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Animal activism need not mean protesting a fur boutique or even handing out vegan leaflets at a local college (though I recommend both). Advocating for animals can be as simple as telling one person why you adopted a plant-based diet. In fact, such one-on-one conversations can often be more effective than a large demonstration, allowing someone to see that animal activists are not that different from other people. In the spirit of simplicity, here are ten very easy things you can do for animals.
1. Wear pro-veg buttons, a t-shirt or hat. Bruce Friedrich has a great technique for engaging strangers in conversation about animals. He wears a shirt reading “Ask Me Why I’m a Vegetarian.” When someone asks, rather than launching into an angry diatribe about animal abuse, Bruce asks the other person, “Do you eat meat?” The person generally says, “Yes,” to which Bruce responds, “Why?” The person will answer with something like, “Well, I like the taste.” Bruce will then ask, “Well, what do you know about factory farming?” And so a dialog begins. I wear a button reading “Ask Me Why I’m Vegan” (which I coincidentally bought from Bruce at a PETA event years ago). I’ve learned to keep my responses simple, and I always keep some pro-veg literature with me, in case someone is interested in learning more.
2. Add an animal-friendly message to your voice mail. If you’ve ever been put on hold (and who hasn’t?), chances are you’ve listened to a pre-recorded message touting commercial products and services. This same idea can be applied to animal rights using your home answering machine by asking callers to go veg. You can also do this on your cell phone. It can be as simple as recording your usual greeting and then adding, “Before you leave a message, I’d like to remind you that a great way to relieve animal suffering, help the planet and improve your health is to switch to a plant-based diet. For more information, please visit goveg.com.” Of course, your recording can promote any campaign or urge callers to adopt from shelters rather than buying from pet stores ― just keep it to one message or call to action per recording.
3. Take advantage of social-media sites. Web sites like Twitter and Facebook have doubled or even tripled in membership over the last year. In the words of Internet consultant Clay Shirky, media is now “global, social, ubiquitous and cheap.” That’s good news for us and good news for the animals we’re working to protect. So use social sites to the fullest by becoming an active community member on Facebook, Twitter, Care2, MySpace or whatever sites appeal to you and allow you to share campaign news, undercover videos, links, recipes, etc. If you post blogs, ask friends to vote for your posts via sites like StumbleUpon and Digg. Votes result in higher visibility — and more attention on your cause. Also, remember that new social media sites pop up constantly, so keep current on what’s happening in the world of Web 2.0. A great place to do this is by visiting the social media guide Mashable.
4. Use charity search engines that donate to animal organizations. Charity search engines earn revenue by displaying advertisements alongside your search results, and you use them as you would normally use Google, Yahoo or other search engines. While there are a lot of these charity-based search engines, not all of them allow users to designate which non-profits receive donations. Two sites that do allow users to choose animal-advocacy organizations are iGive.com and GoodSearch.com. You should also note that some sites, without any input from users, donate to organizations many animal advocates oppose. CharityCafe.com, for example, donates to Oxfam, which exploits animals. So be sure to do a little homework before signing up. For a list of charity search engines, click here. By the way, Mashable is building on this donation model to create a large-scale online charitable campaign called the Summer of Social Good, half the proceeds of which will go to the Humane Society of the United States and WWF.
5. Add a link to the auto-signature of your email. Auto-signatures are an easy way to automatically distribute information every time you send an email. And the possibilities are endless: you can link to campaigns, videos, free veg starter kits, organizations ― you name it.
6. Bring a batch of vegan cookies or brownies to work or school. Nothing brings people together like delicious treats. This is a great way to show people that, yes, you can make wonderful food without animal-based ingredients. Click here for some sweet recipes.
7. Use animal-friendly URLs when posting comments on blogs. Take advantage of the Internet by commenting on any blog post that focuses on animal issues — pro or con. And if the blog allows you to include a Web site, use a URL that relates to your comment. For example, if you’re commenting about how easy it is to be a vegan, you could use goveg.com or tryveg.com; if your comment has to do with circuses, use circuses.com, which exposes the truth under the big top. You get the idea. My point is, don’t waste the opportunity to provide a link that I guarantee you people will click on when they see your name highlighted. Tip: A great way to find blogs in the first place is to use Google Alerts, which will automatically email you any time a news story or blog is posted with the key words you’ve chosen (e.g., “vegan,” “animal testing,” “puppy mills”).
