What do you do at HSUS?
Primarily, I work in our factory farming campaign, which is intended to advance the interests of farm animals – chickens, turkeys, pigs, cattle – to not only address their concerns in the public policy realm by enacting laws prohibiting certain kinds of cruelty to farm animals, but also working with corporations to enact corporate policies that will reduce farm animal suffering and encouraging individuals to make better choices in the marketplace and moving away from this very meat-centered diet that Americans have, where we eat far more animals, as a nation, than we have in the past, and more than most other nations in the world. These animals should not just be viewed as mere commodities to serve us, but rather, they are social, intelligent individuals who care about their lives and most importantly, they care not to suffer.
And how did you become interested in this issue?
About 15 years ago, a friend of mine showed me a video of what was happening to animals on factory farms and in slaughter plants and in transport trailers, and I saw the horrific abuse that we mete out upon these animals. I saw animals confined in cages that are so small they’re unable even to engage in the most basic movements. I saw animals being slaughtered right before each other’s eyes. You can see the terror in their eyes as they know what is going to happen to them. I saw animals frozen to the sides of transport trucks. No protection from the elements. And I was horrified by this mistreatment. It seemed to me that it was just a matter of common decency to treat those who are at our mercy well, and certainly, we were not treating these animals well. We have so much power that we hold over them, and yet we treated them with no modicum of mercy whatsoever. And so I became a vegetarian, and then about a month later, once I realized that the cruelty of the egg and dairy industry often exceeds that of the meat industry, I became vegan. And then about a year later, I formed an organization called Compassion Over Killing, which intended to shine a very bright spotlight on the very dark world of factory farming. I was with the organization for ten years, and then about four years ago, left there to work as the Senior Director of The Humane Society of the United States’ factory farming campaign.
One of the things COK was known for was “open rescues.”
One of the things we wanted to show was that animals on factory farms weren’t just a statistic. They weren’t an abstract number. These were real, living individuals, and we wanted to put a face on those animals. We wanted to make sure that their stories were being told, and so we would go into factory farms and go into slaughter plants and videotape, often with hidden equipment, what was happening to these animals. We wanted to show what was being hidden from the American public, because if you look at animal product packaging, you see a lot of misleading claims being made on that packaging. One might envision Old McDonald’s Farm, rather than the reality which is a factory farm for these animals. We wanted to show that these animals were actually being abused in ways that were so horrific that if the victims were dogs and cats, the likely result would criminal prosecution. So we not only would videotape these animals’ conditions, we would also at times bring sick and injured animals to veterinarians and make sure they got the proper care they needed and rehabilitated them back to health and let them live out their lives.
A lot of people are basically part-time animal activists. How did you decide to make animal activism your life’s work?
For me, animal advocacy is not just a career. It’s my entire life. These animals have no one else aside from us to speak out on their behalf and I feel we owe it to them to work as hard for them as we would want someone working for us if we were in their place. We’re working on their behalf as if their lives depend on it because in all honesty, they do. So, from a very early age, I knew I wanted to devote myself to helping animals. To lend a hand to these individuals who are so exploited and take the side of the vulnerable against the cruelty of the powerful and to really make it clear that we can make a difference for these billions of sentient individuals who are in desperate need of help. So I’m certain that we’re not going to let them down and I’m going to make sure, and have from a very early age, that I devote whatever talents I may have to advancing their interests.