July 19, 2007

Tell Petsmart Not To Sell Rabbits

Posted in animal advocacy, companion animals at 6:16 pm by nevavegan

To learn more about this issue look here:

I have just learned that Petsmart has announced an intention to sell dwarf rabbits in their stores. I’m sick. It’s bad enough that they sell small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. They need to stop selling animals, not start selling more.

As someone closely acquainted with abandoned rabbits I know that domestic rabbits are abandoned and turned over to shelters all the time. So many are executed simply for not having a home. Others are not given up, but lead short miserable lives, because they are one of the most commonly neglected and abused companion animals.

Over the years I’ve had people call me because they saw a domestic rabbit (you can tell they aren’t wild if they are black and white or have long fur) running loose in their neighborhoods. My friends have found abandoned rabbits in parking lots, behind grocery stores, and in parks. When I volunteered at the shelter I comforted terrified rabbits only to see their time run out without finding a forever home. My own beloved Sherman, who recently passed away, was a starved bunny homeless in NYC, at the point of giving up, when luckily a homeless man found him and brought him to me.

I’ve seen bunnies living in cages too small even for a rat, despite the fact that many bunnies are as large as cats. My husband once saw a family who kept a bunny in a Tupperware crate, so all he ever saw were opaque plastic walls. Bunnies need to eat hay almost constantly, but I’ve seen so many people deny their bunnies hay because it was messy.

Most people I’ve met who ever had a bunny as a companion animal said their bunny died very young, often after a few months. This is almost always the result of untreated illness and/or improper diet. Bunnies can live as long as 15 years, though the range of 7 to 9 is more common. But bunnies who can’t eat the hay and fresh green vegetables they need will die within a year or so.

Petsmart is going to be selling bunnies as “starter pets,” but as someone who shares my home with rescued dogs, cats, and bunnies, I have to say the bunnies are in fact the most difficult to care for. Bunnies require a variety of foods, including hay and fresh veggies. They chew (one reason why they are so often caged for life) but they need lots of exercise like any animal. They require special vet care from someone experienced with rabbits and their vet care is often more expensive than vet care for a cat or dog. Bunnies need help with their grooming, like claw clipping, and long haired bunnies need almost daily brushing.

Bunnies need to be spayed or neutered like other companion animals. Unneutered male rabbits may “mark their territory” or become aggressive. Spaying improves the health of bunnies. When we adopted Juniper (Sherman’s long time companion who died about a year after he did) we learned that she had a tumor on her uterus when the rescue group got her spayed. She lived quite a few long healthy years after that, but had she not been spayed she would have died very soon.

Another reason to get your rabbit “fixed” is because they are social animals and need the company of other rabbits. It is hard sometimes to bond adult rabbits, but they really do need companionship. Once you see bunnies sleeping flopped into a heap, or grooming each other, you will understand the heartbreak of one lonely bunny living his whole life in a tiny cage.

The three bunnies that live with my husband and me right now were all rescued. Two of them, Josephine and Jasmine were seized from cruelty situations by animal control. So many beautiful bunnies are just waiting for homes in the shelters, there’s no excuse for Petsmart to start selling purposefully bred baby bunnies from bunny mills.

This was taken from the House Rabbit Society website:

Please let PetSmart know that you are unhappy with their decision to sell rabbits in their stores, rather than reach out to more rabbit rescue groups to expand their rabbit adoption programs. Please send PetSmart a polite letter or email, or give them a call to let them know of your concerns, via the contact information below:

Email: http://www.petsmart.com/global/customerservice/contactUsForm.jsp
or corpcommunications@ssg.petsmart.com
Phone: (800) 738-1385
Fax: (623) 580-6502
Snail mail:
PetSmart, Inc.
19601 North 27th Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85027


Michael Vick and 52 Abused Dogs

Posted in animal advocacy, companion animals, news at 3:38 pm by nevavegan

Yesterday I got an “urgent” alert from HSUS telling me what I already knew from the news. NFL star Michael Vick has been indicted for his participation in a terrifying dog fighting underworld most of us knew nothing about. Associates have testified that Michael Vick bred dogs for fighting, forced them to fight, ran dog fights, bet on dog fights, and personally killed dogs who lost fights in gruesome ways. He kept the dogs on his property starved to make them meaner and more aggressive in fights.

It’s hard to even find words for this. Someone who can kill dogs in this way, someone who can enjoy and bet on their suffering and agony is one thing: a sociopath. There’s no other way about it. Nobody can have the ability to feel empathy and participate in this kind of blood fest.

The news showed footage of forensic crews combing Vick’s property looking for dead dogs. The living dogs were whisked away, though one presented his battered face on the header of the email from HSUS. The email asked for donations to provide care for the living dogs.

This made me ask if the dogs are somehow in HSUS’s care. HSUS doesn’t run a shelter. Within the rescue community rumors were swirling yesterday. One woman heard that maybe the dogs were at a regular shelter in Virginia pending the outcome of Vick’s charges. Another person thought there were too many dogs for one shelter and surely they’d been split up and sent around the whole region. HSUS and shelter workers however have been tight lipped about the location and condition of the dogs, possibly out of concern for the dogs’ safety as they are sure to be key evidence in the upcoming trial.

