Brian Davies obituary

Brian Davies obituary (1935 – 2022)

Founder of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), protector of seals and successful campaigner to ban hunting with hounds.

Brian Davies has died in America on 27th December 2022, at the age of 87. Born in Wales in 1935 Brian emigrated to Canada as a young man and joined the Canadian Army, resigning in 1961 to work for the New Brunswick SPCA.

From the beginning of his new career with animals Brian was an innovator. He stood for Animal Protection and not Conservation. He was a champion for the "underdogs" - the animals themselves. Indeed, he developed a cool contempt at that time for the new Conservation movement that he believed was often being organised by hunters who wished to conserve wildlife in order to be able to kill it for fun.

In 1969 he set up his own organisation calling it the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Every word in its title mattered. Brian naturally thought big and was naturally practical. He saw that the animal welfare movement needed money, should be international in scope and should be aiming at political reforms that could help not just one or two animals at a time, but thousands of them.

As regards tactics, he proceeded to:-

  1. Raise millions of dollars (mostly in the UK)
  2. Use the money to procure face-to-face meetings with people who had the actual power to help the oppressed animals
  3. Persuade them to enact reforms

How did he raise funds so successfully? Early on Brian displayed an extraordinary ability to raise money for his cause. He had charisma. He sent out exciting pictures of himself in aeroplanes and helicopters on the ice flows rescuing seals from hunters who were viciously killing them with clubs. The language he used was colourful and emotive (but accurate). He described his successes in detail.

Brian rather despised organisations that remained parochial, or just met others who thought the same way as themselves, or avoided politics, were embarrassed by money or concentrated upon slow tactics such as the education of children. 

Brian wanted immediate political action! He got it by meeting Prime Ministers, Presidents and other people of power face to face. He showed them photos of cruelty to animals and the results of public opinion surveys (surveys that IFAW paid for) which showed that thousands of votes were potentially available to politicians who rooted for the animals.

People could see that Brian was getting results and that some of the beautiful seals were actually being saved by him. Gradually he built up a computerised list of several hundred thousand reliable donors around the world to whom he could appeal when he needed funds. (Brian and I often agreed that paying money to senior politicians was questionable but we were doing it for a good cause and not for ourselves). Every year Brian raised tens of millions of pounds for IFAW from Britain alone, all based upon his international campaigning. Even though Brian gave the Labour Party well over £1 million - apparently the largest political donation in British history, he never accepted any Honours at all, including the knighthood widely expected by the media.   

Brian gave money to all the British political parties but the largest donations went to the parties such as Labour that produced the best draft policies for animal protection. At a debate in the House of Lords, the Labour government came under repeated attacks from Conservative foxhunters for "accepting £1 million from the anti-foxhunters". Labour spokesman Lord Falconer found it hard to defend this so I explained to him that IFAW had also given £100,000 to the Conservative Party which they had gladly accepted.  Falconer said to the Chamber - "the fox hunters may not realise that the Conservative Party was also delighted to receive a six-figure sum from IFAW". There was a gasp of surprise, a sudden silence and the debate ended! 

Brian had to be brave to do what he did. He increasingly came under fire from those in Canada, in and outside its government, who supported the annual bludgeoning of seals.

When I was Chairman of the RSPCA in 1979, I had asked the RSPCA's then President, the author Richard Adams, to do a lecture tour in Canada supporting Brian's campaign to stop the annual seal slaughter. On the flight back Adam's RSPCA minder, Major Mike Seymour - Rouse, noticed a suspicious suitcase on the New York carousel. He called it to the attention of Airport Security who found it was a bomb that should have gone off on Richard Adams' aeroplane. Regretfully, nothing was ever done about this outrageous act of terrorism, and the American authorities unfortunately hushed it up. (It was before the 2001 terrorism of 9/11).

Eventually, after a couple who somewhat resembled the Davies in appearance had been shot dead outside Brian's house in Fredericton, he decided to take the hint and move to the safer surroundings of the United States, so he transferred the Headquarters of IFAW to Cape Cod, where it still remains today.

I was first contacted by Brian Davies in 1979. With a mid-Atlantic accent, pigtail and good looks he was quite an imposing figure. He was neither an intellectual nor an administrator, but a man of action. Furthermore, there was a touch of mystery about him. Like a proverbial Welsh wizard, he seemed instinctively to understand people and animals.

