How to Best Help Animals in Need?

Kendra Coulter's "Defending Animals" illustrates how difficult it can be to protect wildlife

By Lindsey Botts

October 15, 2023

Defending Animals book cover

After seeing a fox family's burrow get demolished for a housing development, I felt the urge to act. I called a local animal rescue organization, but it couldn't help unless the skulk of foxes posed a danger to humans. Absent risk to people, the foxes were on their own.

There is a labyrinth of organizations that help animals in need, and it is not easy to navigate. In Kendra Coulter's new book, Defending Animals: Finding Hope on the Front Lines of Animal Protection (MIT Press, 2023), she profiles an array of groups and individuals to illustrate just how difficult protecting animals, both domesticated and wild, can be. "When animals are being abused or in danger, who will help? What will help involve? Could harm be prevented? These pivotal questions propel this book," Coulter writes. "People are the problem, and the solutions."

Coulter's mix of positive stories and disturbing details of abuse makes the book an emotional roller coaster to read. Dark stories abound, of owners shooting their dogs, tractors dragging cows, and a raccoon left to die after it was hit by a car. But solutions come into view when Coulter highlights tales of rescue, renewal, and rehabilitation—and pivots to what often does work to save animals, such as cruelty investigators and preventative programs like one that connects the unhoused with veterinary care. She calls for more public investment in those resources.

Coulter concludes, "Something as significant as animal protection should not be so dependent on donations. The public sector should spend more money protecting animals. Public leadership should aim higher . . . and support humane job creation and transitions across sectors, including in animal care and food production." More than a mere survey of problems and solutions, this book is a narrative portrait of the animal caregivers on the front lines, showcasing their often difficult task of protecting the defenseless.