What was not said in any of the emails or alerts was the sad truth that many of us who have volunteered or worked at shelters, or been involved in rescue already know. These dogs will be kept alive through Vick’s trial. After that, most if not all of these dogs will be killed. Dogs who have been abused in dog fighting typically fail shelters’ temperament tests, meaning they will likely be determined to be unadoptable. Some shelters will even automatically kill pit bulls (the breed of dog seized from Vick) because they believe the breed itself to be inherently dangerous. Should these dogs manage to pass the temperament tests and escape the lethal injection temporarily, there is the other issue of finding homes. 52 dogs with a history of abuse, who’ve been trained to be aggressive, have a poor chance at finding understanding homes and kind people willing to work with them.

While I’m glad there are laws against dog fighting and I’m glad that Michael Vick will be prosecuted for his astounding cruelty, I worry that on a deeper level we’ve somehow failed to reach the public.

Two stories in the news lately that are so very different share one underlying theme. The ditzy pop star buys an expensive puppy and the NFL star kills and abuses huge numbers of dogs. What do the stories have in common. The basic assumption that dogs are property, not living individuals who suffer and love and feel. In the world where dogs are things, they are accessories or proxies for their human owners.

The pop star who fears she might not really be so cute anymore re-affirms her cuteness with a designer dog. The sports star asserts his aggressive, dangerous, alpha male image by forcing dogs to fight to the death for his amusement, and killing with his own hands those dogs he felt were weak or passive. In this way he sends the message that he’s powerful, purged of anything soft, and that he’s dangerous and callous. It’s time we stopped worshipping dangerous, aggressive, cruel people. But it’s also time we stopped selling dogs as things and then acting surprised when people treat them as things.

July 18, 2007

Britney Spears Buys a Dog

Posted in animal advocacy, companion animals at 7:24 pm by nevavegan

Every Single Purchase Of A Companion Animal Means Death. Should I repeat that? Did you hear me?

As many people now know Britney Spears bought a dog. A very expensive dog. This isn’t unusual, many celebrities buy “designer pets,” choosing whatever breed of dog or cat or exotic animal is hip and in style at the moment.

It’s not just celebrities either. Lots of people purchase companion animals from breeders and pet stores. Sometimes there is something in the news about the horrors of puppy mills, enough to get dog lovers riled up for a while. But the larger story seems to be missed.

For every single animal purchased from a breeder, that means that another homeless animal in a shelter dies. For every single animal purchased from a pet store, a puppy mill, or a backyard breeder, that pays more people to enslave and breed animals for profit. More animals will be bred by all kinds of breeders from puppy mills to hobby breeders, because they see a demand for the puppies. However, more will be bred than will ever find homes and the unwanted animals will be dumped into shelters, turned loose to fend for themselves, or even killed. And since many of the animals bred and sold in this manner wind up as “impulse buys” (purchased by people who haven’t fully considered the responsibilities of caring for another living being), many of these animals will wind up in the shelters, where most will die simply for the crime of not having a home.

Each and every time we spend our money is our vote for the kind of world we want to live in. When we buy products produced by child labor, we are voting for child labor. When we buy fair trade items, we are voting for a better world. When we buy and rehab used items we vote for conserving resources. When we buy animals, we are voting to treat them as disposable commodities. When we buy dogs we are sending out our vote that the convenience killing of thousands of unwanted homeless dogs in this country is acceptable to us. We vote to keep doing things the same way and keep hiding the dumpsters full of dead dogs, cats, bunnies, hamsters, guinea pigs, and every imaginable companion animal. Out of sight, out of mind.

When a celebrity spends insane amounts of money to buy a dog, even from a “conscientious breeder” it inspires the puppy mills and backyard breeders to work overtime breeding doppelgangers of the celebrity puppy. Meanwhile the unwanted and forgotten animals in shelters languish and die. So many homeless dogs could have been helped with the $3000 that Spears reportedly paid for her puppy. And that $3000 is a big paycheck to the people who profit from selling, breeding, and mistreating dogs.

There are people who honestly don’t understand the horrible situation “man’s best friend,” and other animals kept as pets and tossed out like trash, face in this country. I assume Spears is one of well-meaning but ignorant people who enable this tragedy to continue.

But I hope that all of you reading will remember: Friends don’t let friends buy dogs. If your pals don’t understand where their money goes and who pays the consequences when they buy a dog, educate them. If they think that shelter dogs are all older or un-trainable, then twist their arms and take them to the shelter to meet all the sweet, well-mannered, beautiful dogs there, literally hours away from death. If they are looking for a certain type of dog, a certain look or temperament, there is a dog in the shelter or a nearby rescue who fits that description.

Don’t tell your friends to go to a responsible breeder. That woman out in the country who only has a litter of pure bred puppies every six years might be really sweet, and she might give you cookies when you visit, but if you buy a dog from her you’re paying her to breed more dogs. That’s inexcusable when we consider all the trusting canines killed simply for being bought by the wrong family, for being banned from the new apartment building, for getting too big (even though that was always his natural adult size), for having the bad luck to come into the home before the human baby, for needing food and care, for just being a dog and loving his family and needing their company, or because the “owners” didn’t spay and neuter and now have unwanted puppies to get rid of.

PS. Also try to educate your friends on adopting an adult or older dog. Many people mistakenly think that they will bond better with a puppy. However, puppies need training and extra care. An adult dog is often the best choice for a busy person who works outside of the home. And trust me, you will bond with an adult dog. No question about it.

