Changing The Way We Speak
We live in words. The way we speak, think, and feel are all processed and synthesized through words. It wasn't until I took a humane education course that I could step back and look at the language we use.
Animal idioms, in particular, showcase our relationship with other animals, often in violent or oppressive ways. The first step to changing this relationship is by changing our language.
To help get us started, I created a guide to help us transition to more animal-friendly idioms. I hope you find it helpful!
It's that time of the year, the time for me to face all of the ways that I fail as a mother. Looming in the shadows of my datebook is my son’s upcoming birthday. Although it comes every year, the feeling is always the same. Dread.
Of course my dread has nothing to do with my son’s actual birthday. I love making him feel special and celebrate all of the ways he has grown over the past year, but it’s the party that surrounds it that I can’t handle.
As a highly sensitive introvert, I have a tremendous amount of anxiety over children’s birthday parties. Kids running around screaming, sugared up from cake and candy? No thank you. I could almost handle the madness if it weren’t for having to make small talk with the parents. That alone makes me want to dart for the door. Full confession: I am incapable of small talk. My mind goes completely blank when I try to have a conversation with anyone. The words just don’t come and then I start to panic that the person I’m talking will soon find out that I’m not as interesting as they had hoped. The pressure is all too much for me. I’m starting to sweat just thinking about it. Luckily my husband is also an introvert so we usually huddle together in the corner of the room to protect each other. We have a pact, if we RSVP “yes” to a party, then we both have to go.
I’m always amazed at how effortless children’s parties come to some adults. They easily move from parent to parent, looking engaged and interested. Not only do they seem comfortable, but they look like they are enjoying it! All the while, I just want to run.
Tell me that I have to host a party and it sends me completely over the edge. Would it surprise you that I used to be a wedding planner? You see, I love planning events, I just don’t want to invite anyone too them. Are solo parties a thing?
Hosting a birthday party exposes just how much I don’t fit into society. I can’t escape from this reality like I can the other 364 days of the year.
Birthday Parties often do not take into account the things that I care about most: animal protection, human rights, and environmental conservation. How do I reconcile the idea of such an important cultural event when it goes against what I believe? The cost, the standards, the consumption…IT’S ALL TOO MUCH!
No balloons at a birthday party? Surely you have to have balloons! It’s not a party without balloons! But…well…umm…what about the sea turtles, birds, and other wildlife that could choke on it? Who cares! Buy the balloons!
And just look at all of the excess waste: disposal plates, napkins, cups, and party bags filled with plastic crap that some young child was probably exploited to make. It makes me want to cry. Most likely it will all just end up in the landfill anyway. I feel the same about the mountains of presents that always accompanies the party. I feel that it is one of the first introductions in life that teaches our children that in our society, we need to consume in order to feel loved, special, and valued.
Our family cares about the well-being of animals and therefore we are vegan. Will people make comments if I serve only vegan food? Will they be disappointed if they don’t get their slice of extra-cheese pizza and piece of buttercream cake? Not to mention, all zoo and aquarium parities are out of the question.
I’ve tried to dodge the party topic every year. During the previous five years, we have held only one larger party where we invited neighbors and friends. Since then, we’ve opted for experiences and take James places as his birthday treat instead of spending money on a big party.
But this year is a little different. All his friends from kindergarten are having parties and he’s more adamant about wanting one. We are just about four weeks away from his birthday and I am still paralyzed about what to do.
Is a family party good enough when it’s just the three of us? It sounds like a simple solution but with no extended family around and James being an only child, mom guilt kicks in extra hard.
I already have the extra guilt of “only” having one child (that’s a story for another day), but not being brave enough to plan a birthday party for him surely should land me in mom jail.
I can’t do it, but do I have to do it for my son? Will I permanently scar him for not being able to have a party at the fancy trampoline park down the street?
What does it even mean to celebrate? Why do we even have birthday parties and when did they become such extravagant affairs? What are they really teaching our children?
I admit that I don’t know what I’m going to do. Does anyone have any advice? Maybe I just need to talk to him and explain that there are many ways to celebrate special occasions and when he’s older he’ll understand and appreciate what I was trying to do…or maybe I’ll just start a savings account now with money for the therapy he will need because I didn’t allow him to have the big birthday party he always wanted. C'est la vie.
Friday...ahhh. What a beautiful word. What makes it even better? Half-day Friday! As I left work, I contemplated what I could do with this magical time that I had just been gifted. I could go home, relax or maybe get a head-start on homework. I could go for a walk or sit in my garden. But not today. I had errands to run. James starts camp next week then he's off to Pittsburgh for the summer and I will be heading to Maine for residency. I've got things to do!
