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As I reflect on 2018, I am struck by what a landmark year it was for animals. Of course, we celebrate any victory, however small, but this year we were able to applaud some truly significant wins. Fur bans immediately come to mind, as do bans on circuses using animals. And let’s not forget the stories on animal testing. Will 2019 be the year that the United States finally takes note of societal changes and decides to ban animals in captivity, animal testing, and fur? As animal advocates, we have big hurdles to overcome in reaching those goals, but they are achievable. In the meantime, let’s look a deeper look at a dozen of the year’s biggest stories that activists worldwide had a hand in. After all, we deserve some good news.

1. Switzerland bans boiling lobsters alive (January)

Animal advocates have long argued that crustaceans feel pain and therefore tossing a conscious lobster into a pot of boiling water is extremely cruel. This year Switzerland became the first nation in the world to ban the practice, citing that pain lobsters feel. The new legislation was driven by research, including a study by Queen’s University in Belfast that found crustaceans are sentient creatures. “These studies show that lobsters, like other animals, experience pain and distress,” said Stefan Kunfermann, a spokesperson for the Federal Office of Food Safety and Veterinary Affairs.

2. Norway to shut down all mink and fox fur factories by 2025 (January)

This news came as a big surprise to the Norwegian Fur Breeders Association, with one spokesperson saying, “We’re shocked, shaken to the core.” Of course they were. The country has nearly 300 fur farms, which kill some 700,000 minks and 110,000 foxes a year. But times are changing, and the country’s leadership recognizes that fur is falling out of fashion.

3. Wild animals to be banned from circuses in England by 2020 (February)

When England said this year that it plans to join the growing list of nations that have banned circuses that use animals—including Austria, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru, Romania, and Singapore—some of us might have been confused. After all, the government had pledged to do this way back in 2014. The use of animals in circuses is as cruel as it is archaic: animals are “trained” using physical punishment and deprivation, and studies show they spend up to 99 percent of their time confined in cages, carriers, and other enclosures that are typically one-quarter the size recommended for the same animals in zoos. This ban is long overdue, and it’s shameful it might not go into effect until 2020—but let’s hope they follow through this time.

4. Mexico City bans dolphinariums (May)

Mexico’s capital is an inspiration. They banned circuses with animals in 2014 (the country quickly followed the city’s lead), and last year they banned dolphin performances and swim-with-dolphins programs. This year they decreed that businesses could not even keep dolphins (or sea lions), and for good measure they banned so-called “dolphin therapy,” since, according to Mexico’s Ecological Green Party, “there is no scientific evidence that these animals help as effective treatment to people.”

5. South Korea rules killing dogs for meat is illegal (June)

Although some media sources reported this as an outright ban on eating dog meat, the South Korean court simply declared that meat consumption was not a legal reason to kill dogs. The ruling came in a case brought by the animal rights group CARE against a dog farm operator. Animal advocates are hopeful that the decision will indeed lead to a ban on dog meat in the country, where 1 to 2 million canines a year are killed for human consumption. “It is very significant in that it is the first court decision that killing dogs for dog meat is illegal itself,” said Kim Kyung-eun, a lawyer for CARE. Dog meat is something of a gray area in South Korea. There is no specific ban (yet), but officials have invoked hygiene regulations or animal protection laws that ban certain slaughter methods to crack down on dog farms and restaurants. In November, authorities shut down the country’s largest slaughterhouse (see link under “Other stories of the year worth noting” below).

6. Luxembourg becomes 10th European country to ban fur farming (June)

When Luxembourg updated its animal welfare statue after 30 years in June, it not only strengthened protections for animals, it included a nationwide ban on fur farming. The new law, which was proposed in 2016, is based on the assumption that animals are “living non-human sentient beings with a nervous system scientifically capable of feeling pain and experiencing other emotions” including “suffering and anguish.” The Luxembourg Government Council added: “Animals are no longer considered as a thing, but as gifted non-human living beings with sensitivity and holders of certain rights.” Can you even imagine a government making such a statement five years ago?

7. New packaging for Barnum’s animal crackers frees animals from their cages (August)

This may seem silly to some—I mean, it’s a little box of cookies, and in a world filled with suffering and injustice, surely there are larger issues to focus on. But optics matter. When we see animal captivity on something as innocuous as a cookie box, it normalizes oppression. Changing this packaging, which for more than a century featured animals locked in cages, illustrates how the status quo won’t be tolerated. Another example of how times change: the cookies’ namesake circus, Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey, went out of business last year.

8. London Fashion Week goes fur-free for the first time in its 35-year history (September)

The news that London Fashion Week was ditching animal fur for the first time in its history came on the heels of fur-free announcements from a number of high-profile fashion houses, and it was a major victory. (It’s probably no coincidence that there had been an increase of anti-fur protesters at London Fashion week—from 25 in 2016 to more than 250 at the shows in September 2017.) The results of a survey by the British Fashion Council (BFC) found that none of the designers on the official schedule had plans to use fur in the collections they planned to show this year. “The BFC survey results reflect a cultural change based on ideals and choices made by designer businesses, international brands as well as consumer sentiment but also encouraged by the stance of multi-brand stores who are moving away from selling fur,” said the BFC in a statement. The survey is part of the BFC’s Positive Fashion initiative, which is a platform designed to support industry best practices and encourage positive changes.

9. New Zealand bans the cruel practice of mulesing (September)

I knew almost nothing about mulesing until I was researching Bleating Hearts, so I don’t expect most people to be aware of this procedure, which is common in the wool industry. As I wrote in that book, because of how sheep have been bred to grow wool, feces and urine are prone to collect on their backsides, creating an ideal environment for the blowfly to deposit eggs. (This is called myiasis, but sheep ranchers have another name for it: flystrike.) The eggs hatch into swarming maggots, which eat into flesh and can kill the animal within days. As a way to prevent flystrike, ranchers use shears to cut two large swaths of wrinkled, wool-bearing skin from beneath the sheep’s tail. To save the industry money, anesthesia and painkillers are almost never used. The open wound eventually scars, becomes smoother, and is less susceptible to flystrike. The mutilation takes about a month to heal; in the meantime, the wound itself is an inviting place for blowflies to lay their eggs. The animal advocates who have been working on this issue for years will tell you that the best step you can take for sheep is to avoid wool products altogether.

