Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Photo Essay: The Journey to the Slaughterhouse

You've no doubt heard the expression "A picture is worth a thousand words." These pictures are worth far more than that. I am posting them here with permission from my Facebook friend and fellow vegan, Catherine Garneau. Catherine took these photographs of forlorn pigs on their way to the slaughterhouse and the images are absolutely tragic. Everybody who eats pork or bacon or ham or any other parts of pigs ought to study these images carefully. For these are the faces of the suffering caused by people making bad choices. This photo essay speaks volumes that no words could possibly capture. We owe a tremendous debt to Catherine and others who help us to see suffering animals. Such powerful images tear down the wall of denial that people build around themselves, one brick at a time. (A heartfelt thank you to Catherine Garneau for allowing me to repost her photographs here!)

"One could not stand and watch very long without becoming philosophical, without beginning to deal in symbols and similes, and to hear the hog squeal of the universe. Was it permitted to believe that there was nowhere upon the earth, or above the earth, a heaven for hogs, where they were requited for all this suffering? Each one of these hogs was a separate creature. Some were white hogs, some were black; some were brown, some were spotted; some were old, some young; some were long and lean, some were monstrous. And each of them had an individuality of his own, a will of his own, a hope and a heart's desire; each was full of self- confidence, of self-importance, and a sense of dignity. And trusting and strong in faith he had gone about his business, the while a black shadow hung over him and a horrid Fate waited in his pathway. Now suddenly it had swooped upon him, and had seized him by the leg. Relentless, remorseless, it was; all his protests, his screams, were nothing to it - it did its cruel will with him, as if his wishes, his feelings, had simply no existence at all; it cut his throat and watched him gasp out his life. And now was one to believe that there was nowhere a god of hogs, to whom this hog personality was precious, to whom these hog squeals and agonies had a meaning? Who would take this hog into his arms and comfort him, reward him for his work well done, and show him the meaning of his sacrifice?"'

- Upton Sinclair, The Jungle (1906)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Food for Thought: A great billboard from Mercy For Animals

This wonderful - and highly effective - billboard has been appearing in numerous places across North America, thanks to the terrific group Mercy for Animals. It poses a simple, yet profound, question: Why love one but eat the other? That question is loaded with so much meaning, when you think about it. It cuts right to the heart of customs that have gone unquestioned for generations. It shines the spotlight on the way we do things in a way that most questions fail to do. The ad campaign began last year, with a limited number of the billboards appearing in Michigan. They have since spread to other states: Colorado, Nevada, Minnesota, etc. I understand that similar billboards have been appearing in Ontario, as well, particularly in Hamilton and the Niagara Region.

We can only hope that more people will see it and begin to grapple with the question it poses. I have said it a hundred and fifty times on this Blog, so I'll say it a hundred and fifty-one right now: Denial is our biggest enemy. Tear down the wall, one brick at a time, and you'll get results. Look at me. One year ago at this time, I was still an omnivore, devouring meat without giving it much thought. Thanks to good people who cared enough to tear down my wall of denial, I put two and two together and changed my ways. If I can do it, anybody can do it. And it is billboards like this one - and documentaries like Earthlings, Death on a Factory Farm, etc. - and vegan pamphlets and other seemingly little things that get people moving in the right direction.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fighting the Good Fight: Canadians for the Ethical Treatment of Food Animals

Bless Twyla Francois and the wonderful folks involved with Canadians for the Ethical Treatment of Food Animals (CETFA). They are making a difference and, as one of the few watchdog groups in this country, they are needed now more than ever. If you get a chance, please watch this powerful CETFA video about the treatment of sows in Manitoba. If this does not stir concern in your hearts for these beautiful animals, my friends, nothing will. We human beings have no right to treat animals in this fashion. Animals are not commodities. Animals are not goods, like slaves, to be bought and sold. They are living, sentient, breathing, feeling beings who love, feel pain and anxiety, form bonds, give birth, and should be able to grow old and die peacefully. But instead, they are subjected to this horrific treatment at the hands of the factory farm system. Our best hope is to spread the word about this system and how it brutalizes all animals and dehumanizes us by asking us to live in a state of constant denial and always look the other way. Videos such as this one shatter the denial and tear down the wall one brick at a time. Thank you, Twyla. And thank you, CETFA. You're making a huge difference. And we need you out there, fighting the good fight for the animals.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Cat Abusers Need to Face Stiff Punishments