I stopped at the mall for a few things and since Wegmans was conveniently located at the mall, I decided to "feed two birds with one scone" and get my grocery shopping done too.
Wegmans has always held a special place in my heart. In college, we would travel in packs to Wegmans to "play adult." Packets of Ramen and jugs of Arizona Green Tea, the college student's gourmet dinner. As you can imagine, when Wegmans started to expand to Massachusetts, I was thrilled. I was probably more excited than I should've been, but there you have it.
My relationship has now turned...complicated.
As I got on the escalator in search of strawberries, a pit in my stomach began to form and then I remembered...."Oh, right. The lobsters." You may remember the prior run in I had with the lobsters.
Here's a little story to get you up to speed.
During a quick trip to Wegmans this past fall, my son James and I stumbled across a tank of live lobsters. It was completely jarring. I mean, I was used to seeing vacuumed sealed cows every time we went to the store but this was different. This time, the animal was alive. I wasn't prepared for that. The lobsters were crammed on top of each other (literally) and unable to move.
I felt helpless and conflicted. What do I do? I could be the good little shopper and mind my own business or I could say something, witness the rolling eyes of the employees, and take a hit on my people pleasing scale for the day.
Without missing a beat, my son asked that we talk to someone about what was happening. I took his lead and we found the manager. James explained that the lobster's shouldn't be in the tanks and asked that they be returned to the sea so that they could be with their families. I was so proud of James for having the courage to speak up, even when I was wavering.
Getting back to today...I stepped off the escalator and I thought to myself, "Don't do this to yourself, keep walking." My curiosity got the better of me. It's always going to be me and those lobsters, isn't it? I had to go over to the tank. As expected, layers of lobsters stacked on top of each other. I searched around and barely any movement.
A couple came up to the tank and said, "$10.99/lb, not bad." They looked over to me for agreement. I just looked back, hoping if they stayed just a moment or two longer that they would not just look at the price tag, but at the eyes of the beings one foot away and realize that $10.99/lb was just too high a price to pay for a life.
I stayed watching the lobsters for a while. Then the moment came. What was I going to do? It was my glorious half-day Friday. I could just walk away and leave it for another day. I tried to walk away but my feet wouldn't let me. I went searching for someone to talk to. I had no idea what I was going to say but I had to say something. These beings still had a chance.
I took off my introvert cape and put on my "I'm still an introvert but I'm going to be extra brave right now cape" and found someone that was working in the "seafood" section. I said, "Excuse me, the lobster's aren't able to move." He came promptly out and said that he would check. He looked and agreed that they were a little cramped but explained that that's just how they like to gather. I kindly rebutted that this was not enough space and that they couldn't move and that I didn't believe they should be in there. He explained that a lobster doesn't have a brain and can't feel pain. "But there is evidence that they do. They are quite an intelligent species," I explained. "I don't know about that," he quickly chirped.
I wasn't surprised by his response. Our society, despite all evidence, still doesn't want to believe that lobsters, or any other nonhuman animals, can feel pain.
According to a study in the Journal of Experimental Biology, lobsters can not only feel pain but they can learn to anticipate and try to avoid pain.
Zoologists have found that lobsters don’t have the ability to go into ‘shock’ so when they are exposed to cruel procedures, their suffering is prolonged.
Scientists have found that it can take between 35-45 seconds for lobsters to die when plunged into a pot of boiling water.
Not knowing what else he could offer me, the gentleman suggested that I talk to his manager, let's call her Lisa. Lisa was very polite and attentive. I explained why I had concerns. She said she would speak to her manager and the Maine Lobster supplier to talk about recommended size requirements for the lobsters. She didn't understand what I was trying to say but I didn't expect her too. I knew that I was being "handled," but I thanked her for her time and offered a friendly smile. You never know, maybe somewhere along the way, someone will experience a change of heart because of my conversation. Today, this was the best that I could do, even on a half-day Friday.
The Earth Protector Story
It was a cold February evening and I was sitting at my desk preparing for an assignment for my Culture & Change class. We had just read the book, Creating a World That Works For All by Sharif Abdullah and I felt like I could fly. Yes, I wanted to create a world that worked for all!
If you know me at all you know that I have about a million ideas a minute of how to change the world. Most people just roll their eyes or say, "That's just Abby," when I go on about my next big idea. I get it, I can seem a bit pie in the sky sometimes.
It wasn't until I started my Master's program in Humane Education that I felt confident enough to try some of my ideas. The program has taught me so much about the world, about animals, and about people; that I want to share it with as many people as possible. I even try and include my son with what I'm learning. It's a great way to spend time together but also a wonderful opportunity to teach him how to lead a more compassionate life. I do this by showing and modeling as opposed to telling and instructing.
