressure the public into understanding wearing animals’ skins is no longer morally defensible.
This resulted in an unsuccessful lawsuit from NY furriers. FoA was the first animal advocacy group to expose factory farming as a result of its investigative writing, and in 1975 issued a 24-page pamphlet recommending complete relief from participation in the business of confining, breeding, rearing and slaughter of food products. By 1979, our magazine was pointing to animal farming as the cause of a host of ecological, environmental and social ills.
1980s FoA successfully lobbied the Foreign Relations Committee to end the commercial fur treaty between the USA, USSR, Japan and Canada that required the annual slaughter of approximately 25,000 fur seals on their Pribilof Island breeding grounds in Alaska. (FoA filmed the seal kill in the 1970s and observed it again in 1979 to bolster our lobbying arguments against the kill.) In 1989, FoA drafted the successful proposal that included African elephants on Appendix I of CITES, the endangered species treaty, which stopped all legal trade in ivory. FoA began lobbying in the northeast to protect mute swans from nest destruction, egg addling and hunting, which have all been considered as wildlife "management" schemes.
1990s In 1991, FoA accepted more than 50 U.S. military surplus patrol vehicles and significant quantities of radio and field equipment from the U.S. Department of Defense for refurbishing and distribution among wildlife conservation agencies of 10 African countries to bolster anti-poaching patrols. In 1996, FoA delivered a Zenair airplane to Ghana Wildlife Service for anti-poaching patrols; trained pilots and provided spare parts. FoA’s 1992 tourism boycott of Alaska prompted the state to end its official wolf control program. We also ended coyote killing efforts in a Northwest National Wildlife Refuge, and contributed to the successful effort that opposed and prevented oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
2000 In 2005, FoA wrote and published its first vegan cookbook. In 2006, FoA and others sued the Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of Interior on the grounds that the Service unlawfully exempted U.S.-bred scimitar-horned oryx, addax, and dama gazelles from prohibitions against harming, harassing, pursuing, hunting, shooting, wounding, killing, trapping, capturing, or collecting endangered species. FoA won the case in 2009. The Court ruled that FWS violated the ESA by issuing a blanket exemption allowing trophy hunting at U.S. ranches of endangered African antelopes and required ranchers to obtain permits. In 2007, FoA halted the state of Alaska’s wolf bounty program through successful litigation.
2010-PRESENT In July of 2014, the first shark species was listed under the Endangered Species Act in response to a 2011 petition by Friends of Animals. The National Marine Fisheries Service listed four populations of scalloped hammerhead shark under the ESA because of severe threats posed by human exploitation. In 2015 FoA drafted Cecil’s Law, which would ban the importation, sale, possession and transportation of African elephants, lions, leopards, and black and white rhinos and their body parts. The legislation has been introduced in Connecticut and New York. Friends of Animals' successful litigation for wild horses in 2015, 2016 and 2017 is notable: FoA halted a 5-year fertility control program targeting Nevada's Rocky Hill herd; prevented the gruesome wild mare sterilization research project in Oregon; stopped Wyoming’s anti-wild horse agenda; protected Montana’s beloved Pryor Mountain Herd from future assault; stopped the forced drugging of Nevada’s Pine Nut Herd with fertility control, twice; and helped ensure Arizona’s Salt River wild horses remain free.
On Nov. 28, 2016, NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Swan Bill—created with input from Friends of Animals and ornithologists—which was created to save the state’s 2,200 mute swans from a government-sanctioned death sentence. In March of 2017, thanks to FoA's legal intervention, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a 2014 decision by a federal district judge in Utah that sought to strip the Utah prairie dog of federal protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Not only did this outcome protect Utah's prairie dogs, it prevented anti-wildlife, pro-property plaintiffs from destroying the ESA.