The Animals I’ve MetPosted by Matthew Liebman, ALDF Staff Attorney on December 10, 2007
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.