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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.

 

 

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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!

 

Anita giving water to thirsty pigs. Photo by Elli Garlin

Last week, a judge in Canada dismissed charges against activist Anita Krajnc, who was arrested in 2015 after giving water to a thirsty pig bound for slaughter in Ontario. She faced up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine. Her arrest and trial received international attention, and the group she started in 2010, Toronto Pig Save, has inspired similar groups within the animal “save” movement around the world. Anita was kind enough to chat with me about her trial and her activism and offer a few words of advice to other activists.

Congratulations on being acquitted of criminal mischief. Are you at all surprised by the verdict?

It’s an issue that really resonated with the public—that compassion is not a crime … that giving water to pigs is not a crime. I was actually hoping for a lot more, maybe some legal precedents, but that didn’t happen.

If you had been found guilty, would you have paid the fine?

I probably would not have paid it. I would have said, “It’s not right.”

Was there anything about the trial that surprised you?

Yes. I was impressed by Judge Harris, because he accepted all my lawyers’ defense as exhibits. Like, when they presented VR [virtual reality] headsets showing iAnimal from Animal Equality, he accepted that as evidence of how pigs are treated informed the work we do, including giving water to pigs. He accepted the 12-minute video, which was shown in court and shows pigs being electrically prodded into a gas chamber and shows one of the pigs trying to jump over the enclosure and the worker putting the prod in his ear. It was really gruesome evidence of how they’re treated.

He accepted another video, which showed pigs at Richard Hoyle’s Pig Preserve. I had shot a video where Richard talked about how pigs have 30 different vocalizations; they have 120 or more ways to communicate, when they combine a vocalization with a body posture or facial expression, like showing their tusks. He talked about how they formed groups, that they’re matriarchal, that they forage in the forest for berries and squash, that they like some types of grass.

So we’d gone over who pigs are in a more natural setting with their friends and family, and also how they’re treated.

The charges were dismissed, but it was because I did not interfere with property—the “property” being the pigs. I didn’t stop the truck. I didn’t prevent those pigs from being slaughtered. So the judge said I’m not guilty.

Will your activism change at all as a result of this trial?

It didn’t change our forms of activism at all, even after I was charged. I have since given water. Other people have given water to thirsty pigs. The trial has taken almost two years, and during that time we’ve continued to give water to thirsty pigs on hot days. But I was surprised the trial didn’t intimidate other people in our group. The first vigil we held after I was charged, people got right in front of me and started giving water. I thought, “OK, obviously it has not impacted people.” And, our movement has really grown a lot. At the beginning of 2016 there were about 50 groups, by the end of the year there’s 100, and there’s almost 150 now. So it’s growing exponentially. And it’s growing in interesting places. Like, there’s a Hong Kong Pig Save, and at their first vigil they gave water to pigs. There are two groups in Sweden, and they give water to pigs. There are four groups in South America now. One of the groups is called Save Movement Lima; at their first vigil a few weeks ago, they gave water to cows. There are almost 40 groups in the United Kingdom. So this idea of giving water to thirsty animals going to slaughter is an international phenomenon.

[In addition to the vigils, Anita explained they started doing vigils right in front of the slaughterhouse, where they unload the pigs.]

We were bearing witness to the poor pigs, who the workers were unloading with electric prods and paddles. We had two sites and doing three vigils a week, so it was a very intensive grassroots campaign, and it’s site specific, targeting one slaughterhouse.

When you look at the groups around the world, sometimes they use that strategy of bearing witness, and sometimes they use what they call a city vigil. It’s in the city, at an intersection, where the slaughterhouse trucks pass. They might not be able to get near a slaughterhouse, but they are at a busy intersection and they are raising public awareness about slaughterhouses in their communities.

Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur

Both of your attorneys, James Silver and Gary Grill, are vegan. Do you think that was important to your defense?

Yes. Both of them are vegan for 20 years or more, and they fought a very inclusive defense. They could have fought it in a very narrow way and just said, you know, I’m not guilty; I didn’t interfere. But instead they invited expert witnesses to talk about the environmental and health consequences of animal agriculture. They brought in Dr. Lori Marino, as well, to talk about the sentience and feelings and personhood of pigs. She said that the definition of a person is someone who is autonomous, self-aware, has complex emotions, and is sentient. She said that under that definition, pigs are persons, not property. Scientifically, and of course ethically, we know pigs are not property or objects—they are persons or beings. But in Harris’ judgment, which was presented in a very black-and-white way, he said they are property. It’s very sad. He had an opportunity to move the law, and basically he took a very conservative, procedural approach.

