Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Words to Remember, Words to Live By...

These beautiful words (along with this moving picture) were posted on Facebook by the wonderful folks at Animal Acres, a farm animal sanctuary near Los Angeles. They speak to the need to always be hopeful, to never stop caring, and to always fight the good fight...

"Post a disturbing video, watch it, feel depressed, and then remember that there are caring souls out there. There are people who make a difference, like all of you who share your energy and support with us. There are happy moments!"

Inside the Veal Racket: Yet Another Reason to Go Vegan

Nobody loves dairy products more than me. Whipped cream, ice cream, cottage cheese, cheddar cheese, chocolate milk, yogurt - you name it, I probably crave it right now. But we have to face facts. Whenever we consume dairy products, we perpetuate suffering. Sometimes, this is easy to forget. Meat is easy to give up, but dairy is much more difficult.

This incredible video, made by the wonderful group Mercy for Animals, tells the truth about veal, and it connects the dots between the veal and dairy rackets. The video provides us with a glimpse inside the inner workings of the Buckeye Veal Farm in Apple Creek, Ohio. The whole process is profoundly sick and twisted, when you think about it. Cows are kept in a constant state of pregnancy to keep giving milk. Their babies are ripped away from their mothers so we humans can consume milk that is not meant for us. As this video points out, the calves raised for veal live short, incredibly miserable lives before they're sliced, hacked, butchered and slaughtered so human beings can devour their meat. As the Mercy for Animals website points out, the video
reveals baby calves chained inside 2-feet wide wooden stalls – so narrow they cannot turn around, walk, run, play, socialize with other animals, or engage in other basic natural behaviors. In such tight confinement, the animals are unable to lie down comfortably, breathe fresh air, see sunlight, clean themselves or bond with their mothers.
Think about how ghastly this state of affairs is. If a logical and advanced race of aliens from another planet were to land on earth and see this sick spectacle, what would they make of it?

Bob (The Price is Right) Barker narrates this video. At one point, he says exactly what I believe: "As a civilized society, it is our moral obligation to prevent animal cruelty. And veal production is both abusive and totally unacceptable."


I remember eating veal parmigiana in my past life and thinking nothing of it. Like so many people, I lived in a state of denial. I did not connect what it was I was eating with those baby calves being hung upside down and having their arteries slashed open, bucking and kicking as their lifeblood drained out of their little helpless bodies. "There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation," wrote the great John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath (1939). Steinbeck was writing about the horrible treatment of the poor during the Great Depression. He could have just as easily been writing about our gruesome and horrific treatment of animals.

Even if you think you know the horrors of veal production and how it ties in with dairy production, please watch this video because it will break down the walls of denial. The history books won't fondly remember the human race at the dawn of the 21st Century when it comes to our treatment of animals. But thanks to groups like Mercy for Animals, we are slowly making a journey in a new direction.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Betty Boop & Grampy: Two Pioneering Animal Rights Activists!

I adore this 1936 Max Fleischer cartoon starring Betty Boop and her partner in crime, Grampy, as a couple of Depression-era animal rights activists who relentlessly go after a mean goon of a farmer who's abusing his animals. At the start of the cartoon, Betty is playing the piano, singing and minding her own business when she hears an awful noise coming through the window. It turns out to be her nasty neighbor, whipping a poor, defenseless dog. Like Billy Joe Gregg, who abused numerous cows and calves at the Conklin Dairy Farms in Ohio earlier this year, the jerk in this cartoon goes from one harmless animal to the next, taking out his wrath. Thanks to the intervention of Betty Boop and Grampy, the prick is stopped dead in his tracks. I won't give away the ending, but its absolutely priceless - and uplifting. Check it out if you get a chance. This black-and-white '36 cartoon, with the interesting title "Be Human," is a reminder that in all periods of history, you can find examples of compassionate people trying to help animals - even at moments when you'd least expect to find such goodness.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Living Vegan in the City of Angels: Still Not as Easy as You Might Think...