10. California becomes the first state to ban cosmetics testing on animals (September)

No, it’s not perfect, but California’s ban on using animals for cosmetics testing is still a significant victory. Going into effect January 1, 2020, the law will restrict manufacturers wishing to “import for profit, sell or offer for sale” all cosmetics produced with animal testing. Moreover, while 37 other countries have banned animal testing, the United States has remained neutral, with the FDA stating that although it doesn’t require animal testing, it “advises cosmetic manufacturers to employ whatever testing is appropriate and effective for substantiating the safety of their products.” The California ban could help bolster support for the federal Humane Cosmetics Act, which would eliminate the practice of animal testing for cosmetics nationwide.

California has been a leader on this issue for years. In 2000 it outlawed animal testing when appropriate alternatives are available, and in 2014 it passed the Cruelty Free Cosmetics Resolution, which urged Congress to prohibit animal testing for cosmetics. While the ban has some loopholes—companies can continue to fund animal testing for products and ingredients sold in countries where such testing measures are required by law, for example, and there is an exception for products for which no alternative experimentation procedures exist—it is a major step forward in the campaign to end the use of animals as test subjects.

11. Los Angeles bans the sale of fur (September)

Just months after San Francisco became the biggest city in the United States to prohibit fur sales (see link below), LA passed its own ban. “Los Angeles is one of the fashion capitals of the world, and if we can do it here, we can do it anywhere and hopefully we will be an example for the rest of the country and the rest of the world,” said Los Angeles City Council Member Paul Koretz, a sponsor of the measure. “We hope that New York City and Chicago and Miami are all watching.” The city ordinance affects fur apparel and accessories ranging from mink coats to rabbit’s foot charms.

12. New Jersey becomes first state to ban circus animals (December)

In a year that saw a number of circus bans, what makes this story a bit more newsworthy is that New Jersey is the first state in the US to prohibit “wild” animals in circuses—significant because the United States has traditionally been reluctant to forbid circuses that use animals (or, frankly, to strictly enforce animal welfare laws). The ban is named “Nosey’s Law” after a 36-year-old African elephant with arthritis who was routinely abused with bullhooks and cattle prods while traveling the country with a circus; she is now being cared for at a sanctuary. The NJ ban also covers parades, carnivals, fairs, and petting zoos.

 

Other stories of the year worth noting

Dog shoots rabbit hunter (Jan)

Vancouver Aquarium will no longer keep whales, dolphins in captivity (January)

Animal rights ad not misleading, despite complaint it shows ‘extreme approach to dairying’ (January)

Cow escapes on way to slaughterhouse, smashes through metal fence, breaks arm of man trying to catch her, then swims to safety on island in lake (February)

Wales announces ban on circuses (February)

How Australian animal activists took on the cattle industry and won (February)

San Francisco bans sales of fur (March)

DKNY and Donna Karan ditch fur (March)

India bans import of seal fur, skin (April)

Costco sells 1 million vegan burgers in 60 days (April)

Researchers uncover plant-based vitamin B12 breakthrough (May)

Sales of cow’s milk decline as consumers switch to plant-based options (June)

Baby cow escapes slaughterhouse and is raised by deer family in snowy forest (June)

Lauren Ornelas becomes first woman of color inducted into the Animal Rights Hall of Fame (July)

Wales bans circuses (July)

Burberry goes fur-free (September)

Sri Lanka to ban animal sacrifices (September)

Canada’s Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphin Act clears the Senate (October)

Fashion leader Diane von Furstenberg announces fur-free policy (October)

Portugal bans wild animals in circuses (October)

Coach goes fur-free (October)

South Korea closes dog slaughterhouse amid activist pressure (November)

The end of animal-testing in China is in sight, says regulatory expert (December)

Ethical veganism could be considered a religion in landmark tribunal case (December)

Chanel bans fur and exotic animal skins (December)

Farm bill outlaws cat and dog meat in the US (December)

Virgin Trains is officially first UK rail operator to offer vegan-friendly menu (December)

Gradually, nervously, courts are granting rights to animals (December)

 

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I didn’t know it at the time, but my journey as an animal advocate began more than two decades ago on the cobblestone streets of Pamplona, where I participated in the annual running of the bulls. As much as I’d like to say I immediately went vegan and dedicated my life to being active for animals after witnessing this cruel spectacle, the reality is more complicated. It took me years to connect the dots and recognize how my choices affected animals as well as humans. But that visit to Spain—and seeing how those bulls were treated—planted a seed. Many of us are like that, I think: we come to this movement in a variety of ways.

Of course, when I did go vegan, I was eager to spread the word about animal exploitation. But how? I found a few resources online, and a number of animal advocates were happy to answer my questions. Yet what I really could have used was a best-practices guidebook to show me the way. After years of trial and error and fits and starts, I found models of activism that made me feel fulfilled—and models that left me feeling depleted. I knew other people new to activism would have the same questions I did, so I wrote Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, which was published by Changemakers Books in 2008. I interviewed more than 100 activists from around the world, getting their advice on what tactics are effective and how anyone can get involved.

Much has changed since 2008, and the publisher agreed it was time for a new, expanded edition of the book. I am proud to say the 10th-anniversary edition of Striking at the Roots is now available (in print and digital formats), and that many vegan stores will be offering it, including Herbivore in Portland. I recently sat down with The Bearded Vegans to discuss the new book in an interview you can listen to here.

Oh, and if you have trouble finding Striking at the Roots at your local bookstore or vegan market, you can order it from Book Depository, which offers free shipping to 160 countries.

Check out the short video below for more information. Thank you!

 

Note: This book is printed in locations around the world. For copies in the United States, my publisher used a new book manufacturer, and the covers of some copies were improperly trimmed. These books were reprinted, but it might take another week or two for them to reach e-tailers like Amazon. If you are not happy with the quality of a book you ordered online, please exchange it for another one. (If you have any concerns, you can also order the book from Book Depository, which ships for free from the UK.)

