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11/26/2013

Book Review: Bleating Hearts By Mark Hawthorne  »

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If you’re thinking of reading an animal welfare-themed book this year, make it Mark Hawthorne’s breathtakingly well-researched and expertly written new book, Bleating Hearts: The Hidden World of Animal Suffering. Following his activism-focused first book Striking At The Roots, Hawthorne examines the many unseen sources of animal abuse, mistreatment, murder, and exploitation rampant in our world.

Bleating Hearts features lesser-discussed stories in animal welfare that are incredibly relevant in our modern times. As a vegan who considers herself to be relatively well-informed, I am a little embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know about many of the specific animal abuses mentioned in Hawthorne’s book. There’s literally so much shit that people do to abuse animals that Hawthorne has painstakingly uncovered, it’s almost unreal. Hawthorne isn’t out to shock—he’s out to inform, providing generous research and sources to show the reader her blind spots and shines light on societal blights many of us have no idea about.

If I were a gambling woman, I’d bet that many of the readers of this blog have recently enjoyed a 49ers or Raiders game either on the tele or in person. If you’re an NFL fan in any capacity, Hawthorne’s book provides the not-too-fun-but-super-important awareness that 35,000 cows are killed every year so their skin can be fashioned into NFL footballs. When I read that stat, I pretty much realized I can’t watch football anymore (not that Michael Vick did great things for the sport’s animal-related PR front). Hawthorne reveals most professional sports kill tens of thousands of cows to use their skin for their balls—and we call them national pastimes.

Have you ever adorned yourself with a pretty fashion feather so popular in fashion in the Bay (and many hippie circles) these days? These feathers didn’t just fall from the sky—they were plucked from live roosters who were abused and killed in the process on factory farms. I’m not sure the anti-oppression spirit of Burning Man jives with this. I have definitely seen vegans wearing these, and would urge them to check out the section of Bleating Hearts that covers the abuse in detail.

I love how cleverly participatory Bleating Hearts feels—in addition to tons of resources sprinkled throughout, the book asks you to consider the page span of the physical book itself and shows that the factory farm cages for battery hens are smaller. I knew battery cages were small, I don’t eat eggs anyway—but it really hit home when I considered that their miserable lives take place in no larger a space than the book page-span.

Other things Bleating Hearts exposes: the humane seafood myth; the trouble with overfishing these little Omega 3-powerhouses called Menhaden; Austalia is the largest exporter of live animals and wool and sheep used for wool are totally abused—there is no way to ethically wear wool, in case that was ever in doubt.

Hawthorne definitely conveys a lot of painful information, but his perspective that sunshine is the best disinfectant is one with which I can’t help but agree and applaud. Bleating Hearts is sad, but it is also incredibly hopeful. It even starts with a story of hope: a story about someone taking a stand against animal abuse. Mark is a tireless activist and it’s impossible whether talking to him in person or reading this book not to feel you can be doing more, too. But he’s also compassionate—while not going easy on animal abusers, he explains systems that are leading to cruelty. It’s not the 20-year old seal clubbers in Canada who are to blame—it’s that the industry exists and gives them the option to earn a living while killing.

I learned in Bleating Hearts that Neiman Marcus and other “upscale” stores were selling “faux fur” that was actually made out of animal products. Imagine the disappointment of spending a shit ton on a faux fur coat, only to discover it’s “fashioned” from a real dead animal? Devastating to the customer—and of course to the animals who died to make such a travesty. Hawthorne reminds us of the consequences of letting our vegan guards down for even a moment when financial interests are at stake.

A few other little tidbits I really appreciated learning about: the fact that water bottle maker Nalgene started out as making equipment for animal testing (gross!), camel wrestling, horse fighting, human and animal abuses inherent to the silk industries, how animals are used for domestic battery, the gross practice of taxidermy as art, and the sizable demand for animals killed for spiritual rituals.

If you care at all about human- and/or non-human animals, Bleating Hearts is essential reading. There is so much to learn about, and there’s no better nor more compassionate guide through the hidden world of animal suffering than Mark Hawthorne.  Bleating Hearts: The Hidden World of Animal Suffering is available for purchase here.

