With some big gift-giving holidays coming up, I’m posting this excerpt from Bleating Hearts, in which I expose the popular practice of giving animals as a way to alleviate hunger and poverty.

heiferThe concept sounds wonderful to many people: Help end hunger by providing a farmed animal to an impoverished family. Every November, just in time for the holidays, the mailboxes of compassionate people in developed nations become stuffed with glossy pleas from a seemingly endless procession of give-a-cow nonprofits, some endorsed by celebrities and all asking you to donate funds that will supply animals to the poor. For US$75, World Vision will send a needy family a goat, or a donation of US$30 will buy them five ducks. Harvest of Hope, meanwhile, offers a bull, plow, and seeds for a Ghanaian farmer for US$850, and US$45 will buy a pig whose “offspring are raised and sold for a profit, giving a family a steady source of income,” reads the catalog. A Heifer International catalog encourages grandparents to donate the cost of rabbits (US$60) in honor of their granddaughter’s first Christmas. “What better way to share the joy you see in the eyes of such a healthy, happy little girl than to make a gift in her name that can help provide a trio of bunny rabbits … that helps impoverished families increase their protein intake and income.” I wonder how the little granddaughter would feel seeing these precious animals slaughtered.

Most would agree that helping struggling rural families along the road to self-reliance is a laudable goal. Yet, apart from perpetuating what amounts to a nonhuman slave trade, giving to programs that exploit animals makes no economic or environmental sense. Consider the family that is provided with a cow or goat from whom they can take milk for nourishment and a little income. Ignoring the consequences of giving gastrointestinal complications to the 90 percent of African and Asian adults and older children who are lactose intolerant—does a hungry child really need diarrhea to add to his misery?—animals require proper food, large quantities of water, shelter, and care, including occasional medical treatment. Just how is a disadvantaged family supposed to provide for one or more animals when feeding themselves is a challenge?

Among the most outspoken critics of these programs is Andrew Tyler, director of Animal Aid, which encourages ethical oxfamshoppers to support charities that assist families without victimizing animals. “Meat and milk can be afforded only by communities with surplus Wealth,” Andrew says. “The average British dairy farmer, for instance, receives a very generous £32,000 annual payment from the European taxpayer. A ‘gift’ of animals to destitute communities, where no such support is available, will simply impoverish them further. It is far more rational to support such people in growing food that they can eat directly.” By consuming plant-based foods themselves, rather than first feeding the nutrients to animals, he says, impoverished families conserve agricultural resources such as land and water. The response by some aid agencies forced to cope with the inefficiencies, expense, and environmental destruction of animal farming has been to established so-called “zero grazing” regimes in which animals are permanently confined in sheds. “But they still need water and food,” says Andrew, “and, in such cruel and deprived environments, can suffer high levels of disease, early infertility, and premature death.”

Campaigning on this issue from an environmental perspective is the conservation group World Land Trust (WLT). They argue that giving cows, goats, and other grazing animals to people in arid environments, notably parts of Africa, adds to the problems of drought and desertification. “It doesn’t look as if [aid agencies] have thought this scheme through properly,” says John Burton, chief executive of WLT. “It seems as if they don’t understand the connection between habitat degradation and poverty.” John later added, “They seem to be doing this just to make money at Christmas. It’s a gimmick.”

World Vision encourages donors to exploit animals in the name of Jesus.

World Vision encourages donors to exploit animals in the name of Jesus.

“Ultimately, my objection is to the commercial forces that are seeking to persuade people of the poor world that their best nutritional interests are served by buying into modern, high-throughput farmed animal production processes,” says Andrew Tyler. “With that comes an addiction to high-capital input systems, additional stresses on precious water supplies, environmental destruction, a loss of control over the means of production, bad health, a nightmare animal welfare scenario, and more human poverty and malnourishment.”

What You Can Do

Rather than donating to aid organizations that exploit animals, such as Heifer and Oxfam, consider these humane alternatives that help relieve human suffering in developing countries:

Food for Life Global

Fruit Tree Planting Foundation

Sustainable Harvest International


A Well-Fed World

In addition, Animal Rahat (relief) is a nonprofit organization created to make a difference in the lives of working bullocks, donkeys, ponies, and horses in India.