8. Bring a vegan entrée to a family gathering. Social occasions need not be awkward for the veg-minded. By bringing a great vegan dish, you not only show others how fantastic and satisfying plant-based meals are, but you’re sure to have at least one thing to eat! If you don’t have a favorite vegan cookbook ― or you’re just looking for some simple ideas ― check out this list from Erik Marcus. You might also want to visit vegcooking.com.
9. Ask your school cafeteria, favorite restaurants and grocery markets to offer more vegan options. In the world of the almighty dollar, nothing ensures a business will carry animal-friendly items like consumer demand. So be sure to tell managers and owners where you shop and eat that you’d like to see more vegan items on shelves and menus. Oh, and if they do honor your request, encourage your friends to vote with their wallets by ordering or buying the vegan items.
10. Keep a few leaflets with you. It’s a good idea to have some pro-veg brochures or other vegan-advocacy literature in your backpack, purse or jacket when you’re out in public. I find these to be incredibly handy, especially in situations where there’s not a lot of time for discussion or if you’re somewhat new to activism. Some excellent choices are Why Vegan?, Even If You Like Meat and a Guide to Cruelty-Free Eating from Vegan Outreach and the vegetarian starter kits from FARM. PETA offers a guide to compassionate living that’s a nice resource to have on hand, too.
Is it just me, or is there suddenly a fantastic selection of animal activism books out there? I think we’re seeing a very encouraging trend, as writers and publishers both recognize the value in introducing new titles to help activists speak up for animals. When Striking at the Roots was released early last year, there really wasn’t any book like it that I could find ― a current guide to the strategies and tactics individual activists can use to effectively campaign against the countless methods of animal exploitation. In fact, that was the whole motivation behind writing the book; I felt the movement needed a single resource compiling the best practices of animal activists around the world.
What a difference a year makes. Now there are a number of books available, each with its own angle. Here are a dozen titles that have (mostly) been published in the last few years, each one certain to enhance one’s effectiveness when putting compassion into action.
50 Awesome Ways Kids Can Help Animals: Fun and Easy Ways to Be a Kind Kid (2006) by Ingrid Newkirk. Originally published in 1991 as Kids Can Save the Animals!: 101 Easy Things to Do, this renamed edition has been expanded and updated, but its message hasn’t changed: we’re never too young to learn respect for all life. What is likely to engage young readers as much as the lighthearted tone that never talks down to them is how Ingrid incorporates a child’s interest in animals with their love of games, toys, riddles and trivia, encouraging imagination and creativity. Ideal for: ages 9-12.
The Animal Activist’s Handbook: Maximizing Our Positive Impact in Today’s World (2009) by Matt Ball and Bruce Friedrich. Bruce gave me a sneak preview of this book last year, and for a slim volume it certainly contains an impressive amount of great advice from two longtime activists. Matt (Vegan Outreach) and Bruce (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) know how to communicate and engage constructive dialog. Ideal for: pretty much anyone.
Building an Ark: 101 Solutions to Animal Suffering (2007) by Ethan Smith and Guy Dauncey. This book came out two months before mine, and I have to admit I haven’t read it entirely. I have browsed through it in the bookstore, however, and it looks impressive. The authors have divided their 101 suggestions into groups according to who is best qualified to implement them: businesses, organizations, individuals, schools, farmers, governments, etc. Ideal for: beginner activists.
Ethics Into Action: Henry Spira and the Animal Rights Movement (1998) by Peter Singer. OK, this book is 11 years old, but Henry Spira’s approach to animal activism is timeless. This is a truly inspirational look at what one person, motivated by compassion and armed with tenacity, can achieve for animals. Ideal for: everyone; a must-read.
The Lifelong Activist: How to Change the World without Losing Your Way (2006) by Hillary Rettig. Not so much a guide to activism as a guide to being an activist. Sections include Managing Your Mission (figuring out your authentic mission), Managing Your Time (building a schedule that allows you to realize that mission), Managing Your Fears (beating perfectionism, procrastination and blocks to success, so you can follow your schedule) and Managing Your Relationships (leveraging your strengths with those of others). Ideal for: activists wanting to make social justice a lifetime endeavor.