July 15, 2007

Is It All About Fear?

Posted in animal advocacy, veganism at 6:48 pm by nevavegan

I think for some reason I end up hearing the words “I could never do that” a lot. People say it to me about some of the more outlandish protests I used to participate in (though I don’t really do that any more as I came to feel it was counter productive). I’ve heard it about my complete disregard for fashion. I’ve heard it about a million times about where I live. I’ve heard it about my gym dedication. And of course I’ve heard it over and over about veganism.

I bristle against this in so many ways. I’m not some kind of super hero. I’m not even brave. I’d love to say that after everything I’ve gotten to some kind of Zen place where I actually know something about worst case scenarios and now I understand what I’m really afraid of. That might apply to me about ten percent of the time, on those good days. But as I’m prone to minor freak outs, the same as anyone else, I do get that many of my fears simply aren’t rational.

But why would people be so afraid to give veganism a try? Is it the fear that if they start they might not be able to stop? Is it the fear that they’re going to turn into me and cook elaborate vegan creations, blog on veganism, rescue cats, and have bad hair? Naturally there are no requirements like those. There are lazy vegans (I might be one of them), but anyway, no obligation to blog, no obligation to do anything except adjust one’s eating and buying habits to match one’s ethics.

I think one fear I had, which proved unfounded, was the fear that I was a great cook as an omni, but I thought I’d lose all that praise and gratitude as a vegan. Actually veganism forced me to be a little creative, which is kind of good actually, I like creative. But I get praise from other vegans and omnis alike for my cooking.

I suppose there’s always the fear that if we open our eyes we can’t ever shut them again. It’s true that once you start thinking about the horrors animals face, it’s very hard to put on the blinders again. And that can be very upsetting. But at the same time many vegans find ways to take care of themselves emotionally. Yes, they know there’s a lot of suffering and injustice out there, but they also celebrate rescues, visit sanctuaries, eat good vegan food, and just like everyone else they watch movies, listen to music, hang out with their friends, and participate in a million other satisfying and joyful activities.

What is the fear? Except maybe fear of change. Of course we all have to face change, one way or another. We change and adjust all the time, or else we get stagnant. So all I’m saying is there’s nothing to be scared of. C’mon in, the waters fine.

July 13, 2007

Celebrity Culture Lets Us Down

Posted in animal advocacy at 6:05 pm by nevavegan

It’s Friday. I’ve been reading and reading and learning all kinds of interesting things that haven’t managed to make it into blog entries just yet.

One thing that has been on my mind is the topic of “crazy celebrities.” I guess we’ve all observed this at some point. Individuals who act so out of control, so clearly not mentally ok, still go on to work more, star in more TV shows and films, direct, host TV specials, get hounded by the paparazzi and otherwise keep living their lives at the top. They get to do this because they are set aside as somehow better than the rest of us. They can do no wrong and so hitting assistants, wandering into someone else’s house as if it were their own, charges of domestic violence, drunk driving, racist or sexist statements is all water under the bridge. Brushed aside, forgotten, as people still clamor for an autograph and pay money to go to the movies.

I know what you might be thinking in reaction to this, because it kind of represents my feelings too. “Sure, that’s all really unfortunate, but it’s Hollywood, it’s nuts, you can’t draw any conclusions about human nature from what goes on there.”

Yeah, the same standards don’t apply to you or me, or Joe Schmoe down the street. But they might apply in some ways to other celebrities, the ones closer to our own lives than movie stars are.

As an example, a friend of mine who will remain unnamed went to work for a scientific research organization, working under a woman who had multiple degrees and publications and was in essence a star in this particular type of research. Instead of an ivory tower of learning though, my friend found a terrorized crew of researchers trying to cling to their jobs. “The star” henceforth known as Ms. RE, played favorites, allowing some extremely good-looking but unqualified men in the department to slack off, while demanding 80 hour weeks out of the other peons. She raged at her employees and threw things. She falsified data. She padded the resumes of her favorites, giving them credit for work done by others. If anyone spoke out they were fired and also blacklisted within the tight knit research community.

My friend was miserable. She had no time for herself, she worked impossible hours but saw the credit given to others. She started trying to save her life by planning an exit strategy. But everyone she talked to gave her the same answers. You can’t speak out against someone so well-known. You can’t keep working in this field if the “big people” don’t like you. You have to expect a certain amount of abuse from a genius, it just goes with the territory.

My friend finally did get out, but she did find herself blacklisted with other similar research outfits—Ms. RE was not above slander to take her revenge on an employee for jumping off the sinking ship. My friend remained depressed, and had to second guess herself all the time. She went on job interviews in unrelated fields, all the while trying to look for signs of a bad boss.

You’d think this might just be an isolated incident, but this kind of “celebrity,” where fame is used to cover up abuse and fraudulent behavior is actually more likely to happen in certain types of work. It happens in academia and the research community because publication and speaking engagements make minor stars. You might never ever hear of these people outside of their particular field, but inside “their world” they exercise a lot of power and influence. You also see this happen in the non-profit world where people with questionable credentials and shaky ethics might rise to the top because they’re inspirational speakers or become associated with a groundbreaking case or incident.

Bully online cites non-profits as one of the primary areas where workplace abuse occurs.

But back to the culture of celebrity.