I just returned from a week in Los Angeles with my family. Everybody had their own reasons for wanting to visit the City of Angels. My companion and I were excited to sample the many vegan delicacies the city had to offer. Before visiting, I'd read a lot of articles in magazines and on the Web about the proliferation of vegan joints in the land o' sunshine & smog. In fact, Los Angeles has a reputation for being way ahead of the curve when it comes to vegan food options.

Turns out Los Angeles wasn't a whole hell of a lot more impressive when it came to the availability of vegan foods than where I live in Waterloo, Ontario. Sure, there are now numerous vegan restaurants in L.A. The website "Vegetarians in Paradise" offers a long list of vegan eateries in the greater Los Angeles (and not-so-great Los Angeles) area. I admit that in the short span of a week - with a very packed schedule - I wasn't able to dine in most of these joints.

But the real test of any city's vegan-friendliness boils down to how easy it is to find vegan products in non-vegan restaurants and in neighborhood markets. And in this department, Los Angeles didn't seem too terribly advanced. We ate out a lot on our trip, and many menus didn't have vegan foods. We even ate at one joint renowned for its healthy food (I won't name names - but I've linked to it here) and let's just say their vegan offerings were none too spectacular.

And the restaurants that served vegetarian/vegan food aren't necessarily staffed by people with a great deal of knowledge on the subject, as the Vegetarians in Paradise website notes:
Often vegetarian restaurants hire serving attendants who are not knowledgeable about ingredients in their dishes. The ultimate responsibility lies with you, the customer, to ask and ask again about ingredients that concern you. We'll do our best to be as informative as possible.
So as much as I loved getting back to Los Angeles, a city where I've spent a great deal of time in the past, I must say that like most other places, L.A.'s non-vegan community still has a ways to go to "beef up" (excuse the terrible pun) their vegan offerings.

Still, the city has improved. The wonderful actor/vegan Casey Affleck, who became a vegan in the mid-1990s, remembers a time when vegan food was damn near impossible to find in Los Angeles. The city, like the rest of North America, has made great strides. And it seems to have a thriving vegan community that spreads out far beyond the city limits. But real progress will be measured when vegans are no longer outcasts in their own communities, and they encounter menus at popular omnivore restaurants that make them feel welcome, too.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Saving Navarro

Americans were shocked to learn about a cat named Navarro who was narrowly saved from being eaten in New York state. Police stopped 51-year-old Gary Korkuc of Cheektowaga, New York, and found a beautiful black and white cat in the car's trunk marinated in oil, crushed red peppers, chili peppers and salt. Korkuc was planning to devour the poor cat. Korkuc told the police he planned to eat the cat because it had been "mean" to him. (He later denied plans to eat the cat, telling a local radio station "that's conjecture and that's an assumption.") Navarro is pictured here on the right. (Source)

Unlike so many of these gruesome tales, this story has a happy ending. Korkuc was caught before he could eat Navarro. Another resident of Cheektowaga, a cat lover, adopted Navarro and changed his name to Oliver and now he lives in a loving home. "Navarro spend the last night curled up on a bed in his wonderful new home," noted the SPCA. (Source)

You can probably predict what I'm thinking. "Cows and pigs and chickens deserve to live as much as cats..." - that sort of thing. But I'm also very thankful that this story has a happy ending. So many of these kinds of episodes end badly. Really badly. There's a wonderful friend on Facebook who is trying to stop a cat hoarder in Van Nuys, California (left). If your heart can stand the tragic video she made, please try to watch it below. This will give you some idea of the awful lives that hoarded cats live, cramped in unbearable conditions, living in the filthiest conditions imaginable.