Cat abuse is on the rise in North America and it is something we should all be very concerned about. Consider some of the more disturbing recent examples:
  • Caleb Capen, age 22, of Albany, New York, is now facing a prison sentence for torturing and killing several cats. One of the cats he drowned just days after adopting the animal. (Source)
  • Dallas Animal Services in Dallas, Texas, is under investigation after a cat escaped and got stuck in the wall. The temperatures in the shelter were high due to the hot weather and the cat frantically meowed for days, hoping someone would get her out. The cat died inside of the shelter wall and when the stench began to bother the shelter workers, they had the cat removed. Now an animal cruelty investigation of the shelter is underway. The rationale: If it was easy to remove the cat from inside the wall once she was dead, the shelter workers could have helped the cat when she was trying to get out of the wall. (Source)
  • In Outagamie County, Wisconsin, a judge has dismissed evidence in an animal cruelty case involving a 42-year-old woman named Lorie Kuehl who allowed numerous cats to starve to death. Prosecutors wanted to use 20 cat skeletons found at the woman's house, but the judge dismissed the evidence because police searched the home without a warrant. Now it looks like Kuehl is going to get away with denying food and water to at least a dozen (probably many more) cats. (Source)
  • An article on the wonderful website Change.org, there have been as many as 9 horrible cat mutilations in recent days in Sacramento, California. Families find the tortured and disfigured bodies of their beloved pets, who became the tragic victims of an insane stalker. Authorities in Sacramento are warning people not to let their cats outdoors. (Source)
  • From the town of Wittmann, Arizona, comes a story of an 80-year-old woman who was living with 104 cats. When Phoenix authorities raided the home, they found many of the cats diseased to the point of being almost dead. She kept nine dead kittens in a freezer. As a UPI report noted: "Most remaining cats were so diseased - some without eyes, others with feline leukemia - that they were euthanized on the spot, the deputies said." The woman who owned the cats was clearly insane. She threatened to kill the officers who were raiding her home, saying "she enjoys when officers die." Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio says the woman probably won't spend a day in jail. He noted that she is "too old and frail to see the inside of a jail cell." (Source)
I could go on and on and on. But you get the picture from these illustrations, I'm sure. We have cases of cat abuse up here in Canada, too. And horrific acts of abuse will continue until the psychos, sadists, nutjobs and whackos who get off on torturing and murdering cats are severely punished. Right now, there is no real deterrent in North America to prevent cat abusers from taking out their wrath on innocent felines. That must change. These cases are sickening reminders that we have a long way to go when it comes to protecting the rights of animals.

The time has come to throw the book at these disturbed men and women. Make them pay for their crimes. Punish them with jail time. Create a nationwide Animal Abuse Registry that actually has fangs. Stick it to these monsters and stick it to them hard. They'll never suffer the way the poor animals suffered at their twisted hands. But that doesn't mean we should continue to let these abusers off the hook. Today they'll torture and kill animals. Tomorrow, there's a very good likelihood they'll move on to human beings.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Brutality of the Dairy Industry Exposed by Farm Sanctuary

If you get a chance, please take a few moments to watch this superb video. It won't take you long. It's called "Behind the Mustache" (meaning milk mustache). It is a tragic video by the wonderful folks at Farm Sanctuary that shows, in an uncompromising way, the brutality of the dairy industry.

The day will come, I am certain, when good people will look back on this time in which we live and they will regard our treatment of animals as utterly barbaric. Generations from now, men and women, young and old, will gasp when they watch films such as this one, that show frightened and bewildered calves being reduced to mere commodities. Brutalized. Squirted down with hoses. Left to suffer in the dirt. And dragged off and turned into veal, without tasting the milk of their mothers. Because we human beings rob that milk from their mothers and drink it when we do not need it for our survival.

I watch films such as this one and regret that I was blind for so long. I regret I did not become a vegan 20 years ago.

But there is a wonderfully hopeful side to this video. Please keep watching it. Six minutes and forty-five seconds into the video, a caption comes on that says, "It Doesn't Have To Be This Way." And it shows calves who were going to be slaughtered and ended up in Farm Sanctuary's California shelter. These calves are happy. They're full of spunk and life and curiosity. They run and play and live the long lives that they were meant to live.

So a hundred years from now, future generations will speak of the barbarism that existed in 2010. But just as we today remember tiny pockets of abolitionists in the 1830s, 40s and 50s who resisted slavery, future generations will remember small groups of people living today who made a difference in the lives of animals. True, our numbers are small. But those who advocate for the rights of animals will be regarded the same way that we today regard abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

There is a lot of violence and malevolence in this world. There is a lot of cynicism and indifference, too. But one need not search hard to find inspiring examples of compassion, kindness, courage and hope. These wonderful qualities are as abundant now as they ever were in the past, and they will one day triumph over violence, indifference and the commodification of living beings.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Pro-Animal Rights Conservatives: An Oxymoron?

Is it a contradiction for conservatives to be pro-animal rights?

