The news of the passing away of Helmut Dungler, who was known as “Heli” beyond the animal welfare movement, was a hard blow for me. Much has already been said and written in the media and numerous press releases and blog entries about him as a person, his work and his contribution to national and international animal protection, but nevertheless I would like to add a few personal lines.
With his decision in the 1980s to found an organisation dedicated exclusively to the protection of animals, Heli established an initially actionist movement that very much relied on revealing cruelty to animals, which was hardly known to a broad public at the time. Film footage of the keeping and thus the suffering of fur animals and of the horrible living conditions of chickens cramped in cages was made public and immediately caused nationwide discussions. I fondly remember the TV debate in the “Club 2” programme on ORF, in which Heli took part with the former Minister of the Environment Flemming and a German journalist from Stern, exposing the fur industry. It is not presumptuous to claim that this broadcast and Heli’s pioneering work (together with the activists from day one) were the breakthrough in the development of the anti-fur movement in Austria.
Already on the go as an activist myself, distributing flyers in public places, I met Heli not much later and he invited a friend of mine, Erich Schacherl (he had the idea of a rescue centre for bears in Austria), and me to work with FOUR PAWS. I first dedicated myself to the suffering of wild animals in circuses – a problem hardly noticed at that time – which led to a ban on wild animals in circuses years later. Heli’s understanding of the importance of media, political work and activist mobilization, as well as his unrivalled talent and sense for fundraising, allowed him to build an organization that today has an impact far beyond national borders. He was certainly one of my most important teachers and gave me the chance to gain ground in animal welfare and to meet many exciting people with whom I still work today and with whom I have developed long-standing friendships. For this, I am infinitely grateful to him.
After some years our paths separated and it is no secret that fundamental differences about the future of the organisation were decisive for this. At that time FOUR PAWS had opened a second office outside of Austria (in Hamburg, Germany) which allowed me to conduct successful campaigns to close dolphinaria in Germany. Between 1999 and 2011, I then built up the German branch of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society before I started my own campaigns agency SHIFTING VALUES in autumn 2011.
During this time Heli had made FOUR PAWS into an international organisation with offices in 15 countries. This is a more than impressive development that deserves respect. Our paths crossed again and we carried out joint projects and actions. Of course I could tell many anecdotes, but a list of his numerous animal protection activities and projects can be found elsewhere. I had my last phone call with Heli shortly before Christmas, not knowing that our meeting, which was arranged for mid-January, would never take place. With Heli’s passing away, a great figure of animal protection has left us, but also a person with humour, vision and talent.
I say THANK YOU for a great many of things.
He will be missing.