Their main defense was that I was acting in the public good. I was a good Samaritan doing what is right. But the judge dismissed that justification. Turns out the judge is a farmer—I just found this out. He came from a farming community. But he was still open-minded.

Do you think the media coverage impacted the public’s opinion of your activism?

I think it definitely increased support for what we’re doing. First of all, it increased awareness—people didn’t know. With the media coverage, the public actually got to look inside the trucks. The media was looping that incident of June 22nd [which prompted Anita’s arrest], which we fortunately videotaped. I said the pigs were dying of thirst, and the media would show a video clip of the poor pigs in that truck with open mouths, panting and foaming at the mouth. Clearly they were really, really thirsty.

Then the media would link to our videos. Water for Poor Angel Victims was one of the first videos we did in 2013, and the media linked to it and the views went up by 150,000. So there was way more support because they were spreading knowledge and information about what we do. For the first time, images of these pigs were getting out. So the images that you and I know so well began to infiltrate the mainstream. It’s been incredibly positive. And more people are getting involved, which has always been our objective. We don’t just want people to change their diet; we want them to become activists.

Speaking of activists, do you have any advice for people who are facing prosecution for compassionate actions like yours?

I think one should always follow their conscience. 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. Historically, a lot of social movements have fought battles in the legal realm. You think of desegregation legal victories, pro choice legal victories. The law is one place, but what is clear is that what is ethical and what is legal is often very different. So it’s important to always be focused on what is ethical.

On the other hand, in terms of creating public awareness, our group was around since 2010, and we’ve been doing weekly vigils since July 2011. So we’ve done more than a thousand vigils just in the Toronto area. We got a little bit of media coverage here and there. When the trial happened, it was unbelievable. In the pre-trial stage, it became a national media story. From the standpoint of any activist who does this, we look at [the bearing witness vigils] and say, “Oh my God, if only the whole world could just see what we see. Look at these animals in the truck. If people just saw this, they would not participate in harming these animals.” But something like a trial is very easy for the media to cover. They are pressed by their advertisers to not cover our vigils. It’s harder for them. But when there’s a trial, it’s very easy for the mainstream media to cover it. I believe there’s good people in the media. By and large, the media coverage was really, really positive and supportive. Also, this case was a simple story: somebody is charged for an act of compassion. Not all cases will be this simple.

Was there anyone or anything that gave you strength or inspired you?

Definitely Leo Tolstoy. Throughout the trial I was reading him a lot. Particularly that point about one should just follow their conscience. Who you are is determined by your actions, not by what other people say. Whatever the outside environment is—whether it’s adverse or supportive—what matters is what you do. That’s the basic principle Tolstoy advanced, and I lived it. I was charged, but I wasn’t worried, because I did the right thing, no matter what the consequences were. And I will continue to do the right thing. I always said, I’m going to follow the Golden Rule, no matter what the court decides.

 

Photo by J. D. Ebberly via Flickr

Dolphins are truly remarkable animals. Early cultures so highly regarded dolphins that they featured them in their mythology and artwork. The ancient Greeks, for instance, often depicted Poseidon and Aphrodite accompanied by dolphins, and Indigenous peoples in Brazil have long venerated the Amazon river dolphin as sacred, considering it bad luck to kill or eat one.

Scientists believe dolphins are the second most intelligent beings on Earth (after humans) and have argued that they should be treated as nonhuman persons.

In some ways, we’ve loved these animals to death. We want to be close to them – so close that we’ve learned how to capture dolphins through violent hunts in places like Taiji, keep them in tiny tanks, breed them, and “train” them to perform tricks for our amusement. The gentle curve of their mouths give them the appearance of always smiling, even as they are suffering at human hands.

