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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He really was a miracle bunny.


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read the full report here.



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

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

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

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

Among the facts the book examines:

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

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

Last year, two Los Angeles-based animal activists—Tyler Lang and Kevin Olliff—were indicted under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) for allegedly releasing 2,000 mink and foxes from fur farms. They previously faced state charges of “possession of burglary tools” after a traffic stop in August 2013 in which police allegedly found wire cutters and other similar items in their vehicle. Tyler and Kevin both pleaded guilty to the state charges and served jail sentences.


Next week, the court will hear arguments on their attorneys’ motion to dismiss the federal charge based on the constitutionality of the AETA. They argue that the AETA is unconstitutional because it makes no distinction between loss caused by criminal acts and loss caused by boycotts and other constitutionally-protected activity, and that, in any event, punishing non-violent activity as “terrorism” is an unconstitutional denial of due process. This will be a landmark court battle for both activists and the US Constitution—and especially historic because it is the first time a judge will be ruling on the portion of the AETA that makes it a crime to cause a loss of property/profit. Arguments will be heard at 10am on February 19, 2015, at 219 South Dearborn Street, Chicago Illinois. All supporters wearing court-appropriate attire are encouraged to attend.

Tyler and Kevin each face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Beginning February 12, activists supporting Tyler and Kevin will be participating in a Global Week of Action Against the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. It will be seven days of talks, workshops, film screenings, protests, etc., to educate the public about federal laws that specifically target animal advocates whose work attempts to stop a person or company from profiting from the use of nonhuman animals.

Passed by Congress and signed into law in 2006, the AETA amended and expanded the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AEPA). The act makes “damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise” or “intentionally plac[ing] a person in fear of death or serious bodily injury” federal crimes of terrorism. Needless to say, this Act could have ramifications for every animal activist in the United States; in standing up for Tyler and Kevin, we are standing up for our rights to speak out for animals everywhere.

Please send Kevin a letter of support:
(Note: Kevin Johnson is his legal name.)

MCC Chicago
Metropolitan Correctional Center
71 West Van Buren Street
Chicago, IL 60605

Tyler Lang was released from state custody in November 2013. He is currently out on bond awaiting trial on the federal charges.

For more details on the Global Week of Action Against the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, please check out the Facebook page. Also please visit the Kevin and Tyler support page.


Photo by Maria Villano

Photo by Maria Villano

I vividly recall my first meeting with Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. It was 10 years ago, and I interviewed her for Satya magazine. We both live in the Bay Area, so we met for lunch at a vegan restaurant not far from her home in Oakland. What I remember most is how busy Colleen was: screening Meet Your Meat to passersby on a sidewalk in nearby Berkeley, giving talks, writing about animals, teaching vegan cooking classes, promotiong a DVD she had recently created, and working a “day” job. Soon after, she launched a popular podcast called “Food for Thought,” which is still going strong. She also started an animal activist support group, and she invited me to participate. About five or six of us would get together every few weeks at Colleen’s house, and we’d bare our collective anguish over what we were learning about animal exploitation. It was therapeutic and educational, and when I came to write Striking at the Roots a couple years later, I made sure to devote a chapter to activist burnout and how to avoid it.

Fast forward a decade, and Colleen is now busier than ever. Gone is that day job, but she’s written a series of bestselling books, the latest of which is a completely new edition of The 30-Day Vegan Challenge, which she describes as a one-stop, comprehensive guide to making the vegan transition healthfully, confidently, and deliciously with over 100 nutritious plant-based recipes and meal ideas.” This is a truly beautiful book, filled with resources, advice, and the encouragement new vegans need as they embrace this compassionate ethic.

Being that this is January—a month in which many people around the world are taking veganism for a test drive—I thought this would be a great time to ask Colleen about her new book, her activism, avoiding burnout, and more.

What forms of animal activism do you feel stand the best chance of getting our movement’s message across to people?

I honestly think there is a need and room for all forms of activism. I do think that telling the stories of individual animals has a huge impact on public consciousness, and of course I think a lot of those stories can come from animal sanctuaries, which are really vital for saving lives of individual animals, but certainly sanctuaries is not the solution. They are just a stopgap. What we need to do is change systems, and that will happen in a number of ways: We need to change laws so animals are protected. We need to disrupt certain industries so that compassionate, cruelty-free products—food, personal care, clothing, medication, etc.—are widely available to the public or so that vivisection is no longer the norm. We need to close down animal-based circuses and zoos. We need to protect habitat for wild animals. We need to mainstream veganism and compassion.