SonomaCountyChickenSaveOctober 2nd is World Day for Farmed Animals (WDFA), and like many of you, I will be spending part of my day demonstrating. I will be standing outside the Petaluma Poultry slaughterhouse near my home, reminding motorists and other passersby that 50,000 chickens are killed each day at this facility.

This all-day event is organized by Food Empowerment Project, but there will be countless other ways you can get involved with WDFA, an international day of action founded in 1983 by the nonprofit Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM). WDFA is meant to help people make dietary choices that are more aligned with their values and to show animal agribusiness that the tide is turning away from animal consumption and toward more compassionate, healthy living.

Worldwide, some 65 billion land animals are raised and killed for meat, eggs, and dairy products every year. Most of these animals are raised in factory farms, where they endure confinement, mutilations, and are bred to grow so large so fast that many of them literally suffer to death before they even make it to slaughter. Even animals raised on small family farms experience many of these abuses.

Getting Active

In Your Community

Reach Out and Educate Be a part of a massive outreach effort and distribute literature in your community about animal agriculture.

Join the Movement Search FARM’s Event Directory to find an event near you and add your voice to the thousands.

Plan Your Demonstration Learn how to take action for World Day for Farmed Animals and organize your own event.


Pledge to #FastAgainstSlaughter  Join thousands around the world in a day-long fast in solidarity with farmed animals.

Watch and Learn Learn about animal agriculture in the 10 Billion Lives video and show your family and friends.

Share on Social Media Choose from a variety of graphics to post on your social media and share your message about WDFA.

I hope you’ll join me in speaking out for farmed animals!



Ansel. Photo by Tara Baxter

Ansel. Photo by Tara Baxter

My calendar says it’s International Rabbit Day, so what better time to remind you of the many ways you can help these remarkable animals? Despite being one of the most popular companion animals in the country, rabbits are among the most exploited.

Domestic rabbits—cherished for their playful, gentle natures—are skinned for their fur, blinded to test cosmetics, bred for show, drugged for science, clipped for wool products, pulled out of magicians’ hats, killed in vivisection labs, sold as food for pet snakes, and raised and shipped by breeders. To add insult to all this injury, we chop off their paws and tout the rabbit’s foot as a “good luck” charm.

So here are 10 things you can do—and not do—to make their lives a little better.

1. Adopt, Don’t Shop. If you decide a rabbit is right for you, adopt one from a local animal shelter or the House Rabbit Society rather than buying one. You’ll save a life and discourage rabbit breeding.

2. Make Companion Rabbits Part of Your Family. Don’t relegate a rabbit to a backyard hutch or cage. These are affectionate, playful animals who deserve to live with you indoors, where they are safe from predators and inclement weather.

3. Don’t Buy Clothing or Accessories Made from Rabbits. Or any other animal. That means no rabbit-fur hats, no angora sweaters, no fur-trimmed coats, no leather—you get the idea.

4. Treat Wild Rabbits with Kindness. Free-living bunnies mowing through your vegetable garden or digging holes in your backyard? Please use humane methods to deal with them, such as these compassionate suggestions from the Humane Society of the United States.

5. Ask Your Market Not to Sell Them. You may be aware that Whole Foods Market recently announced it was going to stop selling bunnies in their meat cases. While this is great news, other stores still offer bunny meat. If the market where you shop does, fill out a customer comment card or speak directly with the manager and ask that they stop selling rabbits.

6. Don’t Patronize Restaurants That Serve Bunny Meat. Better yet, ask them to stop.

7. Don’t Buy Products Tested on Rabbits. No law requires it, but many U.S. companies routinely “safety test” their cosmetics and other household products on rabbits and other animals. Corrosive chemicals are dripped into their eyes, toxic compounds already known to be fatal to humans are pumped into their stomachs, caustic irritants are rubbed into their skin, or they may be subjected to an assortment of other unspeakable tortures that result in a painful death. Look for the Leaping Bunny label. In fact …

8. Support the Humane Cosmetics Act. Ask your U.S. Representative to support H.R. 2858, the Humane Cosmetics Act, which will prohibit animal testing for all cosmetic products manufactured or sold in the United States.