James has helped me collect donations for refugee's for the Boston Center for Refugee Health & Human Rights and even attended the "Big E" to witness how we use animals for entertainment.
Including James in this part of my life has been wonderful. It's also allowed me to become a Solutionary Parent. Solutionary parenting is parenting in a way that invites our children to be part of the solution. It is about helping them cultivate a love for our environment, the animals, and other people; so that they can be the next generation of changemakers that will design a world that works for all.
When I look at James I see so much of myself in him. He has a passion for life and incredible inner strength. So when James came to me that February evening and said that he wanted to do something to change the world, without any hesitation I said, "let's do it!"
My goal as a parent is to support his natural love and curiosity for life. I believe this can be the catalyst for social change. This will not just help form him into being a kind and compassionate child, but also what can help make him into a great citizen of the world.
I told James to sketch out some ideas and think about what his/our goal(s) were. He wanted to protect the world and the animals and the people in it so I said, why don't we be,"The Earth Protectors!" And that's just what we became.
When you have an idea, taking the first step is always the hardest. We often feel that we need to have the perfect plan in place before we can act, but that simply is just a self-imposed delay in disguise.
We could go through life having a million ideas but not doing any of them. Starting "The Earth Protectors" was a wonderful way to show James that his ideas are valuable, that children can make a difference, and that change happens when someone decides to do something.
The Earth Protectors is not an exclusive group and there are no memberships. It is simply a way of life that creates a path to compassion. It is open to any and all; no matter who you are or where you live. All are welcome.
Our compassion extends to the protection of the environment, to other people, and to the animals. We are the protectors of all that inhabit the Earth.
If you or your child has an idea of how to change the world, please don't just let it pass you by. Take the first step and see where it takes you. It may be the best journey that you ever go on.
Super Bowl Sunday. For over 100 million people, it's a day filled with food, football and watching those highly anticipated commercials (Otterson & Otterson, 2018).
For a cool $5.25 million, you too could have a 30-second slot on CBS to hock your product (Bruton, 2019). With that amount of money, I can only imagine the meetings that take place to ensure their company gets the greatest bang for their buck.
But what happens when companies change their strategy? More and more people are becoming aware of the hold advertisements have on us. We can see through their manipulation, so much so, that it's causing advertisers to come up with a new game plan. And that new game plan is to show that they are socially conscious.
So what do people need right now? Hope, acceptance and goodness. And this is exactly how companies are changing their message.
Here are a couple of examples:
(Always, "Always #LikeAGirl - Super Bowl XLIX", 2015)
(84 Lumber, "84 Lumber Super Bowl Commercial - The Entire Journey", 2017)
When a company is socially aware and wants to help save the world, doesn't it make you want to go out and save the world with them? And because you believe in their message, you're going to want to buy their product. A truck load of wood from 84 Lumber? Yes, please! Just drop it right over there next to the boxes of Always pads, please. Yay me for being a conscious consumer!
But is there any danger in this? It seems harmless, right? Well, we have to remember that under capitalism, the system is set up to reward profit. This makes it vital that we all do our due diligence to research the companies we support. Are they really aligning their actions with their message?
We have to ask the following questions:
How does this product or service impact the environment?
How does this product or service impact people?
Does this product or service help or hurt animal protection efforts?
Let's take a look at this "feel good" commercial and see what we can uncover.
(Jones, "Toll House | Bake the World a Better Place", 2017)
This Nestlé Toll House commercial wants to "Bake the World a Better Place." Yes! We can all do that! Get me to the store so I can pick up a pack of the pre-cut Nestlé Toll House cookie dough packs and we'll be well on our way to save the leopards.
Before we hope in the car, let's stop and think about those three questions that I just mentioned:
How does this product or service impact the environment?
How does this product or service impact people?
Does this product or service help or hurt animal protection efforts?
When doing more research into Nestlé here is what I found:
Well, their website sure makes it look like they are an Eco-minded, sustainable, people-centered company. Great! Get my car keys!
Not so fast. Our research shouldn't stop there. We should never take the company's word for it. And you'll see why.
Out of the world's entire water supply only 3% of Earth's water is fresh water. 97% of the water on this planet is undrinkable. However, out of the 3% we can drink, much of it is polluted and beyond human use (Bozzo, 2013). So what is the connection with Nestlé (Nestlé Toll House's parent)?
We all know what is STILL happening in Flint, Michigan with the water crisis. But did you know that a Nestlé has a bottling facility located just 2 hours a way?
