World Day for Animals in Laboratories

monkey diagramToday, April 26, 2014, is World Day for Animals in Laboratories. It’s a chance to speak up for animals languishing behind closed doors in labs around the world and is part of World Week for Animals in Labs.

In Seattle, NARN organized a protest outside of the UW Primate Research Center at 3010 Western Ave. The infant primate research that goes on behind the walls of the grim facility haven’t produced cures for human diseases and further prove that animal testing is a bad idea.

At SeaTac Airport, The Bunny Alliance met to protest Delta Air Lines. Delta has a partnership with Air France, one of the few airlines that ship animals to labs. Many primates are imported from places like China and Vietnam. Without animals, labs wouldn’t have their research subjects and breeding farms wouldn’t make money by raising primates for labs.

What can I do?

There’s lot’s you can do! Putting pressure on businesses and government is essential. The EU recently banned the use of animals in cosmetic testing, as have Israel and India. Here are a few things you can do:

  • Don’t support charities that test on animals. Here’s a page you can use to check your favorite charities.
  • Only shop from companies that don’t test on animals. Here’s a page with a list of companies.
  • Check out Chimpanzee Sanctuary NW and check out the progress of theses former research chimps.
  • Visit the Beagle Freedom Project for info on how beagles are being saved from research.
  • Read up on the Animal Aid site and learn more about stopping vivisection.


The Naked Truth: An evening with Ingrid Newkirk

Ingrid with chickenThis past Thursday, I was one of a few hundred lucky souls who get to see Ingrid Newkirk speak in Seattle. Newkirk is the president and founder of PETA. The event was sold out, and the room was packed. She spoke about the future of animal rights.

I have a newfound respect for PETA and Ingrid Newkirk, in particular. PETA is often seen as a polarizing organization, but that’s not a bad thing.

Newkirk is an eloquent, humble speaker and a captivating storyteller. I didn’t feel like I was being preached to or getting a sales pitch. Her words were genuine, heartfelt, and passionate.

PETA is responsible for bringing the animal rights movement into the mainstream. Founded in 1980, PETA’s first act was exposing footage of an animal research lab–an act that resulted if the first ever police raid in the USA of an animal research facility. She and others helping her, got the Animal Welfare Act changed as a result of the cruelty they exposed.

The influence of PETA is immeasurable. I was never not a fan, but I was not a flag-waving PETA apologist. Well, I am now. Just recently, thanks to PETA many victories for animals have taken place, including:

  • The bull hook (a cruel device used to beat elephants into submission) got banned in LA County.
  • A bill was introduced in California that would end orca shows statewide, at places like SeaWorld.
  • Several bears, languishing in a pit in Georgia, were rescued and sent to a sanctuary.
  • The EU is banning cosmetic testing on animals.
  • Indian courts have agreed to release Sundar the elephant to a sanctuary.
  • Major retailers like H&M have stopped selling angora.

And the list goes on. PETA is instrumental in changing the way people think about–and treat–animals. They have great lawyers who challenge the system. They know media (and social media) and use shock value to grab people’s attention. They will not let people get away with injustice to animals.

Whether it’s a celebrity who wears fur, a company that tests on animals, or a school abusing animals for “fun,” people know they can’t get away with it. PETA will find out–and they will come for them!

Newkirk said that it’s important to draw a line in the sand. To question and challenge, and never be silent. Every social justice movement faces challenges, makes people uncomfortable, and is defeated many times before it succeeds.


After the presentation, my friend and fellow activist, Claudine Erlandson, received a PETA lifetime achievement award for her tireless work over the past three decades.

Simulab, creator of the TraumaMan Simulator, also received an award. They created an anatomical human-model surgical manikin for students to practice several surgical procedures–without using animals! They gave PETA a huge discount on 64 of these manikins. PETA donated them to doctor training programs in Bolivia, Costa Rica, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Mexico, Mongolia, Panama and the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Doctors will be better equipped to treat patients, patients will be in better hands, and animals’ lives will be spared.

Finally, we had delicious vegan desserts, like peanut butter and jam Nanaimo bars, and a goody bag from local, ethical cosmetics company, Gabriel. I received a pretty, peach nail polish and matching lip gloss.