Photo by Tara Baxter

Photo by Tara Baxter

9. Volunteer at Your Local Shelter. There is plenty to do: Socialize the rabbits, clean their cages, bring them hay and veggies, and do whatever they need to keep them healthy and happy and to make them more adoptable. (You may need to attend a training session with the shelter staff in order to be a shelter volunteer.) Check out these tips from the House Rabbit Society for more information about volunteering.

10. Support Rescue Nonprofits. There are so many wonderful rabbit groups out there, and they all need your support, either as a donor, volunteer, or bunny foster parent. Some of my favorites include the House Rabbit Society, Rabbit Haven, Rabbit Rescue, Rabbitron, SaveABunny (from whom I adopted all my rabbits), Special Bunny, and Zooh Corner. Check Google for a group near you, or ask the House Rabbit Society for the closest chapter in your area.


Note: If you like the photos that accompany this post, you’ll love the Tallulah & Rabbit Friends Facebook page, maintained by Tara Baxter.

As an example of what an impact animal advocates can have, it’s hard to top this week’s news that Whole Foods Market (WFM) will cease selling rabbit meat in their stores effective January 2016. The grocery giant made the announcement at a shareholders meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Tuesday.


Protesters demonstrate at the Whole Foods Market in Sebastopol, Calif., soon after activist lauren Ornelas was arrested for leafleting to customers.

This victory came quickly when compared to other animal rights campaigns that can go on for years. It began in 2014, shortly after WFM launched a pilot program aimed at creating a market for rabbit meat. My wife lauren Ornelas (founder of Food Empowerment Project) and I sat down with Rabbit Advocacy Network founder Tara Baxter, SaveABunny founder Marcy Schaaf, and (by phone) House Rabbit Society president Margo DeMello to brainstorm strategies for getting WFM to end its program. As a longtime activist, lauren has tangled with Whole Foods before over the treatment of ducks to be sold in their stores. She was also arrested while campaigning against a location’s bunny meat sales: in November 2014, the manager of our local WFM had her arrested for leafleting in front of the store, though the paperwork to prosecute her was never filed.

We had a contingent of advocates strategizing in the Bay Area, but as word spread among animal lovers, petitions were launched, activists were demonstrating outside Whole Foods stores, memes went viral, and customers were boycotting the chain from coast to coast. Tara was interviewed for an episode of Our Hen House, and she and Marcy appeared in an NBC Bay Area investigative news report (a follow-up report aired September 17).

Through the Freedom of Information Act, lauren obtained inspection records for the farm in Iowa that’s been supplying WFM wholefoods-petitionwith bunny meat. The records revealed several observations that may not be in keeping with Whole Foods’ stated animal welfare standards, and activists used the information to illustrate the cruelty inherent in factory farming rabbits (for example, here and here). In addition, while WFM said they were selling rabbits in response to “consumer demand,” a financial analysis showed that sales were slow at its stores around the country. In the Northern California region, for example, WFM’s 41 stores are selling only one to three rabbits each per day. Indeed, low sales is the explanation WFM has given for their decision to stop selling bunny meat.

Whatever the official reason, activists are celebrating this announcement as a victory for animals. “We are so thrilled to hear this news,” says Tara. “Of course, we would have wanted the decision to come sooner so that many more lives could have been spared. But we hope that this finally proves that rabbits are perceived more as pets in this country than they are a viable food option. If Whole Foods Market, a grocery store others want to emulate, can’t get rabbit meat off the ground enough to continue selling it, then there is hope for farmed bunnies all over.”

