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

1. Switzerland bans boiling lobsters alive (January)

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

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

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

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

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

4. Mexico City bans dolphinariums (May)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Other stories of the year worth noting

Dog shoots rabbit hunter (Jan)

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

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

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

Wales announces ban on circuses (February)

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

San Francisco bans sales of fur (March)

DKNY and Donna Karan ditch fur (March)

India bans import of seal fur, skin (April)

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

Researchers uncover plant-based vitamin B12 breakthrough (May)

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

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

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

Wales bans circuses (July)

Burberry goes fur-free (September)

Sri Lanka to ban animal sacrifices (September)

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

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

Portugal bans wild animals in circuses (October)

Coach goes fur-free (October)

South Korea closes dog slaughterhouse amid activist pressure (November)

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

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

Chanel bans fur and exotic animal skins (December)

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emmeline can smile now.

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

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

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

 

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

 

Buttons from Compassion Co.

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

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

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

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

Andy Tabar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Photo courtesy of Farm Sanctuary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are not alone.

 

When I look back on this year’s wins for animals, what I am most struck by is a genuine sense of accomplishment. Yes, we have a long, long way to go. But from the skyrocketing popularity of veganism to the bans on various forms of animal cruelty, 2017 has been a year of encouraging news. Here’s a look at some of the top stories.

1. Croatia bans fur farms (January)

The year got off to a great start with Croatia’s prohibition on fur farms going into effect on January 1. The ban—which comes 10 years after the introduction of the 2006 Animal Protection Act—applies to the few remaining chinchilla farms and was the result of both activists and the general public speaking out against this cruel industry. Indeed, more and more countries have or are considering legislation to ban fur farming, including Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway.

2. Germany bans meat at official functions (January)

Hoping to lead by example, Germany’s Federal Minister for the Environment Barbara Hendricks banned animal flesh from being consumed at all official government functions. “We want to set a good example for climate protection, because vegetarian food is more climate-friendly than meat and fish,” she said. Animal agriculture has been linked not only to climate change (accounting for nearly 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions), but to species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, deforestation, soil degradation, and habitat destruction.

3. Guatemala passes powerful anti-animal-cruelty legislation (March)

In what was hailed as a milestone for animals, Guatemala adopted one of the world’s most comprehensive anti-cruelty laws—legislation includes protections for animals used in research and circuses, wildlife, and companion animals. It also establishes bans on animal testing for cosmetics and on dogfighting and sets penalties for spectators of this blood “sport.”

4. Judge dismisses charges against activist Anita Krajnc, who gave water to thirsty pigs (May)

Anita Krajnc gives water to pigs in Toronto. Photo by Elli Garlin

When activist Anita Krajnc ignored a truck driver’s demand that she cease giving water to the thirsty pigs he was driving to an Ontario slaughterhouse as he was stopped at a red light in June 2015, she was not only charged with criminal mischief, but video of the confrontation was shared around the world. Anita’s case quickly became a flashpoint of debate, with her defense team famously contending that “compassion is not a crime.”

Though the judge did not necessarily agree with the argument that pigs are persons, not property, he cleared Anita of the charges, which carried potential jail time and a hefty fine. “I think one should always follow their conscience,” she told me days after the judge dismissed the case. “You feel good knowing that what you did was right. You can’t control what other people do, but you can control what you do. So you have to stand up for what you believe in.” (You’ll find the full interview here.)

5. Ringling Bros. Circus closes (May)

This was one of the biggest stories of the year, and activists had good reason to celebrate. After nearly 150 years of abusing elephants, tigers, lions, horses, and other animals, the self-described “Greatest Show in Earth” finally ended. Officially, Ringling’s owners blamed high operating costs and declining ticket sales. But activists had been campaigning against the company almost since the beginning. (Indeed, in 1918, the Jack London Club, named in honor of the late author and animal advocate, staged walkouts from circus performances, which led to the company eliminating big-cat cage acts in 1925, but Ringling brought them back four years later.)

