Vegetarian and Vegan Youth—or VegYouth for short—is high school group created last summer by Chloe Falkenheim. The group is an international network of more than 50 student club leaders—and growing—that provides inspiration and support needed to ensure that their activism is successful. “We are the place for like-minded student activists to have regular discussions,” says Chloe, “and we provide mentoring opportunities, activism guides, a student activist of the month with a $250 prize, and a connection to the broader movement.” I asked Chloe to explain why VegYouth is unique, what motivates her activism, and what inspired her.

You went vegan at 13. What inspired you to make this change at such a young age–and what kind of support did you get?

1937430_749951995057630_5485090348623836842_nMy story dates back to when I was three years old. I had just finished watching the movie Chicken Run and came to the shocking revelation that chicken indeed does come from chickens. And then when I was six years old, I read Charlotte’s Web and decided to never eat pork again, and became vegetarian when I was nine.

I became vegan at age 13 after learning about a vegan celebrity, but became passionate after looking into the eyes of animals in my first factory farm video and learning about the interconnection between animal rights, environmental, health, and social justice causes. I realized that literally the best thing we can do to prevent suffering overall is to create a much more vegan society.

I was incredibly fortunate that my parents supported, though sometimes reluctantly, my choices, as so many youth are held back from living compassionately due to lack of parental support. I created VegYouth to help youth overcome any lack of support and help them change their diets.

Like many teens, though I fit in mostly, I was teased by my friends for being vegan. I also never met another vegan for the first two years. This led me to recognize and really appreciate the importance of community in staying vegan, and I was determined to create a community for veg teens.

What forms of activism do you enjoy most?

School clubs are my favorite form of activism.

Imagine if every non-vegan was exposed to a positive vegan message every single day, was given an opportunity to try vegan food every single month, had access to delicious vegan options whenever they dined out, and was surrounded by a friendly community which provided them all the support they need to change their lifestyle.

This is a reality I achieved with my high school club, persuading my school cafeteria to add vegan options, running awareness raising campaigns that reached every student, adding plant-based nutrition to our schools health curriculum, starting a vegan mentoring program, and more. This is a reality we could achieve with veg school clubs on every high school and college.

Student groups are so effective because schools are where students spend their day, and because peer-to-peer activism between students is most effective. Students have a voice in their schools, while outside activists don’t.

Was it difficult to start VegYouth Alliance?

Starting a high school club was one of the most difficult things I did, and I found no support or resources to help me out. I made mistakes and did not have any guidance to implement my projects, and often felt discouraged by lack of positive feedback and the slow speed it took to make changes at my school. But I learned a lot from my mistakes, wanted to pass on my trial-and-error learning, and hungered to connect with other groups to share ideas, tips, success, questions, and community with other club leaders.

I also realized that what I did with my club would not make a dent unless it was replicated everywhere. If only a few students learned about why to go veg, that wouldn’t make a huge difference. But if students at schools everywhere in the world took action, that would make a huge shift. I wanted to spark that societal shift! Therefore, I created the VegYouth Alliance.

What can we expect from VegYouth as you begin another year of outreach?

chloeExpect to see more youth engaged in the movement, changing their diets, talking to their family and peers about these issues, and beginning activism! We’ll be recruiting more school clubs to join the VegYouth Alliance from states across the U.S. and in countries around the world. And we’ll be expanding our online community to provide support to young vegetarians and vegans. We’ll also be improving our programs based on feedback from youth, adding more articles and guides to our website, speaking at vegfests to expand our outreach, and becoming an official non-profit.

How can people get involved and support VegYouth?

Donate in honor of our one-year anniversary. We also have a bunch of ideas for simple ways you could raise funds for VegYouth, like a bake sale, rummage sale, or with race pledges.

Join us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and if you’re a veg youth, join our Facebook group.

Intern with us!

What do you do to de-stress from a day of activism?

I run regularly, and I’m doing cross country next year!

I love people and hanging out with friends, and I love listening to music and watching movies. I’m obsessed with the musical Wicked. I also play the flute.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog (well, of the blogs I infrequently post here, anyway), you know that I’ve written a couple times about the power of online activism – notably here and here. While there are other forms of advocacy I prefer, I don’t think there’s any question that online petitions have become an influential force in the movement. We need look no further than SeaWorld for evidence.

Yesterday’s news that Southwest Airlines is ending its quarter-century relationship with SeaWorld came as a surprise to no one who has noted SA_SeaWorldthe growing popularity – and power – of petitions hosted on social-change platforms like Care2 and Change.org. Southwest’s marketing partnership irked many of its customers, leading some to boycott the airline altogether. One such customer was Robin Merritt, who launched a petition on Change.org calling on Southwest executives and its board of directors to dump SeaWorld. “Southwest Airlines has a choice,” read the petition. “Will it support the animal cruelty at SeaWorld or make a compassionate choice to end this partnership of cruelty?” More than 32,000 people signed the petition with a simple click, and the air carrier finally made the compassionate choice.

“I started my petition on Change.org because Blackfish got so many people talking about how these orcas are confined to tiny tanks, and then 32,000 people joined me,” said Robin. “I’m so ecstatic. This just goes to show that companies do really value customers’ opinions, and I thank Southwest for listening to us and making this decision.”

This was just the latest in a string of anti-SeaWorld victories animal advocates have been celebrating in recent months, and let’s be honest, we owe a lot of thanks to Blackfish – that heart-wrenching 2013 documentary that is turning the tide against animal captivity. The film has not only raised public awareness about the plight of confined and exploited marine mammals, but it’s inspired scores of everyday animal lovers to launch online petitions against SeaWorld and other businesses that keep animals. And we’re experiencing a sea change.

Last year, says Pulin Modi, senior campaigner at Change.org, people launched successful petitions asking Willie Nelson, Barenaked Ladies, Heart, and other musical acts to cancel scheduled SeaWorld performances. “I think they were successful because the petitions were generally started by fans who were very sincere in their disappointment, and the artists realized it probably wasn’t worth risking their reputation for one show, and the right timing with people buzzing about Blackish on social media.”