So I think there are so many different ways to go about it and I think activists themselves will be the most effective when they’re doing things they are good at and enjoy.

What’s your favorite recipe for showing a die-hard meat-eater how delicious and satisfying a plant-based diet can be?

I’m all about making sure the food someone eats is as familiar to them as possible and as flavorful as possible. I talk a lot about how fat and salt create the satisfaction and familiarity people are used to. So I make a lot of dishes for non-vegans that are just made with ingredients they would make for themselves anyway and not call “vegan.” When they see that the food is delicious and in keeping with how they already eat, it has a huge impact on them. They realize they can do it themselves at home or order it in restaurants. And I definitely gravitate toward “comfort food” and stews like the Vegetable Pot Pie and The Smoky White Bean Chowder, both of which are in The 30-Day Vegan Challenge (New Edition). The Chowder recipe is at

OK, so you write, you teach, you have a podcast, you give talks, you have a vegan tour of Italy later this year—and more. Do you have a favorite way of sharing the vegan message?

I really enjoy all the mediums I work in, but I guess I would say I really love talking to people directly, so I do love the public lectures so much. I love the Q&A that follows the talks, I love the interaction with people, and I love moving people just through simple, compassionate dialogue.

Would you say that someone who is already vegan can also get something out of The 30-Day Vegan Challenge?

Photo by Maria Villano

Photo by Maria Villano

Absolutely! The amount of information in this book makes it a resource guide for everyone who’s already vegan or becoming vegan. I could just change the title and the chapter titles, and it’s THE ULTIMATE RESOURCE GUIDE FOR BEING A HEALTHY JOYFUL VEGAN. That’s really what it is. It’s also got more than 40 wonderful, brand-new recipes that don’t exist in any of my other books. And as far as vegans using it as an advocacy tool, it really is the book every vegan can give to anyone who asks any of the questions we get about being vegan.

You are so incredibly busy. What do you do to keep from getting burned out?

I think it’s so important to be part of a community for a number of reasons, and one of those reasons is that we keep each other in check and we create reasonable barometers for each other because it’s really easy to work so hard or do so much that we are not taking care of ourselves. And even though it’s cliché, the truth is we are less effective when we’re working in such a state that depletes us rather than feeds us. I know that I need people who love me to say, “You need to stop now; you need to go for a walk,” because I don’t know what’s reasonable. I suffer from the guilt that so many activists suffer from: that if I stop, I’m letting down the animals. But the truth is I do feel refreshed when I step away and do something that revives me. As far as staying hopeful, I believe that what we focus on is what we create and I choose to dwell in the hope that I do see all around me, in advances taking place, in people making changes. That’s what I choose to dwell on.

At any given moment we can choose to dwell on the hope or we can choose to dwell on the despair, and not only are we going to feel one or the other, but I believe that’s also what we will put out into the world. So we have to be gentle with ourselves and sometimes not expose ourselves to the things that make us sad or angry. Sometimes we need to have some cognitive dissonance and sometimes we just need to have a good cry. So I think between those things (community, dwelling on hope/being part of the solution, being gentle with ourselves, having a good cry when we feel it) is how I avoid getting burned out. Plus, I just have faith in the power of compassion and the good that is in people.

Can you give us a hint about your future plans? Any more books or other media coming?

I’m so committed to getting The 30-Day Vegan Challenge in as many hands as possible, so right now I’m really focused on making it mainstream. The entire package—the 30-Day Vegan Challenge as a concept—is very powerful and effective, and I really want to give it the attention it deserves. There’s the online program, and now there’s the new book. I’d love to record it as an audio book, I’d love to make it available to people all around the world in different languages, etc. But I also know that I really want to do television or rather short-form videos. I have a few television shows that I’m working on, so that’s really next in terms of big projects: one of them involves animals and one of them involves guiding people to becoming vegan. Both of these shows will enable me to inspire people and interact with animals. Doesn’t get better than that.

Follow Colleen on Twitter: @JoyfulVegan

Two thousand and fourteen was a year filled with much sad news for animals: beyond the billions of animals who died in slaughterhouses, there were horses run to death on race tracks, dolphins led to their demise in the bloody cove of Taiji, animals killed in zoos, and thousands of water buffalo slaughtered in a single mass sacrifice, for example. So let’s celebrate some of the many positive changes animal advocates were able to help enact this year. Here are 12 in chronological order.