Unfortunately, Ringling’s demise does not mark the end of circuses with animal acts. To learn what you can do, please visit circusprotest.com.

6. Historic vote bans fur farming in Czech Republic (June)

In a vote of 132 to nine, Czech government officials passed a ban on fur farming this year. “This is a victory which proves that killing animals for fashion’s sake is no longer supported among the Czech politicians,” said Chamber Environment Committee chair Robin Böhnisch. “I hope that our legislators will set an example for their colleagues in other countries where fur farming bans are currently being discussed.”

The ban—which goes into effect January 31, 2019, after passing through the country’s Senate—will require the closing of nine remaining fur farms, which collectively hold some 20,000 foxes and minks captive in small battery cages every year and kill them by anal electrocution or gassing.

7. Activists in China rescue 1,000 dogs and cats from truck headed to slaughterhouses (June)

About 100 Chinese activists took part in this remarkable rescue, stopping a transport truck in Guangzhou, a city known as the largest hub for dog and cat meat consumption in the world. Activists said they were assisted by local police and discovered the truck driver did not have a health certificate for the dogs, which is a legal requirement when transporting animals in China. After a standoff that lasted 10 hours, the animals were released from the tightly packed cages. (While some 10 million dogs are consumed in China every year, let’s remember that billions of cows, chickens, pigs, sheep, and other animals are annually raised and killed for their flesh in the United States.)

8. UK’s Advertising Standards says cow’s milk can be called “inhumane” (July)

As the saying goes, the truth hurts. And truth is just what the UK nonprofit Go Vegan World was speaking when they placed a national newspaper advertisement stating that “humane milk is a myth—don’t buy it” (pictured right). The ad continues with text that reads, “I went vegan the day I visited a dairy. The mothers, still bloody from birth, searched and called frantically for their babies. Their daughters, fresh from their mothers’ wombs but separated from them, trembled and cried piteously, drinking milk from rubber teats on the wall instead of their mothers’ nurturing bodies. All because humans take their milk.”

When dairy farmers complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that the ad was inaccurate and misleading, the ASA sided with the vegan campaigners and gave it their approval, saying, “Although the language used to express the claims was emotional and hard-hitting, we understood it was the case that calves were generally separated from their mothers very soon after birth, and we therefore concluded that the ad was unlikely to materially mislead readers.”

9. Gucci drops fur (October)

Citing the “deprivation and cruelty suffered by fur-bearing animals,” fashion giant Gucci announced it will end its use of fur, beginning with its spring collection. “Gucci’s decision will radically change the future of fashion,” said Simone Pavesi, manager of animal-free fashion at the Italian animal rights group LAV. “As fashion becomes more and more ethical, supply chains that revolve around animals will be a thing of the past.”

Gucci will join the Fur Free Alliance, an international group of more than 40 organizations that campaigns on animal welfare and promotes alternatives to fur in the fashion industry.

10. California becomes the first state to mandate that dogs, cats, and rabbits sold in pet stores come from shelters (October)

In a move aimed at breaking the puppy mill and kitten factory supply chain, California lawmakers banned pet stores from selling dogs, cats, and rabbits who do not come from animal shelters and rescue organizations. Not only will this help weaken the unscrupulous trade in “pet” breeding, but it will ease overcrowding in shelters throughout the state. The law, which sets an important precedent for the rest of the country, takes effect on January 1, 2019.

11. Ireland bans circuses with “wild” animals (November)

“The use of wild animals for entertainment purposes in circuses can no longer be permitted” in Ireland, said the country’s Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed. “This is the general view of the public at large and a position I am happy to endorse. This is a progressive move, reflective of our commitment to animal welfare.”

Because other EU nations had established bans on animals in circuses, some campaigners feared Ireland would become a “dumping ground” for animal circuses that had been legislated out of other European countries. The ban begins January 1, 2018.

12. Man rescues rabbit from brush fire (December)

It may seem insignificant in terms of lives saved, but when a California motorist left his vehicle to save a rabbit from a raging brush fire, the video captured by a news crew went viral. As you watch the emotional scene, remember that this is a man who is risking his life to rescue not his beloved companion, but an animal he just happened to see on the side of the road. (As of mid-December, there is some controversy about the identity of the bunny rescuer, but that takes nothing away from this heroic deed.)