The gift bag, snacks, and award recipients are all proof that it’s possible to live a cruelty-free live and adhere to PETA’s mantra: Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment.

vegan treats


Horse racing: dying to win

If the Kentucky Derby and other horse races conjure up images of fancy hats and mint juleps, it’s time to take off the blinders.

Horse racing is big business, with no regard for the well-being of the horses.

Kentucky Derby

On average, 24 horses die on racetracks in the US every week. Even more are injured and killed before they ever see a race. About 30,000 foals are born every year, in the hopes that they’ll be a winner. Not all have what it takes. As a result, 10,000 thoroughbreds are sent to slaughter in Canada and Mexico every year. The situation in other countries, like the UK, Australia and Israel, is just as grim.

Horses are routinely doped up on performance-enhancing medications and pain-masking drugs. For example, many horses are given thyroxine, a thyroid medication that amps up metabolism–whether they have thyroid issues or not. Lasix, meant to prevent bleeding in the lungs during extreme exercise, is used to dehydrate horses and make them lighter on race day. Conveniently, it masks other drugs in the horses’ systems too.

These young horses are exhausted, overworked, and often train and race with painful injuries. They aren’t rewarded for winning–even though their owners can pocket over a million dollars in a big race. One sad example is Ferdinand, the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner. He died in 2002, in a Japanese slaughterhouse, after an unsuccessful stint as a stud. Horse Racing: Where winners are eaten.

The horse racing industry enslaves these horses and forces them to be athletes. Some don’t make the cut, but even the fast ones face a short, miserable life.

As with so many industries that exploit animals, humans are exploited too. Stable workers are often undocumented and work long, hard hours for little pay and often sleep in the barns and tack rooms, not the staff quarters.

What to do?

  • NEVER attend or bet on a horse race!
  • Support humans events (where people choose to compete) like track and field.
  • Watch this short exposé by PETA (warning: graphic language).
  • Read about the similar plight of horses in the UK.
  • Use this form to send a letter to your US representatives and senators urging them to increase penalties for doping. (Please click here if you live in the UK, here if you live in Canada, and here for all other international locations.)

Speciesism: The Movie

A few months ago, I got tired of waiting for Speciesism: The Movie to come to Seattle so I ordered the DVD from the Speciesism website.

speciesism imageWell, the joke is on me, because on Thursday, April 3rd, the Seattle premier of Speciesism: The Movie will be showing at Varsity Theater.

I’m going to the premier anyway. Director and star, Mark Devries, will be at the screening and will be leading a Q&A session afterward.

The film follows Devries across the country, as he sets out to figure out why humans see ourselves as the most important species and how we decide which animals are “food” and which are “pets.”

Devries was a college student when he made the film. He wasn’t a vegan; just a curious young man. He learned a lot on his journey, and you’ll get see his awakening as he talks to animal rights experts, people on the street, and people in the “food animal” industries. It’s an eye-opening film–sometimes harrowing, and surprisingly funny.

You won’t want to miss it! Hear first-hand how making this movie shaped and changed his ideas. Maybe it will change yours too!

When: Thursday, April 3rd at 7 pm
Where: Varsity Theatre, 4329 University Way NE, Seattle, Washington 98105

You can get tickets online.

Not in the Seattle area? Check out the Speciesism website for upcoming screenings or to get a DVD.

Slaving for your seafood?

Human rights and animal rights are often interconnected. Animal rights is a social justice movement and its participants are often involved in helping people too.

The dirtiest jobs in the animal food industries are often done by people who are abused like the animals in the system. They’re undocumented workers, undereducated and lacking in resources or language skills and they can’t speak up for themselves and their situations.

Most of the time, people have the option of walking away–the animals don’t. So I feel for the animals, not the perpetrators. Sometimes, however, the dire situations people find themselves in, ties their hands too.