1. Canada bans gestation crates for pregnant pigs (March)

When Canada’s animal ag industry announced in March that its new Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs would include a ban on GestationCratecontinuously confining pregnant sows in gestation crates, it was big news. These cages confine sows so tightly the animals can’t even turn around, and they are standard practice on pig farms throughout North America. The new guidelines from the National Farm Animal Care Council require all new or renovated facilities after July 1, 2014, to house pigs in groups rather than cruel gestation crates.

“This is a watershed moment for farm animals in Canada and throughout North America,” said Sayara Thurston, campaign manager with Humane Society International/Canada. “It signals the beginning of the end of archaic, extreme confinement systems that consumers simply don’t support and which other countries have long-since banned. There is still much advancement needed to improve the welfare of pigs raised on Canadian farms, but this Code of Practice is a monumental first step.”

2. International Court of Justice rules that Japan must halt whaling in the Southern Ocean (March)

The ICJ’s 16-judge panel ruled 12 votes to four in favor of Australia’s argument that Japan’s whaling program was not in fact designed and carried out for scientific purposes. The court ruled that Japan must revoke current whaling permits and refrain from issuing any more.

Almost as stunning as this decision was Japan’s announcement that it would abide by it. Stunning, but not definitive, since Japan’s whaling industry recently declared it would flout the decision and unveiled plans to resume Southern Ocean whaling in 2015. Looks like Sea Shepherd is due for another busy season in the Antarctic.

3. China Southern Airlines stops shipping primates to labs (March)

CSA was the only major commercial airline based in China that was still shipping primates to laboratories for use in cruel experiments. But after a relentless campaign by animal advocates around the world—including protests in Bangkok, Chicago, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, and Tokyo—Chen Qiuhua, senior cargo manager for the airline, finally stated that CSA will “stop transporting live primates for laboratory experiments on all flights of China Southern Airlines, effective from March 21, 2014.”

This leaves Air France as the only major airline in the world still willing to ship monkeys to labs. You can ask them to stop here.

4. Los Angeles City Council bans the use of bullhooks on elephants in circuses (April)

Bullhook being used on an elephant. Photo by PETA

Bullhook being used on an elephant. Photo by PETA

L.A. did more than vote unanimously to ban bullhooks—terribly cruel devices that resemble a fireplace poker. The law, which goes into effect in January 2017, also bans using pitchforks, baseball bats, ax handles, and other prods designed to inflict pain on elephants in circuses and other shows. “The treatment of elephants in traveling circuses is one of the crueler practices, and it’s time for us to stand up for them,” said Paul Koretz, the City Council member who sponsored the ban. He predicted that once Los Angeles outlawed circus elephants, other communities would follow. “At some point, this will be universally banned throughout the country,” he said. (He may be right, as you’ll see later in our list.)

5. World Trade Organization upholds the ban on seal fur (May)

When the WTO rejected an appeal by Canada and Norway to overturn the European Union’s four-year-old ban on seal fur, meat, and oil, it set a precedent that animal welfare can trump the right to trade. Thousands of seal pups are killed during the “hunting” season, often being shot and then clubbed to death. Indeed, more than 2 million seals have been killed in Canada since 2002, making the country’s commercial seal slaughter the largest killing of marine mammals on Earth. Because most Canadians oppose commercial sealing, the sealing industry relies almost exclusively on export markets to sell its products.

The decision by the WTO’s appellate body, which is final, found that complaints by Norway and Canada that their seal trade was being affected were outweighed by the EU’s objective of protecting seal welfare through the ban.

6. India becomes the best country in the world for nonhuman animals (May‒December)

Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But so much positive news for animals came of out India this year that I am just going to lump it all under one heading here. First off, in May, the country announced it was banning testing for cosmetic products and their ingredients on animals. This was followed by news in August that India banned animal dissection in universities, replacing it with digital alternatives. Then, in October, we learned that India had also banned the import of cosmetics tested on animals, making it the first animal-tested-cosmetics-free zone in South Asia. And in December, an Indian court declared that Raju, the “crying elephant” who was chained and abused for 50 years, could not be returned to his tormenters; he would remain in a sanctuary. Oh, and if you’d like to live in a meatless city, pack your bags for Palitana, India, recently declared to be a 100-percent vegetarian zone.

