September 13, 2010
Kids With A Cause: Martin Welych-Flanagan
Young advocates channel their love of animals into making a difference
by Arna Cohen
Martin Welych-Flanagan, 10
Putting an end to Canada’s yearly seal hunt
Why We Love Him:
Martin had been selling bead bracelets to earn money for a Lego set, but when he found out that his favorite animals were being hunted for their fur, he redirected his talents.
Martin Welych-Flanagan’s fascination with seals began in preschool, when he fell in love with a plush baby harp seal toy and asked if he could take it home with him every day. A few years later, while he was looking at photos of his favorite animal on the Internet, his mother suddenly covered his eyes so he wouldn’t see the bloodied bodies of pups who’d been clubbed to death during Canada’s annual seal hunt.
But the truth wouldn’t stay hidden for long: The 6-year-old discovered soon enough that his beloved seals were being slaughtered to make fur coats. Not only that, but the hunt was legal.
“I was outraged that such a beautiful animal was being killed for no good reason,” says the Syracuse, N.Y., resident.
Martin and his mother wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper, and he also asked his teacher if the class could form a club to help the seals. In the interest of fairness, his teacher allowed everyone with a community service idea to make presentations, and the students voted on their favorite. Martin’s won. “He’s very persuasive,” says his mother, Anita.
The Seal Savers Club’s first project was to petition the Canadian prime minister to stop the hunt. The club then began designing and selling $1 bead bracelets with messages such as “Save a Seal” and “No Fur,” collecting more than $1,000 for The HSUS’s Protect Seals Campaign. When The HSUS featured Martin as a “humane hero” online, bracelet orders came in from all over the country.
Martin’s efforts were also recognized by the Disney Corporation, which awarded him the $5,000 grand prize in its “Littlest Volunteers” competition. He donated half the money to his school and traveled to HSUS headquarters in Gaithersburg, Md., to present president and CEO Wayne Pacelle with a check for the rest, using the opportunity to sell more bracelets to staff members. Later that day, Martin visited U.S. Rep. Dan Maffei, D-N.Y., in his Capitol Hill office to discuss the International Whale Conservation and Protection Act—and sold bracelets to the lawmaker’s staff.
Despite a speech impediment for which he receives regular therapy, Martin speaks without a bit of hesitation or self-consciousness when discussing the seal hunt. “Martin’s determination helps him transcend his speech articulation issue,” says Anita. He’s made presentations at his speech therapy clinic, as well as at Cazenovia College and an HSUS meeting in Syracuse. And he sees every casual conversation as an opportunity to lobby for his cause. At The HSUS’s New York Humane Lobby Day in Albany this April, state Sen. John DeFrancisco bought a bracelet.
Martin’s creations have been in such demand that his grandmother and two great aunts are helping with production. He’s raised another $500 for the seals and says he’ll continue making sales until the hunt is ended. Martin plans to attack the hunt on other fronts by setting up a Facebook page and asking local grocery stores and restaurants to participate in the boycott of Canadian seafood. Not bad for a guy who just turned 10.