Recently there’s been yet another scandal involving the head of an animal sanctuary. This seems to happen on a continuing basis. This “animal-person celebrity” has been in trouble for similar things in the past, misusing funds, putting the animals last, mistreating employees and volunteers. We saw another animal sanctuary scandal in the past where the bodies of animals who’d died from neglect and mistreatment were stacked up in the nearby woods as the people in charge of the sanctuary continued to collect donations for their care.

We let this happen because we don’t hold stars to the same standards as everyone else. These people, who give speeches and sign autographs, may rally the troops with their charisma and stage presence, but those aren’t necessarily the qualities that make them ideal to care for sick and vulnerable animals, to resist the temptation of easy money. Charisma doesn’t make them hold themselves accountable for their own action, and it blinds their followers, who as if stunned by the bright lights, keep defending the indefensible.

We hear about this more with sanctuaries because at some point, as it all falls apart, the mistreatment of the animals in sanctuaries becomes obvious. The bodies are found and photographed, the starving animals and the ones with open sores are spotted and talked about. But make no mistake, stardom obscures poor behavior all over, it’s just harder to prove in other cases.

Looking at this from the outside there is no real payoff to doing things the right way if you want to excel in the animal charity world. You can put in your hours, do your best, and then observe something that bothers you ethically. You can speak up and maybe lose your job and get blacklisted, or you can swallow down your ethics and keep your head low. If you’re a boss in the animal charity world you have everything to gain by bullying your employees and engaging in unethical behavior—you know nobody will ever question it and if someone unimportant ever should you can easily get rid of them.

All this is sold to us as being good for the movement. We’ve been told it’s bad to be divisive (translation: if something bothers you just keep it to yourself), we’re told we need to be a family and all get along (translation: if someone else’s ethics, philosophy or tactics aren’t making sense to you, that’s your problem, so you need to stay quiet and not upset anyone), and that there are so few of us we can’t afford to disagree (translation: the star in charge gets to tell everyone else how to think, act, and speak). When people are pushed out of the movement and marginalized because they disagree, again we’re told this is good for the movement, because they were disruptive, crazy, or agitators.

Um, by the way, since when was being an agitator a bad thing? I don’t think we should stir up trouble just for the sake of stirring it up, but did anything significant ever change without a few people standing up and making a lot of noise for their ethics?

Anyway, it’s interesting to see that this philosophy doesn’t actually hold up in research studies. Instead the studies tell us that poor management and workplace bullying cost companies money, and reduce both productivity and creativity.

In addition, allowing bullying and unethical practices to continue in our midst gives our opposition ammunition against us. We need to avoid, to whatever extent possible, even the appearance that we’re unethical, deceptive, or callous to the needs and concerns of human employees and volunteers. When we allow our stars to do whatever they like, unchecked, it fuels a stereotype of animal advocates that we’re all a little crazy.

It’s time we stopped supporting people just because they happen to be stars. All of these policies purport to be “what’s good for the organization.” In many cases they are merely what’s best for the founder/CEO of the organization, but we need to be talking about what’s best for the animals and what’s best for long term strategic goals.

More info, understanding workplace bullying

More articles on the effects of workplace bullying

July 10, 2007

HSUS, Veganism, and Cutting Back on Meat

Posted in animal advocacy, vegan, veganism at 2:41 pm by nevavegan

Wayne Pacelle of HSUS just wrote an entry on his blog about his personal veganism, HSUS’s commitment to farmed animals, and his advice to others on the issue.

I think it’s great that Wayne has come out and said the dreaded “v-word,” vegan on his blog. I think it’s wonderful that he emphasized that he, himself is vegan.

But then he proceeds to only discuss animal agriculture as a welfare issue and talks about cutting back on meat consumption as a valid option. While he doesn’t specifically speak to “cage-free” or “free range” animal products in this blog entry, he provides embedded links that go to pages that promote these things as a better option.

What I would love to see Wayne talk about is why he personally is vegan. Why, when he tells others it’s acceptable, does he not just eat vegan 3 days a week and eat dead animals the other days? Why isn’t he eating free-range eggs and grass fed beef? This must mean something to him beyond the thing he emphasizes, the worst aspects of cruelty in intensive factory farming.

If all factory farms were eliminated and meat became an expensive delicacy because all farmed animals were raised outside in sunlight on a nutritious diet, do any of us believe that if that were the case that Wayne himself would then start eating lamb with some veal on the side. Would he serve his guests bacon, cheese, and goose liver pate?

Of course not. But is the issue that he holds himself personally to standards he believes are not attainable for others? Or does he simply think that speaking honestly and from his heart regarding his own personal beliefs and choices is just too threatening somehow?

I’ve had many people in the movement tell me that they feel asking people to cut back on meat is a positive step. For those who will never become vegan, it’s a reduction in the animals that suffer and die to go on their plates. For others they hope cutting back on gnawing the corpses of animals will be a first step toward vegetarianism which would hopefully be a step toward veganism.

I personally know people that slowly became vegan by cutting back. For example some quit eating beef, then chicken, then finally fish, and then eggs and so on. Does this mean that cutting back on animal products leads to veganism? In some cases it probably does. But one thing was consistent in these cases. These people decided to cut back on animal products on their own as they were bombarded with mailings from Peta and FARM telling them that the only way to be kind to animals was to become vegan. They read it and doubted their ability to be vegan, so they decided to cut back. Then the next mailing came and their guilt was triggered again, so they cut back a little more. Nobody was telling them that simply cutting back was an acceptable goal. The message was always for veganism as the goal.