According to an article by The Guardian,
"Despite having endured lead-laden tap water for years, Flint pays some of the highest water rates in the US. Several residents cited bills upwards of $200 per month for tap water they refuse to touch.
But just two hours away, in the tiny town of Evart, creeks lined by wildflowers run with clear water. The town is so small, the fairground, McDonald’s, high school and church are all within a block. But in a town of only 1,503 people, there are a dozen wells pumping water from the underground aquifer. This is where the beverage giant Nestlé pumps almost 100,000 times what an average Michigan resident uses into plastic bottles that are sold all over the midwest for around $1.
To use this natural resource, Nestlé pays $200 per year.
Now, Nestlé wants more Michigan water. In a recent permit application, the company asked to pump 210m gallons per year from Evart, a 60% increase, and for no more than it pays today...the company pays nothing for the 150 gallons per minute it already pumps from the ground in central Michigan. The $200 per year is just an administration fee."
To sum it up, Nestlé is paying virtually nothing for the water that they take from Michigan, selling it back to the community for over $1 a bottle while the residents in some areas (especially Flint) have some of the highest water bills. Roughly half of all residents in Flint are in poverty, the highest poverty rate in the United States (Adams, 2017). This is a human rights AND environmental issue, people!
I won't even go into the waste and pollution that is caused by the plastic bottled beverages that is produced by Nestlé.
Moving on and back to buying cookies to save the leopards. There are many issues with this one but I'll touch on just two.
Those chocolate chips in your cookie, may not be as wholesome as you think they are. Ghana and the Ivory Coast in West Africa provide 60% of the world’s cocoa. Several thousands of young children, some reported as young as 5 years old, go missing every year where they are forced to work on cocoa plantations. They are given machetes to harvest the cocoa pods and carry large sacks on their backs all day long. Children sustain many injuries and are often beaten if they are not able to keep up. They live in horrific spaces and do not have access to adequate meals (BBC One, 2011). Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestlé are just a sample of companies that source their cocoa from this part of Africa (Food Empowerment Project, "Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry").
While Nestlé is working towards their own Cocoa Plan to combat child labor and trafficking, we can applaud their efforts but we must keep scrutinizing them to ensure that they keep up their end of the bargain.
Tip: If you are at the store and thinking about what chocolate to buy, please consider purchasing Certified Fair Trade chocolate.
Here is a great website that lists what chocolates you should be looking for:
Lastly, one of the major reasons that the leopards and so many other animals are becoming endangered is due to deforestation. What is causing deforestation? Animal agriculture and also the sourcing of palm fruit for the production of palm oil.
Animal agriculture uses 30 percent of the earth’s entire land surface. It is the largest driver of deforestation in every Amazon country, accounting for 80 percent of current deforestation rates. An acre or more of rainforest is destroyed every second largely due to clearing the land to graze animals and grow their feed (Matthews, 2006).
P.S If everyone went plant-based, global land use for farming would drop 75 percent (Poore & Nemecek, 2018).
Let's look at the ingredients in Nestlé Toll House Cookie Dough to see what's inside. Highlighted are the animal and palm products (not including the potential animal products in the "natural flavoring":
ENRICHED WHEAT FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMINE MONONITRATE, RIBOFLAVIN, FOLIC ACID) , SUGAR, NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® SEMI -SWEET CHOCOLATE MORSELS (SUGAR, CHOCOLATE, MILKFAT, COCOA BUTTER, SOY LECITHIN, NATURAL FLAVORS), SHORTENING (PALM OIL, HIGH OLEIC CANOLA OIL, BETA CAROTENE [COLOR] ) , WATER, 2% OR LESS OF EGGS, MOLASSES, SALT, BAKING SODA (CONTAINS SOY LECITHIN) , NATURAL FLAVOR, VANILLA EXTRACT.
(Nestlé, "NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Refrigerated Chocolate Chip Cookie Bar Dough")
Are we prepared for these emotionally engaging commercials that are ready to pull at our heart strings making us think that if only we buy their product, we too can be changemakers? These companies just got savvy and they may have a lot of power behind them...but what we have are the facts. Let's use them like armor to fend off misinformation!
We all have blind spots when it comes to advertising…
What are yours? What are mine?
