You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Animal activism’ tag.

It wasn’t very many decades ago that campaigns for animal protection were largely focused on the treatment of dogs and cats. But in the last 10 years, we have seen what were once considered fringe issues—such as animal captivity and farmed animals—move from the margins to the mainstream, and this year saw some tremendous victories. Consider that more and more cities and countries are making an effort to ban trophy hunting, animal testing, declawing, elephant rides, and shark fins. Even the fight against fur, which seemed to be slipping through the fingers of the animal rights movement, made tremendous strides in 2019. None of these would have been possible without a seismic shift in the public’s attitude toward how we treat animals—coupled with their growing embrace of vegan foods. Can you imagine just a few years ago consumers clamoring for plant-based options the way they do today? This is one of the principal reasons dairies are going out of business. (So, activists: keep fighting the good fight!)

Yes, 2019 was full of misery as well. But it’s time to celebrate some wins. From foie gras to fur, here’s a look at a dozen of the year’s top stories for animals.

  1. U.S. Supreme Court Upholds California Ban on Foie Gras (January)

Ever since a California law banning foie gras went into effect seven years ago, those who enjoy or profit from this cruel product have devoted their time and money to getting the ban lifted—and activists have been diligently fighting them. The law was challenged in a 2012 lawsuit by foie gras producers from the Canadian province of Quebec and New York’s Hudson Valley and by a Southern California restaurant chain, after which a U.S. district judge ruled that the ban violated the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act, which prohibits states from imposing their own conditions on the sale of bird flesh. In 2017, the California state attorney general appealed the ruling, and two years later, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed it. But the appeals court put a stay on the ban so that the plaintiffs could petition the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case. Now, by refusing to listen to further arguments, the highest court in the land affirmed that the “fatty liver” of force-fed ducks and geese cannot be produced, served, or sold in California.

  1. Sheep Farmer Takes Lambs to Sanctuary Instead of Slaughterhouse, Goes Vegetarian (January)

Two-lambsAfter nearly 50 years of raising and killing animals for food, farmer Sivalingam Vasanthakumar of Devon, England, had a dramatic change of heart. While taking 20 lambs to the slaughterhouse, he turned around and drove them nearly 200 miles, delivering them instead to the 92-acre Goodheart Animal Sanctuaries. “I just couldn’t cope any more and I had to say no,” he said, noting that he had made the same journey many times before and could always sense the terror the lambs felt. “They would try to hide in the back of the trailer and wouldn’t want to come out. I would have to push them out, it was very stressful for me and the animals.” He said he’s a vegetarian now and will grow vegetables rather than raise animals. Goodheart manager Dave Bourne said this was the first time a farmer had brought lambs to the sanctuary.

  1. Colombia Bans Recreational Hunting (February)

Citing the need to protect animals and the environment, Colombia became the second country in Latin America (after Costa Rica) to ban hunting for recreation. “Animals are not things, they are beings with feelings,” said magistrate Antonio Jose Lizarazo, who was behind the legislation. The ban, which goes into effect on February 6, 2020, was the result of a lawsuit filed by activist and attorney Laura Santacoloma, who sought to have recreational hunting outlawed as environmentally detrimental to a country with such remarkable biodiversity.

In trying to fight the ban, hunters in Colombia apparently argued that shooting animals for fun fit into the national culture and that it was even an educational pursuit.

  1. Australia Bans Use of Data from Animal Tests in Cosmetics (March)

When the Parliament of Australia finally passed the Industrial Chemicals Bill 2017, it began a new chapter in the history of Australian animal rights. The new law takes effect on July 1, 2020. Under the legislation companies will be banned from using data taken as a result of animal testing when introducing a new chemical or ingredient for the beauty market. According to the Department of Health, “As technology has advanced, there has been an international move away from the use of animals for this purpose. Animal tests are expensive, time consuming to conduct and are questioned on both ethical and scientific grounds.”

The ban is far from perfect, as it only applies to ingredients used exclusively in cosmetics products. Also, although the ban restricts companies from relying on animal test data for regulatory testing, it does not necessarily ban tests on animals. This means that products sold in China—where tests on animals are mandated by law for imported cosmetics—may still be sold in Australia provided companies also demonstrate equivalent non-animal test data where appropriate. But it’s a step in the right direction.