04/29/2013

Tennessee state representative accuses Humane Society of “Tape and Rape”  »

Just when we thought public officials were done making flagrant misstatements about rape, they’ve gone and done it again. The latest: this ag-gag proponent in the Tennessee legislature compares animal activists to child sex traffickers and rapists. Here’s the heinous e-mail, printed in full courtesy of the Tennessean:

From: Andy Holt [rep.andy.holt@capitol.tn.gov]
Sent: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 11:26 PM
To: Kayci McLeod
Cc: Andy Holt
Subject: RE: Please Oppose HB 1191
Ms. McLeod,

I am extremely pleased that we were able to pass HB 1191 today to help protect livestock in Tennessee from suffering months of needless investigation that propagandist groups of radical animal activists, like your fraudulent and reprehensibly disgusting organization of maligned animal abuse profiteering corporatists, who are intent on using animals the same way human-traffickers use 17 year old women. You work for a pathetic excuse for an organization and a pathetic group of sensationalists who seek to profit from animal abuse. I am glad, as an aside, that we have limited your preferred fund-raising methods here in the state of Tennessee; a method that I refer to as “tape and rape.” Best wishes for the failure of your organization and it’s true intent.

Andy Holt
State Representative—District 76
Weakley & Northern Carroll Counties
205 War Memorial Building
301 6th Ave. North
Nashville, TN 37243
615.741.7847
rep.andy.holt@capitol.tn.gov

In light of all the horrible acts large and small perpetrated by misguided individuals and corporations who profit from animal suffering (this guy’s a hog farmer as well as legislator—talk about a multi-taskhole!), more and more people are realizing how important it is that we can take animal abusers to task by exposing cruelty towards animals through investigations. Even the New York Times knows what’s up! Whether or not you’re not from Tennessee, please feel free to e-mail this man until the cows come home.

09/04/2012

Mercy For Animals makes history! First-ever cruelty to animals FELONY conviction!  »


MFA made history last week, when Brian Douglas of Butterball factory farm pleaded guilty to felonly cruelty to animals on August 28th. It was the MFA undercover investigation at the farm in Hoke County, North Carolina that sparked what is believed to be the “first-ever felony cruelty to animals conviction related to birds used for food production in US history.” Douglas will serve 30 days in jail, followed by 42 months of probation, for the horrifying violence towards the butterball turkeys he executed. On August 31, Butterball employee Rueben Mendoza also pleaded guilty to felony identity theft and misdemenor cruelty to animals. He faces a “consolidated sentence of a minimum of 8 months, and a maximum of 19 months, in state prison”.

I can’t watch the undercover video at the Butterball Factory farm. But it’s up on MFA’s site if you can stomach it. To show my advocacy however, I like to sport my MFA “Not Cool” t-shirt around town. If you get one too, we’ll be twins! We can start a club! Maybe wear them to Vegan Drinks so we’ll know to schmooze with each other? If the merch doesn’t appeal to you, you can always donate to the cause as well! Man, I love Mercy for Animals, and the incredibly difficult work they do on the behalf of animal rights.


The little chick in the stomach is saying “Not Cool”. I love, love, love it!

Of course there always needs to be a naysayer, doesn’t there? Examiner.com plays that role well with this article which I think screams, THANKS A LOT CAPTAIN OBVIOUS AND BY THE WAY, MFA IS A VEGAN NON-PROFIT. Rachel touched upon all the same points, about the injustices that the workers must face on on these farms, back in Febuary. I think she covered this issue in a much more compassionate and well-informed (I’m not biased!) way. Thoughts? I noticed there’s nowhere to leave comments, but that might be a good thing considering the comments section usually makes me want to throw myself off a building sick.

ANYWAY. No more turkeys for holiday feasts, or sandwiches OR ANYTHING. Why eat an animal when we can have delicious vegan turkeys???? RAINBOW please order more this season; I did not get one last year and it gave me a case of the sads. Actually no, because I made this delectable tart, but I want both this year!