Let’s not forget this is the country that also banned dolphin shows in 2013, declaring dolphins and whales to be nonhuman persons.

7. Brazil bans most animal testing for cosmetics (June)

After anti-vivisection campaigners applauded the Brazilian state of São Paulo for banning the use of animals in cosmetics testing, Brazil’s federal government took note. A few months later, the country joined the European Union, India, Norway, and Israel in declaring a nationwide ban on the practice.

8. U.S. federal appeals court reinstates law on animal torture videos (June)

Ruling so-called “crush” videos that graphically depict animal cruelty are not a protected form of speech, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed a 2013 ruling by the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Texas, which had held that animal crush videos are not obscene and that the Act violated defendants’ First Amendment rights. In 2012, defendants Ashley Nicole Richards and Brent Justice were arrested in Houston and charged with violating the Act for producing and selling obscene videos of Richards torturing dogs, cats, and other animals for the sexual gratification of viewers.

The court concluded that “Congress has a significant interest in preventing the secondary effects of animal crush videos, which promote and require violence and criminal activity,” and that the ban is justified because these videos contain “wanton torture and killing that, as demonstrated by federal and state animal-cruelty laws, society has deemed worthy of criminal sanction.”

9. Southwest Airlines ends partnership with SeaWorld (July)

SouthwestBoth companies said the timing was coincidental, but animal advocates knew better. When Southwest announced it was terminating its 26-year marketing relationship with the king of orca exploiters, the move was clearly motivated by pressure from activists around the world who have urged the airline to end their partnership, saying the carrier was supporting animal cruelty. Call it the Blackfish effect.

Officially, Southwest and SeaWorld parted ways due to “shifting priorities.” But after a quarter century of mutual marketing (Southwest planes were emblazoned with orca and penguin images, while SeaWorld promoted the airlines in its parks), it is clear that Southwest hearing from its customers and the general public made all the difference.

10. Thailand passes its first animal welfare law (November)

It’s hard to believe we still live in a world where not every country has animal welfare laws, but that world got a little bit smaller this year as Thailand passed its first legislation covering companion animals as well as farmed animals, working animals, wild animals in captivity, and animals under human care. Police have been given the power to enter homes and businesses to investigate claims of animal abuse and neglect, and violators can be fined up to THB 40,000 (US$1,200) and/or up to two years in jail. The law has been criticized as being too broad and far from perfect, but then, can’t the same be said for the animal welfare laws of every country? Let’s celebrate this as a major step forward and praise the Thai government for acknowledging that animals have the right to legal protection.

11. U.S. military ordered to halt the use of live animals in medical training programs (November)

The U.S. military has long been one of the biggest abusers of animals, inflicting death and painful injuries on more than 300,000 dogs, cats, goats, pigs, mice, fish, sheep, birds, rabbits, rats, and nonhuman primates every year. One of their most controversial uses of animals has been for medical training programs—from the poisoning of monkeys to study the effects of chemical warfare agents to shooting goats with high-powered weapons in “wounds labs” so military medical personnel could practice treating them. As of January 1, 2015, live animals will be replaced with substitutes such as realistic human dummies and high-tech alternatives.

The Department of Defense ordered an end to the use of live animals thanks to campaigning from PETA and other vocal animal advocates. With the decision to change its policy, the U.S. joins 22 of 28 other NATO member nations that have already abolished the use of animals for training.

12. Oakland, Calif., bans bullhooks used on elephants (December)

What I love about this victory—and the similar one in Los Angeles earlier in the year—is that it not only means bullhooks will be illegal for use on “circus” elephants in the city, but that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which uses these implements of torture and lobbied against both bans, will be crossing Los Angeles and Oakland off its tour list after the bans take effect in 2017. Outlawing bullhooks in these two cities has encouraged lawmakers in other municipalities, including Austin, to consider bans. After the Los Angeles ban, the Rhode Island House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution urging circuses and other traveling animal shows to eliminate the use of bullhooks and other “harmful training practices” that cause elephants pain.