84 Lumber. (2017, February 05). 84 Lumber Super Bowl Commercial - The Entire Journey. Retrieved January 27, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPo2B-vjZ28
Adams, D. (2017, September 21). Here's how Flint went from boom town to nation's highest poverty rate. Retrieved February 3, 2019, from https://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2017/09/heres_how_flint_went_from_boom.html
Always. (2015, January 29). Always #LikeAGirl - Super Bowl XLIX. Retrieved February 3, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=yIxA3o84syY
BBC One. (2011, February 02). Chocolate The Bitter Truth 1 of 5 Child Trafficking BBC Panorama Investigation. Retrieved September 25, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LD85fPzLUjo
Bozzo, S. (2013, March 08). Blue Gold World Water Wars. Retrieved June 15, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=megBMpB33jE
Bruton, M. (2019, February 03). Super Bowl Ads 2019: Latest Info on Cost of 2019 Super Bowl Commercials. Retrieved February 3, 2019, from https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2818943-super-bowl-ads-2019-latest-info-on-cost-of-2019-super-bowl-commercials
Food Empowerment Project. (n.d.). Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry. Retrieved November 13, 2018, from http://www.foodispower.org/slavery-chocolate/
Jones, B. L. (2017, June 15). Toll House | Bake the World a Better Place. Retrieved February 3, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFi_6yMCRos
Matthews, C. (2006, November 29). Livestock a major threat to environment. Retrieved July 16, 2018, from http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2006/1000448/index.html
Poore, J., & Nemecek, T. (2018, June 01). Reducing food's environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Retrieved July 17, 2018, from http://science.sciencemag.org/content/360/6392/987/tab-pdf
Nestle. (n.d.). Environment. Retrieved February 3, 2019, from https://www.nestle.com/ask-nestle/environment
Nestle. (n.d.). Human Rights. Retrieved February 3, 2019, from https://www.nestle.com/ask-nestle/human-rights
Nestle. (n.d.). NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Refrigerated Chocolate Chip Cookie Bar Dough. Retrieved February 3, 2019, from https://www.verybestbaking.com/products/10127/tollhouse/nestle-toll-house-refrigerated-chocolate-chip-cookie-bar-dough/
Otterson, J., & Otterson, J. (2018, February 05). TV Ratings: Super Bowl LII Slips 7% From 2017 to 103.4 Million Viewers. Retrieved February 3, 2019, from https://variety.com/2018/tv/news/super-bowl-lii-ratings-1202687239/
Have you heard the news!?
I was interviewed by @nonhuman.rights.project Communication Director Lauren Choplin about why I decided to be a voice for the NhRP elephant clients!
If you remember, back in November I wrote a story about my experience observing the animals, Minnie in particular, at the "Big E" in Springfield, Massachusetts.
In this interview with Lauren, I describe my vision as a humane educator, for how we can encourage children and adults to care about other species without depriving individual nonhuman animals of their liberty or exploiting them.
Here is a link to the published article:
I hope you enjoy this heartfelt interview!
Thank you to everyone for your support!
This is a film I put together about my journey as an animal rights activist and all of the ways we work together to fight for the animals. It is intended to build hope and courage and a way for all of us to find our voice.
Some artistic notes about the film:
When I first heard the song, "We Shall Overcome: Love Will Rise Again" I was deeply moved. This song captures how I feel about being a voice for the animals. I've never felt so empowered, inspired and as strong in my life as I do now. Nimo Patel was so gracious to let me use his music for this film. If you have the opportunity, please visit Nimo's website and learn more about his efforts of using music for social change. If you are able, please consider donating to his cause.
This film explores all of the ways we exploit animals and all of the ways we fight for them. It goes back and forth between the two extremes. For all of the oppression and injustice the animals face, we are there to make things right. You may notice that at times, those oppressing the animals don't seem to even notice what they are doing. We've been conditioned that what we are doing to animals is normal, natural and necessary. The veil is lifting.
When we actively speak up for the animals, we are tipping the scales. It doesn't matter if you're scared, shy or hesitant, you can do this. And if you think that one person can't make a difference I refer you to this poem by Bonaro W. Overstreet:
(To One Who Doubts the Worth of Doing Anything If You Can’t Do Everything)
You say the little efforts that I make
will do no good: they never will prevail
to tip the hovering scale
where Justice hangs in balance.
I don’t think I ever thought they would.
But I am prejudiced beyond debate
in favor of my right to choose which side
shall feel the stubborn ounces of my weight.
In this film, I also wanted to show that activism comes in all forms. Everyone has a talent that can be used towards the fight for animals. Whether that be in the form of direct outreach, protest marches, creating wonderful vegan food, educating others, writing about the fight for animals, supporting vegan businesses, bearing witness, teaching children about living a compassionate lifestyle, having those hard conversations with family and friends or even by simply living a vegan lifestyle, we are standing up for what is right and just. Our life is based on constantly going against the stream and fighting injustice. It can take its toll and there are days where we may feel helpless and like we’re not making a difference but we are. You should feel proud!
I wanted to end the film at the Maple Farm Animal Sanctuary. Like so many sanctuaries, this is a place of refuge and where animals can live out their lives in peace. Animals deserve to have moral consideration and have the ability to express agency over their own lives.