That's a good question. Today, I was reading a an article on Salon.com about longtime St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who says he likes certain things about the Tea Party Movement and supports Arizona's tough immigration law. Yet the Salon article refers to La Russa as an "animal rights crusader."

Actually, if you read the article carefully and you're at all familiar with the animal rights movement, I don't know if it's accurate to call La Russa an "animal rights crusader." He runs a shelter for abandoned animals called Tony La Russa's Animal Rescue Foundation. It's a wonderful group that does a lot to help animals. Its mission statement reads:
ARF saves dogs and cats who have run out of time at public shelters and brings people and animals together to enrich each others lives. ARF strives to create a world where every loving dog and cat has a home, where every lonely person has a companion animal, and where children learn to care.
I don't know if I'd call that exactly a militant animal rights organization. It's a far cry from the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). But it is great to see La Russa active, engaged and saving animals.

Generally speaking, I think most animal rights activists tend to be either lefties or else apolitical on other matters. But I have noticed on Facebook a growing number of pro-vegan, pro-animal rights types who identify their politics as "conservative" or describe themselves as Republicans.

If you think about it, there isn't anything inherently right-wing or left-wing about animal rights. Some elements of it dovetail quite nicely with leftist politics - its focus on helping the "voiceless," liberating animals and the dignity of all living creatures. There is also a strongly anti-corporate undercurrent to the movement, especially in the way it attacks businesses that exploit and commodify animals.

But there are also aspects of it that fit in quite nicely with a more conservative agenda: the emphasis on each individual animal, on the sanctity of life (appealing to pro-lifers) and ending cruelty - which is something that can appeal to all people across the spectrum.

So it doesn't really surprise me entirely to see some vegan and pro-animal rights Facebookers listing their political beliefs as "conservative" or "Republican."

That said, if I had to take a guess - and I do not have any hard evidence to back this up - I would say that most pro-animal rights folks are either on the left or centrist on other issues. Some animal rights leftists insist on linking the cause to issues of human rights, the economy, globalization, other protest struggles, etc. A perfect example of this type of individual could be found on the streets of Toronto in late June protesting the G20 Summit. These folks sought to link animal rights to other issues (globalization, poor people's movements, the environment, etc.).

Then there are the more cautious, single-issue types - moderates, centrists, etc. - who don't wish to muddy the water by introducing issues that seem to them to have little to do with animal rights.

When it comes to politics, I've always been a left-libertarian coalition builder. I believe you have to unite different types of people - left, right, center - around a shared agenda and common concerns. So I welcome conservatives into the animal rights fold, even as I disagree with them on a multitude of other issues. I imagine most contemporary conservatives - at least in the United States - are probably like Sarah Palin: they love their meat and dairy and other animal products and do not wish to give all that up. And believe you me, I have seen the way PETA types routinely get skewered on the Fox News Channel. It ain't pretty. Trust me.

Still, anyone who sees the light should be welcomed into this movement. It is a big tent. And the struggle for animal rights needs all the support it can get.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


I adore this video!!! My daughter Madeline sent it to me on Facebook and now I have to post it on my Blog. It's a video of a little collie puppy playing with a baby. It is a total scream! The dog keeps running around and the baby is cracking up like mad. The video really cheered me up. I post so many downer videos on this Blog that every now and then I have to put one up that is happy, like this one. Please, please do yourself a favor - watch it! You'll be glad you did...

A Few Thoughts on the Conklin Dairy Farms abuse videos and the dairy industry...

Well, you've probably heard the latest, but I'll comment on it here, anyway.

Gary Conklin, owner of Conklin Dairy Farms in Marysville, Ohio - the place where those notorious undercover videos were shot of cows being beaten, jammed with pitchforks, having their tails snapped and the list goes on and on - will not face criminal charges.

There is some confusion as to whether Conklin wast actually captured on film abusing cows. Whether or not he was directly involved, this terrible abuse occurred in the facility he owned, and God only knows how long it had been going on.

This case is not over. Not by a long shot. Animal rights groups won't let this rest. Ever since these videos went public in the spring, protesters have not let up on Conklin Dairy Farms. The struggle has included online petitions, Websites calling for justice, demonstrations at the farm, and activists networking across North America to advocate for the abused animals.

Ten years ago, a case like this would not have generated so much attention. Today, those who advocate for animals are more outspoken than ever. The dairy and meat industries are on the defensive all the time. If you get a chance, look at their online magazines and trade publications. Regularly, they publish articles about the negative impact of animal rights activism on their businesses. Of course, these things are all a matter of perspective. What they see as negative, animal rights advocates see as progress.