 

Other stories of the year worth noting:

Plant proteins threatening to overtake animal proteins (February)

90-year-old dairy company switches to making plant-based milk (April)

US Coast Guard ends use of animals in trauma training (April)

Cows who escaped from St. Louis slaughterhouse sent to animal sanctuary (April)

Taiwan bans eating dog and cat meat (April)

Pig escapes during trip to slaughterhouse, begins new life at Wisconsin sanctuary (April)

Germany votes to end fur farming (May)

New York City Council votes to ban wild animal performances from circuses (June)

Sri Lankan Navy saves elephant swept out to sea (July)

Animal activists claim victory after Ontario fair cancels ‘pig scramble’ (July)

Mexico City is first to ban dolphin shows in Mexico (July)

40,000 minks released from Minnesota fur farm by animal rights activists (July)

Guggenheim, bowing to animal-rights activists, pulls works from show (September)

Cow safe at sanctuary after escaping Brooklyn slaughterhouse (October)

Dog shoots hunter (November)

SeaWorld unable to reverse continued attendance slide (November)

Most U.S. adults oppose trophy hunting (November)

Instagram fights animal abuse with new selfie alert system (December)

Meat industry calls ‘assault by demon vegans’ major challenge for 2018 (December)

Nova Scotia becomes first Canadian province to ban cat declawing (December)

Paris vows to ban use of wild animals in circuses (December)

Michael Kors to drop fur in 2018 (December)

British Columbia bans grizzly bear hunting (December)

Scotland bans use of “wild” animals in travelling circuses (December)

Hunted animals fight back, including a boar, deer, elephant, moose, another elephant, lion, and bear (throughout the year)

 

A few years ago, as I was researching animal abuses for my book Bleating Hearts, I learned of a Jewish “religious tradition”* known as kapparot (also spelled kaparos, kaporos, or kapores), which is observed during the High Holy Days, the 10-day period between Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). The ceremony, practiced by Orthodox Jews, calls for a live rooster (for men) or hen (for women) to be swung in a circle three times above the practitioner’s head while he or she declares, “This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my atonement. This rooster/hen will go to its death while I will enter and proceed to a good, long life, and to peace.” The bird is then killed, and the animal’s flesh is supposedly donated to the poor, though some witnesses have seen the chickens simply thrown out with the trash. Kapparot is repeated in public spaces and outside synagogues throughout the world.

Most Jewish literature is careful to avoid using the word “sacrifice” when describing kapparot—preferring to call it “a symbolic act of atonement,” “a ceremony of expiation,” or, even more accurately, “a ritual slaughter.”

Whatever one calls it, the result is suffering and death for countless animals. Packed into small cages with other birds, chickens are routinely transported long distances and denied access to water and food. Karen Davis, founder of the non-profit United Poultry Concerns (UPC) and a longtime advocate for chickens and other domestic fowl, is particularly sensitive to the abuse these animals suffer during the High Holy Days. “The birds used in kapparot are sometimes sitting for as long as week without food or water, usually exposed to the elements,” she told me. “Whole flatbed trailers bring the chickens in to places like Brooklyn and the Bronx, where they just sit stacked in crates or cages before the actual ritual takes place. They’re being starved and dehydrated and left out in the rain. The birds are treated like rag dolls, like objects.”

With Rosh Hashanah approaching, UPC and other animal advocates are once again asking Orthodox Jewish leaders to embrace “compassionate kapparot” (a nice explanation of what this entails from Rabbi Jonathan Klein is here, even if he disses veganism) by replacing birds with bags of coins.

