I have loved animals for as long as I can remember, so that’s hard to say. But two events in my life come to mind. The first was when my parents said that we could adopt a puppy born outdoors in unpleasant conditions. He was so lethargic because his little belly was filled with worms. We named him Towline and he lived almost 18 years! He added so much to our family and helped me develop compassion for the animals.
A second experience was when I was in high school and on my way home from my job at a restaurant very late at night and saw an injured dog lying in a puddle in the rain. It had been hit by a car. The way it looked at me, pleading for help, really touched my heart. I took her home and kept her warm and dry until the next day when I took her to the shelter. She was treated and adopted. That experience, all the way back in 1977, still motivates me.
2. When, how, and why did you first get involved with the animal welfare/rights movement?
I first got really serious about taking action for animals in 2000. We had just moved up here to Oceana County (north of Muskegon) and found that the animal shelter was a horrible place. They used CO2 gas to kill the animals (I can’t even call it euthanasia, because it’s not a “good death”), the dogs had no bedding or any way to get off of the cold concrete, there was no volunteer program, and it was just a dismal place.
I had a lot of experience in business creating proposals and making presentations, so I was sure the county would welcome a plan to make improvements. I wrote a nice report for the commissioners, and then presented it all to them in a very professional manner at the monthly, public meeting. When I finished with what I thought was a very compelling presentation and asked for their support, the president of the county commissioners looked hard at me, leaned forward into the microphone, and said “What is it with you animal rights activists?! Why do you even care how we kill the animals?” He then proceeded to tell me that no volunteer was going to dictate policy to the county and sent me away. I was utterly floored because I thought my presentation had gone very well.
So I asked the county administrator what the commissioners really wanted me to do. What they expected from me. He said that they wanted me to go away and not come back. That’s when I got REALLY fired up and realized that we had to get organized, and we did. We founded a 501 (c) 3 organization, got a good board of directors, started doing outreach in the community, and most of all let the commissioners know that we wanted to help the county, but we definitely weren’t going away.
After another 1 ½ years of some pretty difficult meetings, it started to get a lot better, and I am happy to say that we now have a great relationship with the county, and our shelter is one that I can highly recommend. The key to our success was persistence, a professional approach no matter how frustrated we got at times, and getting organized (like HSGV has done).
3. What are your favorite types of animal advocacy activities? Why? (i.e. lobbying, letter-writing, petitions, volunteering, protests, etc.)
I do all of those things. There are three areas that I’d say are favorite ones. All are probably equally important to me. First, I volunteer at our local shelter walking the dogs nearly every Saturday. That means a lot to me because they enjoy it so much and it helps keep them socialized for adoption. Second would be anything the inspires others to take action themselves, such as encouraging people to eat less meat, helping people see that protesting the circus is actually a pleasant and uplifting experience, etc. Anything that gets others to become active is so meaningful to me. The third area is working to change laws. We are a nation that (mostly) respects the rule of law and nothing is more powerful than changing laws to help create a more compassionate society. The Keep Michigan Wolves Protected effort is a good example. We are using the law to help animals.
4. What animal issues are you most passionate about?
Number one for me is farm animal protection. There are 9 billion animals on farms in the US at any given time, and nearly every one of them live in horrible, “factory farm” conditions. All other areas (companion animals, wildlife, animals suffering for entertainment, fur, vivisection, etc.) are important as well, but the sheer number of animals on factory farms just eclipses every other area.
Farm animal protection is also the area where we have the most education to do because we are almost all raised eating these animals and don’t think much of it. It’s not uncommon to join activists who care very much about an issue such as companion animal rescue, but then stop at a restaurant for a meal and have them casually order something like bacon. They just don’t realize that the pig who was killed for the bacon was every bit as intelligent and sentient as the dogs they care so much about, and the pig undoubtedly had a miserable life before going to slaughter. These friends are very kind and compassionate people, just unaware of the plight of animals living on factory farms.
5. What current animal-related issue or campaign has caught your attention, and why?
I’m currently working very hard with the Keep Michigan Wolves Protected campaign as an area coordinator. There is no (scientific) need to hunt Michigan’s wolves, and people don’t eat them or do much with their fur, so any hunt would be a trophy hunt. I feel that there needs to be a better reason than that to hunt an animal, so I joined the effort.
Although this effort is focused on a relatively small number of animals (687 wolves in Michigan at last count), the Keep Michigan Wolves Protected effort has the ability to help all animals by continuing to foster the conversation about how we view animals in our society. We’re changing the ethic. It’s important for all animals, and for all of us as citizens as well.
6. How do you address animal issues within your career?
My career in college publishing is not directly related to my activism. However, we all have the opportunity every day to encourage others to be kind. That’s what this is about, after all. And I try to save as much money from my job as I can to donate to organizations that help animals.
7. What advice do you have for someone looking to become a more active animal advocate?
Find someone (like me) who is already involved and ask that person to help you get started. It’s super-easy to find someone who volunteers to help animals. Take that first step by joining an event, and if you are like me, you’ll find that it enriches your life in ways you never imagined and cannot describe.
8. What book, quote, photo, video, story, etc. have you found most inspiring/has inspired you?
There are many, but the one that has had the most profound effect on me is Margaret Mead’s famous quote – “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” The power in that quote cannot be overstated. Never, ever think that your voice and actions are insignificant.