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Like many of us, animal activist James DeAlto always wanted to do something more. So he recently began chalking simple vegan and animal rights messages on public pathways and other prominent spots around his home in Raleigh, NC. The positive response from people on his “chalktivism” led James to launch the #VeganChalkChallenge, inspiring others to spread messages of compassion, peace, and hope. “This is not about creating a masterpiece,” James says, “it’s about fostering a sense of empowerment for activists who, like myself, are still apprehensive about wearing a vegan t-shirt for fear of ridicule or rejection.”
I caught up with James between chalkings to ask him about this unique form of activism—and how others can get involved.
What is the Vegan Chalk Challenge?
The Vegan Chalk Challenge is an idea that sprang out of the many positive experiences I had after I began writing vegan chalk messages in my own neighborhood and along nature paths in Raleigh. I decided to see if I could use social media to challenge others to do the same in their own community. So, I created a Facebook event with the goal of getting 100 other people to sign up. To my surprise, nearly 1,200 signed up. The overwhelming response has led me to wonder just how far we can take this as a movement.
What inspired you to use chalk in your activism?
For a long time, I had mostly been a student of the vegan/animal rights movement. I spent most of my time reading books, scouring websites, desperately trying to convince friends and family to go vegan, having fruitless debates online, and not actually doing much real-world activism. I felt guilty for not doing more, so I started to think about ways that I could incorporate simple, effective activism into my everyday life.
I walk my dogs every day on a paved greenway where there’s quite a few walkers, runners and bikers. I figured it would be simple enough to write a vegan message on the pavement. So, I bought a box of chalk and did just that. I began posting pictures on Facebook and the response I got was amazing. People absolutely loved what I was doing.
I was motivated to keep going with my “chalktivism” largely because my messages seem to offer a sense of validation in a world where the word “vegan” often carries a stigma. Putting my chalk messages out there gives me a sense of empowerment. It allows me to stand up for animals in a way that minimizes the emotional risk, while still giving me the satisfaction of knowing that what I’m doing is effective.
What kinds of responses are you getting from people who see these messages?
My neighbors and people I meet tell me they love what I’m doing. I’m sure there are some who aren’t thrilled with it, but I’ve only had one person ever tell me they didn’t like my messages. She was rather curmudgeonly and could only answer, “I like meat” when I asked what she didn’t like about it.
My next-door neighbor is a Trump supporter and a rabid meat-eater. He loves it. He always asks me when I’m going to do my next one. That tells me this works. Other people I regularly see on my walks tell me they take pictures and love the positive, creative messages I leave.
Why do you think this form of activism works?
First, it’s simple. It requires so little time. I can literally write a message like “Vegan Is Love” in 15 seconds inside a busy parking deck and it will be seen by hundreds of people.
Second, it’s unexpected. Just seeing the word “vegan” in a public space, written as a personal, artistic expression of one’s beliefs, is unexpected and makes people curious. When people see these messages in nature, especially in parks or greenways, they’re in a headspace to actually contemplate the message, to discuss its merits with their walking partner or to reflect on a time when they may have previously been vegetarian or vegan. In parks and on greenways, the distractions are much fewer and because my messages are appearing in spaces where political expression is unexpected, the messages are memorable.
Third, it’s emotional. People who read my messages intuitively understand there’s an emotional element that inspired me to take action. People are interested in not only the message, but in the person behind the message. The mystery for those who haven’t yet figured out it’s me has become a very interesting aspect of this story which keeps people’s attention and leaves them interested to see what I’m going to write next.
Fourth, since it’s not an in-person solicitation, viewers are less likely to be defensive. Chalk is usually associated with childhood and people are naturally curious. My neighbors, when they find out it’s been me leaving the messages, have often told me they thought it was a little girl! Because I’m usually absent when people read the message, the focus is squarely on the words themselves, removing any negative bias the recipient may have otherwise had based on my appearance or body language.