[Photos via MFA.org]

02/24/2012

Butterball Turkey: The Abu Ghraib Of Animal Abuse  »

Painting by Fernando Botetro via this Italian website

Congrats to Mercy For Animals: an undercover video of turkey abuse they took in December led to the arrest last week of seven people, including a North Carolina government official. Five of those arrested have been charged with animal cruelty. I don’t see any need to ruin my day with the video evidence of their crimes, but you an check it out at butterballabuse.com.

This is awesome, right? Some justice, finally? Except it feels really icky to me. Like one of the worst incidents of the last decade: how our country dealt with the human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib.

In Iraq, as in NC, abuse was revealed in graphic images, and outrage ensued. People were punished. Yet I fear that in this case, just as with Abu Ghraib, the wrong people are getting scapegoated and the real problem is sliding by unexamined and unsolved.

Though the names and even addresses of the workers arrested are public, I could find no info about who they are. Their names are Hispanic. I suspect they are among the low-paid, over-worked, probably-miserable workers with the shitty job of actually witnessing the atrocious way meat is produced in this country. I suspect that their alleged cruelty, while not excusable, is a symptom of a systemic ill, not evidence of their personal moral failings. I would say the same about the abuses at Abu Ghraib. (If you disagree with me on that one, please watch the spectacular Errol Morris documentary “Standard Operating Procedure,” then let’s talk).

And I fear that just as with Abu Ghraib, the little people will be punished, while the rich, powerful people whose decisions pushed them to atrocity will continue to be rich, powerful, and free from meaningful consequence (see Bush, Cheney, John Yoo, et al).

Butterball says, “Animal care and well-being are central to who Butterball is as a company, and we are committed to the care and well-being of our turkey flocks. We are closely re-evaluating our animal care and well-being policies and practices and have already established several new initiatives.”

They pretend this is a problem that can be solved with more training and better HR. Bullshit. This cruelty is built into the system, and the only solution is radical change. (Forcing factory farms to open their doors to the public? Outlawing cruel practices at the federal level, since apparently states aren’t allowed to do that? Making producers bear the true cost of the pollution and social ills they cause? Taking all kids on field trips to the farms that actually make their food?)

Torture thrives when the setting is psychopathic. Pretending that punishing the guy on the bottom will fix anything? That too is irrational. Human rights, animal rights, empathy, kindness, and love: these die and wilt in a war zone. Do we really want it to be that bad just for the sake of club sandwiches?

01/31/2012

HSUS undercover investigation reveals horrifying abuse of pigs at facilities that supply WalMart  »

Big news today from HSUS: They conducted undercover investigations of two pig-breeding facilities in Oklahoma, and discovered—shockingly—some pretty egregious abuse. There’s a video I only made it 29 seconds into because it’s so graphic.

Notably, one of these two facilities, the one owned by Seaboard Foods, supplies WalMart, the country’s biggest grocer. Our old friend Temple Grandin is Seaboard’s “animal welfare advisor,” and has spoken against the use of gestation crates, but “advisor” doesn’t have the same power as “boss.”

HSUS today “filed legal complaints with the U.S. Securities and Exchange and Federal Trade Commission alleging false and misleading statements about animal care” by Seaboard, which is an interesting tactic. Attack the money, because obviously if companies cared even the tiniest bit about the animals (the people, the environment), they wouldn’t allow such abhorrent practices. But everyone cares about money!

Go send an email to Seaboard Foods and Prestage Farms asking them to stop using gestation crates and being overall disgusting human beings. Thank goodness for the Humane Society.


[I can’t handle seeing those poor abused pigs so let’s take another moment to appreciate Farm Sanctuary’s Eric]

11/02/2011

Hello, friends! It’s WTF Wednesday!  »

You guys, it is the season of sickness. I don’t know what’s going on, but since Monday I have been feeling cold, nauseated, and headachey. Sleeping doesn’t help, drinking water doesn’t help, even cuddling with Allen doesn’t help (especially when he falls asleep and starts kicking). I’m at a loss—there’s really nothing you can do about a cold except wait it out and suffer. And continue going to work where other people are sick and probably getting you to bonus levels of sickness. On Monday afternoon I just snuck into my office and took a 10-minute nap. That was great!