Marcy, though agreeing this is wonderful news for rabbits, has lost her taste for WFM, noting that the statement on the company’s website demonstrates a lack of regard for the rabbits they exploit. “Not once does it show any compassion for animals, respect for their customers or acknowledgement of the thousands and thousands of rabbits who were raised, slaughtered and then butchered specifically at Whole Foods request,” she posted to the SaveABunny Facebook page. “For over a year they ignored the pleas of their customers, were caught with false labeling, violations of food safety and did not pass humane standards according to the FOIA. SHAME ON YOU WHOLE FOODS—you have lost my trust and my business.”

What made the WFM-bunny meat campaign different? Margo considers this question, then responds, “This is the first campaign of any kind I’ve been involved with which attracted people from every walk of life: longtime animal activists, rabbit lovers, pet lovers, and folks who never held a picket sign in their lives. Without their combined efforts—protesting, creating petitions, writing letters, calling the company, visiting stores and speaking to managers, creating artwork, and simply educating their friends and family—we would not be celebrating right now. While Whole Foods Market says that their decision to stop the sale of rabbit meat was driven by the lack of consumer demand, I know that everyone who participated in the campaign played a major role in ensuring that demand would never rise. I couldn’t be prouder of our efforts!”

GoodNews“I believe the Whole Foods Market campaign was successful because activists had a strategic campaign goal—stop Whole Foods from selling bunny ‘meat’—did research and kept their message clear,” adds lauren. “They knew what they wanted and were willing to campaign until they got it. Personally, I find this a short-term campaign success, but our work to encourage people to stop consuming all animals is still ongoing.”

Another reason for this success, I think, is that activists were quick to agitate as soon as WFM began selling rabbits. We also tried to make it clear that we weren’t saying rabbits were more deserving of moral consideration than cows, pigs, chickens, fish, or any other animal raised and killed for food. What we were saying is that WFM does not need another species to exploit and kill for its meat cases. Moreover, WFM is seen as a trendsetter in the food industry, and we understood that if they were successful, other grocery companies would implement similar sales of bunny meat.

If you shop at Whole Foods, please let them know you appreciate their decision to stop exploiting at least one species. And, of course, if you’d like to do even more, please consider adopting a rabbit!



Photo courtesy of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Photo courtesy of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

The notorious annual dolphin drives are scheduled to begin near Taiji, Japan, on September 1 and will continue until at least March. Every year, fishermen locate pods of migrating dolphins out at sea and herd them into Hatagiri Bay with boats, nets, and long metal rods that crew members dip below the surface and pound to create an acoustical wall that disorients the dolphins’ sonar. The fishermen leave the animals overnight in a narrow cove and return at dawn armed with the knives and spears that will gradually turn the blue tide scarlet. While many dolphins are killed for meat, others are sold to zoos and marine parks worldwide, making the drives an incredibly lucrative business.

Some say this could be the final season for these hunts. The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) has ordered the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) to stop purchasing dolphins captured in Taiji or be permanently suspended as a WAZA member, and JAZA members reluctantly agreed. If all the Japanese aquariums follow through on their pledges to stop buying Taiji dolphins, it could render the entire Taiji dolphin killing operation uneconomic and unsustainable.

But activists and nonprofits are not waiting. Taiji will still be able to export live dolphins overseas to aquariums and zoos that are not WAZA members, including those in China, Russia, and the Middle East. Groups such as Sea Shepherd and Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project will be in Taiji to monitor the drives and bear witness to the suffering.

What You Can Do:

1. Educate Yourself. Watch The Cove—the Academy Award-winning documentary about the Taiji drives—or read Salt Water Tears by Len Varley. I also examine this issue in my book Bleating Hearts, for which I interviewed renowned dolphin trainer-turned animal advocate Ric O’Barry. Then share your knowledge about this issue with others.

2. Don’t Buy a Ticket. The captive-dolphin entertainment industry gets rich from dolphin suffering and death. By boycotting their profit stream, we can sink them economically. Don’t patronize any parks that keep dolphins in captivity, including places that offer swim-with-the-dolphins programs. Encourage your family and friends to stay away from these businesses, too.

3. Sign Up for Dolphin Day. Join individuals, activists, and organizations around the world by participating in this International Day of Action on September 1. Click here for information.