The last image is of Gail staring out into the distance of an open barn door. Gail was used as a dairy cow for the first ten years of her life. I wonder what she must be thinking. Does she remember her time before being rescued? Does she miss her family? Where are they now? Unlike the 300 million cows who are slaughtered every year, she is free...like all animals should be.
I hope this film inspires each and every one of you to be a voice for the animals!
Music by Nimo Patel and Daniel Nahmod at Empty Hands Music, "We Shall Overcome: Love Will Rise Again."
Special thanks to The Save Movement, Toronto Cow Save, Laura Ray, Sheryl Becker, Erica Korff, Lilly Colwell and to everyone who made this film possible.
This film is dedicated to my son, James. I'll keep fighting until you see a more humane and compassionate world.
On September 22nd, I traveled to Springfield, Massachusetts to attend the “Big E”, with my son, James in order to complete an assignment for my Animal Protection course. The “Big E” is New England’s "greatest state fair” (Wikipedia, "The Eastern States Exposition", 2018). We arrived at 11:30am and left at 4:00pm. It was a very hot day and the sun was beating down. This was my first time going to this fair but I had an idea of what I should expect. I at first found the experience challenging, but when I put myself in the position of an undercover investigator, it made the situation a little easier to handle.
Before arriving, I had made a list of the animal exhibits that I wanted to view along with the show times. We first made our way to the “Swifty Swine Racing Pigs” show. Here, pigs are housed in a trailer, advertised as “air conditioned for piggy comfort.” As the presenter begins the show, you can hear pigs squealing from the trailer. There was a total of three races during the show. When called upon, four potbelly pigs are loaded into holding gates for the race. They raced around the track for an Oreo. The names of the pigs ranged from “Brittany Spareribs” to “Kim Kardashiham” to “Kevin Bacon.” The finale of the show was with “Swifty” the swimming pig. This 12-week-old pig’s act is to swim an 8ft long tank of water. After the show, the pigs were put back into the trailer and into their crates. There are souvenirs available such as Swifty pig noses and an opportunity to get souvenir photos of you and your family holding Swifty. The show operates every day that the fair is operating (17 days), and 5 times a day (Johnson, "Swifty Swine Racing Pigs", 2018).
The next stop was to the R. W. COMMERFORD & SONS animal attraction. This 40 year old company is located in Goshen, Connecticut. Their website proclaims that they work hard to give their animals a nice home and that the animals are well taken care of (R. W. Commerford & Sons, "Our Animal Friends", n.d).
The attraction at the “Big E” included a petting zoo as well as pony and elephant rides. This exhibit was the most distressing for me. Minnie, an elephant, was on display. She looked exhausted. Her eyes appeared sunken in, her skin looked incredibly dry and cracked and her mood seemed to be despondent as she walked around in circles giving rides to customers. The ride lasted around 1:30 minutes per group. The next rider(s) would immediately get on and Minnie would go around in a circle again. There was no rest for Minnie during the time I observed her, which was for more than half an hour. The handler had a bull hook with him, which he held conspicuously at his side and would use it to guide Minnie if she wasn’t going where he wanted her to go ("R. W. Commerford & Sons Attraction", 2018).
I then went over to R. W. Commerford & Sons’ petting zoo. There was a zebra in the center of the tent. It was held inside a small enclosure which was surrounded by the pygmy goats and Barbados sheep. The Zebra stood in one place and did not move or look around. Most would probably not even notice that the Zebra wasn’t interacting because they were too distracted at all of the goats trying to jump out of their enclosure to get food from the guests. Along the side of the tent were four Shetland ponies that were chained up to the railing. Inside of a cage, which you could barely see inside because there was a grate over it, was a Greenwing MaCaw. I didn’t see any sunlight getting into the cage. This was the same with the African Grey Parrot. There were many other exotic animals at the petting zoo such as the Scimitar-Horned Oryx, originally from the Sahara Desert and the Zebu Steer from India that were also chained to a fence. Like with “The Switfy Swine Pig Racing”, there were opportunities to buy souvenirs such as photos and cow boy hats ("R. W. Commerford & Sons Attraction", 2018).
I spoke to those working the R.W Commerford & Son’s attractions and everyone seemed to hold the party line that all of these animals are happy and well looked after ("R. W. Commerford & Sons Attraction", 2018). The workers themselves looked miserable. I don’t believe that many of employees really want to be doing this. They too are a victim of oppression, whether that be down to their race, income level or class. Just like when the poor white man was pitted against the poor black man in order to keep the institution of oppression functioning, this same system is pitting these employees against the animals in order to prop up upper classes.