Making Kind Choices: Everyday Ways to Enhance Your Life Through Earth- and Animal-Friendly Living (2004) by Ingrid Newkirk. Avoiding animal products, buying Fair Trade and shade-grown coffee, donating an unwanted fur, investing in socially responsible companies and volunteering at an animal sanctuary are just a few of the subjects covered here. The book offers stories from a wide variety of voices, from engaged activists and international celebrities to everyday people just trying to make the world a better place. Ideal for: kids and families.
Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, and Money (2005) by Erik Marcus. Because animals used for food are by far the most exploited beings in the world, Erik advises readers to focus their attention and energy on animal agribusiness — and he offers a roadmap for dismantling this insidious enterprise. The final third of Meat Market consists of supplementary material, including eight activist essays and nine appendices covering the most fundamental arguments in favor of a plant-based diet. Ideal for: activists wanting to target the meat industry or just understand the abuses of agribiz.
Move the Message: Your Guide to Making A Difference and Changing the World (2004) by Josephine Bellaccomo. Though not specifically written for animal activists, there are still a number of techniques in Josephine’s book that can be applied to animal activism. Nice insights into the tactics opposition groups employ. Ideal for: anyone involved in social justice.
The PETA Practical Guide to Animal Rights: Simple Acts of Kindness to Help Animals in Trouble (2009) by Ingrid Newkirk. In her latest book, Ingrid covers everything from making cruelty-free products at home to the importance of adopting animals from shelters. It’s also a great resource on animal behavior. As Bill Maher points out in the foreword, who knew that macaws could play practical jokes on people or that an octopus can unscrew the lid from a jar? Ideal for: beginner activists.
Strategic Action for Animals: A Handbook on Strategic Movement Building, Organizing, and Activism for Animal Liberation (2008) by Melanie Joy. Drawing from diverse movements and sources, Melanie focuses on how advocates can maximize their effectiveness by thoughtfully considering and strategizing their activism. She uses a number of well-known nonprofits as examples. Ideal for: grassroots organizations.
Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism (2008) by Mark Hawthorne. Advice from more than 100 activists on how to effectively advocate on behalf of animals. Contents include leafleting, writing letters, tabling, protesting, corporate campaigning, social networks and more. Also includes a chapter on avoiding activist burnout. Ideal for: beginner and seasoned activists around the world.
Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way We Treat Animals (2008) by Karen Dawn. Karen reaches her audience with a sense of humor and some help from celebrity friends, emphasizing that activism is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Her low-key approach makes Thanking the Monkey a nice introduction to animal rights. Ideal for: beginner activists; also makes a nice gift for people not familiar with the movement.
Bottom line: We owe it to the animals to be the most effective advocates we can. And with titles available for individual activists, those working or volunteering for grassroots organizations and even kids, there seems to be an activism book for everyone. Whether it’s through reading one of these books, attending an animal rights conference, taking a public-speaking class or getting involved with a local group, please commit yourself to improving your activist skills and knowledge.
Chickens. Intelligent, inquisitive, loving, loyal, courageous. They’re also victims of some of the worst abuses in animal agribusiness. From battery cages to the broiler shed, chickens suffer to feed humanity’s hunger for cheap animal protein. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, chicken flesh has become the most frequently consumed meat in the US, and consumption continues to increase every year, with nearly nine billion chickens slaughtered annually in the US. Egg producers, meanwhile, confine egg-laying hens in cages so small the birds cannot move a single wing. As you read these words, about 300 million hens are languishing in battery cages in the US. (For some idea of how a battery hen lives, please see this virtual battery cage.) Moreover, laying hens are forced to endure such painful mutilations as debeaking and detoeing. Chickens raised for meat (“broilers”) face brief but grim lives in which they pack on so much weight in 45 days that their legs and organs cannot properly support their bodies. Just six weeks old, these birds are still babies when they are slaughtered.
Agribriz isn’t the only abuser of these sensitive birds, however. Cockfighting, though illegal throughout the US, still goes on, pitting one rooster against another so their exploiters can gamble on the outcome. The outcome is often death for one or both of the birds. To maintain their supply of fighting birds, called gamecocks, cockfighters keep breeding hens and raise the male chicks to become fighters.
Fortunately, activists around the world are not only campaigning against the cruelties inherent in agribusiness and animal fighting ― they’re helping to provide loving homes to birds rescued from these enterprises. Here are a few of their stories and the birds who have touched their hearts.