4. Speak Up. Contact authorities in Taiji, as well as the Japanese Embassy, US Embassy to Japan, US and Japanese Ambassadors to the UN, and the US Senate members of the Committee on Foreign Relations. Call or send them a polite message expressing your feelings about the dolphin hunts and ask them to do everything in their power to help put an end to the misery.

Prime Minister of Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Cabinet Office, Government of Japan 1-6-1 Nagata-cho Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. 100-8914 JAPAN +81-3-5253-2111

Website: http://www.kantei.go.jp/foreign/index-e.html Online comment form #1: https://www.kantei.go.jp/foreign/forms/comment_ssl.html Online comment form #2: https://form.cao.go.jp/kokusai/en_opinion-0001.html

Japanese Embassies Worldwide: Websites of Japanese Embassies, Consulates and Permanent Missions

List of Embassies and Consulates-General in Japan: List of Embassies and Consulates-General in Japan

Please thank Caroline Kennedy for her defense of the dolphins:

US Embassy in Japan: Caroline Kennedy – Ambassador of the United States to Japan Telephone: 011-81-3-3224-5000 Fax: 011-81-3-3505-1862 Send E-mail to the U.S. Embassy in Japan

Japanese UN Representatives: H.E. Mr Kazuyoshi Umemoto – Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary japan.mission@dn.mofa.go.jp

H.E. Mr. Jun Yamazaki – Deputy Representative of Japan to the UN japan.mission@dn.mofa.go.jp

United States UN Representative: Samantha Power – US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power’s Twitter United States Mission to the United Nations Contact Form

US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations: US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

Wakayama Prefecture Office, Fishery Division: E0717001@pref.wakayama.lg.jp Telephone: +81-73-441-3010 Fax: +81-73-432-4124

International Whaling Commission (IWC) The Red House, 135 Station Road, Impington, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire CB24 9NP, UK. Tel: +44 (0) 1223 233 971 Fax: +44 (0) 1223 232 87 Email: secretariat@iwcoffice.org

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) / Convention on Migratory Species (CMP) UNEP/CMS Secretariat Platz der Vereinten Nationen 1 53113 Bonn, Germany Tel: (+49 228) 815 2401 Fax: (+49 228) 815 2449 Email: secretariat@cms.int

5. Join Volunteers in Japan. Sea Shepherd and the Dolphin Project are both looking for people to travel to Taiji. Those who are interested in volunteering as a Sea Shepherd Cove Guardian for Operation Henkaku should email groundcrew@seashepherd.org. (Please note that volunteer applicants must be able to commit to participating in the campaign for a minimum of one week.) To sign up to join Ric O’Barry and his Dolphin Project team as a Project Cove Monitor, please click here.


AmberThis week, Amber Canavan of Syracuse, New York, began a 45-day jail sentence for liberating two ducks from the notorious Hudson Valley Foie Gras farm. She had gone into the facility undercover to document the conditions in which the ducks are kept.

Amber has gotten a lot of support and brought much media attention to the plight of birds used to produce foie gras (French for “fatty liver”), a “delicacy” made from the livers of ducks and geese who have been force-fed. Two to three times a day, a worker shoves a long metal tube all the way down each bird’s throat and uses an air pump to shoot up to two pounds of corn mush into their esophagus. A duck’s liver naturally weighs about 50 grams, but to qualify as foie gras, the industry’s own regulations require ducks’ livers to weigh an absolute minimum of 300 grams.

In an interview with The New York Times after her arraignment in February, Amber wouldn’t comment “about any missing ducks” from Hudson Valley Foie Gras, but said that rescuing them would be understandable. “Honestly, if they were concerned about losing a few ducks,” she said, then “they shouldn’t be treating them so poorly.”

Ways you can support Amber:

Write to her (updated address):

Sullivan County Jail
attn: Amber Canavan
4 Bushnell Ave.
Monticello, NY 12701

“Like” her support Facebook page

Support Amber, Cruelty Whistleblower

Learn more about foie gras—and share your knowledge with others!