Captivity, recreational boating, commercial fishing (as “bycatch”), and habitat loss through coastal development are just a few of the threats dolphins face. In honor of National Dolphin Day, here are seven things we can do to help them:

1. Protect the oceans. Dolphins live there, after all. We can start by not consuming marine life and minimizing our individual use of plastic, which often ends up in the ocean.

2. Never patronize businesses that keep dolphins (or other animals) in captivity – this includes places that let you “swim with dolphins.”

3. Speak out against the Taiji dolphin hunts. The notorious annual dolphin hunts take place near Taiji, Japan, from about September 1 until at least March. Every year, fishermen locate pods of migrating dolphins out at sea and herd them into Hatagiri Bay with boats, nets, and long metal rods that crew members dip below the surface and pound to create an acoustical wall that disorients the dolphins’ sonar. The fishermen leave the animals overnight in a narrow cove and return at dawn armed with the knives and spears that will gradually turn the blue tide scarlet. While many dolphins are killed for meat, others are sold to zoos and marine parks worldwide, making the drives an incredibly lucrative business.

Contact authorities in Taiji, as well as the Japanese Embassy, US Embassy to Japan, US and Japanese Ambassadors to the UN, and the US Senate members of the Committee on Foreign Relations. Call or send them a polite message expressing your feelings about the dolphin hunts and ask them to do everything in their power to help put an end to the misery.

Prime Minister of Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Cabinet Office, Government of Japan 1-6-1 Nagata-cho Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. 100-8914 JAPAN +81-3-5253-2111

Website: http://www.kantei.go.jp/foreign/index-e.html Online comment form #1: https://www.kantei.go.jp/foreign/forms/comment_ssl.html Online comment form #2: https://form.cao.go.jp/kokusai/en_opinion-0001.html

Japanese Embassies Worldwide: Websites of Japanese Embassies, Consulates and Permanent Missions

List of Embassies and Consulates-General in Japan: List of Embassies and Consulates-General in Japan

United States UN Representative: Samantha Power – US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power’s Twitter United States Mission to the United Nations Contact Form

US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations: US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

International Whaling Commission (IWC) The Red House, 135 Station Road, Impington, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire CB24 9NP, UK. Tel: +44 (0) 1223 233 971 Fax: +44 (0) 1223 232 87 Email: secretariat@iwcoffice.org

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) / Convention on Migratory Species (CMP) UNEP/CMS Secretariat Platz der Vereinten Nationen 1 53113 Bonn, Germany Tel: (+49 228) 815 2401 Fax: (+49 228) 815 2449 Email: secretariat@cms.int

(The position of US Ambassador to Japan is currently vacant; I’ll update this post once it is filled.)

4. Join volunteers in Taiji. You can also volunteer with Sea Shepherd or The Dolphin Project on site in Taiji. Those who are interested in volunteering as a Sea Shepherd Cove Guardian should email groundcrew@seashepherd.org. (Please note that volunteer applicants must be able to commit to participating in the campaign for a minimum of one week.) To sign up to join Ric O’Barry and his Dolphin Project team as a Project Cove Monitor, please click here.

5. Contact travel companies and travel agents. It was great news when Thomas Cook and TripAdvisor recently stopped offering or promoting travel to attractions that exploit dolphins and other animals. But plenty of travel companies and travel agents still feature attractions and hotels that keep cetaceans in captivity. When you see a company promoting dolphin captivity, ask them to reconsider. If they don’t respond, send an email to coveguardians@seashepherduk.org.

6. Support groups working on behalf of dolphins. Such groups include The Dolphin Project, Sea Shepherd, and Blue Voice.

7. Know how to respond if you find a live dolphin stranded on the beach. Click here.

Oh, and if you’re looking for a truly dolphin-safe can of tuna, try this one – or make a great-tasting tuna-like salad using chickpeas!

Please share this post with family and friends and ask them to get involved.

 

Tilikum (c. November 1981 – January 6, 2017)

Tilikum (c. November 1981 – January 6, 2017)

Tilikum is dead. The orca made famous in the 2013 documentary Blackfish was two years old when he was seized in the open waters off Iceland in 1983 and had lived in small tanks ever since. He died today at SeaWorld Orlando, where he’d been held in captivity for the final 24 years of his life. It was last March that SeaWorld announced the orca had a drug-resistant bacterial lung infection, though the official cause of death has yet to be announced.