Fifth, chalk messages lead to conversations. People have told me they’re thinking more about their food choices because of my actions. Knowing my audience is already concerned with health and environmental issues, I like to leave messages that will encourage them to talk about these particular issues. I’ll often use statistics from Cowspiracy with the message “Watch Cowspiracy on Netflix.” Or, I’ll write something health-related and write “Watch Forks Over Knives on Netflix.” If I can get people to watch these movies over a span of an hour and a half, I feel that’s a great payoff for taking a few minutes to write a chalk message.
Sixth, effective activism strengthens the vegan community. Public chalk messages offer other vegans a sense of validation. I have a vegan therapist who runs on the greenway where I leave my messages. She told me that the first time she saw one, she threw her arms up in the air and yelled, “Yes!” What we’re doing provokes a sense of excitement in “closet vegans,” offering the assurance there are others out there like themselves. This can go a long way toward normalizing veganism, which I think is one of our main tasks as a movement.
Seventh, the afterlife of a chalk message is much longer than what we leave on the pavement. When people post their pictures Facebook, the love and appreciation that pours out in the comments fuels my desire to go out and do more. When others post pictures of their own chalk messages and share their personal experiences, it makes my entire day. What’s most exciting is the growing community of activists who are starting to see the potential in what we’re doing. The Vegan Chalk Challenge has become an unfolding story, which makes it very exciting for me personally.
What other types of activism are you engaged in?
I also do a lot of online activism, helping new vegans find their footing and sharing valuable resources. I’ve found a good deal of success planting seeds with people who are already interested in things like environmental protection, compassion and concern for animals.
This year I founded a new group in Raleigh called “Vegans for Peace.” Our focus is on bringing people into the vegan community through the use of low-cost advertising like chalking, highway signs (like the ones you so often see for queen-sized mattresses) and leaflets. We’re finding new ways to get the vegan message out there via simple means we’ve not capitalized upon in the past.
I’ve started doing some community organizing as well. On February 13th, I’m organizing a “Vegan Moral March on Raleigh” as part of the much larger 10th-annual “Mass Moral March on Raleigh.” We’ll be marching alongside thousands of other progressives, bringing attention to the plight of nonhuman animals and the devastating human and environmental impacts of animal agriculture.
Do you see this form of activism catching on within the animal rights/vegan movement?
I see a lot of potential for this simple, creative form of resistance. If we were to do engage in this type of action with regularity and in big enough numbers, I believe there’s a lot we could accomplish.
I’m very drawn to the concept of collective action that will get these critical issues on the table as quickly as possible. I admire groups like Collectively Free who are building communities based on public disruptions of speciesism. We need collective actions that are newsworthy. In this sense, I believe collective chalking is very much worth considering. “Chalk-bombing” public spaces with positive vegan messages of hope, empathy, peace, and love could potentially get the media talking if we do it in big enough numbers. Like the ice-bucket challenge, it’s so innocuous and fun that we can likely get vegan celebrities to join us.
Another major advantage I see with chalking is that non-active vegans are more likely to join in. As opposed to other forms of activism, when I ask people to come out chalking with me, there’s rarely any hesitation. This is a simple, fun, unthreatening form of disruption that is very unexpected in public spaces. Entire families can come and have a good time doing it. There’s no need to organize or to discuss strategy or tactics. There’s nearly zero risk of getting into trouble. I think it’s a great look for our movement.
I feel confident this approach will, at the very least, get the issue on the pavement. With enough people doing it, I believe we could easily get the issue into mainstream discussion in a way that would be very interesting and inviting.
What advice do you have for other animal advocates who might like to use chalk messages in their activism?
First, I would say don’t worry about messing up or if you don’t consider yourself a great artist. I’ve been told I have nice handwriting, but I’m hardly an artist. If you mess up, it doesn’t matter. The animals don’t care too much about penmanship or spelling. They just want us to speak out for them as loudly, as effectively and as often as possible.
Second, I would recommend writing messages centered around empathy, compassion, kindness, love, mercy, hope, peace, etc. Non-vegans tell me they find my messages interesting and approachable even if they’re challenging. Also, parents are far more likely to complain if their kids are confronted with messages that imply meat-eaters are murderers, rapists, slave-owners, or Nazis.