In 1980 I introduced him to that other great man of Animal Protection with whom I worked - the Rt Hon Lord (Douglas) Houghton of Sowerby CH. 

In many ways, they were entirely different. Douglas was thirty years older than Brian, small, robust and a friend of the late Queen. But both were members of the British Labour Party, both were brilliant politicians and both were entirely determined to do something to help the animals. We made a strange trio. I had been introduced to Douglas in 1971 by Muriel, Lady Dowding (the widow of the hero of the Battle of Britain) and had helped to persuade Douglas to retire from active politics (he was a Cabinet Minister and Chairman of the Labour Party) in order to join us in our struggle for animal rights. He quickly did so and together we formed four committees designed to improve and modernise the protection of animals abused in farms and laboratories, and to "put animals into politics" generally. Brian found the awareness of animal suffering among British politicians to be far superior to that of politicians in the US and Canada. While Douglas harangued Prime Ministers on the telephone, and I tried to modernise the RSPCA, Brian dined with Presidents.

I had always used the campaigning technique of trying to meet powerful people face to face. Here were the two greatest animal campaigners who were doing the same. But they did it by entirely different methods: Douglas Houghton would simply telephone Prime Ministers and Secretaries of State - because he knew them all personally and they respected him. Brian did it by raising money and then donating it to the party funds of various Heads of State around the world. When they thanked him, he invited them out to dinner. It often worked and, in this way, Brian met a number of Prime Ministers and Presidents of Third World countries (and bigger ones too). He showed them photos of animals being cruelly treated in their countries and the Presidents (or their spouses) were often moved to enact reforms. President Marcos of the Philippines, for example, did so to protect dogs from being hanged slowly
in the meat trade, signing a decree then and there at the dining table! Brian then found that Marcos had made it a capital offence, and spent the pudding course persuading the President to tone it down!

Besides making donations to party funds (this is quite legal) I arranged for Brian and me to meet the leaders of all the British political parties. He was always a friend of the RSPCA which awarded him its top external honour - the Richard Martin Award.

In 1991 I invited Brian and his wife Gloria (who formed a brilliant and caring team with him) to come and stay with me at my home in Devon. One day we drove across Dartmoor to visit friends. Right in the middle of the moor the main road was blocked by two posh-looking ladies on horseback. Brian asked why they were blocking the way. I said they were foxhunters who obviously thought that they were very important. On the way home Brian suddenly said: "I have been thinking about those damned foxhunters and have decided that IFAW will campaign to stop hunting with hounds in Britain".

The next day Brian and I went to London and commissioned agencies to design full-page ("blood-spattered") adverts in all the national newspapers. I warned Brian that it would be a long and hard fight - hundreds of politicians, millionaires and lawyers would fight to defend their so-called sport. (They saw it as proof of their class success.) "There are even worse cruelties that we could tackle more easily" I suggested. "More easily perhaps," said Brian "but not so symbolic!".

He was setting out to destroy a deeply ingrained British national icon - like Apple Pie was for the Americans. Scores of previous attempts had dismally failed. But Brian would be different. Brian was a great man and probably the only person who could have taken on and defeated the British foxhunting classes at that time. He was an intelligent student of military history and could have made an excellent and victorious general. He had the money and the political skills.

Who will now take up Brian's baton and follow his lead? There is so much still to be done to build legal protection for all abused sentient beings. All sentients should be within our moral circle.

Constantly persecuted by Canadian government black propaganda, Brian often became depressed. He hated the parochialism and snobbery of the British. In Britain, he had been deserted by his mother and he reacted by becoming entrepreneurial, learning how to go straight to the top to get things done. He wanted the Labour Party to be his refuge and ally.

Brian's style was refreshingly opposite to that of the old RSPCA. He was never petty. He seemed to run on helicopter fuel and money. He was the heroic tribune of the animals and their political status appeared to rise accordingly. He himself identified with them.

Brian had learned to fly helicopters as well as fixed-wing aircraft, and so gave the whole movement a new virility and dynamism. Unfairly, at the time, Animal Protection had often been ridiculed as being a pursuit for "batty old ladies". In Britain, growing youthful opposition to bloodsports had altered this image, and Brian completed the job.

Richard D Ryder, President of the RSPCA

Dr Richard D Ryder knew Brian Davies for over forty years. He campaigned with Davies for laboratory, farm and pet animals as well as for wildlife.

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