And if those 12 stories didn’t impress or inspire you, here are a baker’s dozen more from the year worth noting:

SeaWorld shares tank (all year)

Appeals court refuses to hear a challenge to foie gras ban in California (January)

California state legislator proposes a ban on the captivity of killer whales for entertainment (March)

Chicago passes law banning sales of commercially bred dogs, cats, and rabbits (March)

Vietnam will no longer permit the use of Draize rabbit eye tests for cosmetic products (May)

Salt Lake City bans horse-drawn carriages (November)

New Zealand rules out animal testing for cosmetics (November)

NYC considers bill to end horse-drawn carriage industry (December)

100th Spanish town bans bullfights (December)

Bans on circuses with animals continue to spread across Australia (December)

SeaWorld CEO resigns (December)

Mexican government votes to ban the use of animals in circus performances (December)

The Netherlands bans the use of animals in circuses (December)

Here’s to another year of victories for animals! Maybe we’ll even see a federal ban on animal testing on cosmetics in the U.S.


There is no holiday more focused on killing the members of a single species than Thanksgiving. Each November, more than 45 million turkeys end up onMark_meets_the_turkeys dinner plates in the US. Turkeys raised and killed for food are drugged to grow so large inside windowless factory farms that they are crippled by their own weight; indeed, they can no longer even reproduce naturally. Moreover, to prevent the birds from harming one another in the confined spaces of a factory farm, farmers clip their upper beaks in a painful procedure that makes it difficult for the turkeys to eat.

Fortunately, more and more people are giving thanks by making compassion the centerpiece of their table and opting for a cruelty-free holiday. From Tofurky Feasts and Field Roast products to a bounty of delicious plant-based recipes found in an ever-growing selection of vegan cookbooks, there’s no need to kill anyone this Thanksgiving.

Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur/Farm Sanctuary

Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur/Farm Sanctuary

One activity that has become especially popular is to visit a sanctuary for farmed animals and feed the turkeys. These so-called “ThanksLiving” events give us the opportunity to interact with these remarkable animals and treat them to pumpkin pie, cornbread, cranberries, and other goodies. I’ll never forget the first time I got to meet turkeys at Animal Place; they are so gentle and curious and enjoy being talked to and petted. Check out this excellent sanctuary guide from to find an event near you. (Tip: If you’re an animal activist, visiting or volunteering at an animal sanctuary and connecting with the animals is incredibly important.)

And if, like me, you love cooking up a feast, visit some of these sites for easy recipes and information on vegan eating:

Post Punk Kitchen

So enjoy a delicious, vegan Thanksgiving. After all, holidays are about family and friends—not death.

You might not know her name, but you probably know her work: vivid, haunting photographs that capture the exploitation of animals for food, fashion, experimentation, entertainment, WeAnimalsand more. Actually, the odds that you don’t know Jo-Anne McArthur’s name have gotten a lot less likely recently, with last year’s release of the documentary The Ghost in Our Machine (directed by Liz Marshall), in which she figures as the human subject, and the publication this year of the award-winning We Animals (Lantern Books), a collection of Jo-Anne’s photographs and the stories behind them.

A decade ago, Jo-Anne interned at Farm Sanctuary, so it’s no surprise she has a soft spot for the rescued animals there. Indeed, Jo’s lens is often also focused on animals who are no longer oppressed, though she’s documented animal abuse in more than 40 countries, frequently undercover. (And as I’ve mentioned here before, one of her photos is featured on the cover of Bleating Hearts.)

I asked the Toronto resident to offer some insights into her work and advice for other activists.

What inspired you to use your lens to help animals?

I’ve always been inspired by the change that photojournalists can help create. Their lenses are a door pried open into worlds, situations and conflicts that we wouldn’t otherwise see. Advice from my friend Larry Towell, a world-renowned photographer, helped put me on the right track. He told me to focus my work on what I knew best, and what I loved. And what I love is helping animals. I started the We Animals project over a decade ago and it has since become a large archive of animal rights issues and cruelty issues from around the globe. Stepping back, though, and looking at what we can all do to help animals – is to find what you love doing, what you’re good at doing, and employ those skills to make the world a better place for animals. There are so many ways that we can all help animals. Do it in the way that you know how to do it best. You can fundraise, write, campaign, make art, hold and host events, support other organizations, volunteer, speak out, leaflet, teach, cook, etc. If you’re doing what you enjoy doing and what you’re good at, your activism will last longer and be more effective.

Why do you believe photos are such a powerful activist tool?

Jo-Anne’s work includes photographing vigils led by Toronto Pig Save, which bears witness to the suffering of pigs en route to slaughter.