Third, if you’re interested in trying this, work on ways to integrate it into your daily routine. It’s easy to forget and it does require developing a new habit. You might try keeping a box of chalk in your car and a Post-it note on your dashboard reminding you to write messages. If you’re a student, you might consider keeping a few pieces of chalk in a plastic baggy inside your backpack. If you’re a runner or a biker, it’s easy enough to carry some chalk with you when you hit the trails.
Fourth, figure out what you want to say ahead of time. This makes it easier and less stressful when you find the perfect spot to leave your message. If you’re not sure what to say, a simple message like “Vegan Is Love” is perfect.
Fifth, consider leaving a web link like www.freefromharm.com, which offers people a call to action. Many times, I’ll just write, “Watch Cowspiracy on Netflix” since Netflix is something people are already familiar with. This lends more credibility to the message. I’ve cultivated a list of messages that I feel are effective. I have them posted on our Vegan Chalk Challenge Facebook page for anyone interested.
Sixth, take pictures and video and share them on social media! This is perhaps as valuable as the messages themselves. The traction I get from posting pictures on Facebook and Instagram is what inspires others to go out and do the same. Images of people walking by and engaging with the message are especially effective. Videos of people expressing positive reactions are incredibly valuable. When taking pictures, try to take them from an angle that gives a good sense of the surroundings. For example, try to get a shot of the message along with the long empty pathway in the background.
Seventh, smooth pavement is much easier to write on.
Eighth, consider organizing a vegan chalk party as part of your local activist group’s regular activities. Going out with friends to do this is an effective way of strengthening community. You can all get out into nature together and help animals at the same time.
Ninth, don’t overthink it! The animals really don’t give a damn whether or not our chalk messages are museum-worthy. As with anything, practice and you’ll get better quickly. Unleash your creativity for animals! Be proud to take a bold stance!
Tenth, just have fun and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing your messages are making a difference!
Do check out James’ Vegan Chalk Challenge Facebook page for more information and inspiring photos.
As I reflect on 2015, I am reminded of many wins for animals. Countries banning animal testing. Cities prohibiting bullhooks. Airlines pledging to not transport animal trophies. Activists liberating animals. Is it just me, or do these victories seem to be happening more and more often? Yes, we still have a long way to go, but let’s take time to celebrate some of the many positive changes animal advocates were able to enact.
- Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announces it will phase out the show’s iconic elephants from its performances by 2018 (March)
This is one of my very favorite stories of the year, not just because it’s great news for elephants, but because it demonstrates the power of activism. Animal advocates have been staring down circuses that use animals for decades, and this year, the biggest circus in the world blinked. In the wake of the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which exposes the plight of orcas in captivity, and ongoing outreach by activists, public sentiment has gradually been turning in favor of animals, and Ringling Bros. no doubt saw the writing on the wall. Alana Feld, the show’s producer, admitted as much, telling the AP that “a lot of people aren’t comfortable with us touring with our elephants.”
The move was also prompted by municipalities across the United States—including Austin, Los Angeles, and Oakland—banning the use of bullhooks, which circuses, zoos, and other animal exploiters use to punish and control elephants.
The ordinance, which took effect on May 21, is designed to “protect wild and exotic animals from cruel and inhumane treatment and to protect the public from the danger posed by the use of wild and exotic animals for entertainment.” It bars any public showing, carnival, fair, parade, petting zoo, ride, race, film shoot, or other undertaking in which wild or exotic animals “are required to perform tricks, fight or participate as accompaniments for the entertainment, amusement or benefit of an audience.”
The Motion Picture Association of America argued that the ordinance would prevent animals from working in movies filmed in San Francisco, even if the shows had proper permits and animal handlers approved by the federal government. Supervisor Katy Tang, who proposed the ordinance, said film and TV productions were not exempted because “we don’t want to undermine the underlying message of our legislation that animal abuse is not going to be tolerated.”