  1. Cuba Has Its First Animal Rights March (April)

In what is considered to be the first independent protest of any kind allowed in the country in decades, activists in Havana, Cuba, organized a short but significant march on behalf of animals. More than 400 animal advocates, some carrying signs, walked about a mile with their dogs and chanted slogans as they demonstrated peacefully and called for an animal welfare law.

“It’s not easy to see the situation of many abandoned animals, who roam the streets without food and safe medical care and are mistreated by irresponsible people,” said co-organizer Beatriz Batista. “That’s why this type of action is very important at this time, when Cuban society is gaining awareness and is increasingly involved in this issue.”

“It’s unprecedented,” said Alberto Gonzalez, co-organizer and publisher of The Ark, an online Cuban animal-lovers magazine. “This is going to mark a before and an after.”

Marches in Cuba had until now been strictly controlled by the government and were mostly limited to demonstrations celebrating the 1959 revolution or religious processions.

  1. Indian Court Rules That All Animals Have Legal Personhood (May)

On May 31, the Punjab and Haryana High Court ruled that animals, including birds and fishes, have legal rights like humans and declared citizens the “guardians of the animal kingdom” with a duty to ensure their welfare and protection. The ruling came after 29 cows were packed and transported nearly 400 miles in appalling conditions from Uttar Pradesh to Haryana. “We have to show compassion towards all living creatures,” wrote Justice Rajiv Sharma. “Animals may be mute but we as a society have to speak on their behalf. No pain or agony should be caused to the animals. Cruelty to animals also causes psychological pain to them. In Hindu Mythology, every animal is associated with god. Animals breathe like us and have emotions. The animals require food, water, shelter, normal behaviour, medical care, self-determination.”

The decision saw the court issuing several “mandatory directions” for the “welfare of the animal kingdom” in Haryana. This isn’t the first time such a judgement has been declared in India. Last year, the Uttarakhand High Court accorded the status of “legal person or entity” to animals in the northern state, and in 2014, India’s Supreme Court ruled that all animals should have constitutional and legal rights.

  1. Canada Bans Keeping Whales and Dolphins in Captivity (June)

orcaCanada’s House of Commons passed the Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act, known colloquially as the “Free Willy” bill, which was introduced in December 2015. It bans keeping whales, dolphins, and porpoises in captivity and bans their use in performances. Cetaceans who are already in captivity are grandfathered in by the bill, however, meaning Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario, can keep all the animals they currently exploit—55 beluga whales, five bottlenose dolphins, and one orca—even though they strongly opposed the bill. Phil Demers, a former Marineland trainer-turned activist, called the bill’s passing a “historic day for Canada.” He has been an outspoken critic of Marineland and says keeping mammals in captivity is abusive. “This is validation for all the concerns that … former Marineland employees and activists alike have been stressing for many decades.” Former Senator Wilfred Moore, who introduced the bill four years ago, said, “We have a moral obligation to phase out the capture and retention of animals for profit and entertainment. Canadians are calling upon us to do better—and we have listened.”

  1. England Bans Wild Animals in Traveling Circuses (July)

Coming into effect in January 2020, the Wild Animals in Circuses (No. 2) Bill is the result of more than 20 years of investigations and campaigns by animal protection organizations, including Animal Defenders International, which began exposing circus cruelty in the UK in 1993. “Travelling circuses are no place for wild animals in the 21st century and I am pleased that this legislation will put an end to this practice for good,” said Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who introduced the bill in May of this year. The legislation follows similar bans recently passed in Ireland and Scotland and a ban under discussion in Wales.

  1. Zoo Trade in Baby Elephants Banned Internationally (August)

After a contentious debate at a meeting of parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species held in Geneva in August, the member countries decided to impose a near-total ban on snatching African elephants from the wild and selling them to zoos. The decision was strongly opposed by Zimbabwe, which, along with Botswana, is the main provider of wild African elephants to zoos outside the continent and tried to block the vote, saying they view elephants as an “economic opportunity” and should be allowed to sell them. The ban went into effect on November 26, 2019.