When it comes to online petitions, strategy is more important than the number of signatures. “You can have one million people asking Congress to shut down all the factory farms, but that’s not winnable at the moment and not terribly interesting,” says Pulin. “But if you can get people to get behind a specific campaign to pressure an influential company to make a change, that’s more likely to win, appeal to media, and show the power of consumers.” One example he offers is Daelyn Fortney, whose  Change.org petition urging Starbucks to stop using a food coloring made from crushed bugs got fewer than 7,000 signatures. “But the media coverage was pretty widespread and led to a relatively quick decision from Starbucks to switch to a non-animal-based coloring.”

So what makes one petition more successful than another? “There are free tips and guides for everyone right on Change.org,” says Pulin. “The main advice I have is to tell an authentic, compelling story where your ask is realistic, the timeline is clear, and you are clear why someone signing your petition can actually make a difference. For animal campaigns, a compelling photo is especially important. Then share it on your social networks, notify reporters, and constantly – but politely – try to engage with the decision-maker to make sure they see it as a way you’re bringing concerns to them rather than approaching it antagonistically.”

Oh, and after your victory, don’t forget to do what Robin Merritt will do this weekend: celebrate!

 

Kim Stallwood is not only a longtime animal activist and a terrific chef, he is, in my opinion, one of the wisest voices in the movement. His campaigning experience includes working with the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, Compassion in World Farming, PETA, and the RSPCA. He also co-founded the Animals and Society Institute in 2005 and is their European director. In addition, Kim was the executive editor of The Animals’ Agenda (1993–2002), and he is the editor of Speaking Out for Animals and A Primer on Animal Rights.

GROWLNow, finally, comes Kim’s first book. Growl: Life Lessons, Hard Truths, and Bold Strategies from an Animal Advocate was just published by Lantern Books. Kim took some time out to answer some of my burning questions.

Growl is such a terrific read, and you have been an activist for many years, I have to wonder, why did it take so long to write your first book?

The simple truth is that I couldn’t have written it until now. I had to accrue from a lifetime of working for animals a deeper understanding of what caring profoundly about them truly meant. I needed to learn that, although we humans are capable of unimaginable malice towards other living beings, we can also be astonishingly kind. It was necessary to gain a comprehension of animal rights—and through that wisdom discover not only the transformative potential of kindness towards animals but how we need to apply that kindness to ourselves—to realise that although animal rights is, of course, about our relationship with nonhuman creatures, it’s also about locating meaning in our lives and finding out who we truly are.

I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying the premise of Growl hinges on what you call four key values, which must animate our commitment to animal rights. Can you elaborate on this a bit?

I came to the conclusion over a period of time that at the centre of any effort towards implementing social justice—whether for human or nonhuman animals-there are four key values:

Compassion: our motivation for helping animals

Truth: our ethical relations with animals

Nonviolence: our value in the relations we have with animals

Justice: our commitment to all animals

Not only are these principles more powerful in combination than singularly, but they’re ones that most of us have already accepted for other members of our species (although perhaps only recently, and still only partially). These values, therefore, possess a certain strategic value, since they form a quartet that people who may not share our dedication to reducing animal suffering can understand. Growl explores these values in detail.

One of the successes you discuss is the anti-fur campaigning in the 1980s and how your protests and the protests of several others brought a once substantial industry to a halt in the UK. What lessons can activists in other countries take from your campaigns and apply to their own anti-fur activism?

The UK anti-fur campaign was over a prolonged period of time and involved many individuals and organisations and different tactics. Generally, the campaign was successful because it positioned fur as an indefensible and inexcusable product. The secret to its success was the combined strategy of public education and public policy. This approach is the one that I advocate for all animal rights campaigns. Presently, we tend to focus more on public education (lifestyle choice) than public policy. The reality is that if we want laws for animals we have to get involved with the political process.

You once worked in a chicken slaughterhouse. How does that experience inform your activism today?

Kim Stallwood and Shelly

Kim Stallwood and Shelly

When I was a full-time student, I worked one summer in a nearby chicken slaughterhouse, and since it paid well, would only last 10 weeks, and I wanted to buy my first used car, it looked like an attractive option. I cooked and ate chickens without thinking about them, so why not work where they were slaughtered?

I spent 10 weeks that summer on the post-slaughter section of the production line, and I could never bring myself to watch the birds as they were killed. I also couldn’t buy the oven-ready chickens that were offered for sale at a reduced rate as an employee benefit every Friday afternoon. Nonetheless, I continued to eat chicken bought elsewhere—naively believing that, because my plant wasn’t where they were killed, I wasn’t directly responsible for their death.

I was only one of several students who spent the summer of 1973 working inside a chicken slaughterhouse. Because I’ve lost touch with all my workmates I’ve no idea if our shared experience impacted them in the same way that it did me. I recall them as working-class folks and wives of soldiers living nearby in the military barracks. I doubt very much they had the same freedom as I did to walk away from something they’d rather not be doing. For many, working in a slaughterhouse may have been the only employment available in that region and/or for those with few skills or little education—particularly as Britain was undergoing economic retrenchment at the time.

This situation is as true today as it was 40 years ago. Slaughterhouses sometimes provide the only work options in small towns or rural areas around the United States and other parts of the world—particularly for the poor and financially insecure, women and racial minorities among them. Annual job turnover can sometimes be higher than a hundred percent. Sectors of the U.S. animal industrial complex have broken laws by employing undocumented migrant workers who, because they fear deportation, have little recourse to protesting poorly compensated labour and a dangerous working environment.

Any genuine exercise of compassion here would require not only the acknowledgement of the mistreatment of the animals, but also a recognition that the workers inside—whatever their individual feelings regarding animals might be—are also being exploited by a system that dehumanises as well as kills sentient beings.