I researched Tilikum for my 2013 book Bleating Hearts, and in doing so I learned much about orcas. I discovered that in the wild they can live to be 100 years old or more. (Tilikum was 36 when he died.) Highly social animals, orcas are especially vulnerable when restricted to tiny spaces like aquarium tanks and pools. These are some of the largest predators on Earth, reaching up to 32 feet in length. They travel as far as 100 miles in a single day and have been known to suffer depression when deprived of their family and the stimulation of life at sea.

A clue to the toll confinement takes on killer whales can be easily seen in their dorsal fins. In nature, these sleek, black fins stand straight and high, while in captivity, the dorsal fin of all adult males and many adult females collapses, or droops over to one side—a byproduct of the orca spending a lifetime near the water’s surface, though scientists are unsure why this phenomenon occurs.

blackfish-posterIn 2010, Tilikum killed his “trainer” at SeaWorld Orlando, Dawn Brancheau. Dawn was not the first human death Tilikum was responsible for (he’d killed a part-time trainer while being held at Sealand of the Pacific in 1991, and then a visitor who’d slipped into the pool after hours at SeaWorld Orlando in 1999), and SeaWorld should have recognized both the psychological stress Tili was under and the danger of allowing park employees to be in the water with him.

Dawn’s death eventually led to the documentary Blackfish, which focuses on Tilikum. The film was shown on CNN and Netflix, resulting in a public outcry against captivity that SeaWorld could not ignore. Attendance at the park plummeted—along with revenue—and the company was forced to make changes. Clearly, were it not for Tilikum and Blackfish, today it would be business as usual at SeaWorld. Instead, the company has agreed to phase out its orca performances and halt its orca breeding program.

There are scores of orcas in captivity worldwide, and we can do better for them than simply waiting for them to die.

What You Can Do:

Never visit a marine park or the other enterprise that keeps marine mammals (or other animals, for that matter) in captivity. Ask family and friends not to visit, either.

Join the efforts of activists who campaign against animal captivity. Groups such as CompassionWorks International and the Captive Animals’ Protection Society focus their work on animals in captivity and assist others doing the same.

Support efforts to “retire” orcas from parks like SeaWorld and Miami Seaquarium and release them into seaside sanctuaries. Click here for more information.

Sign the petition to make the results of Tilikum’s autopsy public. Doing so will help ensure SeaWorld is transparent about how and why Tilikum died.

Help the Southern Resident killer whale population. These endangered orcas are suffering from a lack of salmon to feed on thanks to hydro-electric dams on the Snake River in Idaho. Click here for actions you can take.

Learn more about Tilikum and other orcas in captivity. Watch Blackfish, which is available on Netflix, or purchase a copy of the film on DVD. Hold a screening for your family and friends.

I also recommend you follow advocates actively working on behalf of orcas in captivity, including Dr. Lori Marino of the Kimmela Center; former SeaWorld trainers Samantha Berg, Carol Ray, and Jeffrey Ventre; Paige Nelson; Dr. Ingrid Visser; and the Orca Project.

 

Clearly, 2016 was a mixed bag. We had some exciting wins for the first 10 months or so, and things were looking good. Then, around November 9, there was an unmistakable pivot in the national mood. The world seemed a little darker.

As a sit down to reflect on the last 12 months of victories for animals, my feelings are tempered by the knowledge that 2017 could be a very different year not only for nonhuman animals, but for many vulnerable groups and the environment. Perhaps that makes this entry all the more poignant. I can’t say what the future holds, but I can recognize some of the stories in which animals won and animal activists have reason to celebrate. In that spirit, here are a dozen stories I loved, and I think you will, too.

1. SeaWorld agrees to end captive breeding of killer whales (March)

orca-and-calfThis is spectacular news, not just for animals, but for animal advocates. It clearly shows the impact that activists can have when they use a variety of methods to campaign for animals. (One sour note to this news is that the orcas in captivity at SeaWorld locations will remain in captivity—at least for now.) SeaWorld also promised to end orca shows at all its entertainment parks by 2019.

My profound thanks to everyone who has agitated on behalf of orcas, even long before the release of Blackfish kicked this campaign into high gear. The struggle is far from over, but it’s important we acknowledge how far we’ve come.