It was as quick as it was brazen. Just before 8:00 pm on Friday, May 8, a group of activists walked into Ka Shing Chinese restaurant in Dublin, Ireland, and while some of the activists distracted employees, several others reached into a large fish tank and removed nine lobsters, placing them into plastic bags. As recorded on video, the activists later released the crustaceans into the sea at Clontarf. Laura Broxson, spokesperson for the group, told news media, “For us it was an act of compassion, and we are willing to face any legal consequences brought to us because now these lobsters have a chance of living instead of being boiled alive and eaten.”
While this may not have been the biggest news of the year for animals, I appreciate the courage of the activists and how the story helped raise awareness about the suffering of crustaceans.
It began with a complaint filed by the Indian nonprofit People for Animals (PFA) against a pet shop owner in 2014 and ended with Justice Manmohan Singh declaring, “Birds have fundamental rights, including the right to live with dignity, and they cannot be subjected to cruelty by anyone. Therefore, I am clear in mind that all the birds have fundamental rights to fly in the sky and all human beings have no right to keep them in small cages for the purposes of their business or otherwise.”
PFA said the pet shop owner was selling the birds in tiny cages without enough food or water. But a trial court released the birds back into his custody on the grounds they were his “pets.” Appealing to a higher court, PFA demonstrated that the owner was selling the birds for profit and neglecting them. “This court is of the view that running the trade of birds is in violation of the rights of the birds,” said Justice Singh. “They deserve sympathy.”
You may recall that in 2013, India banned dolphin shows, saying that because dolphins are by nature “highly intelligent and sensitive,” they ought to be seen as “nonhuman persons” and should have “their own specific rights.” Now the country seems to be on the verge of banning elephant rides.
In 2014, we reached a tragic tipping point: There are now more elephants being killed than being born. At this rate, conservationists say, we could lose these animals entirely within 20 years. Driving this slaughter is ivory, which is seen around the world as a luxury item. Many consumers don’t realize the toll this product takes on the lives of elephants and other animals, such as hippos and walruses (whose teeth are also used). China represents one of the world’s largest markets for ivory, so their announcement that they will be banning all sales and manufacture of ivory products is good news indeed. What remains to be seen is exactly how and when they will do this.
- New Zealand amends law to recognize animals as ‘sentient’ beings, bans animal testing on cosmetics (May)
It’s been a good year for animals in New Zealand. The government proposed a ban on the use of animals in testing cosmetics in March, and then enacted that ban in May by amending its 1999 Animal Welfare Act to formally recognize animals as “sentient beings that can experience pain and distress.” This is the first time this shift in perception and policy has been extended to all animals, not just chimpanzees, orangutans, or dolphins. The decision to ban animal testing comes after the Green Party and animal rights advocates lobbied for a year to criminalize cosmetics testing on guinea pigs and rabbits.
On the downside, this new law does not include a ban on the sale of animal-tested cosmetics imported into the country.
Photographic and video images are some of the most powerful tools in the animal activist’s toolkit. Undercover videos of animal agriculture workers violently abusing animals and images of farmed animals living in deplorable conditions are as heartbreaking as they are horrifying, yet they serve an important role in educating the average consumer about where their food comes from. But as more ag companies are being caught on camera and called out for their cruelties, they have teamed up with legislators to make capturing unauthorized photos and videos on farms a crime in many states.
One such state to attempt to enact a so-called “ag-gag” law was Idaho. In February 2014, the state’s governor signed the “Agricultural Security Act” into law, which imposed fines and jail time on activists who secretly film abuse on Idaho’s commercial farms. (This was in response to a video taken by Mercy For Animals that depicted animal abuse by workers on Bettencourt Dairy farms, including the sexual abuse of cows.) On August 3 of this year, a U.S. District Court struck down the Act as unconstitutional.
In the wake of the death of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, major air carriers including American Airlines, British Airways, Delta Airlines, Lufthansa, Qantas, and United Airlines pledged they would no longer transport buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard, or rhino “trophies.” In other words, a well-heeled hunter who travels overseas to kill an animal will have no stuffed carcass or head to display on his or her wall at home. This should remove at least some of the incentive to shoot these remarkable beings.
Not surprisingly, Safari Club International is doing its best to get these bans reversed.