Click here for more information on supporting animal rights prisoners.

white-rabbitTwo important comments have long been made about testing cosmetics on animals in the United States. The first is that it is an extremely cruel practice responsible for the torture and death of countless rabbits, mice, guinea pigs, and other animals.

The second is that no federal law requires it. (Under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act, cosmetics companies are prohibited from manufacturing and marketing misbranded or adulterated products, and they are responsible for substantiating the safety of their products and ingredients before those products reach the market. It does not say products must be tested on animals.) Nevertheless, manufacturers are encouraged to conduct whatever toxicological tests they believe are appropriate to substantiate the safety of their products. Thus, in an effort to cover their assets in the event of a lawsuit, companies subject conscious animals to an extensive range of painful “safety tests” in which corrosive chemicals are dripped into their eyes, toxic compounds already known to be fatal to humans are pumped into their stomachs, caustic irritants are rubbed into their skin, or an assortment of other unspeakable tortures that result in a painful death.

We can now add a third comment about testing cosmetics on animals in the US: Banning it might be just around the corner.

This week, a federal bill that would end animal testing for cosmetics was reintroduced* by US Representatives Martha McSally (R-AZ), Joe Heck (R-NV), Don Beyer (D-VA), and Tony Cárdenas (D-CA). If passed, HR 4148—the Humane Cosmetics Act—would make it illegal for any company to conduct cosmetic animal testing, or sell cosmetic products that have been tested on animals. (The US bill comes just days after a similar bill was introduced in Canada.)

I asked Pascaline Clerc, senior director of policy and advocacy of Animal Research Issues for The Humane Society of the United States, for more information about the bill and how the public can help get it passed.

Many countries around the world—including India, Israel, and the European Union—have banned cosmetics testing on animals. What keeps the US from prohibiting it?

People thought that animal testing for cosmetics was an issue of the past. Our #BeCrueltyFree campaign in the US, and worldwide with the help of Humane Society International, had to raise awareness on this issue.

There is really nothing keeping the US from prohibiting animal testing of cosmetics:

– multi-national companies have been investing in developing alternatives, and they already have to comply with such regulations in the EU and India by using faster, cheaper, and more predictive alternatives to traditional animal tests to test new ingredients.

– more than 30 countries have legislation in place banning animal testing for cosmetics.

– our neighbor Canada has introduced similar legislation last week.

– the issue has rallied bipartisan support.

– China, where animal testing is still required for imported products and for post-marketing monitoring, is slowly making progress, and our organization is actively working in the country to change policy and educate scientists on state-of-the-art in vitro methods to test cosmetics instead of using live animals such as rabbits and guinea pigs. The HSUS, HIS, and the Human Toxicology Project Consortium, in partnership with the Institute for In Vitro Sciences, provided intensive laboratory-based training.

What do you believe the chances are for this bill becoming law?

More than 30 countries—home to more than 1.7 billion consumers—now have legislation in place banning animal testing for cosmetics. Similar legislation to limit or end such testing is also under consideration in Australia, Brazil, Canada, South Korea, Taiwan, and now in the US. Of the 13 biggest importers of American cosmetics, eight countries have bans in place, legislation introduced or in negotiation, so if the US wants to remain a leader in the industry, the US will have to align their regulations with the rest of the world.

Multi-national companies have been investing in developing alternatives, and they already have to comply with such regulations in the EU and India by using faster, cheaper, and more predictive alternatives to traditional animal tests to test new ingredients. So, it would only make sense for them to have to follow the same regulations in the US and take advantage of cutting-edge technology.

Additionally, this bill has brought an unprecedented bipartisan quartet of sponsors.

What can the public do to help this bill pass?

There are two easy things that any consumers can do:

1st: Take action by urging your representative to support the Humane Cosmetics Act here.
2nd: Use your buying power to drive changes by only buying products from cruelty-free companies that you can find at http://www.leapingbunny.org


*This bill was previously introduced by former Representative James Moran (D-VA) in March of 2014. This new version focuses on economic issues and would go into effect in one year.