What You Can Do:

1. Sign the UPC petition (warning: graphic image of a dead chicken).

2. Contact the following Orthodox organizations and ask them to promote the use of money instead of chickens for kapparot ceremonies:

 

Orthodox Union

Attn: Mr. Allen I. Fagin, Executive Vice President

11 Broadway

New York, NY 10004

Phone: 212-563-4000

Email: afagin@ou.org

All OU executives, titles and email addresses are listed here:

http://www.ou.org/contact

 

Rabbinical Council of America

Attn: Rabbi Elazar Muskin

305 Seventh Avenue, 12th Floor

New York, NY 10001

Phone: 212-807-9000; 212-741-7522

Fax: 212-727-8452

Email: RabbiMuskin@gmail.com

Email office@rabbis.org

 

Vaad Harabonim of Flatbush

Attn: Rabbi Meir Goldberg

1206 Avenue J

Brooklyn, NY 11230

Phone: 718-951-8585

Email via this website: http://www.vaad.org/contact

 

The New York Board of Rabbis

Attn: Rabbi Joseph Potasnik

Executive Vice President

136 East 39th Street

New York, NY 10016

Phone: 212-983-3521

Fax: 212-983-3531

Email: jpotasnik@nybr.org

Email: info@nybr.org

 

Agudath Israel of America

Attn: Rabbi Shia Markowitz, CEO

Attn: Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Executive Vice President

42 Broadway

New York, NY 10004

Phone: 212-797-9000

Email: news@agudathisrael.org

Email: dzwiebel@agudathisrael.org

 

Rabbinical Alliance of America

Attn: Rabbi Mendel Mirocznik

Executive Vice President

305 Church Avenue

Brooklyn, NY 11218

Phone: 212-242-6420; 718-532-8720

Email: rabbi@igud.us

 

3. Support United Poultry Concerns’ efforts to win a legal victory for the birds by making a tax-deductible donation to help with their mounting Court of Appeal costs. Please donate by check for “Kaporos” to: UPC, PO Box 150, Machipongo, VA 23405, or by credit or debit card to their Alliance to End Chicken Kaporos Fund by clicking on http://www.endchickensaskaporos.com/donate

 

*According to Jewish leaders, animal sacrifice as a tradition in Judaism ended with the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the 6th century BCE.

 

Back in 2004, Erik Marcus launched what I am pretty sure was the first vegan/AR podcast. (In fact, the word “podcast” had just been coined earlier that year by a BBC journalist.) Although it was called “Erik’s Diner” (and later “VegTalk”), the weekly show covered animal rights stories and interviews with activists alongside news about the food industry.

We’ve come a long way since then. Erik stopped podcasting in 2010, but the vacuum has been filled by many other excellent shows covering a wide range of topics within the movement and using a variety of formats, from polished, scripted discussion to loosely structured banter. I listen to a lot of podcasts, and I think these 10 are among the most informative and entertaining.

(I am limiting this list to podcasts, rather than radio shows like “Animal Voices Vancouver” and “Easy Vegan with JL Fields” that, while excellent, are radio broadcasts first before being archived as digital media.)

 

The Animal Law Podcast. Animal law is a tricky subject; after all, animals are legally considered “property” and have almost no rights. So how do animal advocates fight on their behalf and enshrine significant changes through statutes? Helping us understand the burgeoning world of animal law is animal law professor and longtime activist Mariann Sullivan, who examines the latest legal battles and interviews the brightest minds in the animal rights field while also offering her own insightful commentary. And she knows her stuff: Mariann is a former Deputy Chief Court Attorney in New York State and is now a lecturer at Columbia Law School. She has also taught courses in animal law and farmed animal law at Lewis and Clark Law School, NYU Law School, and other colleges.

 

Animal Rights (AR) Zone. Expect lively discussions with host Carolyn Bailey, who launched this Australian podcast in 2011 (first guest: Tom Regan). The show has since developed a more inclusive style, tackling so-called “intersectional” activism with interviews that reveal how animal liberation is connected with other social justice movements. Occasionally, rather than conversations with a live guest, “AR Zone” features “workshops” that discuss animal rights issues. All conversations are then transcribed and made available for further discussion on the site.