So yeah, we do have a double standard to some degree. Cats are seen as more sacrosanct than, say, pigs or chickens or cows. But there are still a lot of cats out there who suffer. And I'm thankful than Navarro has a good home. Thankfully, there are still plenty of good people out there who care about animals.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Food for Thought: Steve Best on Animal Rights versus Other Radical Philosophies

This is a very thought-provoking video with Dr. Steve Best, a brave activist scholar in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Texas, El Paso. Have a look at it. In the video, he explains why the concept of animal rights is so much more radical than other revolutionary schools of thought. He insists it's more radical because it changes our personal lives - our ways of doing things on a day to day basis - far more fundamentally than any other worldview or set of philosophical beliefs. I think he raises some excellent points here, worth thinking about. Take four minutes out of your day and check it out. Best is very eloquent. And the guy has got guts. He is a fearless voice on behalf of the animals. And what he says here will make you think - and think hard.

Tragedy at the California State Fair in Sacramento

In late July, an incident occurred at the California State Fair in Sacramento that sparked public outrage. A pregnant cow who was supposed to give birth at the fair escaped from a birthing stall and charged through the midway. It was beautiful a Tuesday morning, July 27, and the fair had not yet opened for the day when she got free. The place was still relatively quiet as fair grounds staff were setting up concession booths for the day. The cow charged across the fairgrounds with authorities in hot pursuit. There were several conflicting accounts of the event (go to YouTube and search under "cow shot at California State Fair" to see the many televised news reports). According to some reports, the police and fair authorities tried to tranquilize the cow, but they said the tranquilizers would take a half hour to kick in. Another report said the tranquilizer gun wasn't working.

After pursuing the cow, the police eventually cornered her and opened fire, killing the 1200 pound animal and the baby she was carrying. It is clear from the video above that the cow was terrified and agitated. She was being pursued by a truck blaring some sort of loud horn or noise. I wasn't there, so it's impossible for me to offer an impartial verdict on this matter. At the same time, one wonders why it was necessary to gun down a frightened pregnant cow.

The local television outlets insisted the cow was "angry" and a local TV correspondent referred to her as "ornery" in one television report. (Source)

One can spend weeks nitpicking over the tiny details of this incident. But getting trapped in that game avoids the larger picture. And the larger picture is this: Human beings have no right to keep exploiting animals and treating them like slaves. This tragedy could have been avoided. Not by tightening security. Not by introducing better birthing stalls for cows. Not by doing this or that differently. It could have been avoided by adopting a radically different view of human-animal relations that eliminates the exploitation of non-human creatures by people. Animals aren't ours to exhibit, poke, prod, or kill. They're living beings with feelings. And this cow obviously felt fear and anxiety in the terrifying final moments of her life.

Thank goodness our comrades in the struggle for the decent treatment of animals were out in full force protesting this sad event. I've posted their pictures here (courtesy of Sacramento's ABC News 10). Even in the aftermath of a tragedy like this, good people can be counted on to raise their voices against injustice and violence.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Another Example of Compassion at its Finest: A Chinese Farmer Saves a Two-Legged Lamb

Signs of compassion are everywhere. Wherever you go, you'll find decent people with kind hearts who want to help the animals.

Take Cui Jinxiu, a farmer from China's eastern Shangdong province. She heard about a two-legged lamb (who weighed 11 pounds at birth) that ordinarily would have been sent out to be slaughtered. She stepped in to save the lamb's life.

As Cui noted: "He was so determined to live he pulled himself up onto his own two feet and started drinking his mother's milk. I couldn't let him die."
Cui was impressed by the plucky lamb's determination. Now wherever Cui goes, her new little friend always tags along. "He may only have two legs, but he gets around very quickly and is pretty steady on his feet. He follows me everywhere and I haven't got the heart to slaughter him."

Proof that you don't need to look too hard in this world for kindness. No matter where you go, you will find good people who want to help animals. (Source)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Great News From Our Brothers and Sisters in Israel!

You know me. I love to balance bad news with good news.

Now for the good news!

Israel, I have said many times in this Blog, is one of the leading countries in vigorously promoting animal rights. Israeli laws have long been strong in forbidding the worst sorts of abuses of animals. And, unlike what we see happening so often in North America, those caught abusing animals in Israel are almost always punished under these laws.