  1. California Becomes the First State to Ban Fur Trapping (September)

Demonstrating that just because a practice is “tradition” doesn’t mean it’s worth keeping, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law the Wildlife Protection Act of 2019, banning the trapping of animals for fur. “Fur trapping is a cruel practice that has no place in 21st century California,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who authored the ban bill. “The fact that the majority of California taxpayers overwhelmingly disapprove of this archaic practice and have been unknowingly subsidizing it for years is simply unacceptable.” Trapping animals for their skins has had a long history in California, dating back 200 years, when thousands of trappers plied their trade while cruelly killing countless bears, rabbits, beavers, racoons, coyotes, otters, foxes, and other species.

  1. California becomes the first State to Ban Fur Products (October)

AB44_TY_California_2Just weeks after banning fur trapping, California took an even bigger step into a compassionate future by banning the manufacture, sale, and display of clothing, shoes, slippers, hats, keychains, or handbags with fur. After signing it, Gov. Newsom called the legislation “one of the strongest animal rights laws in U.S. history.” It even bars residents from donating fur products. Other states may soon follow in California’s footsteps: Hawaii and New York have introduced their own fur-ban legislation.

The Fur Information Council of America condemned California’s ban, which goes into effect on January 1, 2023, as being part of a “radical vegan agenda” and has threatened a court challenge.

  1. Animal Cruelty Officially Becomes a Felony Across the U.S. (November)

I admit I debated whether or not to include this among the top 12 victories of the year—which is always a subjective list anyway. On the one hand, this new anti-cruelty legislation is a significant statement against animal cruelty, making it a federal crime to crush, drown, suffocate, sexually exploit, stab, or burn animals (thus making it easier to prosecute the makers of so-called “crush videos,” which I examine in detail in Bleating Hearts). On the other hand, it does not cover the estimated nine billion farmed animals raised and killed every year for food in the U.S., nor does it include fishes killed through fishing or animals killed by hunters. So we’re left wondering: just what is animal cruelty? And the answer to that should never be subjective.

 

Other stories of the year worth noting:

Veganuary ends on record high with 250,000 participants (January)

Pig escapes transport to slaughterhouse and ends up in Iowa animal sanctuary (February)

Chimps use branch as ladder to escape from Belfast zoo enclosure (February)

Milk sales declined by $1.1 billion last year (March)

Escaped lamb finds home in sanctuary (March)

Dick’s Sporting Goods removes guns from its stores (March)

Madrid bans wild animals in circuses (March)

Rhino poacher killed by elephant and eaten by lions (April)

Animal rights protest causes chaos in Melbourne (April)

Norway to end fur farming (April)

How a B.C. cop crossed the protest line for animal rights (April)

Rescued ‘bile bears’ find sanctuary in Vietnam (April)

Prada bans fur (May)

‘Historic day for Scotland’ as beavers get protected status (May)

Hundreds of animal rights activists march against slaughterhouses in Paris (June)

Nevada becomes second state to ban cosmetics testing on animals (June)

Animals trapped in notorious Russia ‘whale jail’ begin path to freedom (June)

Fur farming banned in Ireland (June)

Canada becomes first G7 country to ban shark fins (June)

New York becomes first state to ban cat declawing (July)

Wild animals in circuses to be banned in Wales (July)

79% of respondents say they would support a federal law prohibiting animal testing for cosmetics (August)

Record 12,000 vegan activists march for animal rights in London (August)

SeaWorld blames ‘radical animal rights activists’ as British Airways cuts ties (August)

Illinois becomes latest state to ban animal testing for cosmetics (August)

The ACT become the first jurisdiction in Australia to change the legal status of animals from being purely ‘property’ to sentient beings in their own right (September)

Animal rights activists win free speech ruling in California (September)

Squirrel blocks woman’s path then leads her to injured baby by ‘tugging at her leg’ (September)

Taylor Swift cancels Melbourne Cup performance, animal rights activists applaud (September)

California bans most animals from circuses (October)

Scottish farmer drives 275 miles to rescue lamb she sold for meat (October)

Hen escapes egg farm by hiding out in delivery truck (October)

Slovakia bans fur farming (October)

New York’s elephant act ban goes into effect (October)