Besides sickness, there are two things that are not great this week. The first is the knowledge that in Japan, artists are murdering rats and painting them to look like Pikachu. The rats don’t even look that much like Pikachu. What they look like are fucking murdered rats painted yellow. What? Why? How does this even qualify as art? What is the message here? Capitalism? Anime? Mass-consumerism? I don’t understand it! What’s even more disturbing is that one of the comments I read about this monstrosity was a discussion on how the rats must have been killed in order to maintain their bodies. It turns out that in cases like this, people sometimes drown the rats in a cage, which is noted as being fast, economical, and relatively easy for the rats! Dude, what are you smoking? Drowning may be fast and economical, but having your lungs filled with water while stuck in a small cage sounds like anything but easy. It sounds like one of the top 10 worst ways to die, with number one being involved in some kind of trap from Saw. God, those movies are scary!

Here’s the other thing that isn’t great: people torturing cats because they’re depressed. OK, so cats can be kind of messed up, choking out hair balls, vomiting, and peeing all over the place. (My brother has like 15 cats. I hear stories.) Horrible. Yes, we can blame cats for all of these things (the same way I can blame a rabbit for pooping a lot, but then understanding that this is just how things are). Yes, we can whine about it. No, we cannot start blaming cats for our depression to justify strangling them. Seriously, people need to stop. Depressed people don’t torture animals. Most of the time they just don’t have the energy. Psychopaths, however…

That’s it for this week. I’m going to climb back into bed. Please email me links for next week, and I wish you a Wednesday filled with antibacterial handwash.

10/28/2011

Guest post: We can have tigers as pets? WTF, right?  »

Rachel wrote about the tragedy in Ohio last week; I’m sure it didn’t escape your notice—the release of 56 wild animals kept as pets before their owner Terry Thompson committed suicide, and the subsequent death of 49 of them, got a lot of media coverage. That meant that many of my friends read about it, and pretty much universally asked “How the hell did he get those animals in the first place?”

Well, the short answer is that Thompson bought them, mostly, and he was not doing anything illegal when he did. Near the end of his term, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland issued an order that outlawed the ownership or sale of certain wild animals—but Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources never enforced the rule, and the order expired in April when it wasn’t extended by now-Governor John Kasich.

As it stands, in Ohio you can own animals like grizzly bears and lions, as long as you house them on your private property, and aren’t breeding, exhibiting, or selling them—even if you have an animal-cruelty conviction, as Thompson had. Further, you can have those animals living on your property and don’t have to let anyone know about it. And in some states, these animals are available for sale, which is how people like Thompson got them in the first place.

I posted on Pawesome a while ago about a petition to change laws about exotic-animal ownership in Indiana; this isn’t just a problem in one town or one state. It sounds crazy that in Ohio and other states you have to license your dog and can’t own a pit bull, but you can literally have a baboon or wolf in your backyard. But it’s true. 

This is not a good situation for these animals. Born Free USA campaigns against keeping wild animals like the ones at the Ohio property in captivity. Taking care of an animal like a tiger is no small feat: Think of what your cat eats in a day and multiply that by about 100 times. They need a huge quantity of food, as well as specialized veterinary care. And when they don’t have the proper environment or enough space—which is hard to provide for a large animal when it’s living on private property—they suffer physically and mentally.

Keeping these animals as pets is just cruel. Many owners of these animals claim to love them, but as Susan Orlean said in the New Yorker, love isn’t defined by a desire to possess.

It’s dangerous for people, too, when wild animals are kept as pets. Dogs and cats have been domesticated for millennia; tigers and lions and wolves are all wild, unpredictable animals. We can’t know how they’ll react, or what will upset them, and we can’t blame them when that happens. That is how they are: They’re wild. Someone easily could have been killed by one of the animals let loose in Ohio this week, and it’s remarkable that nobody was.