2. Armani goes fur free (March)

After years of campaigning by animal rights groups, fashion designer Georgio Armani pledged to go 100 percent fur-free across all his labels from the autumn/winter 2016 collection onwards.

“I am pleased to announce that the Armani Group has made a firm commitment to abolish the use of animal fur in its collections,” said Giorgio Armani. “Technological progress made over the years allows us to have valid alternatives at our disposition that render the use of cruel practices unnecessary as regards animals. Pursuing the positive process undertaken long ago, my company is now taking a major step ahead, reflecting our attention to the critical issues of protecting and caring for the environment and animals.”

Most fur used in the fashion industry comes from fur farms, where wild animals are kept in small cages and killed by cruel methods that preserve the pelts—such as gassing and anal electrocution. Moreover, fur production has high environmental costs and health risks due to its chemical-heavy production process.

By committing to a fur-free policy, Armani joins other luxury brands, including Hugo Boss, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, and Stella McCartney.

3. Iran bans animal acts in circuses (March)

This year Iran joined a growing number of countries—including Austria, Bolivia, Colombia, Greece, Mexico, and Singapore—that have banned circuses that use wild animals. The law led to the immediate closure of at least 13 circuses across the country and follows the successful No to Circus! campaign launched by Animal Rights Watch in September 2014 and supported by Animal Defenders International.

4. Octopus escapes from NZ aquarium and back out to sea (April)

Inky

Inky

When Inky the octopus slipped out of a tank in New Zealand’s National Aquarium, crawled across the floor, squeezed his football-sized body into a six-inch-wide drain pipe, and escaped into the Pacific Ocean, he literally became a breakout star. By liberating himself, he also symbolized the will of animals in captivity. Animal activists tirelessly campaign against circuses, zoos, marine parks, and other enterprises that confine animals, and this story illustrated that octopuses are not only smart, but resourceful.

Inky had been inside the aquarium since 2014, when he’d been inadvertently caught in a crayfish pot and given to the aquarium. (Going after one species and catching another—called “bycatch” in the fishing industry—is all too common.)

5. Ringling Bros. “retires” its elephants 2 years ahead of schedule (May)

For decades, animal activists and animal rights groups have been urging circuses to stop using animals. Last year, the biggest target of their campaigning, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, finally agreed to stop using elephants. Feld Entertainment, which owns the circus, had originally planned to retire the elephants in 2018, but moved up the timeline in the face of constant criticism from activists and an increasing number of local laws aimed at restricting their animal shows.

The elephants will now settle into the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation, just a few miles from Disney World and tucked behind cattle ranches and orange groves. Unfortunately, controversy still surrounds this so-called retirement, as some of the elephants will be used for cancer research.

6. National Aquarium will retire all its dolphins to a sea sanctuary (June)

Dolphin sanctuary rendering

Dolphin sanctuary rendering

Another longtime target of protests against animal captivity, the National Aquarium in Baltimore has kept dolphins for 25 years. They finally stopped forcing the dolphins to perform in 2012 but continued to “display” them to the public. In June, the aquarium announced the dolphins would be released into an oceanside sanctuary by 2020.

The National Aquarium is exploring seaside sites in Florida and the Caribbean to create a new home for its eight Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, seven of whom were born in captivity and have never swum in the ocean. Officials say this will be a first-of-its-kind protected, seaside habitat where the dolphins would still be cared for by humans.

7. Egg producers say they will eliminate killing of male chicks by 2020 (June)

One of the most insidious—and little-known—practices of the egg industry has long been the killing of male chicks. Since male chickens don’t lay eggs and are considered worthless to egg producers, some 200 million male chicks a year in the United States are killed shortly after hatching. These babies are either ground up while still alive or thrown into garbage bags to suffocate.

But with technology now able to determine the gender of a chick inside a fertilized egg just a few days into the 21-day incubation period, egg producers in the US and elsewhere have pledged to stop the cruel killing of male chicks by 2020.

None of this excuses the misery chickens endure in the egg industry (and 2020 is still a long way off), but it’s a step in the right direction.

8. Australia bans cosmetic animal testing (June)

The banning of animal testing and products that use such testing has become a growing trend. Now Australia joins the European Union, India, Israel, Norway, and Turkey, all of whom have passed similar measures to cut down on animal testing.