TripAdvisor will no longer sell tickets to attractions that breed captive dolphins and whales (October)

Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s ditch fur (October)

California’s oldest dairy is closing its doors after more than 125 years (October)

Queen to go fur-free for first time says official dresser (November)

This orangutan’s ‘personhood’ victory brings hope to U.S. animal rights movement (November)

Paris moves to ban wild animals from circuses (November)

Tuna seller Bumble Bee files for bankruptcy (November)

Cambodia to ban elephant rides at Angkor Wat (November)

Russia releases last of captured whales into the wild (November)

The Humane Cosmetics Act is now in front of Congress (November)

Biggest U.S. milk company files for Chapter 11 (November)

New York City bans foie gras (November)

House approves bill to eliminate sale of shark fins nationwide (November)

Newfoundland fur farm closes due to sagging market (December)

Federal judge halts enforcement of Iowa’s newest ag-gag law (December)

Ontario passes new animal welfare legislation with stiffer penalties (December)

Greeting card company stops selling images of captive apes after campaign by animal rights protestors (December)

Half the UK population is cutting back on meat or giving it up, according to market analysts Mintel (December)

Russian circuses face calls to ban performing animals (December)

Federal judge blocks law that would stop ‘fake meat’ from marketing with ‘real meat’ terminology (December)

Anti-fur activism is on the rise. What does that mean for Canada Goose? (December)

 

fur-killsThere has been a lot of great news about animal-based fur in the last couple of years. Not only did California just become the first state in the U.S. to ban the production and sale of fur, but it banned fur trapping. New York City is also considering a ban on fur sales. Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s made headlines this month when they announced they would no longer sell fur, adding their names to an ever-growing list of department stores, designers, and fashion houses—including Burberry, Calvin Klein, Georgio Armani, Gucci, Michael Kors, Prada, and Ralph Lauren—that have gone fur-free. In 2018, designer Donatella Versace, long known for her support of fur, said, “Fur? I am out of that. I don’t want to kill animals to make fashion. It doesn’t feel right.” Meanwhile, Norway and Slovakia recently said they are closing their fur farms, joining more than a dozen other countries in Europe that are banning fur farming and removing an important link in the supply chain. Even London Fashion Week ditched animal fur last year.

With all these advancements for fur-bearing animals, it’s tempting to think fur is finally dead. Sadly, it’s not, and activists can’t make the mistake of believing we’ve crossed the finish line—yet.

Just as many people are surprised to learn that whales are still being killed—they ask, “Didn’t that end in the eighties?”—activists have not put the final nail into fur’s coffin. After anti-fur campaigns in the sixties, seventies, and eighties, it looked like the industry was on its last breath, but fur made a comeback in the 1990s, buoyed by newly affluent buyers in China, South Korea, and Russia. By 2004, the global fur industry was worth $11.7 billion. Now, according to the International Fur Federation, the industry is valued at $40 billion. In the U.S., fur hit a 17-year high last year with $531 million in sales, up from $337 million in 2014.

So what happened? Part of the answer is that the fur industry found new markets for its cruel products. They began targeting the next generation of consumers with dyes to create a “modern” look. They hired new celebrity models. They looked beyond coats, gloves, and hats and used fur to adorn household items like furniture as well as shoes, keychains, pillows, scarves, and cat toys. And they created thinner fur garments that could be worn in warmer climates.

They also got into design schools, subsidizing the fur used by students—even in high school.

One of their biggest efforts has been the greenwashing of fur. As I discuss in Bleating Hearts, to divert consumer attention away from animal cruelty, the industry now touts fur as the ultimate “eco fashion,” such as in the Fur Council of Canada’s print ad featuring a model decked out in fur beneath the headline “Environmental Activist.” The ad copy explains that “wearing fur also helps protect nature, by supporting people who live on the land.” By “people” they mean trappers, who “depend on nature for their livelihoods.” Absent from the ad is any mention of the millions of “trash” animals trappers routinely kill while they are being “stewards of Earth.”