Want to know what the laws are in your state? Check out this Wall Street Journal interactive infograph to find out if your state allows private ownership of large cats, wolves, bears, primates, or dangerous reptiles. If you’re not happy with the answer, write to your state and federal representatives to tell them why, and ask them to change things. A reminder of the toll of this week’s Ohio deaths—and that it could have been a hell of a lot worse—wouldn’t hurt; neither would pointing out that elections are coming up.

Regardless of the laws where you live, head to Change.org to sign the petition letting Gov. Kasich know that Ohio’s laws need to change, now, before something like this happens again.

[photos from top by Matthew Burpee, planetc1, and fatedsnowfox via Flickr]

Terri Coles lives in Toronto, Ont., where she enjoys barbecuing, feeding feral cats, going to local music shows and getting really mad about hockey games. She blogs about her adventures in plant-based eating at The Vegina Monologues.

10/20/2011

Wild Animals Dead in Ohio; Cute Dolphin Photos to Ease Trauma  »

You’ve probably heard all about the super-sad situation in Ohio this week, but in case not, grab a pint of Coconut Bliss for consolation (but not a spoon, because you’ll just want to poke your eyes out with it):

The worst wildlife preserve owner ever killed himself after letting 56 of his dangerous exotic pets out to roam the wild. Freakin’ lions, tigers, and leopards were all scared and miserable in Zanesville, Ohio, as were the residents of said hamlet. 

Sheriff’s deputies figured the only way to solve the problem was to shoot the animals. The death toll as of 9:30 Thursday morning, according to the Washington Post, “includ[es] 18 rare Bengal tigers, 16 lions, six black bears, two grizzlies, three mountain lions and a baboon. Only six animals were captured alive.”

ARHRHGHH! This guy should not have been allowed to keep those poor animals in cages, but he didn’t have to ensure their slaughter to save them from circuses or shitty zoos.

Our hero Rachel Maddow had Jack Hanna on her show last night to discuss the tragedy.

[Can’t see the video? Watch it on Vegansaurus.com]

"The Humane Society on Wednesday urged Ohio to immediately issue emergency restrictions on the sale and possession of dangerous wild animals," reports USA Today.

Now, are some pictures of a nice person helping to save an orphan dolphin that might ease the utter desolation you now feel:


Awww. So I guess that’s good, at least. Go see more dolphin pics on Buzzfeed if you need a bigger dose.

[Thanks to Kristina Bjoran for alerting me to both stories.]

10/19/2011

Hello, Friends! It’s WTF Wednesday—Avenging Hamsters edition!  »


You guys, I need to talk to you about something serious. You know I’m all about fun and games and tormenting Allen for the amusement of others, but today we have to discuss an issue really near and dear to my heart: hamsters.

I get it; I talk about hamsters a lot. Perhaps, some of you may be thinking, I love hamsters a little too much. Perhaps you have never taken a nap with a hamster or involuntarily shared your oatmeal with one. Perhaps you have never given a hamster CPR only to be bitten in the face. Hard.

Fine, I love hamsters too much, but somebody has to. A lot of the time we do not take small animals seriously. You tell someone that a dog or a cat or a horse got tortured and killed and people go into a rage. You hear about someone who tortured and killed a hamster, and a lot of people are all, “Whatever, rodents…” When I took my hamster Bunny (RIP Big Poppa!) in for surgery once even the vet looked at me like I was a crazy person, and asked if I wouldn’t want to spend my money on “something else,” and just have Bunny euthanized.

For me, this was a huge problem, because not only was it insensitive, but Bunny wasn’t a something, she was a someone. She was a rodent, sure, but she also inspired me to stop eating meat—why eat cows when we don’t eat hamsters?—gave me good stories to tell other people, and kept me company while I was doing homework. One time she also bit someone I didn’t like in the face, which was awesome and taught everyone the importance of not putting an animal right up to your face and cooing at them, even if they are small and adorable.

I wasn’t really even thinking about this until this Facebook post started circulating. If you have not seen it, the gist is that some horrible person, who appears to be a female in her 20s, decided to let her orange hamster, Nemo, out into the wild to give him his freedom. Admirable as her intentions may be, this young lady apparently did no research and therefore did not learn that YOU CAN’T JUST FUCKING LET A DOMESTICATED PREY ANIMAL OUT INTO THE FUCKING WOODS!