When I exited the fair, I encountered a group of animal activists that were asking for those that walked by, to consider what their ticket was paying for. I spoke to Sheryl Becker, the director of the Western Massachusetts Animal Rights Advocates group. She lead me to a PETA report showing that R.W. Commerford & Sons has had over 56 citations of not meeting federal standard of care for animals used in exhibition; based on the Animal Welfare Act (PETA, "R. W. Commerford & Sons Traveling Petting Zoo Factsheet", n.d).
The Nonhuman Rights Project reports, violations that pertain to the elephants in the care of R. W. Commerford & Sons alone include, “failure to have an employee or attendant present during periods of public contact with the elephants; failure to give adequate veterinary care to treat an excessive accumulation of necrotic skin on the elephants’ heads; failure to maintain the elephant transport trailer; inadequate drainage in the elephant enclosure; failure to dispose of a large accumulation of soiled hay, bedding, and feces behind the elephant barn; and failure to keep an elephant under the control of a handler while she was giving rides” (Nonhuman Rights Project, "Clients: Beulah, Karen, and Minnie", n.d). When I explained that the elephant giving rides on that particular day was Minnie, Becker was shocked and concerned. Peta has reported that Minnie has been involved in three separate incidences of dangerous behavior (PETA, "R. W. Commerford & Sons Traveling Petting Zoo Factsheet", n.d).
The first reported incident occurred in 1989 when Minnie attacked and critically injured an elephant handler. This occurred when the handler struck Minnie with a bullhook while two children were riding on her back. She had picked the handler up with her trunk and threw him against a trailer. This broke the handler’s jaw and shoulder. Years before this happened, Minnie had attacked a worker and broke his arm (PETA, "R. W. Commerford & Sons Traveling Petting Zoo Factsheet", n.d).
In 1998, Minnie knocked down her trainer and stepped on him. Again, she had children on her back. One of the children fell off of Minnie and hit her head (PETA, "R. W. Commerford & Sons Traveling Petting Zoo Factsheet", n.d).
On March 5th, 2006, Minnie became agitated and swung her head toward two employees. She used her weight to pin them against the loading ramp. A witness confirmed that Minnie’s action was a result of her being provoked by one of the employees hitting her in the face (PETA, "R. W. Commerford & Sons Traveling Petting Zoo Factsheet", n.d). This makes me think that this could become another Sea World Tilikum situation (BBC, "SeaWorld orca Tilikum that killed trainer dies", 2017).
When I got home, I saw a post by the Nonhuman rights project and couldn’t believe that Minnie, along with the other two elephants owned by the Commerford’s, Beulah and Karen were clients of Steven Wise (Nonhuman Rights Project, "Clients: Beulah, Karen, and Minnie", n.d). The Nonhuman Rights organization had been at the Big E at the same time as when I was there doing my assignment.
According to the Nonhuman Rights organization, Minnie was born in the wild in Thailand. She was imported to the United States in 1972 when she was two months old. Practically since birth, she has been on display. She has been in petting zoos, used for sales promotions, in Indian weddings, films, circuses and photo shoots. Minnie was sold to the Commerford’s in 1976. At the age of 46, Minnie has lived a life that has been nothing short of abuse and exploitation (Nonhuman Rights Project, "Clients: Beulah, Karen, and Minnie", n.d).
Within the space of just a day or two, a photo of Minnie went viral. There have been petitions to stop the exploitation of the elephants in Commerford’s care and more activists showing up to protest. Just two days after I visited the “Big E”, Steven Wise was on a Western Massachusetts news station, WGGB/WSHM, advocating for Minnie’s release to a sanctuary (Sleem & Masse, 2018). This has been a catalyst of dozens of news articles covering the case and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. There is currently a change.org calling to “End the Use of Wild Animal Acts at The Big E!” There are currently 127,070 signatures as of October 31st (Change.org, n.d).
The current litigation case with Beulah, Karen and Minnie’s is still ongoing. In December 2017, the first petition was refused with Judge James Bentivegna proclaiming that the case was “frivolous on its face as a matter of law.” On June 11th, 2018, a second petition was filed on behalf of the elephants in Connecticut. (Nonhuman Rights Project, "Second Petition Filed on Behalf of Captive Elephants in Connecticut", 2018).
If the case is won, the elephants would be welcomed to the PAWS (Performing Animal Welfare Society) Sanctuary to live out their lives (PAWS, n.d).