One example of this interconnectedness is in the fishing industry. In Thailand, men from neighboring countries are tricked into working on fishing ships. Of course I wish people wouldn’t entertain the idea of decimating the ocean for a paycheck, but I haven’t walked in their shoes. I don’t know the poverty they face. I don’t know about their struggles to feed their families. I can’t judge.

fishing boat

With over 25,000 legal fishing vessels in Thailand, and a vast ocean at their shores, the illegal boats easily blend in. Like any seedy underworld activity, they go unnoticed. Migrant workers can be bought for about $600, but their lives are worth even less.

The slaves on fishing ships are smuggled from nearby countries like Cambodia and Myanmar, with the promise of a good job. Once on the ships, they’re overworked, denied pay, beaten and sometimes even killed.

It goes on because the money is lucrative, because the demand for cheap fish is high, and authorities don’t prosecute. Victims who escape and speak up are often punished.

Thailand is the second largest importer of seafood to the USA. It’s going to take consumers to stop slavery. We need to take a stand and say no to an industry that is relentlessly cruel to the environment, animals and people.


On declawing

I’ve never liked the idea of declawing a cat–claws are part of who they are. That’s why my cats have theirs. I recently watched a riveting documentary called The Paw Project and it builds an airtight argument against declawing.

anti-declaw billboard

But my first cat–a kitten I’d found in my late teens–was declawed. I sent her in to have the procedure and I can share first-hand why I’d never do that again.

I wasn’t planning to get a cat. She found me I guess you could say. I lived in an apartment that didn’t encourage pets and if cats were to be allowed, they had to be declawed. I couldn’t afford to move, and I was too selfish to rehome the cat. For her best interests, I should have found a home where she’d be allowed to remain whole.

When I brought my cat back from the vet, she was in a lot of discomfort. To see her limping and favoring her front paws broke my heart. She left bloody footprints around the apartment for a week too–my first realization that declawing isn’t a simple procedure; it’s an amputation.

Declawing consists of removing the first joint of each toe–because cat’s claws grow from the bone. My cat endured ten amputations for no good reason. She couldn’t scratch carpets, walls, or furniture, but she also couldn’t stretch and climb like a normal cat. She was indoors-only, but one afternoon I had her on a harness and leash when a dog rushed onto the property and tried to maul her. She climbed the nearest tree, but without a grappling-hook grip, she fell back toward him. By sheer luck she reached a horizontal branch on her second try.

In her old age, she wobbled on arthritic feet and stopped using her litter box. I didn’t know it at the time, but that’s common with declawed cats.

Cats need to scratch. It’s a territory marker (with both scent and visual clues). It’s good for their muscles too. I have a tall cat tree for my cats to climb and strategically placed scratching posts around my house. My cats prefer their posts to my furniture. In a few cases, I’ve had to put double-sided tape on sofa corners until they got the hint that the furniture isn’t for scratching. I trim my cats’ claws regularly too. No matter what, my cats’ wellbeing is more important than my sofa!

fistful of clawsCats’ claws are important for self-defense. They use them to fend off attackers and to make a quick getaway. Cat scratches hurt, but cat bites are more dangerous. If a cat loses her toes and claws, she’ll be more likely to bite. It’s better to adopt two kittens together (so they can roughhouse and learn about boundaries) or use toys–not hands–to play with an energetic cat.

If a cat experiences pain in the litter box (from a UTI or painful feet), he’ll likely associate the location as the source of the pain and change his behavior. With age, amputated toes often become arthritic and painful. Many cats who experience this will develop litter box issues.

Basically, removing claws doesn’t benefit the cat; it benefits only the owner. That’s why it’s unnecessary and uncalled for. If a piece of furniture is more important than a cat’s well-being, then maybe a cat isn’t the best choice. If someone is worried about junior being scratched, then adult supervision is needed. Teaching kids to play appropriately with cats, and never leaving little kids unattended with cats is the most sensible option.

Many countries and (as you’ll learn in The Paw Project) some cities in the USA have banned declawing. It’s barbaric and should be banned nationwide. I wasn’t educated on the risks and dangers of mutilating my cat with a declaw procedure. At the bare minimum, people need to know what they’re subjecting their cats to and what the outcomes are. I’m happy to report that my current vet is very anti-declawing. She won’t do the procedure. Instead, she educates cat guardians and works on changing problematic behavior.

I hope that’s the norm and that declawing will be sent to the history books.