When the Conklin Dairy Farms video scandal first broke, I expressed concern that if people focus too much on the specific instances of abuse and not the fact that the dairy industry is violent and exploitive, then there won't be any sweeping, long-term changes. Even if cows are not hit or punched in the face, like the poor animals at Conklin Dairy Farms, they're still confined to cold, dark places, out of the sunlight, forced into a perpetual state of pregnancy and their babies are hauled off and turned to veal.

How much more violent must a system be before people recognize the tragic toll it is taking on sentient beings who have feelings?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Progress on the Anti-Rodeo Front

Today's Calgary Herald reversed a longtime policy of refusing to run advertisements critical of the famous Calgary Stampede. For those of you who aren't aware of the Stampede, it is a huge event held each July in Calgary, Alberta - ten days of rodeos, exhibitions, games, chuckwagon races, rides and so forth. It is the biggest rodeo in the world and draws a million visitors to the province each year. The Stampede dates back to 1886.

And this is the first time in the long history of the Stampede that Calgary's main newspaper, the Herald - founded in 1883 - has allowed the publication of an advertisement taking aim at the Stampede. The $15,000 ad, pictured below, was taken out by the Vancouver Humane Society in today's Herald.

Interestingly, the advertisement shoes calf roping, but does not specifically mention the Calgary Stampede. The ad has caused some controversy. The Calgary Humane Society has taken a strong welfarist position and attacked the Vancouver Humane Society for its emphasis on "animal rights." As the Calgary Humane Society (CHS) notes in its Stampede press kit:
While other organizations may wish to intervene through protest, or other means, CHS has found it can best protect the interests of the animals involved by working with organizations that put on such events. (Source)
But there is no getting around the fact that rodeos brutalize animals. I've been to several rodeos (having grown up in the western United States). I've seen what these animals go through. Welfarists who are apologists for rodeos such as this one can talk all they want about emphasizing the well-being of the animals. And when you get right down to it, rodeos aren't as gruesome and gory as bull fights (which set the bar incredibly low when it comes to the treatment of animals). But make no mistake about it: Rodeos are still a form of extreme animal exploitation.

I'm a lifelong Westerner, born in Calgary. I know why people love rodeos. They can be very exciting events, where families and friends get together and have a good time. And I hate it when some elitists try to write off rodeo fans as rednecks. That's a crock. I don't buy it for an instant. Yet it is impossible to deny that animals are treated very roughly at rodeos. We would be a lot better off if the rodeo had never been invented, and if the good people who attend them could achieve a sense of community and camaraderie by some other means.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Another Shark Scare - On the 35th Anniversary of Jaws

"Risk low of shark attacks in Northeast waters, but why take the chance, Coast Guard says."

So reads a headline in The Providence (R.I.) Journal.

It seems that great white sharks have been spotted off of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, recently. This announcement has sent waves of panic across the state's beaches.

Tune in to CNN or Fox News or just about any station on Sirius XM satellite radio, look on the Google News or check out any of the major newspapers online and you'll see signs of shark hysteria. How appropriate that this is happening in 2010 - the year of the 35th anniversary of Steven Spielberg's groundbreaking shark film Jaws.

Jaws opened in theaters on June 20, 1975. I had just turned 7 and I saw the film at a drive-in theater with my father and brother. The film scared the bejesus out of me - much more so than The Exorcist or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I didn't go near the beach for the rest of the year - and I loved the beach.

Now, on the 35th anniversary of jaws, fears of sharks have been rekindled by the Great White Shark sightings off Cape Cod.

You want to know the kicker? Shark attacks are so rare in New England they are almost (but not quite) statistically nonexistent.

According to the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida, there have been 7 fatal shark attacks in the Northeastern United States in 340 years. Two of those have been off the coast of Massachusetts, where Jaws is set, and the most recent of those two attacks was 1936! Five of those shark attacks occurred in New Jersey. Guess when the most recent attack in New Jersey occurred? 1926!!! (Source)

So the setting for Jaws hasn't actually seen a shark attack in 74 years. And that was only one of two in almost three and a half centuries.

The fear of sharks is yet another form of human hysteria. Sharks have far more to fear from humans than we have to fear from them.

If you get a chance, Blog Pals, please, please see the documentary Sharkwater. It's a Canadian documentary and it is absolutely outstanding. Please read my Blog Entry on Sharkwater here.

It is time to tear apart the myth of the monster sharks. The overwhelming majority of sharks are harmless to human beings. And humans have used the fear of sharks as a justification to slaughter countless numbers of these beautiful creatures.

That doesn't mean I necessarily want to go out and swim alongside a Great White Shark and sing "Kumbaya." It does mean that, once again, human beings have been behaving irrationally. And unless we want to keep destroying our ecosystem, we had damn well better stop.