As regular readers know, this blog is about animal activism, but I want to use this space to celebrate the life an extraordinary rabbit who died this week. Although he was not among the rabbits I’ve personally adopted over the years, I visited him frequently, and he made a big impression on me. He lives on as a reminder of why why we advocate for all animals.

He was known around SaveABunny as “the miracle bunny.” He had arrived at the sanctuary in the fall of 2005 with severe burns, having been doused with lighter fluid and set alight by a teenager in nearby Vallejo, California. He suffered second- and third-degree burns over much of his body, including his head. His skin also had cigarette burns. I can only imagine the torture he’d endured. But he had a strong will to live, and having survived the flames, Marcy Schaaf, SaveABunny’s founder, named him “Phoenix.” They quickly bonded, and eventually it became clear that SaveABunny would be his forever home.

It is all but impossible for a bunny hugger not to love all rabbits, but Phoenix was extra special. When I learned on April 28 that he had died sometime during the night, I found comfort in remembering how much affection and attention he received from those who appreciated him for who he was.

Not that loving Phoenix was a chore—far from it. He was resilient and mischievous and spirited. He enjoyed playing, being talked to, and napping in the sunshine. And, like all rabbits, he loved a good binky and a bit of banana or carrot.

SaveABunny took him in right about the time I had decided I wanted to foster rabbits. “Foster,” indeed. I think I managed to actually foster only one. I became instantly attached to the others, six in all, and had to quickly learn how to be a good bunny guardian. Thus I found myself at the sanctuary fairly often, and it was inspiring seeing how Phoenix healed and how committed everyone was to giving him the best care possible.

PhoenixAs the remains of his charred outer ears fell off and his medical needs became more acute, SaveABunny established The Phoenix Fund to help him and the most seriously ill and injured bunnies get the treatment they need.

Though deeply wounded—physically and psychologically—Phoenix learned to trust humans. I was always astonished that he would let me, or anyone, pet him. But he did, and he seemed to know he was never going to be harmed again.

It was especially gratifying to see Phoenix bond with other rabbits, since early on he seemed to have little interest in his peers. He found love with Melody, and when she died, it was heartbreaking. But he loved again, this time with a gentle, bashful bunny named Poodalia. You can see a short video of them together here. If you know rabbits, you know part of their bonding ritual is to groom each other’s ears. Poodalia didn’t care that Phoenix had no outer ears—she just licked the base where his ears had been, and Phoenix patiently complied (even if it made him twitch his head). Sadly, after a long life, Poodalia passed in March.

I last visited Phoenix a couple of months ago, delighted for the chance to say hello and pet him and marvel at his ability to forgive human beings. Since that time, he had joined a group of other senior, special-needs rabbits at SaveABunny—several friends affectionately known as the Late Bloomer Club.

In the decade Phoenix lived at SaveABunny, he healed others as he himself healed. He learned to trust and help teach people about animal abuse. He loved and was loved. As his health declined and the end came closer, I understand Marcy was ready to make the agonizing decision to help end his suffering. In what seems to me like his final gift to her, Phoenix let go and died among his fellow Later Bloomers, surrounded by unconditional love.

He really was a miracle bunny.


Postscript: Because he was a minor, Phoenix’s tormentor was never publicly unmasked. Animal cruelty charges were filed against him, but in the end, he received probation and counseling.


When director Liz Marshall was doing advance promotion for her 2013 film The Ghosts in Our Machine, she called it “a multi-platform endeavor.” That description stuck with me, and so I was not surprised when I read about a new study examining the impact Ghosts has had on the public. This 34-page report says a lot about how animal rights documentaries engage viewers and ultimately change hearts and minds.

ImpactReport1-300x230Part of the study reports on the results of a free screening of the film made available for three days. More than 4,500 people from more than 90 countries watched Ghosts during that 72-hour period, and their responses were evaluated by the Humane Research Council. Prior to seeing the film, viewers’ knowledge was mixed regarding the treatment of animals on farms, in research laboratories, and in zoos and aquariums. Fifty-four percent considered themselves “very” knowledgeable, 44 percent said they were “somewhat” knowledgeable, and 3 percent were “not at all” knowledgeable of the issues.