 

It’s a question I hear a lot, especially from newer activists: What is the most effective model of animal activism? My response is that I wouldn’t want to characterize one form of activism as the most effective, because every social justice movement needs a variety of forms, and people generally need to hear a message in a variety of ways.

While some longtime activists might criticize so-called “hashtag activism,” for example, it has an undeniable place in our movement and is a gateway for new (and perhaps introverted) activists to ease into campaigns. As a recent article on the Psychology Today site observed, “Hashtag activism can be a powerful way to control a narrative regarding a common cause that has either been neglected or misrepresented by corporate media, and it offers the opportunity for communal participation across the globe.”

Moreover, although public disruptions may not be for everyone, it’s clear they have an impact. Last year, for instance, about 20 animal activists confronted fur-loving fashion designer Michael Kors during a speech; seven months later, he agreed to go fur-free. Was his ban on fur a direct result of the disruption? No, of course not. But it was yet another strong message—one he couldn’t ignore.

And I’ve heard some activists disparage bearing witness, participating in vigils, or giving water to animals being transported to slaughter as a waste of time, yet these activities (which are often very painful) can result in powerful images that may reach well beyond the vegan community they are shared to.

My point is that each of these models has a place in animal activism, because we need every tool in the toolbox to get our message heard. For every person whose first exposure to an animal rights message—a documentary, say, or a vegan leaflet—resulted in them going vegan, there are tens or even hundreds of thousands of people who need much more exposure to the message before it will sink in and have an effect. They need to hear about it from their family and friends, they need to see it online, they need to read op-eds and letters to editors. They might even need to listen to podcasts about it or watch a short TEDx talk. The sad truth is, people fear change, and they have been conditioned to believe that animal exploitation and consumption are socially acceptable, so activists have an enormous, culturally imposed hurdle to overcome.

(When various tactics are part of a broader campaign, it’s important that they are coordinated to reach a strategic objective. A campaign to get a local restaurant to stop serving foie gras, for instance, might rely on such tactics as communicating with the owner, outreach to the community, and demonstrations in front of the business, but they should be carefully planned to fit together and gradually escalate to achieve a more powerful impact.)

There’s an old-school marketing principle called the Rule of Seven, which states that a potential customer needs to hear your message at least seven times before they will buy your product or service. And marketing experts will tell you that to achieve those seven contacts, you must never rely on just one type of advertising—whether it’s print ads, radio, billboards, television, newsletters, digital ads, or whatever. Yes, we’re talking capitalism, but let’s not ignore how we as activists can benefit from this wisdom. People are slow to trust, so getting them to believe they need to change their behavior is a challenge. Of course, some people never “buy,” just as some people are harder to convince than others that going vegan is better for the animals, for the planet, and for themselves.

One of the models of activism I think is especially powerful—and one that is often overlooked—is telling stories … stories about animals and about our own transformations from omnivore to vegan. Animal ag apologists can argue with us about statistics and even health, but they cannot challenge our own experiences or the experiences of the animals we know.

The truth is, humans love stories. In fact, our brains light up when we hear or read a good story. A few years ago, neuroscientists at Emory University studied the neural patterns of volunteers who had each read a novel based on real events. The results showed that connectivity in participants’ left temporal cortexes—the part of the brain associated with receptivity for language—was heightened for several days afterward. Results like this suggest that narratives have much more meaning to people than facts and data. In other words, good stories can put you into someone else’s shoes.

We are drawn to stories of how people overcame adversity to become a better version of themselves, and I think that arc can be applied to the person who turns away from meat, eggs, and dairy foods to embrace veganism. Sincerity and candor are deeply moving, so don’t be afraid to admit your struggles and speak from the heart.

Emmeline can smile now.

The same goes for stories about animals who have been rescued from exploitation, whether it’s for meat, eggs, dairy, clothing, research, entertainment, or any other form of abuse. In the new edition of Striking at the Roots, I briefly tell the story of Emmeline, a rabbit who was rescued from a meat farm by my friends Tara and Heidi (with help from their friend Diana and her husband). “Because we had seen where she came from and were part of her actual rescue, we felt a special and immediate bond with her,” says Tara. “I was very protective of her experience. When she came to live with us, we spoke softly around her, moved carefully, gave her space to retreat to, and did all we could to earn her trust. We tell her every day what a good friend she is and how grateful we are that she’s with us. She’s a beloved family member, and now we can’t imagine life without her. We can only imagine what she’s seen in her short time before we rescued her, and we are in awe of her will to survive. The way to honor her is to give her the best life possible and to respect her as an individual.” To see more of Emmeline, check out the Tallulah Rabbit & Friends Facebook page.

When pressed on what my favorite model of activism is, I admit that it’s whatever form of activism you find to be the most fulfilling, because that is the activism that’s going to nourish you and keep you in the movement longer.

And I love the observation of activist and VINE Sanctuary cofounder pattrice jones. “Every successful social-change movement has involved a multiplicity of people using a multiplicity of tactics to approach a problem from a multiplicity of angles,” she says. “Some people push against the bad things that need to be changed while others pull for the good alternatives. Some people work to undermine destructive systems from within while others are knocking down the walls from without. We all need to recognize that and find our place within a multifaceted struggle, being sure to be generous and appreciative of those who are working toward the same goals using different tactics.”

 

You will find more information about the various models of activism—and staying in the movement long-term—in the new, expanded edition of Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, to be published in November.

 

Buttons from Compassion Co.

When we embrace a vegan lifestyle, we like to imagine we are bettering ourselves. We are doing our best to avoid all products that come from animals, for instance, and we do not patronize businesses that use animals or keep them in captivity. But we fall short in our quest for personal improvement (or just common decency) if we use veganism as an opportunity to embarrass others, and among the most disgraceful practices some of us engage in is shaming those who—vegan or not—don’t fit into a certain body type.

Body shaming can be overt, or it can be a subtle comment, like “you’re so brave to go to the gym” or “you look so skinny in that.” A vegan might not even be aware they are body shaming when they respond to someone’s social media post of a meal with “I could never eat that.”

