In the 1890’s in his early 20’s, Leonard Hawksey set off like so many of his countrymen on a tour of Italy unaware that he was to become a pioneer of animal protection in the country.
Hawksley’s first focus was on the horrendous and widespread cruelty he witnessed in Naples. Horses and mules were fitted with spiked reins, jagged-edged halters and bits studded with sharp nails and regularly lashed with wire whips.
It was in Naples that Hawksley took action, reforming and renaming the former Naples Anti-Cruelty Society and turning it into the Naples Society for the Protection of Animals. He personally led the group until 1909 while also successfully setting up a group with 40 inspectors in Rome in 1901. Up and down Italy, Hawksley increasingly “stirred up trouble”. He challenged organised crime and cruel practices in Campania and eventually paid dearly for the consequences of his mission to the point that being ambushed in retaliation for his inspections, he lost the use of one eye.
Hawksley was not merely an activist though; he was in fact a reformer and advocated the introduction of legal measures. In 1912 he saw cruel sports being recognised as punishable by law and with the outbreak of WWI he played a key role in forming the Italian Blue Cross and a number of veterinary hospitals, working in the field to save the lives of thousands of horses and mules.
The long years of struggle took their toll and in 1931, aged 58, Hawksley returned to England in ill health where he later died in 1948. He left behind 22 animal protection societies in Italy either founded directly by him or with his assistance. Over the years, in response to critics who asked why a foreigner was meddling in the animal welfare of a country that was not his own, he would always snap back:
“Because animals have no nationality”
In 1952, the Hawksley Society for the Protection of Animals and Birds in Italy became The Anglo-Italian Society for the Protection of Animals.
His words are our words today and the spirit of his pioneering work lives on through the Anglo-Italian Society for the Protection of Animals.