Seble Nebiyeloul

Seble Nebiyeloul

Seble Nebiyeloul

Co-Founder of the organization International Fund For Africa

 

Photographs by Jo-Anne McArthur.
Interview and text by Corinne Benedict.

Seble Nebiyeloul

Co-Founder of the organization International Fund For Africa

 

Photographs by Jo-Anne McArthur.
Interview and text by Corinne Benedict.

Seble Nebiyeloul was living in New York on 9/11, within walking distance of Ground Zero. The smell that hung in the air after the attacks is still etched in her memory, but she couldn’t pinpoint what it was until she passed a street vendor selling hamburgers.

“Animal flesh and human flesh, when you burn it, it’s one smell. That’s when I said no more animal products.”

“Instantly I said to myself, this was flesh I was smelling,” Nebiyeloul says. “Animal flesh and human flesh, when you burn it, it’s one smell. That’s when I said no more animal products.”

The epiphany made it suddenly clear to her: We are all the same.

“When you start loving animals, you don’t have boundaries. When I became an animal lover, automatically, I loved any creature.”

It’s an ethos that came to define her work with the organization she co-founded in her native Ethiopia a decade later, International Fund for Africa, or IFA, which serves humans and animals alike.

Photo: Children wash their hands in preparation for the plant-based meals offered by IFA at their school.

Besides its sizeable vegan food and health program for school children, IFA’s work has included vocational training for people with limited economic opportunities, improved sanitation in schools, a program that helps girls make reusable menstrual pads, significant investments in maternal and newborn health care, mobile clinics for working animals, sterilization and vaccinations for street dogs, and more.

Nebiyeloul was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. Her mother was a secretary. Her father, vice minister of the private cabinet of Emperor Haile Selassie, was executed when Selassie’s government was overthrown in 1974. Nebiyeloul left for the United States a decade later when she was 19.

Photo: School children enjoying attention, and the cameras, at a school outside of Addis Ababa.

Nebiyeloul was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. Her mother was a secretary. Her father, vice minister of the private cabinet of Emperor Haile Selassie, was executed when Selassie’s government was overthrown in 1974. Nebiyeloul left for the United States a decade later when she was 19.

Photo: School children enjoying attention, and the cameras, at a school outside of Addis Ababa.

She went to college in Kentucky and then studied health care administration at graduate school at the University of Maryland before settling in New York. It was the city’s many dogs, always out for walks, that helped ignite her love of animals. She bought a Maltese, but had to give him to a relative when her landlord said she couldn’t keep him. By then she was a vegetarian and had begun taking an interest in animal welfare and rights. Her next dog was a rescue. (About the seven dogs she has now, she says, “Without them, I couldn’t live my life.”)

Professionally, she climbed the ladder in the public health field. She was successful and happy but not fulfilled. When her job offered her another promotion to senior management, it didn’t feel quite right. Her cousin, Anteneh Roba, a physician then living in Houston, had been urging her to return to Ethiopia to help him with a nonprofit he was starting to alleviate some of their home country’s widespread poverty and suffering. It was the kind of mission Nebiyeloul had always wanted to take on.

“Yes, I was making good money, and I loved the work that I did,” she says. “But I’d done it. I’d proven to myself that I could do it – as a black woman, as a foreigner. I’d reached what I wanted to be.”

She moved back to Addis Ababa to get IFA off the ground in 2011.

Nebiyeloul loves to cook, and she’s good at it. As she began building IFA – organizational development is another of her talents – she also began working to expose more Ethiopians to vegan food.

Photo: A healthy lunch, provided by IFA, for impoverished children at a school outside Addis Ababa. 

Nebiyeloul loves to cook, and she’s good at it. As she began building IFA – organizational development is another of her talents – she also began working to expose more Ethiopians to vegan food.

Photo: A healthy lunch, provided by IFA, for impoverished children at a school outside Addis Ababa.

“A lot of people came and said to me, ‘If we knew how to cook like this, we would never eat meat, not for animals but for the health reasons.’”

She started with cooking demonstrations and then began serving vegan brunch at yoga classes that a friend was teaching. Nebiyeloul describes her food as Ethiopian adapted to be vegan, with influences from places like Asia, Spain, and the US. She goes for mostly fresh ingredients, lots of spices and herbs, and little salt.

 

The reaction to her cooking was almost always the same, she says – people were shocked that vegan food could be so delicious.

 

IFA’s vegan school food program, which uses Nebiyeloul’s recipes, now serves two meals a day to hundreds of children. It also provides employment for 10 cooks whom IFA trained in a style vastly different from most professional Ethiopian kitchens.

“I’m trying to teach the younger generation that in order to live, you don’t have to eat animal products.”

“Meat is a major part of our food, especially during the holiday time. It’s part of the culture. You have to kill animals. Usually I travel during that time out of Ethiopia. I find it difficult to stay here,” she says. “Animal welfare is a little bit acceptable in this country – I would say, five percent. Animal rights, forget it. It’s a very difficult concept.”