So, yes, the slaughterhouse experience transformed my sense of social justice and commitment to social justice practice to recognise not only the chickens but also the working-class folks who worked there.

How do you think animal activism has changed since the 1980s?

In some respects, it hasn’t changed, and that’s the problem. Animal rights is still very much framed as an optional lifestyle choice. How we become animal advocates frames how we seek to influence others. If we can change through a moral shock, then so can you. Sadly, not everyone is going to respond favourably to the moral shock of animal cruelty and exploitation. That’s why we need public policy and legislation with tough enforcement. Presently, we focus more on cruelty-free lifestyle choice than anything else. Now, this campaigning work has to continue and, indeed, by and large, it has done so for the four decades that I’ve been involved. But we need to broaden our understanding of where power lies in society as it’s not just with the individual but with the institutions that constitute society. This is why public policy development is so important. The biggest difference in tactics between now and the 1980s is the Internet and all that it has made possible. How I wished we’d had social media much earlier!

What activism advice would 2014 Kim give to 1984 Kim?

In Growl I imagine an exchange between Kim the Chef and Kim the Vegelical-the name I call ‘evangelising vegans,’ of which I am one, although a bit more tempered as I get older. So, my advice would be to the 1984 Kim is to read Growl, as this is the book I wished I could’ve read when I became involved with animal rights. Within Growl’s pages aren’t solutions to every problem; however, it does, I hope, contain wisdom and insight that only experience can bring. Of course, you can lead a young animal activist to Growl but you can’t make them read it. Sometimes, human nature is such that all we can do is learn through our experiences when they cannot be taught for whatever reason.

 

You can learn more about Kim and his work at http://www.kimstallwood.com. Follow him on Twitter: @grumpyvegan

 

Back in April, I attended a small animal rights conference at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. Organized by activist Andrea Gung, the Conference on Animal Welfare in Mainland China and Taiwan featured topics ranging from the farming of bears for bile to China’s ever-growing fur industry. But what I was most eager to learn about were new efforts to halt the annual dog meat festival in YuLin, Guang Xi, a city in southern China. Andrea, a vegan and founder of Duo Duo Animal Welfare Project, addressed this issue, as her group began campaigning to end the festival last October.

dog meat festivalIt’s a mischaracterization to say everyone in China eats dogs, but there’s no denying the popularity of the YuLin Dog Meat Festival, where tens of thousands of canines arrive on filthy, overcrowded trucks, significantly increasing the risk that they carry rabies and other contagious diseases. YuLin officials maintain that the dogs are raised by local farmers, which is a ridiculous claim: many of these dogs are still wearing collars as they are removed from the tiny cages, and others are clothed in the outfits their guardians dressed them in the day they were stolen. Every dog is then slaughtered for human consumption, often right on the street in front of children. This year’s festival is slated for June 21.

I asked Andrea to explain a bit about the festival and her group’s efforts to shut it down.

When and why did the festival start?

In YuLin, local people have had this tradition for years, but it was a very small scale. Since 2009, some local merchants decided to make it a bigger event to attract out-of-town tourists to make more money.

Where do the dogs used for the festival come from?

They are from all over China, but most of the dogs are from adjacent provinces (less transportation cost). About 10,000 to 50,000 dogs are killed during the festival. There are no official records to verify how many are killed.

Are you seeing an increase in animal activism in China?

Yes, especially in the last 5 or 6 years. Here are two of the reasons:
1) Social networking. Because of the spread of social networking and video/photo sharing among young people, awareness of animal cruelty issues has increased dramatically, and the animal rights movement is growing. Photos from past festivals have sparked outrage in mainland China.

2) Many young adults who grew up in China under the one-child policy had pets as their companions, and today they feel more compassion toward animals and have less toleration for animal cruelty than the previous generations.

Besides the festival, what does your work for animals include?

At this time, all our work and resources are for stopping this festival. After the festival, we are going to work on the dog and cat meat trade in GuzngZhou, which has more dog meat consumption. It’s just more spread out and has gone underground, not like YuLin, where it’s out in the public and open. We are also going to start our neutering and micro-chip campaigns. We believe we have to start from the top to stop the dog-stealing business. We will also help the Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan — one of the guest speakers at the conference — to reach out to Taiwanese-American communities about the animal welfare for the farm animals and lab animals issues in Taiwan.

Andrea Gung, founder and executive director of Duo Duo Animal Welfare Project

Andrea Gung, founder and executive director of Duo Duo Animal Welfare Project

What can compassionate people do to help end the festival?

Spread the word and tell people about this cruel festival. Share our campaign on Facebook and tweet about it.

Use any connections in China or the U.S. that can help with our campaign, such as the FDA, which can put pressure on the FDA in China to stop this festival on the grounds of health concerns. Dogs are killed in a filthy back alley, and the meat is not inspected; some of the dogs are poisoned. Write to or call the U.S. ambassador and diplomatic offices in China. Call Chinese embassies in the U.S. Donate to our campaign so we can hire more local people to do the ground work, which includes calling the YuLin local officers daily to ask for the inspection records of the meat, to make sure the restaurants have the legal license to sell dog meat, to show proof of the legal ownership of the dogs in the cages. Also, to fund more ads — billboards or radio — to educate local YuLin people that the dogs they eat are stolen and poisoned.

Please visit the Duo Duo Animal Welfare Project site for more information. You can also “like” their Facebook page

Oh, and, no, I don’t believe dogs are more deserving of our protection than other animals killed for food. I just wanted to highlight Andrea’s hard work.

 

BlackfishIf one image could symbolize the last 12 months of animal activism around the world, I argue it would be a picture of an orca in captivity. That’s thanks to the success of the documentary Blackfish, which exposes the abusive treatment of animals at SeaWorld — treatment that ultimately led to an orca named Tilikum killing one of his trainers. (Orcas have never been known to harm humans in the wild; this behavior only occurs due to the stress of captivity.) The film has galvanized the movement to free orcas from marine mammal parks and inspired countless compassionate people to speak out against the captivity industry.