The Israeli Supreme Court has already banned the force feeding of ducks and geese, which was a real blow to the foie gras racket there. There is now a bill in the Israeli Knesset seeking to "outlaw the production, processing, import, export and sale of fur from all animal species not part of the meat industry." (Source) Passage of this bill would be a colossal victory for the global anti-fur movement.

And it was with great joy that I read this article, posted by my comrades at Anonymous for Animals, Israel's leading animal rights group.
Israel's largest veal-farm in Bazra has closed down

The owners of the farm, the Leicht Family, decided to stop the cruel production of "special-fed"or "milk-fed" veal. They announced that their decision comes in the wake of a public relations campaign against them and the new regulations that have passed following the pressure on the government applied by Anonymous for Animal Rights. The new regulations put substantial limitations on calves' husbandry and consequently on the production of veal.

The Bazra veal-farm became a prime target for animal rights lobbyists, because of its sheer size and the fact that it is located close to Israel's economic hub, Tel Aviv. Protests were held at the farm and animal rights activists gave water to the dehydrated calves (dehydration is part of the production method). Anonymous for Animal Rights visited the farm repeatedly for documentation, and filed complaints against the owners for ignoring laws and regulations, to both the police and the Ministry for Agriculture. The Leicht Family was greatly agitated by critical articles in the local press and the lasting public pressue, and even threatened to file a libel suit against Anonymous for Animal Rights, but eventually decided to stop the veal production. Part of the farm is being dissolved now and the last "special-fed" calves have been sent for slaughter. However, the Leicht Family's other business, raising calves by common methods, is continuing. (Source)

Chalk this up to yet another triumph for animals in Israel. Their example is one that all nations around the world should seek to emulate. (Note: The image above is a veal farm in Israel; the Bazra veal farm actually closed last year, but this is such a great development - one I haven't noted on my Blog - that I couldn't resist commenting on it. - A.H.).

Some Compelling Reasons to Steer Clear of Dairy & Veal

If you can spare two minutes and 17 seconds, watch this terrific Humane Society of the United States video about veal and baby calves.

This is actually a very mild video compared to another video about the slaughter of calves that I watched on YouTube. I am linking to the video, titled "Calves Slaughter," here because the imbedding has been disabled for it, so I can't post it on this Blog. Of the two videos, "Calves Slaughter" is much more difficult to watch. It's more graphic. It doesn't have narration. It relies on the power of the image to convince the viewer. If I could post it on this Blog, I would. But I can't. So you'll have to follow the link. Please. The video is three minutes and fifty seconds of brutality.

These videos are difficult to watch. No two ways about it. But I must confess: There are times I really miss dairy products, particularly cheese, ice cream, cream cheese, cottage cheese and whip cream. The other day, I yearned for something - anything - with melted cheddar cheese on top of it. That's pretty normal for a vegan who has spent most of his life as an omnivore. These are the foods we've loved our entire lives and giving them up isn't easy. It was easy to give up meat. It's flesh. I don't miss it one iota. But the cheese - oh the cheese! - was not easy to cut out of my diet.

Every time I get an itching to go back to eating cheese, I watch these videos. I can't say my craving completely goes away, but these videos remind me - in very emotional, primal, meaningful ways - what, exactly, is at stake here.

We shouldn't go vegan because it's the "politically correct" thing to do. We shouldn't go vegan because it will seem to cool to others. We shouldn't go vegan because loved ones are vegan and we want to be accepted by them. And while a healthier diet is a good reason to go vegan, it is by no means the only reason. For many of us, animals are the main reason we go vegan. There is not much in this world that I'm rigid about, but I am rigid in adhering to a vegan diet. I miss some of the foods I gave up. But these videos remind me that giving those foods up was the right thing to do.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Beautiful (not grim!) Video about Cows Living Life to the Fullest

If you get a moment, please watch this moving YouTube video about cows and calves. These animals are incredibly affectionate and loving. You can clearly see in this video that they form bonds with each other, take care of one another and they love being on the receiving end of affection just as much as your or me. The film footage in this video is really quite extraordinary. And, unlike so many of the videos I post on this Blog, this one does not contain any scenes of violence or animals in distress.

