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March 22, 2011

The 25th Anniversary Genesis Awards: A Winning Night For Animals

The stars turned out in force for the landmark anniversary of The HSUS's Genesis Awards

The Humane Society of the United States

 

by Karen Lange 

Twenty-five years ago, the fledgling Genesis Awards had to search hard to find media coverage of animal welfare issues. This weekend, The Humane Society of the United States celebrated 17 films, TV shows, and news reports chosen from a field rich with creativity, courage, and compassion.

Among the winners: a fire-breathing beast with a sweet disposition inspired by an animator’s sleeping cat (Outstanding Feature Film, “How to Train Your Dragon”);a man who rescues escaped exotic pets in “the wilds” of suburban America (the documentary “The Elephant in the Living Room”); and a show about vampires that brings the real world evils of dog fighting viscerally home (the TV series “True Blood”).

Best of the Best

Nearly 900 people gathered Saturday in a ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles to hear the names of the film and television winners (the print awards were given out Friday ). People clapped and cheered, whooped, and rose from their seats to applaud those who received awards. It was a night of red carpet spectacle, a night of the camaraderie born of shared battle long last won, a night of celebrity, and of recognition for the not-so-famous who’ve made a difference. “You are the best of the best in raising awareness of animal issues,” said Beverly Kaskey, senior director of the HSUS Hollywood office and executive producer of the annual Genesis Awards.

With all the attention The HSUS gives to animals raised for food, the dinner was, of course, humane. Guests ate a dinner of chanterelle-dusted “chicken,” mushroom ravioli, and broccolini.

One by one other animal advocates came up on stage: Long-time HSUS supporters Betty White and Ed Asner, who starred in the seminal ‘70s comedy series “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and shared the role of presenters Saturday night; singing sensation Leona Lewis who since her discovery in 2008 has lent her voice to animal welfare; and “Sex and the City” star Kristin Davis, whose discovery of an orphaned elephant while she was on safari in Kenya sent her on a crusade to highlight the threat to elephants by poachers— earning her a special award Saturday night, The Wyler Award. After placing the baby elephant at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Davis told her story on talk shows, including “Oprah” and “Letterman.” The media, “can be a powerful tool for good,“ Davis said.

The rest of the winners bore that message out. “How to Train Your Dragon” turns the conventional wisdom of fairy tales—that dragons are evil creatures who must be killed—on its head. A symbol of all animal species hunted and mistreated by humans, “Toothless,” the ironically named sharp-fanged dragon, becomes a loyal friend when treated with love. Gabe Hordos, supervising animator for Toothless, said the inspiration for the creature came from an actual lethal but charming predator—Hordos’s cat, who was adopted from the Pasadena Humane Society.

“The Elephant in the Living Room,” wasn’t made to further any agenda, said producer Mike Webber. But the dramatic, true-life portrayal of what happens when people take dangerous wild animals into their homes is the most convincing argument imaginable against exotic pets.

TV, Too 

A two-episode storyline of HBO’s vampire series “True Blood” put a human face on dogs brutalized by fighting. A shape-shifting character who can turn into a dog is used in deadly contests by his father, who wants to profit from his wins. When he transforms back into a person, having narrowly escaped death, bloody lacerations cover his neck and back.

Every bit as powerful was Genesis Award-winning news series out of WOIO-TV in Cleveland that featured undercover footage of people at an Ohio dairy farm punching and kicking cows. The farm’s owner was sentenced to eight months in prison. “Only eight months for torturing animals?” investigative reporter Scott Taylor asked viewers. “You’ve got to be kidding me! Lawmakers in Columbus, get off your butts and pass some tougher anti-cruelty laws.”

HSUS CEO and President Wayne Pacelle, who’s been going to the Genesis Awards for 20 years, said the growth in the breadth and depth of coverage of animal welfare issues shows the movement’s progress. “We are at this odd juncture in human history, when there is so much love and appreciation and fascination with animals … yet in this very same culture we have 10 billion animals raised for food, so many of them in factory farms … and animals hunted for trophies and killed for their fur,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m hopeful, because everyone of you is here, and because there are millions of others who share our passion. And if we organize ourselves, we are going to see triumphs.”

Karen Lange is senior writer for All Animals magazine, The HSUS's award-winning membership magazine.

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