 

Animalogy. Created and hosted by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, another early adopter of podcasting, “Animalogy” explores animal-related words and common expressions and how they reflect and affect our relationship with animals. Because, as Colleen explains, it is through words that we objectify, diminish, and dismember animals. There is also a lot of very interesting etymology here. Who knew, for instance, that “capricious,” “caprice,” “Capricorn,” and the beautiful Italian island of Capri are all derived from capra, the Latin word for goat?

 

The Bearded Vegans. Andy Tabar, owner of the vegan message-wear business Compassion Co., teamed up with his fellow hirsute friend Paul Stellar to create “The Bearded Vegans” podcast. Episodes generally run more than an hour, and with plenty of good-natured humor the hosts talk about food, news, and sometimes reviews before they dive into a lengthy discussion on a topical subject, such as “Should vegans boycott Daiya?” or “Is National Animal Rights Day good for animals?” They occasionally interview activists, too.

 

The Compassion Fatigue Podcast. Hosted by therapist Jennifer Blough, a certified compassion fatigue specialist, “The Compassion Fatigue Podcast” is highly recommended for anyone suffering from activism-related stress (in other words, nearly all of us). I cannot emphasize enough how important self-care is. Oh, and Jennifer is a vegan!

 

Knowing Animals. Another podcast from Australia, “Knowing Animals” is hosted by Dr. Siobhan O’Sullivan. Each episode offers about 20 minutes of conversation with an animal studies scholar on their work, the law, ethics, and how the public can make a difference for animals. Siobhan has an extensive background in theory and research, so the discussion can be academic at times.

 

Our Hen House. One of the bigger success stories to come out of podcasting, the award-winning “Our Hen House” show was created by Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan. They’ve done an episode every week since January 2010, and they are about to reach their 400th installment. The emphasis here is on activism, vegan products, news from the animal rights world, and at least one interview with someone from the movement.

 

The VeganAri Show. If you’re looking for a fun, laidback podcast, look no further. Ari Solomon and his husband, Mikko Alanne, discuss animal rights news, politics, food, entertainment, activism, new products, and life in L.A., all with a vegan/feminist perspective. As one iTunes reviewer put it, “The news can be so devastating and dreary, but when Ari and Mikko talk about it, they provide insight, social commentary, humor, and poignancy.”

 

Vegan Warrior Princesses Attack! Callie Coker and Nichole Dinato take a holistic approach to animal rights on their podcast, “Vegan Warrior Princesses Attack!” (They attack the issues head on.) The show is meant to be a source of support and community for people already dedicated to the lifestyle. Callie and Nichole do indeed attack important issues, but they do so with compassion and humor. You’re as likely to hear them discuss feminism or human rights as you are veganism on the show.

 

Which Side Podcast. Co-hosts Jordan Halliday and Jeremy Parkin say the focus of the Which Side Podcast (as in “Which side are you on?”) is to bring interesting content and conversations not unlike what you might experience around a table full of friends (well-informed friends, that is). The weekly podcast has been around since 2012, so they have an extensive archive of interviews to enjoy, including conservations with such activists as Ronnie Lee, Lori Marino, Daniel McGowan, lauren Ornelas, James DeAlto, Bruce Friedrich, and many, many others.

 

All of these podcasts rely on the support of listeners, whether through donations or reviews (or both), so if you like what you hear, please give them some love.

 

For many activists, it just takes one thing — one event, one conversation, one documentary, one something — to put them on a life-changing course. For Camille Labchuk, it was seeing the annual seal hunt on television in her native Canada. She was nine years old. “It was one of the first times I truly became aware that society treats animals in cruel and callous ways,” she says. It also made the seal slaughter very real, because it was happening in her own backyard. “I grew up in Prince Edward Island, in the Atlantic region of Canada. I knew about baby harp seals because they would sometimes wash up on the shores of Island beaches, and to know that they were being clubbed and skinned so close to my own home was unbearable.”