SeaWorld remained silent about Blackfish for months after its January 2013 screening at the Sundance Film Festival — no doubt hoping it would just go away — but as the documentary went into general release in the spring and CNN began broadcasting it on its network in the fall, the public outcry against SeaWorld led to musical acts cancelling appearances at the Orlando location, and the company launched an inept marketing campaign to try to discredit Blackfish and the former SeaWorld trainers who appear in it. The film not only helped tank attendance at SeaWorld parks, it also prompted California Assemblymember Richard Bloom to propose legislation that would ban orca shows in that state; AB 2140 is officially known as the Orca Welfare and Safety Act, but most people simply call it “The Blackfish Bill.” (Voting on the bill has been tabled until next year.)

Of course, activists have long campaigned against the captivity industry, but there’s no question Blackfish has invigorated the liberation movement. One of the results of this nascent energy has been animal lovers turning out for the Empty the Tanks campaign, which brings the struggle directly to the animal exploiters by rallying advocates worldwide to demonstrate in front of theme parks, aquariums, and other businesses that imprison whales and dolphins.

Vallejo, Calif., 2013.

Vallejo, Calif., 2013.

Empty the Tanks is the brainchild of Rachel Greenhalgh, who was a Cove Guardian in Taiji in January 2013. “On one of my last days there I was thinking about how I could find a way to be productive and proactive in this fight against the captivity industry after I returned home,” she says. “That’s when and where this whole idea began. The captive animals floating listlessly in their tiny sea pens in Taiji are a sight that cuts you to your core. I wanted to come home and continue fighting for them.”

EmptyTheTanksTokyo2013

Tokyo, 2013.

The first-annual Empty the Tanks Worldwide took place seven months later. “There were 24 locations participating in 12 countries around the world,” says Rachel. “This year on May 24, the second-annual Empty the Tanks Worldwide will have over 40 locations in 20 countries participating. The numbers have doubled since last year, which is so amazing.”

Not surprisingly, this kind of success is the result not only of grassroots activists, but using Facebook and Twitter to get the word out. “Social media is an amazing tool,” says Rachel. “Facebook has created a way for activists from around the world to connect to each other and plan events such as Empty the Tanks. I honestly don’t know how this worldwide event could have happened without social media.”

Modern technology has given activists a tremendous advantage, but as Rachel points out, effectively speaking out for animals often comes down to good old-fashioned hard work. “If you want to make a difference in this world, you need patience and dedication. Anyone can go out there and be a part of making the world a better, kinder, more compassionate place. Come up with a plan and just go for it.”

In the meantime, you can participate in an Empty the Tanks demo near you on May 24. Just check out their Facebook page, of course.

 Empty_the_tanks_logo

 

beagle2April 24 is World Day for Animals in Laboratories, an international day to commemorate the millions of mice, chimpanzees, rats, rabbits, dogs, cats, fish, birds, and other animals tortured in needless experiments. It’s also a day to take action, with rallies and marches held around the world, including this one in Nottingham, England.

But even if you are not able to participate in an organized event, there’s still plenty you can do!

You can start by asking Air France and ABX Air to stop shipping monkeys for animal research. Just last month, China Southern Airlines ceased its shipments of live primates to laboratories, thanks in large part to public outcry, so these campaigns do work!

You can also voice your objection to your tax dollars being used to fund torture. If you live in the United States, tell Congress you don’t want your taxes used to underwrite animal experiments. Every dollar the US government spends must be approved by Congress, and since virtually all federally funded research is paid for with tax revenue, it’s important to let your elected officials know how you feel. You can find the members of Congress representing you, as well as phone numbers and links to contact them online, at http://www.contactingthecongress.org.

In addition, you can write to research-funding agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health:

Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, Director
National Institutes of Health
Shannon Bldg., Room 126
1 Center Dr.
Bethesda, MD 20892
301-496-2433
francis.collins@nih.gov
You can Tweet the director @NIHDirector

UK

In the United Kingdom, you can write to the Home Secretary and ask for the most progressive and compassionate laws governing animal research. You’ll find contact details at http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk. You can also use the website of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection to lobby your MP. Visit http://www.buav.org/lobby-your-mp

Canada

In Canada, let your Member of Parliament (MP) and Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) know how you feel. Find your MP online at: http://www.parl.gc.ca/Parlinfo/Compilations/HouseOfCommons/MemberByPostalCode.aspx?Menu=HOC. You can find your MLA at www.leg.bc.ca/mla/3-1-1.htm

Australia

In Australia, you can find your federal electorate here: http://apps.aec.gov.au/esearch/

New Zealand

MPs in New Zealand can be found here: http://www.parliament.nz/en-NZ/AboutParl/GetInvolved/Contact/2/9/d/00PlibHvYrSayContact1-Contact-an-MP.htm

South Africa

South African Members of Parliament can be located online at http://www.parliament.gov.za/live/content.php?Item_ID=36

When writing letters, be sure to make the following two points:

  • Animal experimentation is an inherently violent and unethical practice, and you do not want your tax dollars used to support it.
  • Testing on nonhuman animals is also bad science; therefore, funding for research into health and ecological effects should be redirected into using clinical, epidemiological, in vitro, and computer-modeling studies instead of laboratory experiments on animals. (See this handbook from Animal Aid for more information on this point.)

Product Testing

In the US, animals also suffer for the “safety” testing of household products, such as cosmetics, cleansers, and even foods for companion animals.