Apricot – Rescued from a Broiler Shed
“We did a broiler rescue on April 20,” says Patty Mark, founder of Animal Liberation Victoria, “and one of the birds had what I refer to as ‘splayed legs,’ meaning both legs are not able to function at all, and the legs just sit out in front of the bird, and she or he can’t stand or bear weight or walk. The vet always puts these birds down, and I’ve lost count of how many of them we’ve rescued over the years who are basically fairly healthy; they just can’t bear weight or walk and tragically, they get put down.
“This splayed-leg bird from April 20th I called Apricot. I felt so sorry for Apricot, as the other 13 birds were all in pretty poor condition but all mobile, including the three with badly twisted and crippled legs who couldn’t and still can’t use their one crippled leg ― they hop around on their other leg. And poor Apricot just sat in her basket watching the others every day. I had to hand feed and water her and clean her bottom daily. She was always so grateful and made such sweet little noises. So I started to get attached to her and put off taking her to the vet.
“On about day 12 after the rescue when I got up one morning she wasn’t sitting in her basket. I freaked and thought, ‘Where’s Apricot?’ I looked about and noticed her amongst the others, and she was standing! Only for a few seconds, but she stood up and held her weight. I got teary eyed. Anyway, as the days have passed, she is walking about with a hobble, but walking around, and right now she’s outside enjoying a mild autumn day with the others in the sunshine. I’m overjoyed.”
Nettie ― Rescued from a Cockfighting Operation
“Her plight became public after police broke up a large cockfighting operation,” says Marji Beach of Animal Place, a sanctuary and education center in California. “Hundreds of roosters from across the state were pitted against one another in deadly fights. She wasn’t a fighter but a breeder; her existence served to create more fighters.
“All the roosters were euthanized ― an unfair end for such beautiful birds. Animal Place was given custody of the hens and chicks remaining at the property. It was with sadness and hope that we arrived, nets in hand, to capture more than a hundred birds. The going was rough: exposed wires, broken fencing, sharp metal and glass all posed serious hazards to us and the birds.
“Toward the end of the second night, I spotted her in the corner of a barn stall. She was white with brown speckles. I stayed silent and watched her, knowing that she associated human voices with terror and fear. As I approached, she made deep growling sounds and fluffed her feathers. She wouldn’t move, rooted there by a deep, maternal drive to protect the three babies cheeping beneath her. It was easy to pick her up, but not so easy to remove her beak from my hand!
“Chickens from fight busts are different than the hens we’ve rescued from egg-laying operations. They aren’t petrified of the world, they have their beaks, they know how to survive. But they have also been exposed to more disease and parasites. We lost half the chicks to respiratory diseases and several of the adults
“The birds have never known that they could have a constant supply of good food and clean water. They’ve never known people to be nice to them. It was just as miraculous watching these hens learn to trust as it was watching former egg-laying hens learn to dust bathe for the first time. It was harder finding homes for these hens. They are normal chickens who produce a normal number of eggs per year, maybe 40 or 50. Adopters who picked these hens did so out of a desire to save a life, not because they wanted eggs.
“I named the white hen Nettie. She liked to perch on my shoulder or knee but wouldn’t let me touch her. All her chicks died and she mourned them like any mother. It took months for her to become a healthy, thriving hen. When she did, she found a wonderful home with other hens and a beautiful rooster. Selfishly, I wish she had stayed at Animal Place, but I’m so glad that she and all the other birds found permanent homes. It means we can rescue more.”
Fanny – Rescued from a Battery-Egg Farm
“Fanny came to the sanctuary after an 18-month term in a North Carolina egg factory,” says pattrice jones, co-founder of the Eastern Shore Sanctuary. “Usually, so-called ‘spent hens’ who can no longer lay eggs every day are slaughtered for low-grade meat or simply buried alive in landfills. Fanny and 19 others were saved from that fate by a kind woman who brought them here.
“Like all hens from egg factories, Fanny had been subjected to debeaking. The painful operation burns off the tip of their beaks to prevent bored and hungry hens, crowded into cages so small that they cannot spread their wings or even lie down comfortably, from pecking themselves or each other to death in frustration. Fanny’s injured beak gave her face a blunted look that always reminded me of what she had been through.
