Watching and reading about all the horrors inflicted on innocent animals day after day can become overwhelming. You can't save every animal, but you can make a difference, one decision and action at a time.
1. Go vegan. Simple as that—the number one thing you can do to help animals (and the planet!) is adopt a vegan diet and way of living. Not only will you, each year, personally save the lives of more than 100 farmed animals, but you'll save other animals as well—the animals whose habitats are destroyed or co-opted for grazing land or for the growing of crops to feed livestock.
2. Adopt your companion animals from shelters and rescue organizations. Never buy an animal from a breeder or pet store. Purchasing from a so-called reputable breeder rather than a puppy mill is not good enough. The nation's shelters and rescues are full of dogs, cats, and other animals in desperate need of homes. Millions of them are killed each year. Adopt one (or more).
3. Don't just stop eating animals. Stop wearing them too. You don't need leather, wool, or fur trim any more than you need a full fur coat. Faux leather is abundant, and it is cheaper than animal skin too. Polyester fleece and other fibers are less itchy and less difficult to wash than wool, and for them, no sheep must suffer having chunks of skin hacked off or endure grueling transport and harrowing slaughter. Animals die for fur trim as much as they die for fur coats—there is no such experience as being just a little bit slaughtered. And faux fur trim is often not faux at all; it may be dog or cat fur from China.
4. Make your purchases and donations cruelty-free. Look for "not tested on animals" or "cruelty free" on the labels of household products and cosmetics. When you donate to health-related charities, seek out those that do not fund or support animal research. And when you stop purchasing from a company or donating to an organization because of their animal cruelty, write to them and explain why they've lost your business and charitable giving. Consult cruelty-free guides to help you choose your products and charities. And donate to the organizations and sanctuaries that are working to save and care for animals.
5. Boycott so-called entertainment that involves abuse of animals—for example, circuses, horse racing, greyhound racing, and rodeos. And then go two steps further: encourage everyone you know to join you in swearing them off, and then encourage and educate those you don't know too. Write a letter to the editor when the circus is coming to town. Stand outside the racetracks and distribute information. Protest the rodeo.
6. Protect the habitats of wildlife. Environmental matters and animal issues are intimately connected even beyond the environmental impact of animal agriculture. Examples: Plastic bags are an environmental nightmare—and discarded plastic is a nightmare for ocean life as well; invest in reusable canvas and cotton bags. That super-soft mainstream toilet paper, that super-absorbent mainstream paper towel, and those super-smooth mainstream facial tissues you use are super-destructive too. Do you support the needless destruction of forests? Probably not. But that's how mainstream paper companies, who shun recycled content, get their fiber. Buy reusable substitutes when you can, and when you can't, buy only recycled. Be aware of the sources of the foods and products you purchase.
7. Embrace direct action. Attend the protests, distribute the information, videotape and publicize cruelties, and if need be, and you are able, rescue abused animals yourself.
8. Talk to your legislators, fight for animal protection laws, and vote. Is a ban on rodeos or animal circuses up for a vote in your community or state? Publicize the cruelties; educate friends, family, and strangers; lobby your legislators; and get the legislation passed. Sign up for updates from the Animal Legal Defense Fund. Vote for animal-friendly candidates. The animals need more legislators like Dennis Kucinich.
Learn about the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), an outrageous attack on First Amendment rights that the majority of senators and representatives did not even read, so that you can educate your legislators about it and get them working toward a repeal.
9. Educate yourself. Read the books. Watch the videos. Keep up with the blogs. Attend the conferences. Volunteer with animals. The more you know, the more you can help.
10. Educate everyone else. Once you've educated yourself—or better yet, while you're educating yourself—spread the word, through informational handouts, through videos, through Web sites and blogs, and even through food (yummy, healthy vegan food, that is).