The kinds of scenes like the ones in this video are so important because they help tear down the wall of denial. Long before I became a vegan, I stopped eating pork. Why? About four years ago, I was at the Royal Winter Fair, a huge farming and agricultural event held in Toronto, with my companion. We were able to spend time with the pigs and see just how human they really were. At that moment, we both swore off pork, bacon and all other products that come from pigs. That one fantastic afternoon of spending time with pigs did more to destroy our denial than anything else we had ever experienced.

For a long time, I convinced myself it was OK to eat fish, chicken, beef, etc., even though I didn't think it was OK to eat pork, ham, bacon, etc. The reason I was able to go on eating other kinds of meat was that my other walls hadn't quite been torn down yet. Now that I watch this video of these precious animals living, loving and enjoying life (and bonding with human beings, too), I see how wrong I was about those other animals. Cows, chickens, sheep, and all other creatures deserve to live happy and healthy lives as much as pigs.

Watch this video, especially if you're wondering about the ethics of eating meat. See how amazing these cows are. And ask yourself, "How can I go on eating them?"

Monday, August 2, 2010

Still the Most Beautiful Music Video About Animals

Ever since I first heard it on the radio back in 1984, I've loved Talk Talk's song It's My Life. It's an extraordinary song with an amazing sound - rich, vibrant, brimming with positive energy. Back in the days when MTV actually played music videos, they frequently aired the video to It's My Life. Even then, years and years before I became a vegan, I recognized the video as a deeply touching celebration of animals and their lives. Today, 26 years later, It's My Life can still be heard frequently on Sirius-XM Satellite Radio, and thanks to YouTube, the video is available for anyone to watch anytime. I have posted it here because I love the song and the video so much. Even if you have already seen it, please watch it again. I am sure you will agree that this video is a moving celebration of animal life.

Incidentally, the song was remade 18 years after it was first released, by the band No Doubt. I love No Doubt and I've seen them in concert, but their cover can't compete with the original Talk Talk version. For one thing, No Doubt's music video is a tawdry little 1930s' style soap opera that shows leggy Gwen Stefani murdering all of her boyfriends one by one. It's fun, but it can't hold a candle to the sheer beauty and power of the original 1984 song and the video that accompanied it.

Check out this video. Be sure to watch it all the way to the very end. The little kangaroo at the end almost brings me to tears. It will move you, I'm sure. It touched me 26 years ago. It still does.

The Work of Saints: Animal Sanctuaries

The proliferation of animal sanctuaries across North America is an encouraging sign, and one of the noblest examples of people helping animals that I can find. Many of these sanctuaries are specially geared toward farm animals who would otherwise be slaughtered by the factory farm system. For these beautiful creatures, animal sanctuaries are lifesavers protecting them against the machine of death. The sanctuaries can be compared to the so-called Slave Maroons of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, hidden communities in the dense woods where runaway slaves created safe havens where they could live freely.

Animal sanctuaries have popped up across the United States and Canada, wherever there are good people fighting to make a difference in the lives of animals. Here is a description of New York's Woodstock Farm Sanctuary (from NorthJersey.com):

The ducks and geese flapped their wings and stretched their necks skyward as though willing it to rain even harder during a recent visit to the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in Willow, N.Y. Away in the distance, the goats and sheep were not as appreciative and made a mad dash toward the open barn. And, completely oblivious to the storm, four large pigs lay fast asleep in a thick bed of straw. They didn’t even blink as chickens pecked at the bedding right beside their faces.