The counter argument is that too many people believe veganism is an all or nothing endeavor and therefore will do nothing. I’m not sure of the accuracy of this without any actual research on the topic. My personal experience in chatting with friends is that if we keep pushing veganism, many people decide to cut back on their own, and may decide to cut back even further in the future. But there’s also the idea that I always refer back to on this blog—it’s still better to convince one person to go vegan than to convince two others to cut back on meat consumption, because the vegan becomes another ambassador for veganism, another living example that veganism is simple and fulfilling and very livable for ordinary people. That is more powerful than the guy who gave up bacon except for on Sundays.

My next issue with asking people to cut back on the animal products is that in my experience very few people are aware enough of what they’re eating to make a successful judgment of how to cut back. That sounds a little weird, but let me put it this way: with a few notable exceptions almost everyone I meet who learns I’m vegan says “I actually don’t eat very much meat myself.” Then they pretty much always proceed to eat really huge amounts of meat right in front of me, because they are poor judges of amount.

When we ask people to cut back on meat, many will feel that they already eat very little, so they’re already doing what we ask and they’ll see no reason to change. I’m not sure who these people are comparing themselves to when they say they don’t eat much meat (competitive hot dog eaters maybe?), but they do seem to eat a fairly large portion of animal products with every meal.

This is probably just human nature to some extent. I find myself saying from time to time “How could I possibly have gained weight? I don’t eat that much!” Apparently my standards for the volume of food I should consume are based on someone either much larger or a lot a more active. I must think myself a six foot tall marathon runner.

Asking people to eat vegan meals from time to time might help with this tendency to misjudge food volume. At least they’ll see that vegan food can be tasty and satisfying. I support that idea. But when we ask people to simply eat less meat, they often still view a dead animal as the focal point of their meal. Also, without fairly clear instruction that eggs and dairy are just as bad as meat, many people make cheese the new main dish of their “meatless meals.” They’re probably also more likely to abandon the effort since rather than enjoying a delicious vegan main dish, they merely feel deprived with what they feel is a skimpy portion of meat.

To HSUS’s credit they do hand out information including vegan recipes, so if someone follows up on the suggestion to cut their meat consumption with further reading on the website or sending in a request for recipes, they will wind up with vegan suggestions. But why the cloak and dagger? Why can’t we all just say outright: Even in “humane farming” there is immense suffering for the animals and all are eventually slaughtered. If you care about animals the best way to help them is to go vegan. Here are some recipes to try, here are some tips, here is further reading.

Donations as an Investment

Posted in animal advocacy at 1:14 pm by nevavegan

I seem to have gotten into multiple discussions lately about donations to non-profit groups, so it seems only natural to blog some of my thoughts on the topic.

I want to say right up front that this is a contentious issue and when it comes up people’s feelings do get hurt. What follows are just my thoughts on donations, not some ethical playbook. I don’t judge others for donating wherever their conscience dictates. If we’re going to talk about donations I’m going to put it right out there and tell you where I would donate and where I wouldn’t. I might say it strongly; I might say it with emotion. But that doesn’t mean I’m disappointed in anyone or think any less of them should they decide their own opinion is the opposite of mine.

Make any sense?

I once believed that making donations was a moral obligation on my part. I donated to some fairly prominent groups through the years. One I donated to significantly before they even had their non-profit status because I believed so strongly in their stated mission. I didn’t feel it was my place to ask too many questions. I donated the way I volunteered. They asked me to jump, I asked how high.

I no longer feel this way. I now believe that donations are our investment in our world, our investment in how things should be, the culture we want to live in. Because I want to live in a world where animals are not ours to use, I don’t want to support organizations that send a message that it is ok to kill or use animals under certain circumstances. For this reason alone I can’t support Peta because they have given awards to slaughterhouse designers and put out a fact sheet on controlled atmosphere killing (an alternative slaughter method being promoted for chickens) in which they detailed how CAK would increase “product quality” (read that as better dead chickens for people to eat) and would save the slaughterhouses money. I can’t support HSUS because during their effort to promote a ban on dove hunting they included language that seemed to encourage the hunting of other birds instead of doves. Also HSUS seems to put more effort to promote cage-free eggs (the hens are still debeaked, live crowded in dark filthy sheds, and are slaughtered when their egg production drops) than they put into promoting veganism. And those are just examples. You will see this kind of thing with these larger groups over and over.

Does that mean I think everyone at HSUS and Peta are sell-outs or don’t care about animals? Quite the opposite. I think they are sincere, dedicated and caring. I know most work long hours and most believe the very same basic principals that I believe. But we differ on strategy. I think they believe what they are doing is the right thing. I just don’t agree with that path. So I don’t donate to them. Because I don’t give money as penance to atone for my sins, I give it as an investment in the world I want to see.

I would not invest in a poor performing for-profit company because it was run by nice people. I wouldn’t buy defective products because they’re made by nice people. I wouldn’t buy veggie burgers that taste like old underwear because the company is staffed by hard working dedicated employees. Likewise I don’t donate to groups that aren’t doing the work I want to see done, or that do and publish things I find distasteful or counterproductive.

Non-profits don’t have investors meetings where they have to justify their actions to the shareholders. The only way we have to show them we aren’t happy with their direction is to not donate and let them know why. That is our only power as the “little people” in the AR movement.