The humble goldfish

Most people probably don’t give goldfish a lot of consideration, but I think the humble goldfish represents a lot of the animal issues vegans and animal activists are trying to solve.

Thomas Benjamin Kennington FishbowlFirst domesticated in China in the 10th century, goldfish aren’t captured, killed and eaten like their wild cousins, the carp. But pet goldfish don’t always have it easy either.

For a lot of kids, a goldfish is a first pet–the “test” animal to see if they’re ready for a dog or cat. Goldfish are seen as a simple creature with minimal needs, but the reality is they are smart and complex. They can recognize people, be trained to perform tricks, and can identify shapes and colors.

They are social creatures who enjoy other goldfish, and need at least 10-20 gallons of water with an enriched habitat and water filter, but they often languish alone in small, dirty fishbowls.

It may seem like goldfish are short-lived animals but they will live up to ten years if looked after properly. Inadequate care is likely the cause of most of their early deaths.

Unlike other pets, when a goldfish dies, he or she is often simply flushed down the toilet. Why grieve such a “disposable” pet? Some people don’t even wait for their pet fish to die. The toilet or local pond is seen as a good way to deal with an unwanted fish.

There are very few animals that a person can win at the fair, and the goldfish is one of them. It’s easy to see why people wouldn’t give proper care to a fish they didn’t plan on having.

Goldfish swallowing contests might conjure up frat prank from the 1950, but it’s still sometimes practiced. And though I think it’s an urban legend or attempt at humor, the goldfish platform was supposedly a style in the ’70s. Fortunately I’ve seen only replicas, complete with plastic fish.goldfish shoes

A large percentage of goldfish are raised as feeders for bigger fish and other animals like turtles. So while we might not eat them, goldfish are still raised for food.

Selectively bred for color, shape, and other unique characteristics. Like other domesticated animals, turkeys for example, some types of goldfish have been so modified that they cannot breed on their own. Humans have intervened to such an extent that they need to keep intervening for certain subspecies to continue to exist. Ironic, eh?

It’s not just goldfish who are mistreated, ignored and trivialized. Our attitudes toward all animals should be questioned. The goldfish symbolizes a bigger problem with our relationship with animals.

Another reason stop eating shrimp

I reviewed some vegan alternatives to seafood by Sophie’s Kitchen a few weeks ago. In addition to singing the praises of their products, I listed a few reasons why eating sealife isn’t a great idea:

  • Harvesting wild animals–like calamari, shrimp and some types of cod–is done with trawling, a process that basically rakes up all life forms the sea floor, killing everything, and creating dead zones.
  • For every pound of shrimp, 10 pounds of bycatch (species people weren’t trying to catch) are killed.
  • Farmed fish is usually raised in water treated with pesticides and antibiotics.
  • It takes two pounds of wild fish to feed one pound of farmed shrimp.

But I’ve learned something new that I can add to the list: eyestalk ablation.

Eyestalk ablation is as gross as it sounds. It’s the process of removing one or both eyestalks from female shrimps and prawns–and it’s done in almost every shrimp reproduction facility in the world! The goal of ablation is to stimulate the female shrimp to develop mature ovaries and spawn.

In the wild, shrimp sexually mature shrimp with eyes by Tomasz Sienickion their own, but captive conditions prevent them from developing mature ovaries. Even the types of shrimp that could develop ovaries and spawn in captivity have their eyestalks removed because it increases egg production. There’s detailed info online about the how and why behind the phenomenon.

The science behind ablation isn’t the interesting part. I’m saddened to learn of yet another way humans manipulate animals for profit. Apparently tiger prawns can regenerate their eyestalks, but that’s not the point.

We don’t need to eat shrimp or prawns. In fact, it’s better we don’t (as bottom feeders, they’re actually toxic). They’re another example of species that are exploited. They may not be cute or cuddly, but they don’t deserve to be mutilated and blinded–just so people can eat them at cocktail parties!

Knowing about this form of cruelty makes me say “bring on the vegan options!”

Why vegans don’t eat eggs

When I was a vegetarian, I ate eggs and I drank milk. “They’re byproducts,” I’d say. “The chickens and cows don’t get hurt.” I was convinced of this. Then I read Diet for a New America and found out how wrong I was. I cut out eggs and dairy immediately.