  • Only buy products from companies that don’t test on animals! A comprehensive list is available at http://www.leapingbunny.org.
  • Encourage your friends and family members to support humane companies as well.
  • Let companies currently testing cosmetics on animals know that you will not buy their products until they stop. Most companies have toll-free numbers or websites you can use to contact them.
  • Avoid pet foods that test on animals, including Iams, Eukanuba, and Natura Pet Products (owned by Procter & Gamble); Hill’s Science Diet (owned by Colgate-Palmolive); Nestlé Purina/Friskies (Alpo, Bonio, Felix, Go Cat, Gourmet, Omega Complete, Proplan, Spillers, Vital Balance, and Winalot); and these brands from Pedigree/Masterfoods (owned by Mars Inc): Bounce, Cesar, Chappie, Frolic, James Wellbeloved, Katkins, Kitekat, Pal, Pedigree Chum, Royal Canin, Sheba, Techni-cal, and Whiskas. For information on pet food companies that do not test on animals, please visit: www.iamscruelty.com/nottested.asp

Other campaigns and groups worth checking out include AAVSAnimals Australia, The Bunny Alliance, BUAV, The European Coalition to End Animal Experiments, Humane Research AustraliaThe Italian Anti-Vivisection Society, NAVS, New England Anti-Vivisection Society, The New Zealand Anti-Vivisection Society, PETA, SAFE New Zealand, and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty.

Finally, please consider supporting organizations that rescue animals from labs, such as Beagle Freedom Project and New Life Animal Sanctuary, which I profiled in August 2013.

P.S. I devote Chapter 3 of my new book Bleating Hearts to vivisection—it’s a chapter that took me a year to research and write. You can download the book from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or iTunes, or buy a hardcopy from your local bookstore.

With Easter just days away, a lot of parents are thinking of ways to give their children a little holiday joy. Chocolate is a nice treat (at least when it’s not tainted by animal cruelty and child slavery), as are vegan jelly beans. But many well-meaning people think this is the perfect time of year to bring home a rabbit for their kids. Not only is this usually a terrible idea—countless rabbits end up abandoned after children become bored or Mom and Dad discover the animals require as much attention as a dog or cat—but many parents buy a bunny from a pet store rather than adopting from a shelter or rescue group. (Ouch.) It seems parents believe rabbits, children, and Easter are a perfect combination.

Rabbit advocate Tracy Martin and friends.

Rabbit advocate Tracy Martin and friends.

This is the kind of myth Tracy Martin has worked to disabuse people of since 2005, when she founded an education campaign called Rabbitron, named for a bunny she brought home many years ago. “Sadly, when I had her I did everything wrong,” says Tracy. “Wrong food, housing, and care. I just didn’t know any better. Later, when I learned more about rabbits and I realized my mistakes, I was inspired to try to educate others on what rabbits need to be healthy and happy. I also wanted to make others aware of the plight of rabbits at Easter, when so many are purchased only to be discarded afterward. My rescued rabbits have taught me so much—they even inspired me to become vegan.”

A skilled graphic designer, Tracy uses her talents to create vivid ads that are displayed on buses, in newspapers, andRabbitron_ad on billboards around her Spokane, Washington, community. She’s even done some public-service announcements for television. “I try to reach more people through my Rabbitron Facebook page, as well as taking every opportunity to do radio and TV interviews as they come up to try to reach as many people as possible. Besides the campaign, I also answer questions about rabbits online and conduct ‘bunny tours’ in my home to show people what it’s like to live with rabbits.” Tracy and her husband not only care for 20 rabbits, they also share their home with pigeons, hens, dogs, and cats.

Rabbitron_billboardTracy used to fund the Rabbitron campaign on her own, saving money all year. “In recent years I have been able to get some help with donations from friends and people who want to help,” she says. “Also, after partnering with River’s Wish Animal Sanctuary, we pool our resources to benefit the campaign as well as spread awareness for the sanctuary.” River’s Wish primarily rescues rabbits, though they are also home to horses, chickens, goats, and pigs. The sanctuary adheres to the House Rabbit Society standards and philosophy for rabbit adoptions, which means potential rabbit adopters must first understand the responsibilities involved in living with a house rabbit.

So what’s the biggest misconception people have about living with rabbits? I ask. “I think the biggest misconception is that people have no idea how fun and silly and opinionated rabbits are,” says Tracy. “I think most people’s interactions with rabbits are limited to looking at them in a cage. They are not seeing what rabbits are all about, the personalities they have, and that they are just as personable and fun as the dogs and cats they are familiar with.”

For more on why rabbits and Easter don’t mix, visit Rabbitron. You can also follow Tracy on Twitter @RabbitronTracy and like her Facebook page.

 

“I do a lot of writing on the subway,” Sangamithra Iyer (Sangu) told me during a recent phone conversation about her new boTheLinesWeDraw_Coverok, The Lines We Draw (Hen Press). “It kind of feels like I have my own private writing space.” It’s hard for me to believe anyone could get that feeling on such a busy public transit system, but then, unlike Sangu, I wasn’t blessed with sublime powers of concentration. I’ve also never had a friendly conversation with a vivisector, which Sangu did in 2008. Her discussion with Dr. Alfred Prince, a scientist in the field of hepatitis research, grew from Sangu’s desire to know how people draw the line between what they will and will not do.

Sangu’s resulting narrative offers a heady dialogue—the animal activist and the animal exploiter—but Sangu handles it with aplomb, and her writing is sometimes more poetry than prose. The Lines We Draw delves into related topics as well, including the environment, political conflict, and the fate of chimpanzees used in labs, where the practice of using them as test subjects is slowly being reduced. Sangu’s affinity for nonhuman primates was evident when she was assistant editor at the now-defunct and much-missed Satya Magazine, where she wrote with great affection about visiting chimp sanctuaries (here, for example).

“Ater Satya, I started an MFA in nonfiction at Hunter College, and I worked on The Lines We Draw a bit during one of my workshops and on the train.” Sangu says she revisited the piece on and off over the years, but recognized it didn’t fit neatly into an obvious publishing niche. “It’s longer than a magazine article and shorter than a book. A lot of literary journals thought it was interesting, but they didn’t feel the subject matter was a good fit for them.”