I have tried, as a donor and supporter of more than a decade to let an organization know I was not happy with some of their recent changes. I felt my questions were met with hostility and condescension, so I won’t be donating anymore. I felt cheated and deceived actually, because the only reason I gave to them through years when I slept on a piece of foam on the floor of an enclosed porch in a shared house, as I ate rice and beans most meals, was because they claimed to have an abolitionist message. When they changed to a welfarist message I had to ask why I had been supporting them. So in essence when they were abolitionist I had been “voting” for them with my donations. When they abandoned that message I felt I had to stop “voting” for them, as much as it broke my heart.

My next issue, and yet another reason I won’t donate to HSUS is the compensation issue. Most HSUS employees make very little money, and still put in long hours. But the top people at HSUS make a lot of money. Here are some salaries listed in Animal People for FY2005. More updated information was not available. Keep in mind that we are now in FY2008, for most organizations (depending on how they arrange their IRS paperwork) and so the below individuals have likely gotten significant increases since this listing.

WAYNE PACELLE President HSUS $223,328
Andrew Rowan ExecVP of Ops HSUS $213,770
Patricia Forkan EtrnAffrs HSUS $206,199
Thomas Waite III CFO HSUS $195,307
Roger Kindler GeneralCnsl HSUS $186,490
Paul Irwin FormerPresident HSUS $176,440
John Grandy SrVP wildlife HSUS $163,930
Mike Markarian VP extrnlaff HSUS $161,668
Mary Bege AsstTreasurer HSUS $135,919
Theresa Reese AsstTreas HSUS $107,162
Janet Frake Secretary HSUS $ 95,634
Patricia Gatons AsstSecty HSUS $ 73,187

I don’t believe that people who want to help animals necessarily need to take a vow of poverty. However, I think we also need to be aware that the average donor is an older woman, living alone on a fixed income. We need to be respectful that people send in donations because they want to help animals, not pay huge salaries.

When I’ve brought this up before I always run into one major objection: we need to pay competitive salaries to attract talent to these organizations. We’d rather pay higher salaries for people who can become rainmakers for the organization. They pay for themselves in the donations they bring in and the inspiration and hard work they bring to the organizations campaigns.

We also hear this to excuse the out of control executive compensation in the for-profit world. I don’t mean to compare the above salaries to other executive salaries, because they are still lower. I just don’t believe this statement. Wayne Pacelle may be well qualified and dedicated, but he’s also a lifer with HSUS. He’s been there a long time and as far as I know has not had much experience outside of the realm of animal charities. If he were paid $175, 000 instead of a quarter of a million dollars every year, are we really saying he’d quit because of the lower compensation? Would he leave and go to the American Red Cross? Likewise Mike Markarian. I knew him way back when, at that time he worked at the Fund for Animals. He’s another lifer. I don’t think he’s held much of a career except in animal rights. Where else would he go if HSUS only paid him $90,000. Would he go work at the NRA if they offered him more money? And are we honestly saying that these people would leave at the drop of a hat for a bigger paycheck?

Given all of this I can’t imagine why anyone who makes less than a quarter of a million dollars a year would ever give to HSUS. But who does give to HSUS? For one thing the grocery store cashier I run into all the time. She loves cats and sends her meager earnings in because HSUS keeps sending her fundraising mail with cats on it. I could scream, really. I could give to a smaller organization and help them achieve some wonderful goals or I can give to HSUS and pay 5 minutes of Wayne Pacelle’s salary. My choice? You already know.

And again, it goes back to investing? Am I investing in a vegan world or am I investing in bigger cages and a bigger house for Wayne Pacelle? What does the smart investor do?

Does this mean I’m a hypocrite to donate to a local animal rescue group when I say I’m not happy with HSUS’s direction? Maybe. But this to me wasn’t an issue of saying that I would only support groups that are strictly abolitionist. My donation to the local all-volunteer no-kill rescue group was specifically because they were helping me by taking in the abandoned kittens from my neighborhood who need a round of antibiotics, de-worming, disease testing, and neutering. Plus they need exposure: their pictures on the website and visits to adoption fairs. Because the group is all volunteer, my entire donation goes directly for care for homeless companion animals. Since the group is No-Kill, supporting them supports a philosophy that emphasizes the value of the lives of animals, rather than focusing on efficiency and minimizing suffering alone.

All of those reasons apparently also apply to the new rural vets program being promoted and run by HSUS. I’ve been told all the vets will be volunteers and donations restricted to that program will go directly toward care for animals. I think it’s a wonderful, necessary program, but I won’t be donating because I believe that HSUS has enough cash reserves to float the program and then some without my donation. I also know from past experience that restricting donations just means that money is shifted around elsewhere in the budget, which means that donating directly to the rural vet program might not result in any net increase in the rural vet budget. Besides which, if this program is important to HSUS should they be asking the cashier at the grocery store to donate to it, or should Wayne Pacelle and Mike Markarian chip in and demonstrate to us that the program can and will work?

Again, totally up to you, of course. I know we need mobile vets to sterilize animals, it’s vital. My quibble is who should pay for it and how.

To summarize: I view my donations as an investment in either improving my community (through local rescue and vet care) or as an investment in the world I want to see. I don’t believe I should give blindly. I don’t believe I am obligated to keep supporting organizations that I supported in the past if their mission changes (or for that matter if I change). I don’t believe that I am obligated to give to groups where employees being paid out of donations make more than I will ever make in my entire life and then some and then multiplied… I don’t think I’m obligated to donate to groups because they have one good program either.