Surrounded by the Catskills Mountains, this farm provides refuge for cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, sheep and goats that have been rescued from cases of abuse, neglect and abandonment. For the hundreds of families who pass through its gates every year, the sanctuary provides not only a relaxing and peaceful environment but an opportunity to learn about the harsh life for many animals in the factory farming industry.

Farm sanctuary guides tell visitors that childhood images of happy animals living on sunny, idyllic farms – like those at the sanctuary – couldn’t be further from reality. The truth is that "virtually all animals who are raised for food – or their products – live miserable lives in intensive confinement in dark, overcrowded facilities called factory farms. These operations emphasize high volume and profit with little regard for the environment or humane treatment of animals."

Bringing your family to Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary is a powerful step in a positive direction, says Farm Communications Director Rebecca Moore

"My generation did not get to have any interaction with the animals that were put on our plates," says Moore. "The few times I did (at a zoo or fair), what I could see with my own eyes did not mesh with what I was being told. The animals were in poor environments without much attention to their needs. Their depression or distress was palpable and I always left those places feeling troubled."

Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary is the wave of the future, says Moore. She sees a new generation of families passing through the gates, a generation who wants their children to be better informed than they were. Visitors are encouraged to enter the pastures and stalls and visit with the animals. The pigs enjoy belly rubs, the sheep look forward to head scratches and many of the chickens like to be hugged.

"In books and at school we teach our children to love animals as a way to teach them gentleness and kindness. However, what is most often being done to animals to get them onto our plates is the opposite of that lesson, and that makes no sense," says Moore.

Not all animal sanctuaries are created to save farm animals. Last month, I posted about St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa's Animal Rescue Foundation, a noble enterprise that offers a home for stray cats and dogs. In Columbia, Missouri, you will find the D&D Animal Sanctuary, described in a Columbia Tribune article about a recent open house held at the place:

D-D Farm & Animal Sanctuary is a wildlife refuge licensed by the USDA and MO Dept. of Conservation. For over 18 years they have opened their hearts and home to animals of all shapes and sizes.

The sanctuary is not open to the public except during an Open House.

Come see the many endangered, exotic and native animals that call D-D home: lions, tigers, cougars, bobcats, lynx, coatimundi, wolves, fox, parrots, snakes, lizards, tortoise, horses, cats, dogs and more!

And then, of course, there's the Butternut Farm Wildcat Sanctuary in Johnstown, Ohio, which is home to countless cats of all shapes and sizes, including cougars, bobcats, lynxes and house cats. Butternut is also home to a wolf and assorted foxes. All of these animals live under the loving care of Johnstown residents Carol and Craig Bohning and a group of volunteers.

Canada also has its fair share of animal sanctuaries. Here in Ontario, there are safe havens for rabbits, pigs and even donkeys. All across the country you'll find farms dedicated to the happiness and well-being of a multitude of animals.

I often single out the saintly folks at Farm Sanctuary, who run huge farms in Watkins Glen, New York, and Orland, California. But - and I'm sure the Farm Sanctuary folks would agree with me 100 percent - it is important to also single out the many other countless unsung heroes and heroines of the animal sanctuary movement. These are wonderful people who love animals and provide plenty of TLC for creatures of all shapes and sizes.

Whenever I get feeling pessimistic about the treatment of animals in our day and age (and believe me, there is much to be pessimistic about), I like to take out a moment to remember the men and women (and, yes, even children) who have provided a safe haven for the animals. We will never know exactly how many animals have been saved by these sanctuaries, but we can safely say a lot.

And not just that. Untold thousands of visitors to these sanctuaries - from school children to the elderly - have seen that there is a different way for animals and humans to interact. Animals and humans can - and should - live in harmony together, different species enjoying life side by side, and not out of some sort of paternalistic impulse on the part of humans to "be kind to animals." We ought to live with animals in harmony because we have something to learn from them, and animals living happy lives can enhance our own fleeting moment on this earth and liberate us from the shackles of our age-old custom of devouring these extraordinary beings.

It's like I've said before: When we liberate animals, we liberate ourselves.