So what’s wrong with eggs?chicks

It starts at the hatcheries–the places that breed chickens and incubate eggs. Hatcheries are where factory farms, free-range operations, and even “urban farmers” get their chicks.

The boys – On day one, all male chicks are killed. They’re ground up alive, gassed, or dumped in the trash and left to die. The boys, you see, have no value. They won’t lay eggs, and they’re not meaty broilers like their cousins. They are useless to the egg industry.

That’s enough for me to ditch eggs. But wait, there’s more:

Confinement – On factory farms hens are crammed into tiny battery cages. Each bird has less “floor space” than an iPad (except, unlike an iPad, she has to stand on wire). In these conditions, hens will become frustrated and crazy and will sometimes hurt each other.

Debeaking – To prevent injuries, chickens are, well, injured. When they’re still babies, they have the ends of their beaks seared off with a hot blade. Even free-range set-ups will often have debeaked hens. A lot of so-called free-range farms are really just cageless, not roomy. They’re cramped warehouses that may or may not have outdoor access.hens in battery cages

An unhealthy environment – These “farms” stink to high heaven and the air is so polluted that the ammonia will burn your eyes (if they let you in). My mom saw first-hand what a small-scale battery-cage farm looks like. You can read about her experience on her guest post at Honk if you’re Vegan.

Physical stress – In nature, a hen will lay a clutch of eggs (maybe 10 or 12) in a nest, where she will sit on them for three weeks until her chicks hatch. She won’t lay eggs again until her young can fend for themselves, so she gets a break from laying. But on egg farms, hens have their eggs taken away so they keep laying. It’s stressful on their bodies and depletes them of calcium, which often causes osteoporosis. Up to a quarter of battery hens experience bone breaks during their short lives.

Willow at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary

This rescued hen, Willow, is safe now (picture (c) Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary)

To get the most eggs from indoor hens, some farms practice forced molting. Farm operators stop feeding hens for a week or two, which causes them to shed their feathers and simulate the fall season, when they would normally stop laying eggs. After an induced period of “rest,” in which they lose about a third of their body weight, they begin to lay again. This practice is banned in some countries. Where it does exists (like the USA), it coaxes another laying season out of already taxed birds.

Hens are social, nurturing and smart–when in a natural setting. But to the egg industry, they’re a commodity–valuable only when they’re making someone money. So after a year or two, when hens lay fewer eggs, they’re slaughtered.

The egg industry is inherently cruel. Over 95% of birds come from factory farms. Even those who are “treated well” have lost their brothers. And most, even those from hobby farms and urban coops, are sold, or killed when they lose their value.

Animals deserve to live their own lives. A hen’s worth is not tied to what she can give me. And there are so many egg alternatives. There’s no need for cruelty.

That’s why vegans don’t eat eggs.

We Animals

Last summer, as part of a Kickstarter fundraiser, I contributed to getting the book We Animals printed. For my donation, I received a copy of the book, which arrived in December.

We Animals is a gorgeous, hardcover photo book by award-winning photographer Jo-Anne McArthur. She also wrote the accompanying text that explains the circumstances in each picture. It’s beautifully written.

we animals book cover

McArthur spent years travelling the globe, documenting the plight of animals in human environments. She covers animals raised for food, clothing, used in entertainment and research, as well as rescued animals.

Her photos draw viewers in and help make a connection to the animal subjects in them. The photos aren’t all easy to view, but they all tell a story that needs to be shared. If they must endure it, the least we can do is acknowledge it.

Bearing witness–observing but not necessarily being able to help–is a key part of the book. McArthur travelled to factory farms, fur ranches and zoos. What can one do other than promise those animals that they will not be forgotten–that their message will be shared and that someone will fight for them and others like them?

Every animal lover should own a copy of this book. Mine is on the coffee table and is a great conversation starter when guests come over.

Jo-Anne McArthur is the subject of the documentary The Ghosts in Our Machine, by Liz Marshall. When I get a chance to watch that, you can bet I’ll share my thoughts with you.