Heather Moore

is a senior writer for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

2008 was a tough year. Every day, it seems, brought more disheartening reports about economic meltdowns, climate change, global food shortages, terrorist attacks, and other tragedies.

But the news wasn't all bad: Surprisingly, 2008 was a great year for animals. Amid all the chaos, change was taking place in people's attitudes toward animals. Many of the events of the last year are indicative of a larger social movement to reform practices that cause animals unnecessary suffering.

As we head into the new year, I'd like to reflect on some things that give me hope for a more humane world.

In 2008, Juicy Couture, Zappos.com, Nike, Sears, Cole Haan, and several other companies joined the ever-growing list of retailers that refuse to sell fur. Companies as diverse as Harris Teeter, Lukoil, Denny's, Fitwise4Kids, and Hanson Windows (a Michigan-based home-repair company) refused to promote Ringling Bros. because of the circus' shameful history of animal abuse. And more than 500 companies, including Almay, Revlon, Estee Lauder, Urban Decay, M.A.C. Cosmetics, and Method, now make products that are not tested by blinding rabbits in research laboratories.

Los Angeles passed a lifesaving ordinance requiring cats and dogs to be spayed or neutered, preventing thousands of animals from being born only to end up on the streets or euthanized for lack of homes.

Target stopped selling foie gras - which is made by cruelly force-feeding ducks and geese - in 2008, and California voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 2, a groundbreaking measure that, by 2015, requires farms to give veal calves, egg-laying hens, and pregnant pigs enough room to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs, and turn around freely.

Interest in vegetarianism is skyrocketing. A Harris Interactive poll indicated that a whopping 11.9 million people are "definitely interested" in following a vegetarian diet in the future. Many restaurants, including popular chains such as Johnny Rockets, P.F. Chang's China Bistro, Ruby Tuesday, and Burger King, offer vegetarian options.

There is growing hope for the future, too, thanks in part to the responsible teachers who are incorporating humane education into their lesson plans so that children will learn kindness, respect and empathy for all beings.

Our behavior can have an enormous impact on others. Whenever I wonder if my actions will make a difference, I think of the courageous man who rescued my dog from an abusive situation. He saved her life - and enriched mine. His simple act of kindness made a bigger difference than he'll ever know.

In the coming year, PETA will continue to work with policymakers at major corporations to bring about positive changes for animals. But each one of us can do something that will make the world a better place.

Volunteer to walk dogs at your local animal shelter. Reuse and recycle. Choose cruelty-free brands of shampoo and toothpaste. Sometimes making a difference is as simple as changing one cruel habit and replacing it with one kind act.