That this sort of behavior happens in our movement isn’t really that surprising; after all, not only does our society place value on people with slender physiques few can emulate, but there are prominent vegan “leaders” who claim that being a “fat vegan” hinders that person’s efforts to help animals, vegan documentaries perpetuate body shaming, and major organizations use extremely offensive body shaming ads as a misguided tactic to motivate people to go vegan (I am not going to share these potentially triggering images, but you can easily find them online).

In the vegan world—home planet of the myth that someone who avoids meat, eggs, and dairy foods is either thin or on their way to being thin—body shaming takes on an extra stain of ugliness as concern trolls offer unsolicited eating advice and humiliate their fellow vegans both online and in person. I have heard dedicated animal advocates who have been shamed say they would not attend a protest or do outreach because they fear their bodies would give the public the wrong impression about vegans. I have heard about compassionate vegans who were humiliated by other vegans who doubted their plant-based eating because they were not thin. And I have heard a vegan cookbook author tell of one review she received on Amazon in which the person wrote “don’t buy her book, she is fat” (Amazon removed the review).

Andy Tabar

The bottom line is that body shaming is a form of bullying, it is hurtful and counterproductive, and it has no place in the animal rights movement. I am heartened by the efforts of vegans to speak out against body shaming, including Andy Tabar, the man behind the vegan messagewear brand Compassion Co and one-half of The Bearded Vegans podcast team. I think it was last year that he posted a photo of himself on Instagram wearing his latest shirt design, and the first comment posted about the image was “Fat vegan” and a sad face.

In a response that went viral, Andy posted, “I used to be embarrassed to tell people I was vegan because I had been shamed by the plant based dieters who say in order to represent veganism you need to fit into a specific mold. That if you’re a fat vegan you’re doing a disservice to the animals. Well, fuck that. I spent 13 months on the road educating college students about the inherent cruelty in animal agriculture with the 10 Billion Lives tour. During which I had over 10K individual conversations and I talked to so many fat people who said they never thought they could go vegan because they assumed everyone who was vegan had to be super athletic and look and eat a certain way. Then they saw me and realized that anyone can be vegan. Anyone can care about animals and take actions to prevent their exploitation. As I’ve said before, any body is capable of being a compassionate body.”

Andy has since participated in at least two vegfest panels with vegan cooking coach JL Fields and dietitian Ginny Messina in which they discuss body shaming for attendees, and the response has been tremendous. (You can hear a recording of one of their panel discussions here.)

(L to R) Ginny Messina, Andy Tabar, and JL Fields.

In addition to the panel discussion, I encourage you to visit Big Fat Vegan Zine, an online space created by Jenny Marie to explore vegan body positivity.

I also recommend you check out the work of activist Jaime Karpovich and listen to her in-depth interview on episode 170 of the Vegan Warrior Princesses Attack! podcast, on which she talks about how body positivity has become commercialized. The episode is also valuable to hear the insights of co-hosts Callie Coker and Nichole Dinato.

Body shaming is insidious, and as animal advocates, we can do better than this. We can acknowledge that whether it’s speciesism, homo aggression, racism, sexism, ableism, body shaming, or any other type of oppression, they are all connected. We can recognize that just like the animals we’re fighting to liberate, everyone has a right to their own body. And we can stop—just stop—judging others based on what they look like.

 

You will find more information about body shaming in the new, expanded edition of Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, to be published in November.

 

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that the U.S. public is closely divided over the issue of animal testing: 47 percent favor the practice, while 52 percent oppose it. That’s actually a slight improvement over results from the previous study they did, in 2014, in which 50 percent of respondents opposed animal testing.

This new survey comes as the topic of using animals for testing products and for scientific research is being hotly debated. Researchers, activists, and politicians all have a vested interest in what happens with vivisection, and most—even those who profit from using animals—seem to agree that at minimum more can be done to reduce the use of animals in labs. Among the issues up for debate are specific bans being proposed, such as California’s SB 1249, as well as HR 2790, also known as the Humane Cosmetics Act, which would phase out animal-based testing for cosmetic products in the U.S. in favor of alternative testing methods (such as computer models and in-vitro testing) and eventually ban the sale in the United States of cosmetics tested on animals in other countries.

Activists have a lot of data on their side. For example, previous research has shown that 72 percent of consumers agree that testing cosmetics on animals is unethical. Moreover, using in-vitro models to predict skin irritation in humans has resulted in accuracy rates of 76 to 86 percent. Compare that to the accuracy of just 60 percent using rabbits. You’d get pretty much the same results by flipping a coin.

I asked Monica Engebretson, North America campaign manager for Cruelty Free International, about the efforts she and her colleagues are engaged in to end the practice of animal testing. Founded in 1898 by Irish writer and suffragette Frances Power Cobbe as the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, Cruelty Free International has been agitating against vivisection since its inception.

“As an organization, Cruelty Free International has a big mission: to end animal experiments worldwide,” says Monica. “Our organization is headquartered in London, so we have campaigns that are focused in Europe as well as campaigns that reach around the world. This makes a lot of sense considering that European countries often lead the way on animal protection and then it becomes our task to get other countries to catch up. In fact, one of our big campaigns in the UK right now, called ‘Lead the Way,’ is working to end the use of dogs in toxicity testing. Another example is cosmetic testing on animals. The European Union started phasing out the use of animals for cosmetic tests in 2009 and the full ban came into effect in 2013. Following on this success, Cruelty Free International has been working in countries around the world to match this progress. Currently we are working to bring a petition of 8 million signatures to the United Nations.”

Stateside, Monica and her colleagues are working on what she calls “prioritizing alternatives” initiatives. “I think most people would be shocked to realize that even when modern non-animal tests are available there is no federal requirement that those alternatives be used in place of animal tests. As a result, hundreds of thousands of animals may be used each year in outdated tests that have scientifically valid, humane alternatives. [In contrast, the EU has mandated the use of available alternatives since 1986.] We were successful in passing such legislation in Virginia last year and came very close to passing a law in Hawaii. California, New York, and New Jersey already have similar laws in place. It’s all about moving the needle and keeping your eyes on the big picture.”