SanguIyer

Sangu Iyer

Perhaps that’s because The Lines We Draw deals not only with animal research, but with Dr. Prince’s—how shall I put this?—unusual fondness for one of his test subjects. Fortunately, the piece landed in the hands of Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan, founders of Our Hen House. “It was really nice working with Jasmin and Mariann,” Sangu says. “This is the first book of their publishing arm.”

I ask Sangu if she has any idea why Dr. Prince was so candid with her. “It was at a time when he was collecting his own memoirs,” she explains. “I felt he wanted to be open about his life and his career. I think he also wanted to lay out his case for wanting to raise money and continue to do research—to tell his side of the story.” But Prince’s story went well beyond justifying his need for funds, I say. “Yes, that was a bit of a shock,” Sangu says with a laugh. “I was unprepared for the direction the conversation was going. In his memoir, when he talks about this, he notes that his own colleagues were outraged by what he was suggesting—to see what would happen if humans and chimpanzees mated—but for him it was just a scientific query. He thought if they mated and the offspring were not sterile, it would prove that we are the same species, which would have ethical implications. The logic behind it is very twisted. He said that to be resistant to it is a form of racism, and that was quite shocking.”

At turns funny and horrifying, The Lines We Draw is a beautifully written ebook, and I was happy to learn we haven’t heard the last from this talented Sangu_with_chimpsauthor. “I am juggling a few other essays of this length, and I’m also working on a book project,” she says.

The Lines We Draw is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes. Watch Sangu’s moving TEDx talk about her time with nonhuman primates here. And you’ll find more of her writing on her blog, Literary Animal.

 

 

 

 

Could you go a whole year without speaking? That’s what James Aspey from Sydney, Australia, is doing. To help raise awareness about animal exploitation (and a bit of funds for the nonprofit Animals Australia), James launched Voiceless365 and kicked off 2014 by beginning a sojourn around Australia in a van and silently promoting compassion toward all beings.  James took some time to discuss his campaign via email.

What gave you the idea that a vow of silence would be an effective way to get active for animals?

JamesAspeyTo be perfectly honest, initially I didn’t have the idea to take a vow of silence as a way to get active for animals. I was five days into a 10-day silent meditation, and the idea of a taking a one-year vow of silence just came to me. I realized the only way I could be motivated enough to take on such a challenge and see it through to the end would be to do it for something I cared deeply about. I was tossing up between a few ideas but as a new (two-month-old) vegetarian who had recently been shocked, appalled, disgusted and awakened from my ignorance in regards to the horrific treatment of animals for trivial reasons such as palette pleasure, I decided the only thing I cared enough about was my newfound passion for reducing the suffering of animals. I felt like I owed it to all the animals who had suffered because of my choices, to dedicate my life to helping them.

That’s when I realized it actually made sense. Animals are the same as us in many ways. They enjoy pleasure and avoid pain. They seek food and shelter. They have families and companions. Only two main differences are obvious to me: 1. They are shaped differently than humans and 2. They cannot communicate with words. In our definition of the term, they are voiceless.

Apart from that obvious comparison, I haven’t ever known or heard of anyone to volunteer to stop talking for a year. The idea of it intrigued me very much and I figured if it intrigued me, it would intrigue others. So using that logic, I assumed I could spread a message of compassion for animals to a far greater audience through the Voiceless365 campaign and social media sites than I would be able to using my voice alone.

Your campaign is benefitting Animals Australia. What particularly appeals to you about this organization?

Initially, it was hard for me to choose where I wanted the raised money to go as the whole animal rights thing was still new to me. I regularly visited websites and pages of organizations working to create a better world for animals and decided on Animals Australia because I found their message to be clear, direct, palatable to a wide variety of people (from meat-eaters to vegans), up to date with the latest news, and when I found out they also donate some of their money to other organizations with similar interests, my decision was made.

So many activists use their voice to communicate. What non-verbal tools do you use to raise awareness about animal suffering?

Yes, and my deepest thank-you goes to anyone who is brave enough to speak up and spread the message.

My greatest asset is my website, Voiceless365, which has a link to my Facebook page and daily blog detailing my experience travelling around Australia during the vow of silence. I conclude each entry with thought-provoking quotes, photos or messages regarding the way animals are treated by humans and why we should give them respect, compassion and protection.

My idea is to plant a seed each day and hope after 365 days, at least some of them have begun to grow. The website also has links to the things that helped me to awaken and transition to veganism. Famous vegans and vegan athletes, recipes, animal rights FAQ, documentaries, debates, speeches and more.

Apart from that, I use my notebook, which I carry with me everywhere I go. I find that it is such a great tool to write directly to someone else. It takes out all the passionate and sometimes angry/defensive body language and vocal tone, and all that is left is the words. Also, when you write to someone, they have to stop and read it. When you are in a verbal debate, they aren’t always listening.

Your journey will take you completely around Australia. Have you encountered any animals you made a special connection with?

voiceless365Absolutely. I’ve had some great encounters with kangaroos, dogs, cows, birds, fish and echidnas. My favorite connection so far has been with a Koala bear who was sitting in the middle of a busy, main road. I stopped to direct traffic around him and ushered him back to the bushes. He looked at me for a long time and actually, he didn’t look so friendly, but that may have been because I had to brake suddenly and missed hitting him by only a few meters. Still, it was my favorite experience with an animal on the journey so far because I’ve never seen a Koala bear in the wild and I might have saved this one’s life.

What’s the hardest thing about not talking?

The hardest thing is continuously reminding myself to remain silent. It is such a deeply engrained habit to speak when spoken to and acknowledge people when they say “hello” or “excuse me,” and I find that the urge to reply or to speak and say something still comes up regularly, though I am getting more skillful at observing them and letting them pass instead of reacting to them. Though, sometimes the words escape my mouth before I’ve even realized they were coming, so I have slipped up a handful of times.

Are there any benefits of not talking?