Jo-Anne’s work includes photographing vigils led by Toronto Pig Save, which bears witness to the suffering of pigs en route to slaughter. Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur

Photos are windows into what’s hidden, and when it comes to animals industries, from fur farming to “food animal” farming to bear bile farming, all of these things happen behind closed doors. Those who run these industries know that people may not want to support the cruelty that goes on there, if they knew, so it’s important to have good documentation of what these facilities are like, so that consumers can learn, and make more compassionate decisions. As we all know, images can instantly draw attention to an issue in a way that text can’t. They can make people feel instantly, be it empathy or revulsion or anger or happiness. Images are a key part of the animal rights movement.

What software, sites, etc., do you recommend activists use to share their work?

There are many sites and routes for publishing images. It’s easier than ever now, of course, because of social media. But to keep people’s attention, keep them coming back to your work, the work must be constant or at least consistent. Creating an audience will get people sharing your work on a regular basis as well. Tight, ruthless editing is key, and getting editing help (by editors or photographers whom you respect, for example) is important in your learning process as well.

It’s also helpful to reach beyond the choir. Your friends and animal-loving folk are going to like your work, but reach farther, so that people who need to know about animal issues can see the work. Send your images to local publications on a regular basis, offer to do a column or supply images regularly, so that you can broaden your reach and your audience.

What advice do you have for activists who are just starting off with photography and want to use it to advocate for animals?

Documenting the work of Sea Shepherd. Photo by Fiona McCuaig

Documenting the work of Sea Shepherd. Photo by Fiona McCuaig

Just start now. As Goethe famously wrote, “Begin it now.” You don’t need to be a traveler, and you don’t need to own expensive photo gear. Start close to home. Unfortunately, animal cruelty is all around us. It’s at the local meat markets. It’s at the pet stores, where exotic animals and dogs from puppy mills are sold for profit. It’s at the local zoo, or circus, or rodeo, or fishing hole. There is much to document. Just go out and document it, and share those images via social media, local media and wherever you can. Get creative about getting your photos out there. It’s important to take really great photos, too. People turn away from cruelty; no one wants to see it, so it’s important that the images are engaging, which will draw people in, make them wonder, make them ask questions. Don’t just take photos, but, tell a story. If you are a traveler, a great way to document animal issues is to volunteer for organizations who are helping animals. Be it at an oil spill, where groups are helping save lives, or at sanctuaries that are constantly bringing animals into their care. You can document their work, and so not only do they benefit from your donated photography, but it helps promote their work, and expose the issues at hand. I’ve done this for many groups, from Farm Sanctuary to Sea Shepherd, for groups helping birds at the Gulf oil spill to groups helping end the bushmeat trade across Africa. Whatever you want to or can photograph, begin it now. The animals need you.

You see a lot of terribly distressing things in your work for animals. What do you do to keep from burning out?

Mama cow with newborn calf at dairy farm. Soon they will be separated so humans can steal mama's milk. Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur

Mama cow with newborn calf at dairy farm. Soon they will be separated so humans can steal mama’s milk. Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur

This is what so many activists struggle with. My best advice is to nurture your joy. I know that it can be hard to do that when there are billions of animals suffering at every moment. How can we be happy when this is going on? The animal rights movement has seen too many people jump in and then burn out only a few years later, because the issues are so distressing, and people aren’t taking care of themselves. Yes, there is a global emergency for animals. All the more reason to pace yourself so that you can help animals for as long as you possibly can. Whatever you need to do to look after yourself, don’t neglect doing that. Whether you need community or silence, being active of being meditative, or all of the above, look after yourself so that you have the energy to continue the fight.

It’s hard to do this. I know this! I’ve almost burned out a few times, and have needed therapy, and tools, to help myself not focus exclusively on the suffering of animals, and stay focused on creating change. A really great book that has helped me deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the onset of depression in the face of so much cruelty has been Aftershock by pattrice jones. It’s a great and useful read for activists of all kinds, who struggle with finding balance, self-care, and living in a world where most people don’t understand your point of view. Please go out and get yourself that book!

You can follow Jo-Anne on Twitter @WeAnimals. Visit her website at

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

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

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

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

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

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

What forms of activism do you enjoy most?

School clubs are my favorite form of activism.

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

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

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

Was it difficult to start VegYouth Alliance?

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

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

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

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

How can people get involved and support VegYouth?

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

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

Intern with us!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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