ALDF’s headquarters is located north of San Francisco in Sonoma County, which is also where I live. As many of you probably saw on the news, this area was hammered by storms at the tail end of last week. As a result I have been without power since Thursday night with no estimate of when power will be restored. As I type this on my battery powered laptop, it’s Sunday afternoon and starting to get dark again. One of my dogs and my two cats are curled up with me on the couch and my other dog is asleep on the floor near the woodstove. Soon I’ll light the oil lamps for another night of quiet and calm such as only a retreat from our plugged-in existence can provide. I have about two hours left on my spare laptop battery and then I’ll pick up my book for the rest of the evening as I reheat my soup on the woodstove.
Aside from the beauty found in the stillness and dark outside, I am enjoying the sense of self-sufficiency from providing my own heat and light and the reminder this circumstance provides of how little we really "need." It seems no small coincidence that, as I sit in the gathering dark, the news this weekend is that oil futures had risen to a record $100 a barrel -- unimaginable just a couple of years ago when there was widespread consternation about the price hitting $30.
I’m not predicting doom by any means. On the contrary, sitting here with my animals around me, warm and safe and dry, I think we sometimes forget how adaptable we are. It’s easy to get comfortable with how things are and to forget how much and how quickly things have changed. Just two generations ago, there were many places not on the power grid at all (and not by choice!). When I started a business in the early 1980s hi-tech was an "electronic typewriter"which let you see a line of text before it whacked it out on the page. Was that really just 25 years ago?
I wish you all a very happy, rewarding and fulfilling new year. It’s time to shut down and light the oil lamps.
It is the end of the year—a time to reflect, review and resolve. A time when people find themselves contemplating questions like, "Why didn’t I lose those ten pounds?" and "What the heck did I do with my ThighMaster?" As I look back, I find myself contemplating many events from work, where I interact with a large number of law enforcement professionals—from animal control officers to judges, but mostly cops and prosecutors—on a daily basis. The majority of these folks recognize the value in doing top quality work in all animal cruelty cases. However, sadly, there is a significant minority of law enforcement "professionals" with a less than supportive view of this work. Having no desire to embarrass anybody, I am not going to name names. Nevertheless, I have decided to share just a couple of examples of some of the behavior I have encountered over this year. The goal is simply to give you a feeling for just how much more work there is for us to do before we can truly say that this country’s criminal justice system places a priority on cases involving all victims with the capacity to suffer.
In one case, involving a textbook hoarder with well over 100 animals living in hell, the prosecutor was making no effort to move the case through the system. In response to our repeated, yet polite, requests that the prosecutor promptly file the necessary pleadings to get the case tried, the assistant district attorney stated that he was too busy dealing with "real crime" to attend to this case. The assistant DA went on to say that because this hoarder didn’t pose much of a "threat" to the community, he would get to it when he could—it just wasn’t a priority case. Admittedly, this is an impressively myopic view of the situation, begging the question: is a case involving a stolen car really more important than a case involving over 100 dogs and cats forced to endure unspeakable conditions?
In another case, we were trying to get the prosecutor to simply review the facts of a case and make a formal charging decision. The prosecutor declined to review the information we delivered to him and directed us to send our file to the local sheriff. We did. Weeks later, still no charging decision despite repeated requests. Before we took the case to the media, we contacted the prosecutor to give him one more chance to do the right thing (i.e., review the facts and make a charging decision—also knows as "his job"). In response, the prosecutor actually took the time to write us a letter, wherein (and this is the amazing part) he threatened to sue ALDF for libel should we cause anything untruthful to be reported about him or his office. No worries there—the truth is more than ample cause to oust this guy from elected office.
Fortunately, these two cases are the exception. Like the majority of U.S. households, most cops and prosecutors go home to a house that they share with a pet. Moreover, law enforcement officials are slowly coming to realize that we Americans spend a heck of a lot of money on the care and feeding of our animals—over $30 billion a year (yes, that’s a "B" as in billion)—that is more than the GNP of over half of the world’s countries). A motivated constituency to be sure, and those sheriffs, police chiefs and district attorneys who fail to recognize this fact will enjoy short tenures in elected office.
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.