Today, Camille is an animal rights lawyer and the executive director of Animal Justice Canada, a national organization focused on animal law, including law reform, litigation, investigations, and education, and the only one of its kind in the country. Camille represents individuals and organizations in animal law cases, defends animal advocates, and seeks out litigation that enhances the interests of animals. Her work includes false advertising complaints against companies making humane claims; exposing suffering on farms; work on trophy hunting, circuses, zoos, aquariums, shark finning, and puppy mills; and, of course, documenting the commercial seal kill on Canada’s East Coast.

I appreciate Camille taking time from her very busy schedule to answer some questions about her work, animal law in Canada, and her advice for anyone arrested for animal activism there.

Can you give me a sense of how difficult your job is? What is the hardest part? And what is the most rewarding?

I truly believe I have the best job in the world. The law is such a powerful tool for social change, and being at the cutting edge of the new field of animal law in Canada is an honor and a privilege. Sure, constantly watching footage of animal cruelty can be difficult, and it’s always crushing to lose a court case or see politicians vote down an important law. But I couldn’t live with myself if I wasn’t fighting to end animal suffering and bring our legal system in line with Canadian values.

The most rewarding part of my job is reflecting on the progress we’ve already made, and imagining how much further we’ll have shifted the paradigm in another decade or two. Ultimately, animal activists are on the right side of history, and I predict we will win this battle sooner than any of us can imagine right now.

How would you characterize the state of animal law in Canada? Are you seeing improvements in protections for animals?

Canadians think of our country as kind, polite, and progressive, but those attitudes are not reflected in our animal protection laws, which are widely considered among the worst in the western world. Canada is one of very few western democracies without national animal welfare legislation to set standards for animal confinement, use, and slaughter. The few federal animal cruelty laws that do exist haven’t been updated since the 1950s, and the federal government recently blocked an attempt to modernize these protections to ensure sadistic animal abusers do not continue to escape criminal prosecution for their violence.

The vast majority of animals held captive and slaughtered in Canada are farmed animals (more than 771 million in 2016, not including fishes — their lives are measured in tonnes). Yet the federal government doesn’t regulate on-farm conditions for animals, essentially letting the farming industry set its own standards. Canada’s farmed animal transport laws are 40 years old, and a recent government proposal to update the laws would still allow animals to be transported for days at a time without food, water, or rest, and suffer and die from exposure to Canada’s blistering heat and extreme cold.

There is also disturbingly little oversight of animal experimentation in Canada, with only voluntary, non-legal standards for laboratories existing at the national level. The Canadian public has no meaningful access to laboratory records, inspections, and outcomes, and thus no way to oversee what is happening behind closed doors in animal experiments.

Canada still subsidizes the commercial seal slaughter, the largest mass slaughter of marine mammals on the planet, done for seal fur. Encouragingly, the number of seals killed is dropping dramatically as countries around the world close their borders to commercial seal products.

The laws that do protect animals in Canada are chronically under-enforced. Canada largely leaves enforcing animal protection laws to private SPCAs and humane societies — charities that must raise money to cover their operation and enforcement costs.

Yet there are glimmers of hope. Undercover investigations over the last five years have helped expose hidden abuse in the farming industry, in laboratories, and in zoos and aquariums. There is a bill before Parliament that would ban keeping whales and dolphins in captivity; the province of Ontario recently banned orca whale captivity; and the Vancouver Parks Board recently stopped the Vancouver Aquarium from continuing to confine cetaceans. There are also federal bills that would outlaw cosmetic tests performed on animals and ban shark fin imports into Canada.

Animal lawyers are also starting to advocate on behalf of animals in courtrooms, such as in the Supreme Court case of R. v. D.L.W., a disturbing case about the sexual abuse of animals. The Court accepted the argument of intervener Animal Justice and ruled that protecting animals is a fundamental societal value — the strongest-ever statement on animal protection from the country’s top court and an incredible precedent. And in a case involving an elephant named Lucy, imprisoned by herself at the Edmonton Zoo, the chief justice of the Alberta Court of Appeal wrote an incredibly dissenting judgment recognizing the interests of nonhuman animals.

Animal law issues are constantly in the news in Canada and are becoming a real part of the national conversation.