Nebiyeloul draws a line in trying to persuade people to be vegan. Mostly, she prefers to limit her efforts to setting an example, using food rather than words. Vegan cooking is her activism, she says.

“I always respect people’s space. I start discussions only when people express an interest.”

Seven years after its founding, IFA continues to evolve. The organization coordinates closely with A Well Fed World and is working toward sustainable solutions to Ethiopia’s poverty, namely holistic programming that addresses root causes, Nebiyeloul says.

More than 6,000 girls now have reusable menstrual pads, helping to keep them in school, and IFA is preparing to launch a new mushroom production unit to introduce the vegan staple to kids, generate income for IFA’s programs, and serve as a vocational training site for youth who’ve dropped out of school. Recently, IFA responded to a call for humanitarian aid for victims displaced by ethnic violence, providing food, clothing, mattresses and diapers for families in Ethiopia’s Oromia region.

Photo: Young women learn to design and sew their own sanitary pads.

More than 6,000 girls now have reusable menstrual pads, helping to keep them in school, and IFA is preparing to launch a new mushroom production unit to introduce the vegan staple to kids, generate income for IFA’s programs, and serve as a vocational training site for youth who’ve dropped out of school. Recently, IFA responded to a call for humanitarian aid for victims displaced by ethnic violence, providing food, clothing, mattresses and diapers for families in Ethiopia’s Oromia region.

Photo: Young women learn to design and sew their own sanitary pads.

As for the future, Nebiyeloul dreams of someday opening a vegan restaurant and a sanctuary for unwanted and abused donkeys and horses.

“As you grow older and achieve goals, you start to look back and say, ‘What have I done in life?’ I want to give to any other citizen what I got from life,” Nebiyeloul says.

“If you deal with people the right way, the world will be the right place to live.”

Learn more and support the International Fund for Africa.

Photos and interview by Jo-Anne McArthur. Text by Corinne Benedict.  

 

Steph Yu

Steph Yu

“I wanted a permanent sustainable lifestyle, not a quick fix.”

 

I have never met Steph Yu, but it feels like I have. Reading her blog, I feel as though we’re friends. She divulges her passion for life and pours out the wisdom that inspires so many to prioritize their personal health and happiness and choose a vegan diet.

Yu has mass appeal with almost 200,000 Instagram followers, built by sharing her relatable story with rawness and authenticity.

A Chinese-Canadian writer, podcaster, and video-blogger from Vancouver, Yu is almost overwhelmingly positive, filled with appreciation and enthusiasm for life. She’s also the epitome of health and, at only 22 years old, is a strong advocate for personal wellbeing. But though it’s hard to imagine, it hasn’t always been that way. 

Yu’s is a familiar story. Her life looked perfect from the outside. She appeared to be a high-achieving, confident and outgoing teenager from a happy family. She was on the school council and a talented dancer. But on the inside, Yu was falling apart. Her parents’ marriage was hostile and violent, and Yu began to spend more and more time out of the house to avoid the toxicity of her home life.

The weight of keeping this part of her life secret became too much to bear. In an effort to exercise some control over an out-of-control life, Yu began to manage what she ate. Over time, her fear, frustrations and anger manifested in both anorexia and orthorexia – a condition characterized by an excessive preoccupation with eating healthy food.

“That summer was the loneliest time of my life,” she remembers. “I felt like the world had turned against me, and everyone was trying to take me down.” Looking in the mirror one day, she was shocked by what she saw: “I was an underweight, unhappy, unenthused shell of a person.”

“I wanted a permanent sustainable lifestyle, not a quick fix.”

Acknowledging that she needed help, Yu booked a doctor’s appointment. The doctor advised that she quickly put on weight by eating fast food. But Yu had a different idea. “I was done with abusing my body and done with temporary solutions. I wanted a permanent sustainable lifestyle, not a quick fix.”

Yu began researching, and discovered veganism, which would become her route to sustainable health and a happier life. Slowly but surely, she began to recover. She put on weight, and soon she was able to rediscover the happy, energetic and positive young woman she had once been.

Yu decided to channel her story – every up and down – and use it to inspire others to build the healthy lives they longed for. 

Her popular YouTube channel and Instagram teaches her followers about her vegan lifestyle. Her What I Ate series details her everyday meals, showing that vegan eating can be accessible and easy for anyone.

She uses her podcast, A Beautiful Mess, to interview inspiring individuals on topics as diverse as self-love, spirituality and religion, mental health, body image and veganism. Her blog and e-book, Gaining Back Your Life, tell her own story as a source of empowerment and support for others on the search for a healthier, happier life.

“What motivates my animal advocacy is every memory of an experience I’ve ever had where I’ve been pushed to the side, silenced… It reminds me of what these beings suffer.”