Indeed, the Council would have us believe that fur garments and accessories only come from animals caught in the wild. “In nature, each plant and animal species generally produces more offspring than the land can support to maturity,” reads the their website. “Like other species, we live by making use of part of this surplus that nature creates.” This is a preposterous lie, as far as the fur industry is concerned, because the majority of fur used in the trade is produced in farms from animals specifically bred for this purpose, and they know it. (Canada’s market for fur-farmed animals is three times the size of its wild-fur market.) A 2011 study on the environmental effects of mink-fur production found that it takes 11 animals to produce 1 kilogram of fur, and that the industry has a higher impact than other textiles in 17 of 18 measurement categories, including global warming and toxic emissions.

But fur’s carefully orchestrated comeback goes even deeper.

“The animal rights movement once before underestimated the fur industry and prematurely celebrated its supposed imminent demise,” says Ryan Shapiro, PhD, a longtime animal rights activist and now executive director of the transparency organization Property of the People. “Not only did this allow the industry to rebound, but the fur industry is just as committed to eliminating the animal rights movement as we are to ending it.” Ryan notes that documents he has obtained from one of his many Freedom of Information Act lawsuits against the FBI reveal it was the resurgent fur industry in the late-1990s that secretly met with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to coordinate a federal assault on the animal rights movement. “It was the fur industry that pushed the DOJ and FBI to target the animal rights movement as a terrorist threat. It was the fur industry that gave the DOJ and FBI lists of activists and organizations it wanted neutralized. And it was ultimately this lobbying behind closed doors by the fur industry that gave rise to today’s Green Scare. The fur industry poses a double menace, both to animals and the movement for their liberation. We cannot rest until this vicious industry is entirely eradicated and consigned to the dustbin of history.”

Not everyone agrees that recent victories mean activists might shift their efforts to other campaigns.

Camilla Fox, executive director of Project Coyote in California, says she doesn’t believe the state’s new anti-fur legislation will slow down activists. “I think if anything success like this re-inspires people to stay engaged and continue pursuit of related issues—especially if they’re tapped into email alerts from organizations like ours to stay apprised of what other issues need attention.”

And Camille Labchuk, executive director of the animal law organization Animal Justice and one of Canada’s leading animal rights lawyers, told The Star that the recent fur-related bans in the U.S. and Europe have created an “unstoppable momentum” that she hopes will extend to her country, where activists continue to take action against outdoor clothing company Canada Goose for its use of down and coyote fur.

I hope they’re right. We’ve come a long way, and we do indeed have momentum, but I fear we could see a repeat of the nineties, with fur coming back strong, especially if the industry has the FBI and DOJ watching their back.

“Activists need to keep the pressure on fur to make sure that it stays away for good,” says animal rights advocate lauren Ornelas, who attended her first anti-fur protest in 1987. “We just need to keep reinforcing the fact that non-human animals are not ours to exploit.”

What You Can Do

Looking to get involved but don’t know where to begin? One place you can start is the Fur Free Alliance, an international coalition of animal protection organizations working to end the deprivation and cruelty suffered by fur-bearing animals both in wild trapping and industrial fur farming. They offer a number of fact sheets that you can use in your activism, which can be as simple as talking to family and friends about this issue, sharing information on social media, or signing petitions like this one, this one, or this one. You can write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Or you can participate in a Fur Free Friday protest on November 29 (do an online search for an event in your area). You can even speak directly to retailers that still sell fur and tell them you won’t shop there until they remove the cruelty from their racks. And you can contact fashion brands that use fur in their designs and tell them you won’t support them. Of course, you can also contact companies that have ditched fur and thank them! Whatever steps you take, large or small, each one makes a difference for the animals.

 

Nearly four centuries years ago, philosopher and physicist Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) condensed the art of persuasion to its core. He argued that the best way to change someone’s mind is to be empathetic. “We must put ourselves in the place of those who are to hear us,” he wrote in his book Pensées (“Thoughts”). “When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false.”

In other words, being powerfully persuasive begins by saying, “You’re right.”

Pascal’s persuasion premise has two fundamental steps:

  1. To convince someone they are wrong, you must first clarify where they are correct.
  2. Then, you should guide them to conclude on their own that their original opinion was wrong.