How You Can Help

Obviously, the first step is to not buy products tested on animals. Look for the Leaping Bunny logo and download the app on your smartphone.

Let the managers at stores where you shop know you appreciate them selling products not tested on animals.

Support legislation, such as HR 2790 and SB 1249.

Contact companies you like and ask if they test on animals or use animal ingredients. If they do, tell them you oppose any animal testing and the use of animal ingredients.

Sign and share the global Forever Against Animal Testing petition, which will be presented to the United Nations when 8 million signatures have been collected.

Share this information with your friends and family.

 

You will find more information about advocating for animals in the new, expanded edition of Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, to be published in November.

 

Kim Stallwood and Shelly

Kim Stallwood has been an activist for four decades, and his campaign experience includes working with the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (which has since been renamed Cruelty Free International), Compassion in World Farming, PETA, and the RSPCA. He is also the author of Growl: Life Lessons, Hard Truths, and Bold Strategies from an Animal Advocate, which is both a memoir on Kim’s work as an animal activist and his thoughts on how we can reshape animal advocacy. He has long advocated for making the moral and legal status of animals a mainstream political issue. I find his advice to be among the soundest in the movement, and I am very pleased to share this interview, in which Kim discusses such topics as the importance of lobbying elected officials on animal issues, building community within the movement, and the activist tactics he thinks are a big waste of time.

If someone were to come to you and say, “I’ve recently become vegan, and I’d like to know how I can do more for animals,” what advice would you give them on where to begin?

In your scenario, they’ve already begun. If they have become vegan, they have begun. In fact, they’ve more than begun; they have gone quite a ways down the road. Given the high rates of recidivism amongst vegans, I think maybe the best advice to give someone who is a new vegan is to think about being vegan in the long run and be aware that it’s a journey, not a destination, and that there are times when you’re going to fuck it up, and that when you do fuck it up, you should not beat yourself up over it. I used to think that guilt was a great motivator for being vegan, and I would quite happily project my guilt onto other people in order to make them, hopefully, become vegan. But I really don’t thing that’s advisable anymore.

If they’ve just become vegan, I would say that they should be mindful that being vegan is difficult, be prepared that mistakes will happen, and just do the best you can and don’t let others criticize your efforts to be vegan.

Thereafter, I would say that people need to find what they’re best at doing and where they can make a unique difference. It’s important to not feel isolated, to feel that you’ve got people with like minds, even though you may disagree on some detail, but to generally know that you’re with a like-minded group of people who are mutually supportive and can help you.

How can you best build that community? How do you not feel isolated?

The way to build a community is through trial and error. Find the people who you’re comfortable working with, collaborate, build relationships, be supportive, socialize with them—but keep some distance; don’t be intimate.

Why not be intimate?

I think you can take it too far, where you become too dependent upon other people. We all have relationships, but in the context of activists, I think you should always be mindful of not becoming too dependent, because people let other people down. People aren’t always there, though many are, thankfully. But not everyone is.

What advice do you have for activists who would like to lobby their elected officials?

Lobbying isn’t for everyone. Yes, by all means, people should lobby their elected representatives, whether it’s national, regional, or state. They should generally identify the political parties with the greatest commitments to helping animals, identify the candidates at the time of an election with the greatest commitment to animals. They should go to public meetings and other opportunities to quiz candidates at the time of an election. They should develop a platform of issues to lobby with and talk about at the time of an election. And whoever gets elected, we should hold them to account for whatever pledges they made to help ensure they implement them during the period of time they serve as a publicly elected representative. If they fail to do it, you come back to the next election and make the point that they promised to do XYZ, and they never did it.

There’s another layer of activity on top of that, which is if someone feels predisposed toward a political party, I would encourage them to join that party and work from within to raise the topic of animals as an issue of debate in order to inform other members of the party and develop positions and policies within the party. I think the ideal that we need to strive towards is when we have a national election, the political party with the greatest commitment to animals is elected to form the government so that when that party forms the government, they come ready-made, as it were, with the best pledges and promises to act in that elected cycle. The most effective way to do that is to work from within the political party. Quietly but firmly assert animal issues and build them into your general political ideology within that party. If you just go in and talk about animals and nothing else, you won’t be taken very seriously. But if you go in and talk about animal issues in relation to broader social justice and the environment and public health and so on, then the other people in the party will be more open to taking that position onboard. It’s a long process. It’s a process that other interest groups do, but the animal movement just doesn’t do it well, if at all.

How do you feel about advocates forming political parties?

I don’t speak against people forming political parties for animals, but I don’t agree with it as a strategy. There are several problems with it, in my mind. One is that it further frames the animal issue as a fringe, separate issue, whereas what I think we need to do is frame the animal issue within the democratic or republican ideologies—or labor or conservative or whatever—so that it’s seen as an integral part of that party’s belief system.

Are there any models of activism you consider to be a waste of time?

I think that actions which don’t directly focus on animal cruelty and use people-shaming in some way or make people feel guilty in some way are not the best forms of activism. I think those sorts of things are good examples of what activists feel, psychologically, they’ve got to do because no one else will do it. “Someone’s got to tell the people what’s going on and make them feel guilty.” They think guilt might change their behavior. You can identify 10, 20, 30 years ago the same types of people doing this. Where are they now?

I think one thing that’s important to tease out here is longevity—how are you [as an activist] going to stay with this? Because most people give it up. We know from animal rights conferences that there is an endless turnover of new, fresh faces who have to go through the drama and emotion of going to their first conference and the second, and then by the third they see the pattern of it and they don’t come back. How do you—how do I—keep doing it? Well, I keep doing it because I don’t want to do anything else. It gives purpose to my life. What would I be doing otherwise? I really don’t know. Which isn’t to say I don’t have interests outside of animal rights, because I do. But I think if I wasn’t doing this, I’d be doing some other form of social justice.

One of the nice things about Facebook is that you reconnect to people who you knew decades ago and you’ve lost touch with them, and they’re still doing it! [Laughs] I may think, “Oh, I didn’t like them because of such-and-such or we had a disagreement over so-and-so or I don’t like the point they are making now,” but I still feel a warmth towards them because I’m just so thrilled to see they are still doing it—they are still doing stuff to help animals.