Yes, so many! I am learning to listen. I am more aware of what is going on inside of my mind and my body. I am paying more attention to my surroundings and environment. It gives other people a chance to do more talking than they usually would, and without interruption. It is teaching me about discipline and self control. Most importantly though, it has given me an avenue to raise money for Animals Australia and spread a message of compassion to a number of people who may have never been otherwise interested. Also I’ve received messages from quite a few people who are inspired by what I’m doing and he sacrifice I’ve made.

You are a recent vegan convert. Congratulations! What inspired you to go from vegetarian to vegan?

Thank you! I have never been happier!

I was having a conversation with my cousin, Laura, who was asking questions about Voiceless365, which at the time was only an idea that had been in my head for less than a month. I was telling her about the unnecessary cruelty and suffering humans inflict on animals and how wrong it is. I was explaining all this to her while I was eating cheese! I looked at the cheese I was eating and realized what a hypocrite I was being. After that I never bought dairy products again, though I would still sometimes have them if they were going to waste. After a while I decided I didn’t want to support it in any way and I didn’t want it in my body, no matter what. And that was that.

Any idea what you’ll say on January 1, 2015?

Absolutely no idea. I’d like to think it will be something totally profound and amazing but I’ll probably just wing it and see what comes out. If you think of anything good, I’m open to suggestions!

Do check out James’ website, Facebook page and thought-provoking blog! You can also follow him on Twitter: @voiceless365

Beagles rescued

Two of the 200 beagles rescued from a lab in Brazil this year.

Two-thousand and thirteen was another remarkable year for animal advocacy—so remarkable that it’s difficult to choose just 12 stories to highlight. So much good news came out of India, for example, that it could be an entire category onto itself. And don’t get me started on all the incredible documentaries released in the last 12 months (though I’ll get back to that point later). Everyone has their favorite animal activism-related stories for 2013; here are the 12 that really made me cheer.

1. Congress holds US military accountable for killing animals (January)

For the first time, a bill was signed into law that demands accountability from the Department of Defense for its killing of more than 7,500 animals each year in medical training courses. As part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, lawmakers required Pentagon officials to present a plan that details the phasing out of “live tissue training,” in which combat medics operate on animals to learn how to treat gunshot wounds and severed limbs. (I admit I knew very little about this issue until a couple of years ago, when I was researching Bleating Hearts, but now it is an integral part of the book.)

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has been lobbying to end the cruel practice for years, especially in light of the available human-based alternative methods. Instead of using animals, the medics will be expected to use human simulators, which resemble mannequins designed to react like the human body while being operated on, including the hemorrhaging of fake blood. Holding the military accountable for how animals are used will help draft legislation to one day end the practice altogether.

2. EU ban on animal testing for cosmetics goes into effect (March)

Animal experiments to test cosmetics or their ingredients have been outlawed in the European Union since 2009, but companies have been free to sell products with a history of animal testing conducted outside Europe. That all changed on March 11, when the EU’s new directive went into effect, making it illegal to sell any cosmetics in the EU—including shampoos, soaps, perfumes, deodorants, and toothpastes—if they have been tested on animals anywhere in the world.

“Animal testing in the name of beauty has never been acceptable,” said RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant. “This landmark legislation at the end of a long campaign sends out a loud and clear message to other countries and those companies operating outside the EU.

“Many cosmetic companies are multinational but this legislation means that they can’t avoid a test ban in the EU by carrying out tests in other countries.

“If their products or ingredients have been newly-tested on animals then they cannot be sold in the EU, no matter where the testing took place.”

3. Japanese whalers go home with less than half of last year’s catch (April)

Complaining of “unforgivable sabotage” by Sea Shepherd, Japan’s whalers returned to port with their lowest Antarctic catch: 103 minke whales and no fin whales, the fewest since their so-called “research whaling” began in 1987, and well below the 1,000 whales they had hoped to kill. (In 2012, they caught 266 whales.) Japan’s Fisheries Agency said the whaling fleet spent nearly half its time in the Antarctic trying to avoid Sea Shepherd.

The new season of whaling in the Antarctic begins next month, and Japanese whalers intend to kill 1,035 whales, including 50 endangered fin whales and 50 endangered humpback whales. Something tells me that’s unlikely.

4. Britain announces it will ban all wild animals in circuses by 2015 (April)

This was a long time coming, especially after activists from Animal Defenders International released video footage showing a 57-year-old arthritic elephant named Annie being beaten with a pitchfork and hit in the face by workers from the Bobby Roberts Super Circus in 2011. Although a government Select Committee recommended that any ban on the use of wild animals in circuses should be limited to just big cats and elephants, the government rejected the suggestion and announced the ban will apply to all animals.

It is believed there are about 35 wild animals—including camels, zebras, and snakes—currently being used in circuses. The RSPCA and Born Free Foundation have offered to help circus owners re-home their animals.

5. EU upholds trade ban on seal fur products (April)

When it announced its decision to uphold a three-year-old ban on seal products, the General Court of the European Union surprised many, including some who had all but declared that the ban would be overturned. This latest attempt by Canada’s sealing industry to suspend the ban came when they offered the ridiculous argument that it hurts the livelihood of the Inuit—a group that kills a small fraction of seals in Canada and for whom a clear exemption in the ban has been made.

In upholding the ban, the Luxembourg-based court said it is valid because it fairly harmonizes the EU market while protecting the economic and social interests of Inuit communities.

The World Trade Organization announced in November that it too was upholding the ban.

National surveys consistently show that most Canadians want the commercial seal slaughter to end, and that they oppose the Canadian government using tax dollars to promote the sealing industry. About 90,000 seals were killed in this year’s “hunt.”