Her reasoning was pretty romantic: Nemo would fend for himself and become big and strong. He would eat berries that he found in the forest and drink cool, clean water from the brook. He would build himself a fine home made of sugar and gingerbread and he would find another hamster to share his life with. Perhaps, he would return to visit once in a while, maybe bringing his partner around to say hi and nibble a carrot; reminisce about old times, check up on the old places. That would be nice. Too bad that Hamster was probably dead within 24 hours because, again, hamsters are prey animals that don’t know how to love in the wild. They’re not going to find brooks and berries. What they’re going to find are falcons and snakes and seagulls.

True story: I once had a pair of hamsters named Reggie and George (Dead Like Me FTW!) that had been rescued from the home of a disabled person whose main joy in life was breeding her hamsters. These hamsters came from the same families and had not been fed a very good diet; they came to me slow, bloated, and uninterested in anything. Especially the exercise wheel. Wanting to do them the most good and being very naive, I called an organization that prepared animals for the wild and asked what I should do. I was told that first of all, the hamsters would not be returned to me—they would be set free. I was also told not to do this because no matter how much preparation the hamsters had, they wouldn not survive for a long time. So that was the end of that.

Domesticated amsters don’t survive in the wild. Wild hamsters, like in Mongolia, look mean, like they know how to win a fight. Nemo doesn’t: In the pictures this woman took pictures of herself releasing Nemo, he does not look ready for hunting and foraging. He looks confused. And the outcry on this woman’s Facebook is an immediate “Nemo is dead,” which she does not seem to understand because it’s not like she left him on a highway somewhere, she let him go in the woods. With the fucking berries and the cold, cold stream. However, when someone points out that hamsters don’t really do the whole nature thing, her response is not a remorseful “Oh my god, what have I done? How could I have been so stupid?” but “RIP Nemo!” Honestly, where do these people come from?

I want to know how this woman is any different from the young girl who threw the puppies in the river. That girl was told to do it; this woman apparently just decided to release her hamster. She didn’t even try to rehome him to—evidenced by the “I would have taken him if you had told me” comment—and when she was told that Nemo was on his way to a certain and terrifying death, she didn’t show much remorse. Would we be hearing more about this if it had happened to a more “important” animal than a hamster? This makes me sad. And it makes me angry. And that’s not good for anyone, especially Allen, who has to listen to me go off about hamsters for hours on end. You guys should see us.

That’s it for this week! Please send me links for next week and have a Wednesday filled with happy hamsters!

[photo by moriza via Flickr]

06/29/2011

WARNING: GRAPHIC AS FUCK. This is a new undercover video from Mercy for Animals. The footage was taken at Iowa Select Farms in Kamrar, Iowa. Sometimes people who don’t want to watch a scary video ask me to list what’s in the video; this is from the Mercy for Animals site:

Between April and June of 2011, an MFA investigator documented:

  • Mother sows confined to barren metal crates barely larger than their own bodies—unable to turn around or lie down comfortably for nearly their entire lives
  • Workers ripping out the testicles of conscious piglets without the use of painkillers
  • Piglets suffering with herniated intestines, due to botched castration
  • Conscious piglets having their tails painfully sliced into and yanked off with dull clippers
  • Large, open, pus-filled wounds and pressure sores
  • Sick and injured pigs left to languish and slowly die without proper veterinary care
  • Mother pigs—physically taxed from constant birthing—suffering from distended, inflamed, bleeding, and usually fatal uterine prolapses
  • Management training workers to throw piglets across the room—comparing it to a “roller coaster ride”

So sad. Man, I love pigs. Even though these guys are being tortured, you can still see how cute the little piglets are. How anyone can do this kind of thing, I’ll never know. And all this happens JUST so people can eat meat JUST because they “like the taste.” Fucking pathetic.

There’s a few things Mercy for Animals says you can do about this so check that out.

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