July 9, 2007

Ferals and kittens, oh my

Posted in animal advocacy, companion animals, feral cats, rescue at 12:19 pm by nevavegan

Here’s what happened this weekend.

We had agreed to trap a feral cat who’d recently had kittens. Our neighbor had taken the kittens to a shelter in Annapolis (where he works) and was trying to get the mother cat in to the shelter as well. He told us the shelter had said the kittens would probably find homes but the mother cat would be killed as a feral on arrival.

We had tried to find someplace for the kittens, but he’d only told us 24 hours before he took them to the shelter. So sadly that all happened too fast.

We then told him we’d trap the mother and take her to the feral clinic. It seemed the best option since having him kill her sounded bad, and the other alternative, that he’d never catch her and she’d keep having kittens also sounded bad.

I made an appointment at the feral clinic and Saturday evening she was in the trap in our tiny 1/2 bath in the basement. Then I decided to walk the dogs.

As I went past the main area where most of the ferals congregate, which is also where the poisonings have occurred, I saw an orange kitten just sitting in the sidewalk. Then nearby I saw two other orange tabby kittens just like him. He didn’t move out of the sidewalk as the dogs and I approached. In fact he just lay there. I was worried he’d been poisoned too.

When I got closer I was able to just scoop him up and carry him in my shirt while still holding the dogs. I took him home. Luckily once he was back at the house he ate some food and drank some water. He still seemed awfully weak.

Then I went back to check on the other kittens. They were stronger, but still totally friendly, not feral, so I scooped them up too. They were so tame I could carry the two of them home with me, about 2 long blocks. So then we had an adult feral in a trap and 3 kittens in the tiny bathroom.

The kittens kept jumping in my lap, but they also had URI and needed some antibiotics. We’re so crowded in our home that keeping infected cats separate is very difficult. Plus, not being with any official rescue group, it’s really hard for us to adopt out kittens. Because of the feral situation Sean said I might really have to take the kittens to the shelter. We felt we could not put them back out, since they were very tame and trusting, and we have a bad person hurting cats in our neighborhood. Also they needed treatment. I cleaned their ears and flea combed them. I found not one flea, and no flea dirt. To me that indicated that they’d been dumped outside that day–it doesn’t take very long for fleas to get started.

It was a terrible night. Crying over the kittens, furious at our stupid neighborhood, and furious at people who dump kittens outside, and furious at myself for thinking I had no options except the shelter. I did some searching online and found that the kittens would have a much better chance at the DC shelter than at our county shelter. So I planned to transport them to the DC shelter when I took the feral in to the feral clinic.

Then I didn’t sleep.

The next morning we all went off to the feral clinic, Sean and I, and four cats. Quite luckily at the feral clinic many of the cat caretakers there wanted to help us. A young man from Homeless Animal Rescue Team was helping with the clinic and made a quick phone call. To our joy HART would take the kittens, so I gave them a donation to help out (yeah, the money I was going to give to Second Chance, but maybe this will force me to sell some art for Second Chance).

So that was a very nice thing.

The downside was that we trapped the feral cat in a brand new, deluxe, really beautiful trap that we’d just bought and someone stole our trap from the clinic, even though we’d attached Sean’s business card to it. I guess the temptation was just too much for someone. Still we really saved no money going to the clinic since it cost us a $100 trap. The clinic said they thought they knew who took it and they’d call him and ask him to give it back. But they wouldn’t give us his information and we still haven’t heard anything. So that was a downer. We bought the nice trap because we thought we might be rescuing a lot of cats. Between that and the donation to HART it was a really expensive day.

Low quality kitten pictures to follow.

July 3, 2007

"Animals Are Not Ours To Use"

Posted in animal advocacy, outreach, vegan, veganism at 2:04 pm by nevavegan

I’ve written on this blog that I first became interested in vegetarianism out of concern for the environment. Many people might think that this experience on my part would mean I advocate only vegan outreach from an environmental perspective. But this is not the case at all.

I understand that most of the big decisions we make in our lives are influenced by thousands of little factors. We might have that one awesome moment of realization when we suddenly see things in a different way and the change in perspective practically knocks us over. But before the moment of truth kicks us to the curb, there are so many little things, little nagging thoughts on the outskirts of our awareness that influence us.

I had one moment of realization when I read about the destruction of the rainforests and resolved to stop eating beef—that was the big moment, which allowed me to understand a few weeks later that all industrialized meat production caused environmental damage, which led me to stop eating chicken and fish as well. Later I had yet another knock me over with a vegan imitation feather moment when I read the Alice Walker quote “The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.”

That resonated with me so deeply and changed my thinking on so many levels. Nobody owns me and I don’t own the chicken whose eggs I steal, I don’t own the cow whose milk I take or the calf deprived of that milk. Something so simple, so eloquent, which just changed everything.

Before that moment of realization there were a thousand little things, tiny sparks of thought floating around waiting to be formed. There were moments of watching chicken trucks with exposed cages of miserable chickens barreling down the highway. There were moments of feeding cows over fences and rescuing stray kittens. There was sitting on the kitchen floor as a child holding and petting the beautiful head of the deer my father had killed, believing that this perfect deer was only sleeping, only to finally understand that he was dead. There were all these moments that showed me that animals are individuals with personalities and value of their own. And all those things allowed me to feel the full truth of that Alice Walker quote and to know all the way down in my bones that she was right. I own myself, no one else, that’s all. Nobody, no animal was brought into this world to serve me.

