ALDF recently had our office holiday party, and the standard warnings (don’t snag the Secret Santa gift your boss has her eye on; don’t keep hitting the eggnog ‘til you’re singing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" with that guy from the mailroom) didn’t apply. Rather than busting out our holiday finery this year, we instead suited up in our grubbiest boots on an early Saturday in December and headed out to Vacaville, California’s Animal Place--a nonprofit sanctuary for abused and discarded farmed animals.
Our very quotable founder, Joyce Tischler, was once famously noted to have said "I don’t eat my clients." As a matter of course, most of us office-dwellers don’t get to spend much time with our animal "clients," either. And while it was more than 17 years ago that I last ate a pig, I’d never had the opportunity to pet one until now. Animal Place’s wonderful Executive Director and co-founder Kim Sturla, who graciously led ALDF’s farm tour, explained that Susie the pig had once been used for experimentation at Loma Linda University. Rather than winding up in someone’s baloney sandwich, Susie had the great luck of ending up at Animal Place--and on that Saturday afternoon, she graciously--ok, eagerly--allowed me my first ever pig-pet, grunting in ecstasy as I scratched her wire-haired flank and (grunts getting louder!) the smoother skin of her enormous belly.
All of the animals surprised and delighted us. We hand-fed carrots to Lemonade and the other rabbits living in the straw-filled "Bunny Haven," and offered lettuce and grapes to the chickens and turkeys who gathered and eyed us, and our produce, with obvious interest. Sheep, goats, and cows moseyed over to our group when we called their names. Clients like these make it easy for all of us at the Animal Legal Defense Fund to stay inspired. The feathered and furry guys, and gals, at Animal Place--Lemonade, Susie, Sophie, and all the rest--are the lucky ones. Please take a moment as the year ends to think of the many millions of farmed animals who have no names, but who are not forgotten.
Happy Holidays to you and yours.
It’s the holiday season… again. I’ve always been rather cynical about those folks who mouth off about the true meaning of Christmas. Oddly, this year, I find that I may be one of them.
What bothers me about this time of year is that there are too many events and celebrations to go to, too many responsibilities to attend to, too many sugary songs telling me that I should feel oh, so jolly, when what I’ve been feeling is overloaded, rushed and stressed. And, I have found myself uttering: “Bah Humbug,” wishing that I didn’t have to go to a party that I knew I would enjoy.
A woman in my Weight Watcher’s class (yes; I’m living proof that vegans can get fat) said something that resonated with me: "We Americans suffer from an embarrassment of riches; too many gifts to buy, too many parties to go to. When you find yourself complaining about that, you should thank your lucky stars for such abundance and find ways to bring the balance back into your life." What a wise woman!
So, this holiday season, "Ebenezer" Tischler is trying to be more conscious of what Christmas is supposed to be about: it’s about caring for others, particularly those less fortunate than me. Another "support" group I belong to gave me the gift of a small cardboard box, which says: "Welcome a Guest at Your Table." Every time I eat a meal, I put some money in the box. It’s for those who cannot afford the wholesome food that I buy. I’ve decided to stay away from the mall (my natural habitat) and buy less for my relatives who, like me, have what they need to be comfortable. The money I save can go into the box. In January, the money from the box will go to people who need housing, clean water, basic medical care.
My canine family members, Shadow and Edgar (who, in their former lives, knew all too well what it is to be cold and hungry) and feline family members, George, Andy, Hamlet and Marley, also have everything they need. In honor of them, I’m putting out another box. This one is for the many, many animals who are still suffering this holiday season. The pigs, calves and chickens trapped in intensive confinement in factory "farms," the primates, dogs, cats, mice, and rats in cold, steel cages in research labs, the dogs and cats with clouded eyes and rotting teeth who are suffering at the mercy of hoarders, and the wildlife subjected to hunting, trapping and fur farming. As often as I can, I will sit quietly, close my eyes and hold them in my thoughts and in my heart. And, I’ll put some money in the box to support the wonderful groups doing all that they can to help them.
To you and yours,
As this is my first blog post, I thought I would start off by introducing myself. My name is Matthew Liebman, and I’m the new staff attorney at ALDF. As fate would have it, I started work on October 2, World Farm Animals Day. This seems appropriate, since it was the sad plight of animals slaughtered for food that piqued my interest in the animal rights movement and convinced me to go vegetarian (and later vegan) some thirteen years ago.
Right before I started at ALDF, I took a three-week-long cross-country tour of animal sanctuaries. My goal in doing the sanctuary tour was to meet my animal clients on their own terms, at least to the extent that’s possible outside of their natural habitats. Growing up in Texas, my exposure to animals was primarily at zoos, rodeos, and circuses, and on my dinner plate. As we all know, those are not environments in which animals can act and interact on their own terms. So in choosing where to visit, I tried to get exposure to as wide a range of animals as possible. At the sanctuaries, I saw all kinds of critters, from dogs and cats, to chickens and pigs, to lions and tigers, to tapirs and . . . whoever goes with tapirs. Alpacas, maybe?