Any final thoughts on animal activism or effective strategies?

What this movement needs more than just activist bodies doing protests—however important that is—is qualified, trained professionals who can use their education and their position in society to advance animal issues. We can all be activists, but we can’t all be doctors or lawyers or people who get elected to public office. Those specialties are really what the movement needs. I would never say to someone, “If you have the capacity to become a medical doctor, that’s what you should do, because you can use your medical degree to help animals,” if they don’t care about treating people. They’ve got to want to do it anyway, but also do it realizing that they can also help animals.

For more insights from Kim Stallwood, I highly recommend his book Growl: Life Lessons, Hard truths, and Bold Strategies from an Animal Advocate, published by Lantern Books.

You will find more information about lobbying for animals and other activist strategies in the new, expanded edition of Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, to be published in November.

 

Photo courtesy of Farm Sanctuary

She’s been called a “farm animal whisperer” and “the heart” of Farm Sanctuary. As the National Shelter Director of the organization―which rescues, rehabilitates, and houses abused and neglected animals in California and New York―Susie Coston oversees a staff of caregivers, feeders, cleaners, and project workers to ensure that the hundreds of farmed animals at the sanctuary receive the best possible care at every stage of their lives. It’s an enormous responsibility, and Susie is constantly in demand, yet she is always happy to offer support and counsel to other advocates working on behalf of animals.

Since joining the Farm Sanctuary team in 2000, Susie has assisted in rescuing countless cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals most people eat, and she has become a leading authority on animal care and behavior. Based at Farm Sanctuary’s Watkins Glen, NY, location, she may be one of the busiest people in the movement, but she is very generous with her time, and I am extremely grateful she paused long enough to offer her insights about sanctuary work and advice for other activists.

For anyone thinking of working, interning, or volunteering at a sanctuary for farmed animals, can you talk a little about the emotional highlights and struggles of this work?

The animals we care for are animals from the food industry, many who have been changed through selective breeding and genetics to live shorter lives, grow faster, produce more eggs or milk, etc., so because of this we are already up against these changes when we are attempting to have them live long, happy lives. Also, there are not solutions for all their conditions. Since they are culled [by the animal ag industry] when they get certain viral diseases, so many of the conditions they arrive with are not treatable but instead are managed. Bottom line is that euthanasia and death are part of farm animal rescue. We do everything you can possibly do, and luckily we have the best school in the country for our animals: Cornell. We have brought animals from California to Cornell since they are so much more advanced with the type of procedures we do. When these animals were bred for fast growth, short lives based on slaughter age, etc., the thing that did not change is that they are loving, amazing, sentient beings, so the loss is incredibly hard. It is the hardest part of the position. There is a sense of guilt that comes from not being able to fix the unfixable.

The second hardest is that these animals need a lot of work, especially when they come in and when they are older. The work is physically exhausting, which makes the emotional a lot worse and harder to handle. Many of these animals are huge and you can get physically hurt, but the biggest issue is the work is backbreaking. It is also not pretty. You never come home without being covered in feces, blood, mud, etc. Part of the job.

The good outweighs the bad in my opinion, of course, because there is nothing on Earth like seeing happy, confident, healthy animals. Nothing can compare.

What do you mean when you say “not being able to fix the unfixable,” and how should sanctuary workers cope with it?

We are fighting a battle that is not going to be easily won, and we’re rescuing animals who have been genetically changed to grow bigger breasts, lay more eggs, produce more muscle, and are designed to live just 36 to 40 days or six months. We want them to live forever because we see them as an individual. Sadly, they are not built to live forever. So instead of taking it all on yourself―“I could have done more,” etc.―recognize that not all of their issues are fixable. Recognize that you may fail to save an animal who arrives in a condition that is not fixable, a condition that in many cases is manmade. And even more important, recognize that you cannot save them all. We have to be able to let go of those things out of our control, so we can function in our role as educators and care providers.

You doubtless have countless examples of how an animal affected you personally. Can you share one?  

Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur

It happens daily―seriously, it does. One that affected me was with Sebastian pig, who was well known as the bad boy of the pig barn. He has done some serious damage to caregivers’ pants, but also has really bit and chased a lot of people. He just doesn’t really like when he feels people are invading his space―like if they are squeezing past him or trying to get in the barn when he is at the gate. And sometimes, it is completely unprovoked.

I met him, as did others, as a tiny little piglet who was mouthy, but many are. I just never had a problem with him―we seem to get each other. Well, we had a video crew visit the farm, and they were interviewing me about my own life, and during the discussion I started crying. And Sebastian got up from his own bed across the barn and walked right up to me and plopped down beside me. No aggression, which is usually the response with new people like the camera crew, but instead he just stayed with me, and oddly I felt really safe. I think we give each other those feelings: safety, love, friendship.

In a one-on-one conversation, what do you say when you’re trying to convince someone to go vegan?

Most of my one-on-one conversations are about my relationships with these animals and where they came from. What I have seen personally when we do the rescue and then when they are finally happy, is how incredible it is that these animals who were once terrified now trust you, bond with another animal, etc. I try, not always successfully, to be as positive as I can and not make people feel attacked; I try to really get attached to the animals―cell phone photos help―and then give people very basic info.

At conferences, I’ve heard you say activists should not push themselves to view graphic images. Can you explain why you feel that way?

I think unless you are a police officer who needs to go through videos to make arrests, most people working on the ground are not watching video after video of death, rape, and violence against the beings they are attempting to protect. Because those acts are illegal, of course, they cannot be shown publicly. The videos that animal activists watch generally depict completely legal acts—because animals are considered property and have few protections—but we seem to almost thrive on watching these videos, which I think leads to burnout. On social media, I unfriend those people who only post pictures of cats being skinned, for example, or videos of an animal being tortured. It causes you to shut down. I also think it leads to more violent responses—and deep anger, which is not going to effect the changes we are hoping to see.

You said earlier that the good outweighs the bad. What else keeps you going?