6. India bans dolphin-captivity parks (May)

India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests declared a ban on dolphinariums and other commercial entertainment that involves the capture and confinement of cetacean species such as orcas and bottlenose dolphins, saying that because dolphins are by nature “highly intelligent and sensitive,” they ought to be seen as “nonhuman persons” and should have “their own specific rights.” It added that it is “morally unacceptable to keep them captive for entertainment purposes.” The government said research had clearly established cetaceans are highly intelligent and sensitive, and that dolphins “should be seen as ‘non-human persons’ and as such should have their own specific rights.” (Just let those statements percolate in your brain a bit.)

The move came after weeks of protest against a dolphin park in the state of Kerala and several other marine mammal entertainment facilities that were to be built this year. “This opens up a whole new discourse of ethics in the animal protection movement in India,” said Puja Mitra from the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations. India joins Chile, Costa Rica, and Hungary as countries that ban the capture and import of cetaceans for the purpose of commercial entertainment.

Three months after outlawing dolphin abusement parks in the country, the Ministry of Environment and Forests banned raising other marine mammals like whales, walruses, and seals in similar parks.

7. Colombia bans wild animals in circuses (June)

“After a six-year public campaign that included scientific reviews and exposed extreme abuse of circus animals through undercover investigations, Colombia joined four other South American countries (Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay) to ban their use,” the Colombian Congress announced.

Animal Defenders International (ADI) led the campaign as part of its global “Stop Circus Suffering” initiative. “We congratulate the Colombian Congress for approving this Bill and are delighted that Colombia has shown that animals should not suffer for our entertainment,” said ADI Chief Executive, Jan Creamer.

There are about 25 circuses in Colombia, 18 of which use animals. Circus operators will have until 2015 to comply with the new regulations.

8. India imposes a ban on animal testing for cosmetics (June)

India’s groundbreaking move follows the example set by Israel and all the 28 European Union countries that have implemented bans on animal testing (as well the sale) of products tested on animals anywhere in the world.

“Keeping in view the cruelty towards animals involved, the testing of cosmetics on animals will now not be allowed in the country,” said India’s Drug Controller General G.N. Singh.

Two members of the Indian Parliament, MP Baijayant “Jay” Panda and MP Maneka Gandhi (founder of People for Animals, India’s largest animal welfare organization), have indicated that the country will also move toward a sales ban, which will prevent companies from outsourcing testing to third countries and importing the animal-tested cosmetics back into the country for sale.

Oh, India, if only you were so progressive when it comes to human rights.

9. Belgium bans wild animals in circuses (July)

The Belgian government’s decision follows a 2011 survey that revealed the difficulty for circuses to ensure the welfare of animals. Issues of concern include lack of space, lack of opportunity to swim for some species, and non-compliance with the temperature requirements.

For ten years, the Belgium group Global Action in the Interest of Animals has been campaigning for a ban on wild animals in circuses and the group was finally able to introduce and win approval for such a bill.

Sadly, the ban only covers “wild” animals. Cows, buffalo, pigs, llamas, camels, camels, ferrets, rabbits, dogs, cats, pigeons, geese, chickens, parrots, parakeets, ducks, horses, donkeys, ponies, sheep, and goats will still be allowed.

10. Costa Rica closes zoos, sends animals to rescue centers (July)

Citing concerns about animal captivity and welfare, the government announced it was closing the country’s two public zoos and transferring the 400 animals to private animal-rescue centers around the country. There, those who will be able will be rehabilitated and released back into the wild. “We are getting rid of the cages and reinforcing the idea of interacting with biodiversity in botanical parks in a natural way,” Environment Minister René Castro said at a press conference to announce the planned closures. “We don’t want animals in captivity or enclosed in any way unless it is to rescue or save them.”

Incidentally, Costa Rica banned circuses with animals in 2002 and has also outlawed hunting for “sport.”

11. Brazilian lab from which animal activists freed beagles permanently shuts down (November)

They came, they saw, they rescued 200 beagles. Two weeks later, the lab the activists had raided—the Instituto Royal in Sao Paulo—was closed. For good. Seems the lab’s operating license was suspended by the city government, as police investigated allegations of animal abuse.

The lab had carried out pre-clinical trials for drugs. Now, Brazilian drug makers seeking approval for such medications must do testing outside of the country. Or perhaps it’s time for the industry to rethink the whole “animal testing” model.

12. China moves to ban animal testing for cosmetics (November)

People are often surprised when they learn that testing shampoos, makeup, and soaps on animals remains legal in 8 out of 10 countries. Up until their announcement, which will go into effect in June 2014, China remained the only nation with mandatory animal testing requirements for domestically manufactured cosmetic products.

With a population of 1.3 billion, China is the world’s second-largest economy, making this a move with huge ramifications for animals. Humane Society International estimates that every year as many as 3,000,000 rabbits, mice, and other animals may be victims of cosmetics testing in China.

But it’s not just the millions of animals who will benefit. Now, brands that have refused to compromise their values and test their cosmetic products on animals—including LUSH, The Body Shop, JASON, and Paul Mitchell—will be able to trade in China, while Chinese brands will now be able to sell in the EU.

Other stories of the year worth noting:

CITES votes to protect sharks (March)

Sonora becomes the first Mexican state to ban bullfighting (May)

National Institutes of Health announces it will retire hundreds of chimpanzees to sanctuary (June)

The Animal Welfare Board of India recommends banning all animals from circuses (August)

Los Angeles City Council bans bullhooks (October)

Indian court orders tortured elephant to be freed (December)

Music groups cancel their SeaWorld performances (December).

I’d also like to point out what a remarkable year it was for animal rights/vegan documentaries. Give Me Shelter, The Ghosts in Our Machine, Live and Let Live, Turlock, Lion Ark, and Speciesism: The Movie are just a few titles that come to mind, but it’s hard to imagine a film that has captured the attention of the public and mainstream media—not to mention animal abusers—like Blackfish; indeed, I will be shocked if it doesn’t take home the Academy Award for Best Documentary.


Welcome to the official blog for Striking at the Roots by Mark Hawthorne, your source for more effective animal activism.


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