In an interview with Quartz, University of Texas at Austin psychology professor Arthur Markham says Pascal was spot on. “One of the first things you have to do to give someone permission to change their mind is to lower their defenses and prevent them from digging their heels in to the position they already staked out,” he says. “If I immediately start to tell you all the ways in which you’re wrong, there’s no incentive for you to cooperate. But if I start by saying, ‘Ah yeah, you made a couple of really good points here, I think these are important issues,’ now you’re giving the other party a reason to want to cooperate as part of the exchange. And that gives you a chance to give voice your own concerns about their position in a way that allows cooperation.”

Blaise Pascal

Naturally, I wondered how this principle could be applied to animal activism. My first stumbling block was how does an activist tell someone who eats or otherwise exploits animals they are right? After some contemplation, I realized I was thinking of it the wrong way. I could never tell someone they were right for eating meat, for instance, but I could find common ground with them—like most people, I grew up eating animals—and I could agree that eating plays a central role in our culture. So, instead of haranguing someone for eating animals, I might approach them from an empathetic viewpoint in which I admit that I, too, enjoyed eating meat, dairy, and eggs for many years. (Finding common ground with people is a time-honored approach in one-on-one activism, but you’d be surprised how often advocates opt for scolding instead of conversations.)

Because people are more apt to change their minds when we affirm the value and truth in at least some of what they have to say, not when we attack their opinions and habits, I might guide the conversation toward discussing the importance of sharing meals, which clearly plays a significant role in our society and is another area where we can find common ground. As I wrote in A Vegan Ethic, “One of the principal reasons we cling to that habit of meat-eating is that it’s a group ritual filled with emotional potency—transporting us back to a wonderful childhood memory in Grandma’s kitchen, for example, barbecues with Dad, or enjoying a holiday meal in which a dead animal has always been the centerpiece.” Thus establishing some commonality with this person (i.e., I used to eat animals, too, and I completely understand the cultural significance of dining with others), I might mention that in addition to the social aspects, the pleasure of eating is about the taste and texture—at least for most people—and these can now be replicated with plant-based meats and the proper seasoning. (In this case, I would assume that someone wants the experience of eating “meat” before turning them onto whole foods.)

Now I can move on to the second step of Pascal’s premise and try to guide them to conclude that their own opinion was incorrect. One way to do this is to illustrate how eating animals is likely inconsistent with their values concerning animal welfare. Most people consider themselves compassionate, and they frankly don’t understand how their habit is in dramatic contrast to their benign self-image. For meat-eaters, getting to this point—overcoming their morally tormented psyches so they can devour the flesh of animals guilt-free—takes a bit of clever psychological maneuvering, including no small amount of cognitive dissonance, that inner mechanism that is constantly searching for ways to justify harmful or unethical behavior. No one wants to look like a hypocrite.

One justification an omnivore typically makes is that animals are not thinking, feeling beings, so getting killed for food means nothing to them. Trouble is, we are learning more about animals every day, and it’s quickly becoming apparent that the animals with whom we share this planet not only think and feel pain but dream, plan for the future, grieve the loss of loved ones, and share with us a host of other attributes we used to believe applied only to humans. There is emerging evidence to suggest that some animals may even have a sense of humor.

If someone knows animals have rich inner lives, would they be less likely to eat them? Maybe. But perhaps a more direct way to encourage them to make the connection between their latent values and what they put on their plates is companion animals. In conversations with meat-eaters who seem open to sincere discussion, I often ask if they have or have ever had a companion animal; almost everyone answers “yes.” Then I ask them how they would feel if their dog, cat, rabbit, horse, etc., were subjected to the kind of cruelty animals raised for food suffer (and I might even remind them that animals one culture regards as “pets” can be considered “food” by another; it’s all a matter of perception).

Of course, we are only planting seeds here. Those major barriers to change—convenience, tradition, pleasure, and fear—affect everyone differently, and it can take someone years to “get it,” if ever. Moreover, vegan advocates are working against a massive, decades-old marketing machine supported by the deep pockets of animal agribusiness and subsidized by the government. This machine fills screens, airwaves, print media, and (perhaps most insidious of all) public schools with such deceptive messages as “beef: it’s what’s for dinner,” “milk: it does the body good,” and “the incredible, edible egg.” It is also responsible for such lies as the humane myth and the protein myth.