There are so many times when it seems like there is no way you can deal with what you see, but while you are at a case, you have to work: help get animals loaded, assess what they need to survive a trip, etc. You go into work mode. Same with stockyard visits. High adrenaline keeps you going, but later it crashes in on you. But even when it does, in most cases we have the animals who came from these places. They are safe, we are working with them, they start to trust us and again, in most cases, they turn around. Some are so scared they throw themselves into walls or fences, and to see them join a herd or a flock and watch them finally feel safe, it just motivates you to keep going. Because there is hope. I see it not just with the animals, but when people are visiting and seeing a pig or a chicken for the first time and learning about them and touching them for the first time. And hearing them say, “I can never eat pork again” or “I had no idea that milk was cruel.” We cannot save them all, but we can help some and tell their stories. Those few can reach thousands or millions of people, and maybe they will stop eating the billions.

Finally, can you talk a little about the importance of activists visiting sanctuaries for self-care?

I do think that activists should visit sanctuaries because they can see the happiness of animals that they are fighting for every day. Seeing an animal even at a small farm is so different than seeing animals who are thriving and feel secure at a sanctuary. It gives some semblance of hope and also shows that even after the abuse, these animals can recover mentally and physically. I find it makes me stronger knowing that they can live through some of the most egregious acts, and come from the most horrific conditions, and forgive and live life fully and happily.

 

You will find more information about animal sanctuary work in the new, expanded edition of Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, to be published in November.

 

 

Using dogs to hunt small mammals—most notably foxes, who are often considered “pests”—has been an unfortunate part of British society for hundreds of years. As red-coated hunters on horseback follow, trained dogs with a keen sense of smell chase the scent of a fox through the countryside until they catch and kill their prey. A law banning the blood sport, known as the Hunting Act, came into force in February of 2005, making it illegal to hunt foxes, hares, minks, and deer with hounds in England and Wales. (A similar ban had been passed in Scotland in 2002.)

But many—many—hunters refuse to give up on this cruel activity and have sought loopholes and other means to continue. One such solution was their creation of a sort of hybrid pastime called “trail hunting,” in which the dogs and hunters ostensibly only follow a scent (often fox urine) laid by a hunt enthusiast, and no prey animal is killed. At least that’s how it works in theory. Dogs don’t often follow the rules, however, and they frequently come upon foxes and chase and kill them. When this happens, the hunt organizers inevitably call it “an accident.”

Foxes suffer horrible deaths when they are caught by the dogs.

Working to keep the hunters honest—and animals alive—are campaigners who go into the countryside armed with video cameras to closely monitor and even disrupt the hunts, something they’ve been doing since long before the Hunting Act. It’s a form of direct action known as hunt sabotage, and the activists engaged in it are known as hunt saboteurs (or simply hunt sabs). The hunt sabs also sometimes use horns to confuse the dogs and Citronella spray to prevent them from getting onto the scent of the animals.

I recently spoke with Alfie Moon of the Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA), one of the most active groups in the UK, about his work as a hunt sab.

Can you give us a little information on your background? How long have you been an activist and how did you get started?

I have been an activist for as long as I can remember. My mum and sisters were anti-apartheid campaigners. I remember putting ‘Don’t Buy Apartheid’ stickers on apples in supermarkets when I was a kid! By the time I was in my teens, I was heavily into CND [campaign for nuclear disarmament] and anti-racist stuff.

Do you remember the first time you went out hunt sabbing? What was your experience like?

I started sabbing when I was about 17 after running into a hunt on a country lane when I was out on my bike. I must have known that hunting existed, but it wasn’t high on my list of priorities until I met the arrogant bastards for the first time. I wasn’t part of any organised group, but I continued to disrupt hunts—probably to no real effect—every time I came across them. In 1996 I was introduced to the Croydon sab group. I was quickly shown how to effectively disrupt a hunt. The group was very welcoming, and I am still friends with many of them after all this time. I have sabbed almost every weekend since then.

What impact does hunt sabbing have on hunting? Is it a successful model of activism?

Hunt sabotage is very effective. In the days before the Hunting Act, hunts would kill four to six foxes every time they went out un-sabbed. If sabs were present, kills were rare. Since the Act, sabbed hunts have to be extremely cautious and many are now genuinely trail hunting when sabs are present. Hunt sabotage helped to keep hunting in the news, and undoubtedly contributed to the legislation.

Are there any special skills or physical abilities required to be a hunt saboteur?

Sabs close in on hunters and hounds. Photo courtesy of the Hunt Saboteurs Association.

There are many desirable skills for a hunt saboteur. Understanding how the hunt operates is crucial to disrupting it. It helps if you can run like the wind, navigate, and give clear, concise radio messages, and being able to blow a hunting horn correctly is a massive bonus. Not every sab will have all of the necessary skills, but effective teamwork overcomes that problem.

What’s a hunting horn?

The hunting horn is a small musical instrument used by the Huntsman to give instructions to the hounds. Different tunes have different meanings. Sabs learn to play the horn, usually blowing the ‘come back’ when hounds are chasing something. Sabs also use homemade whips to make a noise that tells the hounds they are doing the wrong thing when they are after live quarry. [Here’s a quick demonstration of the hunting horn.]

Besides the hunting horn, what are some of the tools and equipment hunt sabs use?

The key pieces of equipment for hunt sabs are a video camera, phone, GPS, OS [ordnance survey] map, gizmo [a loudspeaker playing a recording of hounds barking excitedly as the follow a scent], and Citronella spray.

What do you do with the video you record of the hunts?

The video cameras are mainly a deterrent, both against illegal hunting and hunt violence. They don’t always work! Unfortunately, the Hunting Act is so badly worded that the level of proof required for a conviction is incredibly high. Sabs will review video footage of the day and decide if it is worth passing to the authorities, but the police and CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] usually claim there is insufficient evidence for a prosecution. Most of the more damning sab video therefore ends up on social media, where, I suspect, we are predominantly preaching to the converted!

What is your best advice for activists who would like to participate in hunt sabs?

My advice to anyone who wants to become a sab is to get in touch with their local group, get out there, and see how it goes. Sabbing isn’t for everyone, but until you try it, you can’t know.

What keeps you going after all your years of activism?