This assignment has taken me into an entirely different direction than I had anticipated. It has allowed me to feel like I was part of something bigger. I was able to bear witness to the life of entertainment animals such as Minnie, who have had to endure more than any animal should. Although I left the “Big E” feeling angry, I now feel empowered. I am able to see how so many groups of people are going at great lengths to speak up for the animals; either through protests, petitions, advocacy or legal work. Through the use of social media, Minnie’s story has been shared thousands of times, further opening the hearts and minds of those around the world. I look forward to following Stephen Wises’ case for my friend, Minnie.
Below are some additional photos and videos that I took during my experience at the "Big E". The way we exploit animals is never ending. I ask one thing of you, please look into their eyes.
How Can You Help?
1.) Vote with your dollar. Don't attend venues or events that promote or participate in animal exploitation & animal entertainment. This will signal to places that we want change.
2.) Get involved with organizations such as the Nonhuman Rights Project who are trying to help Minnie, along with many other animals and fighting for their release.
3.) Attend an animal advocacy event. It may feel scary at first but I promise you will never feel more alive and empowered to use your voice!
4.) Write to The Big E at info@TheBigE.com and tell them to stop this action.
5.) Sign the change.org petition, "End the Use of Wild Animal Acts at The Big E!"
6.) Share Minnie's story and all of the other animals that are exploited at the "Big E" as far and wide as you can! The more people know about it, the more we can create change.
BBC. (2017, January 06). SeaWorld orca Tilikum that killed trainer dies. Retrieved October 31, 2018, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38531967
Change.org. (n.d.). End the Use of Wild Animal Acts at The Big E! Retrieved October 30, 2018, from https://www.change.org/p/eugene-cassidy-president-and-ceo-end-the-use-of-wild-animal-acts-at-the-big-eJohnson, Z. (Director). (2018, September 22).
Swifty Swine Racing Pigs. Live performance in Eastern States Exposition, Springfield.
Nonhuman Rights Project. (n.d.). Clients: Beulah, Karen, and Minnie. Retrieved October 30, 2018, from https://www.nonhumanrights.org/clients-beulah-karen-minnie/
Nonhuman Rights Project. (2018, June 11). Second Petition Filed on Behalf of Captive Elephants in Connecticut. Retrieved October 30, 2018, from https://www.nonhumanrights.org/blog/second-petition-connecticut/
PAWS. (n.d.). Performing Animal Welfare Society -- PAWS. Retrieved October 31, 2018, from http://www.pawsweb.org/
PETA. (n.d.). R. W. Commerford & Sons Traveling Petting Zoo Factsheet [Brochure]. Norfolk, VA: Author.
Sleem, S., & Masse, A. (2018, September 24). Call to end wild animal acts at the Big E after viral Facebook post. Retrieved September 24, 2018, from https://www.westernmassnews.com/news/call-to-end-wild-animal-acts-at-the-big-e/article_e5e6db6e-c066-11e8-b5b3-7f9b485dbdd1.html
R. W. Commerford & Sons Attraction. (2018, September 22). Live performance in Eastern States Exposition, Springfield.
R. W. Commerford & Sons. (n.d.). Our Animal Friends. Retrieved October 30, 2018, from http://commerfordzoo.com/animals.php
Wikipedia. (2018, September 22). The Eastern States Exposition. Retrieved October 30, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Eastern_States_Exposition
Stopped by the side of the road in Kilmacthomas, Ireland to meet this beautiful horse.
Teaching my son about showing kindness and compassion to all beings.
This presentation was the capstone project for my introduction to humane education course. I was tasked with coming up with a positive vision for a solutionary-focused humane education program or project that I wanted to implement.
I decided to create a presentation that could easily be tailored for people of all ages, from young children to adults.
When we look at the words that we use, we can begin to think critically about them and determine if they are helpful or harmful. If they are harmful, we can then use it as an opportunity to change the way we speak. During the presentation, I offer alternative phrases that we can use to start the shift to more animal friendly phrases.
Excerpt from the presentation:
Why do we feel the need to change the name from cow to beef, or pig to pork? We say ‘livestock” in reference to the farmed animals that are used for food. If you break down the word live stock, it is essentially stock that is alive. It’s a way of reducing them as a commodity that you can trade. It strips them of their sentience. Most people don’t bat an eye when you say slaughterhouse. But when you step back and think about the word, you start to question why in the world do we need something in the English language that is a house of slaughter?
Author, Carol Adams explains that when we drop the possessive language when talking about animals, such as, instead of saying, the lamb’s leg or the chicken’s wing we say, leg of lamb, chicken wing, it enables us to fall into the cognitive dissonance trap and that animal’s identity gets lost.
We use words to distance ourselves from the reality so that we can stay blissfully (kind of not aware) of what needs to happen in order to have that burger.
Hope you enjoy and are able to incorporate into your humane education!