In the face of not only animal cruelty and human health but the ever-increasing climate crisis, there has never been a more critical time for vegan advocacy. Using empathy in persuasion can also be applied to other forms of activism, whether you’re agitating against animal captivity, fur, animal testing, or other forms of exploitation and abuse. I am not suggesting that Pascal’s approach should necessarily be adopted by all activists, but I believe we must be open to new tactics and strategies—even if they are centuries old.

 

 

 

Earlier this month, Procter & Gamble Co., the corporate conglomerate responsible for the manufacture of everything from toothpaste to face moisturizer, announced it had joined with the Humane Society International’s (HSI) #BeCrueltyFree campaign, which seeks to ban animal testing for cosmetics in all major global beauty markets by 2023. This is certainly good news, as P&G has been notorious for blinding, burning, maiming, and killing thousands of animals such as rabbits, dogs, hamsters, and guinea pigs every year, all while testing the toxicity of product ingredients.

The media announced the news with headlines such as “P&G joins the campaign against animal testing as Humane Society International’s new partner” (Cosmetics Business), “Procter & Gamble backs the eradication of animal testing” (Yahoo News), and “P&G joins effort to ban animal testing for cosmetics” (Cincinnati Business Courier). So far so good.

Then, a headline on the vegan-friendly site One Green Planet declared, “Procter & Gamble’s brand Herbal Essences is officially cruelty-free!” Actually, no, it’s not. A look at the Herbal Essences website shows their hair care products contain ingredients that definitely come from animals, including protein from silk and honey from bees, as well as some ingredients that sometimes come from animals, such as glycol distearate, stearyl alcohol, and glycerin.

We saw something similar occur last November, after the cosmetics brand CoverGirl (which P&G owned from 1989 to 2016) stopped testing its products on animals. “Cosmetics Giant COVERGIRL Certified As Cruelty-Free And Given Leaping Bunny,” proclaimed Plant Based News. Yet CoverGirl continues to use animal-derived ingredients, including collagen, beeswax, and lanolin.

In addition to those ingredients, a beauty or personal care product could contain, for example, allantoin (cow urine), ambergris (whale vomit), carmine (crushed-up beetles), civet (anal gland of civet cats), fish scales, gelatin (cow or pig bones, tendons, or ligaments), lard (fat from pig abdomens), mink oil, pearl powder (from oysters), placenta (sheep organs), squalene (shark liver oil), or tallow (cow fat) and still earn “cruelty-free” certification from HSI or Cruelty Free International, the latter of which issues its Leaping Bunny symbol to companies that do not test on animals.

And hence the problem. When we in the animal rights/vegan movement use a term like “cruelty-free” to describe a product, others reasonably expect it to mean it is free from any cruelty—including animal ingredients.

Or human exploitation. For years, Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P.) has been raising awareness about the use of the worst forms of child labor, including slavery, in the chocolate industry, and calling companies—especially “vegan” companies—to task for sourcing their cacao from areas where slavery is known to be used. As F.E.P.’s founder and executive director lauren Ornelas has said many times, “Just because something is vegan doesn’t mean it’s cruelty-free.”

She extends this principle to exploited farm workers, as well, noting that the people who grow and harvest the fruits and vegetables adored by vegans and omnis alike are among the most abused laborers in the food system, imperiled by extreme weather, agricultural chemicals, and sexual abuse.

Let me be clear. I applaud the efforts of HSI and Cruelty Free International—neither of which implies that their certification means a product is vegan—and other organizations working to eliminate animal testing around the world; vivisection has long been a blight on humanity. But when groups, companies, or individuals use “cruelty-free” to only indicate products not tested on animals, or they ignore the human suffering that goes into “vegan” products, we dilute the meaning of the term and confuse those whose hearts and minds we are trying to win through our advocacy.*

This may sound like a trivial issue, but words matter. And as we try to help people make truly kind choices, we owe it to everyone—the animals, workers, consumers, and ourselves—to be accurate.

 

*Note: The Vegan Society’s trademark—a sunflower growing from the V in “vegan”—is used by brands internationally to signify a product contains no animal ingredients and has not been tested on animals.

 

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)

 

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.

 


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.

Get the Striking at the Roots Blog delivered to your email

    Follow me on Twitter