Because this meant so much to me personally I sometimes have trouble understanding the view that veganism is just a tool to reduce suffering. Sure veganism reduces suffering. Veganism directly reduces the suffering of farmed animals, veganism reduces our impact on the planet and thus reduces the suffering of wildlife and other people. But veganism is also a powerful statement that we recognize and respect the life in others and we know we have no right to extinguish that life. It’s a statement that we know and understand that enslaving others is always wrong, even if their bodies look different from ours, even if they have fur or feathers or scales. It is that fundamental value: Animals are not ours to use. They don’t owe us their bodies for our dinner tables, they don’t owe us their spirits to entertain us, they don’t owe us their skins to wear or their bones and horns as decoration. The accident of their birth does not mean we have any right to destroy them, break their spirits, steal the excretions of their bodies, or keep them in cages no matter what size those cages might be.

Sure it is not really possible in this world for us to do no harm, but veganism is the effort toward that goal. Should we throw away the goal, the value that animals are not ours to use, just because we are imperfect beings in an imperfect world and at times we might fall short of our ideals? Of course not.

We recognize in other ways that our faults don’t mean that values are irrelevant. None of us will get through our lives without hurting another person’s feelings. In fact, I’ll put money on it that all of us will hurt someone’s feelings by saying something incredibly insensitive, stupid and inconsiderate even. It happens. But does that mean that we should throw away all concept of kindness and just insult and verbally abuse everyone that crosses our path? No we hold to this idea that we should be considerate and kind, while recognizing that we might fall short and might find ourselves needing to apologize on occasion.

I’m all for reducing suffering, but for me there is something more. This basic respect we apply to other living things, a resolve to not destroy others for selfish reasons, a value placed on life. Animals are not ours to use sums it up so well for me.

July 2, 2007

Anger has a place too

Posted in animal advocacy, emotional healing, vegan, veganism at 5:54 pm by nevavegan

Invisible Voices posted a blog entry the other day about how other people might be very uncomfortable witnessing our emotions. Particularly she applied this to animal advocacy, where people would say she was angry when she felt she was just pushing for compassion, justice, and fairness to non-human animals.

There is always this risk, when we do the hard work and we face those things most people turn away from, that bitterness over this heartbreak, this awfulness, will start to define us. Still, the bitterest people I’ve known in my life weren’t vegans; they weren’t animal advocates.

I do think we need to realistically define and keep an eye on our emotions, if for no other reason than that our message can get lost in a sea of undirected anger. But at the same time we don’t need to apologize for having emotions when we see animals killed, used, mutilated in such horrible ways.

In fact there seems to me to be something defective about someone who can look at immense suffering, who can look at hens crammed into battery cages next to their dead sisters, and just see dollar signs, just see loss or profit. There is being in control of our emotions, and then there’s just being deadened to all empathy.

But the fact remains that many people are uncomfortable with other people’s emotions. Often these people who can’t handle the emotions of others aren’t necessarily unemotional themselves, but they subscribe to certain myths about emotion. Perhaps they feel that emotions like anger or disgust are always wrong. Conversely some people might view anger as “strong” but grief as “weak.” Others might feel we have some obligation to those around us to only express “good” emotions like happiness.

The truth is that all of our emotions are part of who we are. We don’t have the right to take those emotions out on others. We shouldn’t be passive-aggressive in handling our emotions. But sometimes anger is simply the sanest response possible to a given situation.

I recently got a copy of UPC’s latest Poultry Press and in it was a picture of a battery hen who was too weak to stand or walk and some college students at KSU had thrown her onto their basketball court from 30 feet up in the stands. Other hens were painted red and blue and tossed onto the court. Two of the hens died.

The only possible response to instances like this, where the strong purposefully hurt the weak, is to get angry. Bullies thrive because nobody ever stands up to them, nobody confronts them. We can get angry, but we need to use that anger toward a measured response, a thoughtful strategy. We don’t need to just lash out wildly, without thought, but our emotional response, our outrage is justified and necessary.

If we think about all the millions of battery hens who suffer and die hidden from sight, then the anger and the grief is almost incomprehensible.

Gender stereotypes work against us as well. Many people will tolerate a certain level of anger from men, but adhere to a myth that women should be gentle, quiet and sweet at all times. Women aren’t supposed to get angry. But of course we do, we get angry about injustice against ourselves, just as any human being does. Some of us get angry about injustice directed toward others, because our compassion leads us to care what happens to them.

As always our anger doesn’t give us license to hurt others, but it can give us energy if properly directed. If we keep an eye on our mental state as well, perhaps we can know when the anger crosses some line and moves away from energizing and more into exhausting and consuming. That’s when we know we need to take a step back, visit a sanctuary, hug a dog, find something happy and cling to it for a while.

Still some of the people who’ve told me in my life that they think I’m too angry, were themselves among the angriest people I’ve ever met. People who deny and suppress their anger aren’t necessarily diffusing it. Instead it might be waiting, boiling right below the surface, waiting to leap out at the first opportunity. It’s much better to harness it to good work.

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