- Whole Foods Market ends sales of rabbit meat (September)
Regular readers of this blog know I have a huge soft spot for rabbits. But what I especially love about this story is it demonstrates the power of activism. (Read more about this in a previous blog.) Kudos to everyone who stood outside their local Whole Foods Market to leaflet and educate consumers, who let store managers know how they felt, who signed petitions, and who reminded others that advocating on behalf of rabbits didn’t mean we felt they were more deserving of protection than cows, chickens, pigs, fish, or other species—only that the last thing Whole Foods needs is another animal to exploit and kill. Moreover, we knew that as a retail trendsetter, if Whole Foods succeeded in creating a market for rabbits, other store chains would follow.
After years of legal challenges by Canada and Norway, the European Parliament voted to strengthen the EU ban on trade in commercial seal products. The ban was introduced in 2009 amid public outrage at the cruelty involved in seal “hunts.” International observers have witnessed seals as young as three months old drowning with gunshot wounds and being bludgeoned to death. But seal hunt nations Canada and Norway had attempted to overturn the ban ever since in a series of legal challenges.
The vote deleted the so-called “Marine Resources Management” exception—extending the ban to products resulting from hunts to protect fishing stocks—and made minor modifications to the Indigenous Communities exception. It brings the EU embargo into line with World Trade Organization rules, and campaigners say it will protect millions of seals from commercial slaughter.
Although the use of bear bile for traditional medicines in Vietnam is now technically illegal, bear-bile farmers take advantage of loopholes, and authorities lack resources to enforce the law, so the practice continues. According to the nonprofit Animals Asia, there are now some 1,245 Asiatic black bears being held in Vietnam, down from about 4,000 in 2014, as more medicine practitioners make use of non-animal alternatives for their curative powders, ointments, and pills.
Yet the bears who remain in captivity suffer unimaginable pain and stress. According to Animals Asia, bears either undergo a crude surgery every three months to remove the bile from their bladders―usually dying from infection after the fourth operation―or they are restrained and repeatedly jabbed with long hypodermic needles until the gallbladder is located. A pump is then attached to the needle and bile is drawn into a large glass bottle. Though the surgical method is no longer widely practiced, the latter procedure is as terribly unhygienic, and bears often suffer a lingering, agonizing death from peritonitis (abdominal inflammation).
Now, thanks to negotiations with Animals Asia, Vietnam’s Traditional Medicine Association has promised to completely end the use of bears by 2020. This won’t completely end the bear-bile industry—other cultures have a long tradition of using bears—but this is certainly a huge step forward.
- 2 years after retiring most of its chimps used for research, the NIH is ceasing its chimp program altogether (November)
“This is how social change happens: not with a bang but a whimper. The government is effectively saying that any medical advances that may be achieved by using apes are irrelevant; the scientists are effectively saying that using apes is not worth the trouble; and society is heaving a big shrug and assuming this was all figured out a long time ago. Only the activists who worked for decades on this issue—who were vilified as anti-science, anti-human, and unrealistic—know how hard it was to move us to this point. It is to them, and not the government or the scientists or society as a whole, that I offer the deepest of bows. All of us are in your debt.”
Finally, I had every intention of listing the news from July that Nepal will no longer sacrifice animals at its massive Gadhimai festival—a victory activists have been working hard on for years—but there are conflicting stories about the status of the ban, as you can read here. The next festival will be held in 2019, so let’s hope we get confirmation the ban is indeed in place well ahead of that.
Other stories of the year worth noting:
Luxembourg bans fox hunting (January)
Guinness to go vegan (November)
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.
The 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 shoppers 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.”
“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:
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.
October 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.
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!Follow @markhawthorne
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.
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.Follow @markhawthorne
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.
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 with 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!”
“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!
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 email@example.com
H.E. Mr. Jun Yamazaki – Deputy Representative of Japan to the UN firstname.lastname@example.org
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: email@example.com
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com. (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.
This 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
Learn more about foie gras—and share your knowledge with others!
Click here for more information on supporting animal rights prisoners.Follow @markhawthorne
Two 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.Follow @markhawthorne
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.
As 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.