Australia’s ban goes into effect in July.

9. Sales of cow’s milk sour while sales of plant-based milk increase (July)

almond-milkAccording to a report by the market-research firm Nielsen, “Almond milk is now America’s favorite milk substitute, boasting sales growth of 250 percent over the past five years.” The dairy milk industry has been campaigning against milk alternatives, no doubt because while the popularity of almond milk grows, as the Nielsen report noted, “the total milk market shrunk by more than $1 billion.”

Meanwhile, a separate survey from this year reveals that half of omnivores are consuming plant-based beverages for health, taste, and ethical reasons.

Another concern for the animal ag industry: More and more dairy farmers are getting out of the business. In California, which happens to be both the #1 producer of almonds and dairy milk in the nation, dairy farmers are converting their farms into almond orchards.

10. California bans SeaWorld’s killer whale shows and breeding program (September)

Although SeaWorld announced it would cease breeding orcas and phase out orca shows earlier in the year, that wasn’t enough for California. Home to SeaWorld San Diego, the state formally banned both practices when Governor Jerry Brown signed the Orca Protection and Safety Act. The law goes into effect next June, after which the orcas can only be used for “educational purposes.” SeaWorld currently keeps 28 orcas in captivity in the US, 11 of whom are in California.

The bill’s sponsors say the legislation was important to make sure that SeaWorld can’t change its mind, and that no other California park can breed or do non-educational orca shows in the future.

Here’s hoping all orcas in captivity—as well as dolphins and other marine mammals—will eventually be placed in seaside sanctuaries.

11. India bans cruel Draize irritation tests on rabbits (November)

Named for the FDA toxicologist who developed it in 1944, the infamous Draize test is intended to evaluate the safety of cosmetics and other products using live animals. It’s most commonly used on rabbits, who are locked into restraining stocks so they cannot struggle or clean their eyes. A test chemical is then applied to one eye or to a shaved area of skin on their backs and they are monitored for 2 to 3 weeks, without any pain relief, for signs of permanent damage. This may include swelling, bleeding, ulceration, and blindness. A number of validated and internationally recognized non-animal alternatives, including reconstructed human skin and corneal tissues, have been available for years.

Thank you, India, for banning this horrific practice, and thanks to the animal advocates who campaigned to end it.

12. Massachusetts votes to ban extreme confinement of farmed animals (November)

One bright spot from the US’s November election was the passage of Question 3 in Massachusetts. Like California’s Proposition 2 in the 2008 election, this new law will prohibit Massachusetts farmers from confining egg-laying hens, breeding pigs, and calves raised for veal in spaces that prevent the animals from “lying down, standing up, fully extending its limbs, or turning around freely”—and the sale of meat and eggs resulting from these practices outside Massachusetts.

The new law will take effect in 2022 (presumably to give farmers time to reconfigure their facilities into compliance). The state attorney general will be required to issue regulations and enforce it, including a $1,000 fine for each violation.

 

Other stories of the year worth noting:

Warsaw, Poland, Bans Circuses That Use Animals (January)

Indian Health Ministry to End Repeat Animal Testing for Drugs (March)

India Bans Cosmetics Testing on Animals (April)

Bull Spearing Outlawed by Spanish Regional Government (May)

After 140 Years, Buenos Aires Zoo Closed Because “Captivity Is Degrading” (June)

Florida’s Bear Hunt Cancelled for the Year (June)

Rhode Island Becomes First State to Ban Elephant Bullhooks (July)

California Becomes Second State to Ban Bullhooks (August)

Norway Bans Elephants in Circuses (September)

After Uproar, US Government Says It Does Not Plan to Kill Wild Horses (September)

Gov. Brown Signs Bill Allowing People to Break Into Cars to Rescue Animals from Heat (September)

TripAdvisor to Stop Selling Tickets to Many Animal Attractions (October)

Last Fur Farm in Japan Closes (November)

Argentina Bans Greyhound Racing (November)

SeaWorld Cutting 320 Jobs in Restructuring after Attendance, Revenue Have Suffered in Face of Animal-Rights Campaign (December)

No More Wild Animals in Circuses in India (December)

 

 


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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