If you’re like me, then you’re a die-hard Potterhead. And I don’t mean the casual “I’ve read the books once” fans but rather the “I carry my wand with me and wear Hogwarts robes to school” fans. You probably have every spell memorized, know which Quidditch team you would play for, and even know what your wand’s core would be. But did you ever notice (during the 34 times that you’ve read the series) that the books contain animal rights messages? Check out seven of the ways that the best series in the world speaks up for animals (caution: spoilers ahead!):
1. Animal advocacy
She’s one of the best students ever to walk through the doors of Hogwarts, and she also happens to be one of the most compassionate. You know her. You love her. She is Hermione Granger. While she was at the 422nd Quidditch World Cup in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, she witnessed gross injustice in the treatment of a house-elf named Winky by her master, Barty Crouch Sr. In response to witnessing such cruelty, Hermione started the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare—better known as S.P.E.W.—to fight for the rights of elves. And this isn’t the only example in which Hermione acts as a voice for magical creatures in need …
2. Cruelty to animals
When heading down into one of the deepest and most heavily guarded vaults at Gringotts Wizarding Bank in the film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Harry, Hermione, and Ron meet a timid, blind, and beaten Ukrainian Ironbelly dragon guarding the way to Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault. In order to get past the dragon, our heroes must use noisemakers, called “clankers,” to scare the dragon away, as the animal has been trained to expect pain when the clankers are shaken. Upon seeing the mistreatment of this lonely and neglected dragon, Hermione calls the practice “barbaric.”
Similarly, many dogs are neglected and forced to live chained up outdoors instead of inside the house as a loving family member. Chained dogs are often deprived of adequate food, water, and veterinary care, and their social needs are often completely ignored. They suffer through frightening thunderstorms and all weather extremes, which can even mean death when there’s extreme heat or frigid temperatures. We can help ensure that our companion animals are happy—just like the dragon who was finally freed from Gringotts by allowing them indoors and treating them as members of the family.
3. Meat-free meals
There is no denying it: Hogwarts’ dining is known for being very meat-heavy. But don’t worry, vegan wizards! If you don’t want to support factory farm cruelty that would make even He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named blush, then order up some vegetarian food in the Great Hall. According to an interview from 2000, J.K. Rowling revealed that the chefs at Hogwarts (who, we later find out, are house-elves) can accommodate vegetarians! Even renowned Quidditch expert and best-selling author of Quidditch Through the Ages, Kennilworthy Whisp, enjoys eating vegetarian meals. If you’re lagging behind your opponent during Quidditch practice, it may be the result of eating animal products. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vegans are less likely to be obese than meat-eaters are. While you and I may not be able to get our grub on in the Great Hall, you can choose to cast a protective spell for animals just by not eating them. Vegan meats, cheeses, and milks can now be found at many local grocery stores such as Vons, health-food stores like Whole Foods, and even big box stores like Target. You can also make your own vegan versions of Hogwarts staples, like Butterbeer and Pumpkin Pasties.
Another great animal rights message from the series comes from the second chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, when Harry and the Dursleys go to the zoo. Animals in zoos are deprived of the opportunity to satisfy their most basic needs. In this chapter, “The Vanishing Glass,” we meet a lonely and bored boa constrictor who has been bred in captivity—meaning that he has spent his whole life on display instead of living freely in the wild. Harry himself says that living in the zoo “was worse than having a cupboard as a bedroom … [because] at least [Harry] got to visit the rest of the house.” In general, animals in zoos and wildlife parks are denied everything that’s natural and important to them, including flying, swimming, running, hunting, climbing, scavenging, foraging, digging, exploring, and selecting a mate. The physical and mental frustrations of captivity often lead to abnormal, neurotic, and even self-destructive behavior, such as incessant pacing, swaying, head-bobbing, biting the bars of enclosures, and self-mutilation. You can help make zoos disappear—similar to how Harry made the glass that enclosed the snake vanish—by never going to zoos.
5. Captive animals
If you’re like me, then you definitely cried like a baby when Dobby the house-elf died. He was kind and compassionate and only wanted to help Harry Potter and his friends—and that’s exactly what he did. Dobby was enslaved by the Malfoy family, who forced him to do whatever they wished and beat him or caused him to beat himself regularly. Harry set him free in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and the two remained loyal friends. Dobby’s story is the perfect example of why we should respect and stick up for those who can’t defend themselves. Just like Dobby, animals in circuses like Ringling Bros. and at marine parks like SeaWorld are treated cruelly and held as slaves.
Animals used in circuses are routinely beaten and electro-shocked in order to force them to perform ridiculous tricks that make no sense to them—all for human “entertainment.” They’re often chained, sometimes even for days at a time, without any access to food, water, or veterinary care.
SeaWorld enslaves animals in small tanks at marine parks around the country and forces them to perform meaningless tricks. It’s a business that has been built on the suffering of intelligent, social animals who are denied the opportunity to engage in any natural behavior. As a result, animals imprisoned by SeaWorld often die at a young age from stress and other captivity-related causes. Unlike Dobby, elephants and orcas can’t disapparate with you from the Malfoy manor, but if they knew that you were concerned about their plight, they would surely appreciate your efforts to make sure everyone you know boycotts live-animal entertainment and never visits the circus or marine parks.
6. Animal-friendly legislation
While the Ministry of Magic becomes a joke during the second rise of Lord Voldemort, it had, in the past, created certain laws to protect animals. According to the Pottermore website, toads were widely used in the making of potions and charms centuries ago. However, the Ministry of Magic introduced legislation against this cruelty (subsections 13 to 29 relate to the production of potion ingredients), and such practices were eventually outlawed! You can help animals by working to get animal-friendly legislation passed in your own area.
7. Animal abuse
In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Hermione expresses her concern about Barty Crouch Sr.’s dismissal of Winky, the Crouch’s house-elf. What Sirius Black says speaks to the meaning of how we treat animals today:
“If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”
Take a look at how animals on factory farms, on fur farms, in laboratories, and in circuses are treated. What does this say about us? If the character of a person is determined by how he or she treats those who are weaker, then are we really any better than Lord Voldemort? Humans allow the torture and killing of billions of animals every single year for food, clothing, entertainment, and experimentation—that’s far more than all the Death Eaters’ human