How important do you think it is for animal cases like these to get exposure in the media?

Getting media attention for animal law cases can sometimes be just as important as the outcome of the case. For instance, Canadian activist Anita Krajnc was recently charged with criminal mischief for giving water to thirsty, dehydrated pigs on their way into a slaughterhouse. The charges were laid at the behest of the meat industry, but their tactic backfired: the intense media exposure and international interest in the case educated millions of people about the horrific cruelty suffered by animals in the food system. Anita Krajnc was acquitted following a trial, but the real victory of the case is that she succeeded in putting the meat industry on trial for unimaginable animal abuse.

Media attention can also influence the outcome of a case. In one recent Canadian case, a compassionate police officer was charged with misconduct after rescuing a kitten from a bad situation in drug den. Why? Because the kitten was property, removed without the owner’s consent. Animal Justice filed an application to intervene, and we helped turn the case into a major media story. When we showed up to argue our case, the prosecution agreed to settle, confirming that police have an obligation to rescue animals as part of the general police duty to preserve life. This helped ensure there won’t be a chill effect on animal rescue.

Does the law reflect the way society views animals?

I’m a firm believer that society leads the law — not the other way around. In other words, politicians and judges will only create new legal standards that reflect attitudes the public already holds. In the case of animal protection, there has been a massive shift in public consciousness over the last few decades about the way society should be treating animals. People know more than every before about the horrific suffering endured by animals used for food, fashion, experiments, and entertainment, and they want this to end. The law hasn’t yet caught up to societal attitudes about animals, but animal advocates and animal lawyers are beginning to make progress. Our job is to enshrine these values into court judgments and legislation.

What advice do you have for activists who would like to practice animal law in Canada?

Animal law in Canada is still a very new field of practice, and would-be animal lawyers must be bold in charting their own courses and seeking out opportunities. My own path led me to practice criminal law for several years before starting up my own animal law practice. I volunteered part-time with non-profit animal law organization Animal Justice at the same time, and helped build the organization up from a small team of volunteers into a larger, national organization. This eventually led to full-time employment in animal law.

There are still very few paid animal law positions in Canada, so I recommend having a back-up plan in the early stages. Find an area of legal practice that pays the bills, and volunteer your spare time by doing pro bono legal work for animal protection organizations. I made a point of volunteering for as many animal protection organizations as possible before, during, and after law school, and it was these contacts that helped me get enough work to pay the bills while I had my own animal law practice. If you can make the jump to full-time animal law practice or working for a non-profit, go for it!

You’ve also represented animal rights activists. Do you have any advice for people who find themselves arrested for engaging in activism in Canada?

First, don’t talk to the police — I meant it, not a word! Second, call Animal Justice. We vigorously defend the rights of animal advocates; without people to speak up on their behalves, animals won’t have a voice in our political and legal systems. Activism is essential to animal protection. We help connect activists with top-notch criminal lawyers who can help defend against activism-related prosecutions.

Lastly, do you have any advice for animal lovers who want to lobby their legislators on animal issues?

Lobbying our political representatives is essential to helping animals. Politicians are under immense pressure from the billion-dollar industries that harm animals, and unless politicians hear loudly and clearly from constituents who care about animals, nothing will ever change.

Meet with your legislators often — that’s federal, provincial, and municipal — and bring as many friends or family members from the community as you can. Come armed with facts and a specific ask, such as supporting or introducing a piece of legislation. Make sure your legislators know they won’t get your vote unless they support animal protection issues. After a meeting, a phone call is your second best option, followed by sending an email. Political staff track the number of phone calls and emails they receive on an issue, and most politicians pay close attention to the mood of their constituents. And don’t do this just once: make a point of reaching out regularly to legislators.

During elections, it’s important to find and support animal-friendly candidates — volunteer to knock on doors, make phone calls, and donate! Legislators remember the people that help them get elected, and you can use this goodwill to ensure they do the right thing once in office.

 

To follow Camille’s work, please give the Animal Justice Canada Facebook page a like!

 


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

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