After watching Ghosts, 96 percent said animal rights is an important social justice issue, 85 percent said the film had a “great deal” of influence on them, and 92 percent of viewers said afterward that they believed nonhuman animals are conscious and capable of feeling pleasure, pain, fear, and attachment.

The report charts the film’s success as an outreach model for animal advocacy, but it also demonstrates the ongoing challenge of Results_Ghoststhe animal rights movement: How to get the 75 percent of adults who say the protection of animals is important to change their consumer behavior. After all, if the majority of people believe they have an obligation to protect animals, why do they continue to eat meat, wear leather, and patronize businesses that keep animals in captivity?

I asked Liz why doing this report was so important. “Making a documentary is fully immersive and takes years,” she said. “The old distribution model is to make a film and walk away and allow distributors to handle its dissemination. What we are facing today is a very different, more engaged model. With Ghosts, it wasn’t enough to just make the film and to fulfill a global outreach and engagement distribution campaign. I felt it was equally important to gauge the film’s impact on audiences. Producing a formal evidence-based Impact Report is a tangible way to present our findings. We now understand to what extent The Ghosts in Our Machine is helping to change the world for animals. I can now move on to my next film with a profound sense of closure. It was an honor to work with the Humane Research Council and to be funded by the Bertha BRITDOC Connect Fund.”

The report offers some great insights about the impact and engagement of documentary campaigns. With the success of this film—as well as such recent documentaries as Blackfish, Cowspiracy, Forks Over Knives, The Cove, and Maximum Tolerated Dose—it’s clear this medium is a tremendous tool for animal advocacy.

You can read the full report here.



leafletingIn my years as an animal activist, one of the most fundamental lessons I’ve learned is the importance of sharing accurate information. Nothing hurts the credibility of an animal advocate quite like imparting a fact that is woefully out of date or, worse yet, just plain wrong.

For example, I once tabled with an activist who told someone that chicken meat commonly comes from hens who no longer produce enough eggs to make them profitable in the egg industry. Um, no. While a “spent” hen may have ended up on the dinner plate at Old MacDonald’s Farm many decades ago, that’s not the case with today’s factory farms: raising chickens for eggs and raising chickens for meat are two separate industries. (Moreover, a hen who has been forced to lay at least six eggs a week for human consumption while cramped in a tiny wire cage for two years is so depleted she has little flesh left on her battered body.)

Although you might think I’m being picky—after all, it’s the main message that counts, not the details, right?—I believe we can actually damage our integrity by sharing misinformation, even if it’s unintentional.

Getting the most recent, reliable information into the hands of activists is one reason I wrote Bleating Hearts: The Hidden World of Animal Suffering, which covers a wide variety of animal oppression issues, from captivity and fashion to sports and vivisection. Indeed, I spent a full year just on the vivisection chapter because the movement so badly needs up-to-date details on this complex issue.

Among the facts the book examines:

  • Despite the popular belief, leather is not a byproduct of the meat industry, it is a co-product—it subsidizes factory farming.
  • 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the US—30 million pounds a year—are fed to perfectly healthy animals.
  • In captivity, orcas only survive, on average, another 13 years after being taken, yet wild male orcas can live 60 years and female orcas may reach 90 or more.
  • Animals in circuses spend 91 to 99 percent of their time confined in cages, carriers, or other enclosures.
  • An average of 24 horses die on US racetracks every week.
  • The infant-mortality rate for elephants in zoos is nearly triple what it is in the wild.
  • 92 percent of drugs that prove safe and therapeutically effective in animals fail in clinical trials using humans. Of the 8 percent of drugs that do pass clinical trials, more than half are found to have toxic or fatal effects that were not predicted by animal experiments.

I am not suggesting that speaking persuasively on behalf of animals requires us to have a ton of facts committed to memory, but there’s no question we should know the essentials and understand the issue we’re campaigning against. So before you get out there and table, or leaflet, or even write a letter to an editor, please educate yourself on the facts you’ll be presenting to the public. You are a voice for the animals, so speak with authority.

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

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