Although these animals differed by species, they all shared an amazing resiliency in the face of callous indifference and downright cruelty by their former "owners." I met chimpanzees who had been exposed to infectious diseases in medical research, others who had been "pets" locked in basements, and still others who had been beaten into submission to perform for the entertainment of humans. I met pigs who had fallen off of transport trucks on the way to slaughter, chickens who had been debeaked and bred to grow at wildly unnatural rates, and cows who were destined for the veal industry before their rescues. I met wild cats who had been exhibited at dilapidated roadside zoos and kept as "pets." I met horses who had been left for dead by their “owners,” dogs and cats disabled by neglect and hoarding, and parrots abandoned when they got to be too much for their guardians.
And yet, in spite of all this misery, I saw living proof of the drive in all sentient beings to persevere. I saw animals rescued from death’s door and given a second shot at life. The integrity and indomitability I saw in these animals was nothing short of inspiring. When you come eye to eye with a once-imprisoned orangutan, you cannot help but respect the alterity of the beings with whom we share the earth. When you scratch a pig’s belly or hold a cooing chicken, you cannot help but understand that these beings are not simple commodities, no matter how much we try to pervert and suppress their animal natures.
In the two months since I started at ALDF, I’ve worked on a wide range of issues, all of which relate back to those animals I met at the sanctuaries. I have researched animal patenting, which involves rabbits and dogs like those I met on tour. I have worked on our cases against Farmer John and the Mendes Calf Ranch, which involve pigs and cows, like those I met at sanctuaries in New York and Texas. I have worked on ALDF’s animal hoarding cases against Janie Conyers and Barbara and Robert Woodley, which involve dogs and birds like the ones I met in Utah. The sanctuary animals gave me a profound gift. Their new lives of relative freedom motivate me through the often depressing facts of our cases.
I was privileged to have the opportunity to share some time with the sanctuary animals. Now I am proud to be able to work at ALDF on behalf of their imprisoned brothers and sisters who still yearn for liberation.
I just learned of a new island in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii. Excited about a new vacation spot? Think again. It’s not an island with sandy shores, palm trees and cabanas. It’s an island of garbage and it even has a name; "The Great Pacific Garbage Patch." Why shouldn’t it? It’s two times the size of Texas.
Two times the size of Texas.
Undoubtedly it is an environmental hazard, as 80% of the island is plastic and weighs 3.5 million tons. There is no logical solution for clean up and experts say that the "island" is only going to get larger. That is, of course, unless us humans have a dramatic change of heart and stop producing so much plastic, make plastic that is biodegradable and substitute plastic products. But that’s an ambitious goal considering our "throw-away" society has become so dependant on plastic and big business continues to feed us catchy phases like, "plastics make it possible," while showing us images of premature babies in incubators.
So why am I, as an animal rights advocate, rambling on about plastic and our environment? Because this world is One and everything we humans do affects all other living creatures we share this planet with, right?
There is no good estimate of how many birds and marine life have suffered and died from our manmade continent of waste, but we can be sure that it has been far too many. To a sea turtle, a plastic bag floating in the water looks remarkably similar to a jelly fish. When plastic is ingested by sea birds and marine life, it fills up their system but doesn’t pass. The end result is starvation and death.
How can we do our part to not contribute to the "garbage sprawl?" Recycle more and use less. Rethink buying that case of bottled water and use a refillable water bottle. Bring your own carry-out container to restaurants when you dine out. When you go shopping, whether it be for groceries, clothes or holiday gifts, pack your goodies in your own reusable cloth bags. Yes, it takes forethought and a bit of planning, but be creative and think outside the Styrofoam box. Aren’t our world and the animals worth it?
Interested in planning your next vacation to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? Watch this short video to see all the island has to offer:
This week marks the final week of lectures for the first Animal Law class to have been offered at Cornell University Law School in Ithaca New York, which I am teaching as an adjunct professor. Nearly half of all accredited law schools offer an animal law course these days, and this past Fall Cornell joined their ranks. My class attracted plenty more students than the school or I expected, especially since it was a bit of a last minute addition to the curriculum over the summer, so there wasn’t much opportunity to promote it well. I’ll take the fact the class was full as a sign that there is a lot of interest in animal law.
My students came from a variety of backgrounds, including one who is dually enrolled at Cornell’s veterinary school. Some could be described as ardent animal advocates, others more curious to see what this animal law stuff is all about, and I’m sure there were a few who simply found it fit into their schedule well this semester. Nevertheless all of the students turned out to be actively engaged in the discussions, asked provocative questions of me and each other, brought up interesting cases that had appeared in the media, and generally kept me on my toes intellectually.
While I realize that law school debt will prevent many of them from pursuing an animal law practice right away, I am hopeful that many will find a way to do so on a pro bono basis in the meantime. If my class is any indication of the caliber of animal law practitioner we will see in the future, we all have plenty of reason to be optimistic about the animals’ future.