“When Fanny arrived at the sanctuary, she was shockingly skinny and had very few of her lovely red feathers. She and her peers bore little resemblance to birds. Years spent perched on wire in cramped cages meant they could hardly walk. They had never seen sunshine or grass, and weren’t at all sure what to do. Some were frantic while others seemed to be in a numb state of shock.
“To help the birds become less fearful, I sat very still on the ground and spread food around me. After the birds came close enough to eat that food, I put food on my shoes and pants. Very gingerly, some of the birds began eating that food too. One bold bird jumped right into my lap. The Band song instantly popped into my head and I began singing to her:
Take a load off, Fanny,
Take a load for free.
Take a load off, Fanny,
And put the load right on me.
The name stuck. From that moment, this bold bird became ‘Fanny.’
“Fanny loved to hear her song ― or, to be honest, any song. She would come if we called her name, not because she was being summoned but because she wanted to see what was going on. Unlike many of the birds, whose feathers get ruffled by any departure from their favored routines, Fanny liked visitors and excitement and changes of pace. She expected to be greeted whenever we saw her and, just like any friend, would feel snubbed if ignored. We made sure to say ‘hello’ to Fanny every morning and several times each day before saying ‘goodnight’ every night.
“When she got too old to deal with the hustle and bustle and randy roosters of the main chicken yard, Fanny began to greet visitors from our front yard, where she spent her days. She was joined by her friend Carmen, who had been with her in the egg factory; a younger hen called Darwin, who had lost a wing in a freak accident; and a delicate but tenacious half-blind hen called Felicia. Carmen and Darwin were gregarious red hens like Fanny, so the three of them hung out together. Felicia, a shy white hen, spent much of her time alone until a feral hen had chicks and decided to let Felicia help out with them. The mother hen wouldn’t let any other chicken near her chicks, so that was quite a compliment to Felicia, who became very attached to her new family. Eventually, the chicks grew up, and Darwin and then Carmen died.
“Fanny then became fast friends with Felicia. They were like next-door neighbors who don’t have a lot in common at first but become close over time due to shared experiences. Felicia had once been so sick that we were sure she would die. But she recovered and went on to enjoy two more times around the seasons. When the cold weather came again this past winter, her little body finally gave out. That was very sad for us and for Fanny, who had lived to see all of her closest friends die. She kept up her usual routine but just didn’t seem herself anymore. Sometimes we would see her standing out in the yard alone. She spent some time with the elderly roosters and a juvenile rooster named Dizzy, but didn’t seem to have the same bond with them that she had had with her hen friends. Luckily, a red hen named Rosalita moved in from Washington, DC, and she and Fanny hit it off right away. Fanny’s mood improved overnight.
“On the morning of what would be her last day, Fanny had a slow start but came running when my partner mixed up her favorite treat for breakfast. Later in the day, I noticed Fanny drooping and brought her some mulberries. She ate one berry eagerly but dropped the next and couldn’t find the rest. Seeing that she was slipping into a stupor, I gathered her into my arms and reclined with her resting on my chest. She fell asleep as the life began to ebb from her body. Just before she died, her wings began to flap, as birds’ wings often do when they go into their death throes. I wanted to say ‘No, don’t go,’ but instead I said, ‘Go, fly away with the wild birds. You’re free.’
“Fanny had almost five years here after two years in an egg factory. She survived all of her original hen and rooster friends, and the cats with whom she used to huddle in a dog house when waiting out rainstorms. Fanny was one in a million, literally and figuratively. She was just one of millions of hens crowded into tiny cages in egg factories. And, like every one of them, she was unique in the sense of having her own characteristics, her own likes and dislikes, and her own way of looking at the world. If, by speaking and writing about Fanny, we can help people to see hens as individuals and stop treating them like objects, then Fanny really will live forever. Still, she leaves two deeply grieving people and a host of human admirers.”
There are a number of groups around the world that rescue chickens. If you can help one or more of these nonprofits, I know they’d appreciate it. And I’ll bet you’ll feel great knowing you’re helping birds like Apricot, Nettie and Fanny.
Animal Liberation Victoria (Australia)
Animal Place (US)
Befreite Tiere (Germany)
Farm Sanctuary (US)
Harvest Home (US)
Little Hen Rescue (UK)
Peaceful Prairie (US)