What keeps me going after more than 30 years of activism is this quote: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

 

Note: There is an HSA branch in the United States, where plenty of hunting activity is ripe for disruption. Click here for information.

You will find more information about hunt sabbing and many other forms of activism in the new, expanded edition of Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, to be published in November.

 

 

Last month, as Black Panther was breaking box office records and teenage activists were shaming the NRA, calls for animal testing bans were also making headlines around the world.

First, the California Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act entered the state legislature. If passed as is, the bill will ban the sale of animal-tested hygiene or beauty products such as makeup, shampoos, and deodorants throughout California by 2020. It would also encourage manufacturers across the country to stop selling animaltested products. The bill will bring California law in line with regulations in nearly 40 countries―including the European Union, India, Israel, New Zealand, Taiwan, and Turkey―that already prohibit the sale of new animal-tested cosmetics. (The California bill follows anti-animal-testing legislation proposed in Hawaii in January.)

Also last month, Members of the European Parliament from the EU’s Environment Committee called for a worldwide ban on the use of animals for cosmetics testing. The EU’s ban on animal-tested cosmetics went into effect in 2013, and the MEPs pointed out that this has not prevented the EU cosmetics industry from thriving and providing some 2 million jobs.

Although the U.S. government currently mandates that the toxicity of drugs be tested on animals and shown to be safe, analyzing the toxicity of household products like cosmetics and detergents on animals is not legally required. Yet the FDA and other agencies encourage manufacturers to conduct whatever toxicological tests they believe are appropriate to substantiate the safety of their products. Thus, every year companies subject millions of conscious animals to an extensive range of gruesome “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 some other unspeakable torture results in a painful death.

Sadly, the abuse of animals in the name of product safety goes well beyond the substances being tested. The same kind of frustration we see among animal agriculture and slaughterhouse workers—who often react to the extreme stress of their jobs by lashing out at animals—is evident among lab technicians, who may be entirely desensitized to the pain and distress of animal victims. These test lab workers have been known to beat animals, who are routinely left to languish in filthy cages between experiments and denied even the slightest kindness.

Fortunately, a growing number of companies have abandoned animal testing in favor of humane alternatives, and many organizations are campaigning against the use of animals as test subjects.

What You Can Do:

1. Don’t buy products tested on animals. Look for the Leaping Bunny logo and download the app on your smartphone.

2. Then … Support companies such as The Body Shop, Dr. Bronner’s, and Kiss My Face that sell products not tested on animals. (Here’s a list of vegan makeup brands and here’s one of drug store brands.)

3. Urge your legislators to support the Humane Cosmetics Act (H.R. 2790), which would end the manufacture and sale of animal-tested cosmetics in the U.S. Click here to begin.

4. Contact companies you like and ask if they test on animals or use animal ingredients. If they do, tell them you oppose any animal testing and the use of animal ingredients.

5. Sign and share the global Forever Against Animal Testing petition, which will be presented to the United Nations when 8 million signatures have been collected.

6. Raise awareness. Wear t-shirts, stickers, and buttons that tell people you don’t support animal testing. You’ll find them at sites such as Café Press, Etsy, and Zazzle, as well as from vegan companies like Herbivore and Meaningful Paws.

7. Share this post with your family and friends and ask them to take action, too!

 

 

 

Recently, I had the privilege of speaking at an Evening of Kindness event in Melbourne, Australia, organized by Edgar’s Mission. I spoke to a roomful of animal advocates about compassion fatigue and burnout, and I offered some suggestions for self-care.

I’ve spoken on this topic for 10 years or so at various animal advocacy venues, but this time, when I addressed some of the triggers that can lead to burnout, I felt obligated to mention sexual harassment in our movement. After my presentation, the only questions and comments I got were about this topic, and they were all from women, including one who disclosed that she had experienced it. Clearly, the animal rights movement has a sexual harassment problem—and it has for a long time.

Sexual harassment occurs everywhere, but within the animal rights movement it is especially pervasive, in part because there are so many more women than men and in part because of the higher status men often have. Men are hailed as “heroes,” regarded as lending legitimacy to campaigns, and looked upon as natural leaders. Many of these men use their status to manipulate, harass, and even sexually assault female employees, volunteers, and interns within AR organizations. Women are told that if they speak out, they will be hurting the animals. In some cases, the victims are threatened with lawsuits or physical violence if they go public.

Consider for a moment the tragic irony of how sexism and misogyny (coupled with no small amount of male privilege) impact a movement that prides itself on working for liberation. Do the male CEOs, managers, supervisors, and others who treat women like objects and property not see how their attitudes and actions contradict the most fundamental philosophy of animal rights—not to mention how they’re forcing so many talented, hard-working, and compassionate women to leave?

With the growth of the #MeToo campaign, we are beginning to see certain men in power (and men almost always hold the power over women) held accountable for their behavior and crimes within politics and the entertainment and media industries. That rising tide seems to be lifting the animal rights movement, as well. Men are being terminated from their positions within animal protection organizations for harassing women—something I cannot imagine would have happened even a few years ago. Pressure is coming from donors, too. Tofurky, for example, now requires nonprofits that want a donation from the company to show they have a written policy for dealing with sexual harassment and protecting whistleblowers.

If you’re a man (or you identify as a man) in the animal rights movement, and you truly respect women and value them as colleagues, please:

  • Be a strong ally.
  • Believe them when they tell you they’ve been harassed or assaulted.
  • Ask what you can do to support them.
  • Do not tolerate sexist jokes or campaigns.
  • Respect women’s boundaries.
  • Do not normalize the behavior of abusers by making excuses for them or giving them a platform.

Remember, men, that you are fighting injustice; campaigning against one form of domination while participating in or allowing another perpetuates systemic oppression. Women drop out of the movement because of this.

I cannot overstate how serious or pervasive this issue is. Please take some time to read these recent blog posts by longtime animal activists lauren Ornelas, pattrice jones, and Carol J. Adams. These are very illuminating reads.

Finally, if you are a victim of sexual harassment or assault (or you’re not sure if you have been victimized), there’s a new resource called the Coalition Against Nonprofit Harassment and Discrimination that you can turn to for guidance.

You are not alone.

 


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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