All the while, she aims to create change not only for humans, but for other animals as well. In fact, for Yu, our experiences are linked. “What motivates my animal advocacy is every memory of an experience I’ve ever had where I’ve been pushed to the side, silenced, taken advantage of, and helpless. It reminds me of what these beings suffer and endure every second of their existence.”

It was only after discovering the benefits of veganism that Yu made the connection between her diet and animals. “It was in New Zealand when we passed a field with cows roaming,” she remembers. “I went up to the fence, and they all came over. I spent over an hour talking, singing, and laughing with them all, and when I left cried big fat tears. I think that was my first personal, first-hand experience with how sentient, feeling and beautiful animals were.”

Now, she sees animals and human health as intrinsically connected. Yu believes that by empowering people to live with greater care, compassion, and authenticity, she can make real change for animals. “Before I was vegan I know I wouldn’t have been swayed by an argument for the animals,” she says. “But I was always interested in how to be healthier holistically.”

Indeed, her advocacy is having a serious impact for animals. Yu recently brought veganism to the international tourism market by working with Intrepid Travel to develop their first all-vegan food tour of India. 

What is her next project? Yu plans to start her own business in the health and wellness field, helping people to live healthy and compassionate lives – for their own sake, and for that of the animals.


Follow Yu on Instagram, YouTube, and listen to her podcast.  

Text by Anna Mackiewicz. Photos by Jo-Anne McArthur. 

Sneha Shrestha

Sneha Shrestha

Sneha Shrestha

Founder of Sneha's Care, a shelter for street dogs in Nepal

 

Photos by Jo-Anne McArthur.

Interview and story by Sayara Thurston.

Sneha Shrestha didn’t want a dog.

“I wasn’t an animal lover. I wasn’t even a dog lover.”

Photo: A rescue dog naps in the sun at Sneha’s Care.

She tells me this as we’re surrounded by more than a hundred dogs at Sneha’s Care, the shelter that Shrestha runs outside of Kathmandu in Nepal. More than a dozen of the animals are paralyzed from the waist down and many of them are recovering from horrendous injuries —  missing legs and ears and eyes and parts of their snouts — but all running, barking, playing joyfully in a space where they know they are safe and loved. 

Four years ago, after much pestering from her husband, Shrestha finally agreed to get a puppy. Two puppies, actually, though Shrestha insisted that they be bought from a breeder — she didn’t want street dogs in her home. 

Photo: Rescue dogs getting some afternoon sun at Sneha’s Care.

Despite her reluctance, one of the puppies, Zara, quickly stole Shrestha's heart.

“She was more than a family member for me. 

She was like a child.”

Zara would wait at the gate for Shrestha and her husband to come home from work every day. Shrestha started getting up earlier to walk the dogs and spend time with them. But one day, Zara wasn’t at the gate at the end of the day. Shrestha found her inside, vomiting blood.

She’d been poisoned by a neighbour who didn’t like her barking. And despite desperate efforts to save her, she died four days later. Shrestha was devastated. “In Hindu culture, when a family member dies, we don’t eat anything for 13 days. I did this for my dog.”

Knowing how Zara had suffered — and how unjustly — Shrestha began to see street dogs differently. She started feeding them, carrying dog biscuits with her wherever she went. She started noticing how many of them had injuries and desperately needed vet care. 

Photo: A volunteer and a rescue dog at Sneha’s Care in Nepal.

Photo: Sneha Shrestha and some of the dogs she cares for at her shelter.

She began paying for space at a local kennel to give dogs shelter, care, and regular meals. Within a month, the kennel was full. But Shrestha wasn’t satisfied and she didn’t like that she wasn’t in charge of how the kennel was run. So, with the support of her husband, she sold a house she owned and opened a shelter. 

Video Top: Laundry drying at the shelter, which sits just outside of Kathmandu.
Video Bottom: A rescue dog gets some love at Sneha’s Care.
Main Photo: A rescue dog in his crate at Sneha’s Care.

Today, Sneha’s Care has a new shelter facility, a team of veterinarians and technicians, and welcomes volunteers from around the world who come to spend time helping the dogs recover and find new homes (although some live permanently at the shelter). 

Photo: A rescue dog with a scarred face at Sneha’s Care.

As we talk, Shrestha looks out at the paralyzed dogs — most of them were injured in hit and run cases. People ask her why she doesn’t euthanize them. “My father was paralyzed for 17 years. We never thought about euthanizing him,” she says poignantly. She says the only difference between him and the dogs is that “my father could speak. And he explained to me that he wanted to live. Maybe these dogs also want to live. I don’t have the right to euthanize them.”

Photo: A disabled rescue dog gets some exercise outside Sneha’s Care.

Shrestha can’t buy dog wheelchairs in Nepal but she imports them. She laughs,

 “when I put the paralyzed dogs in the wheelchairs, they run faster than the four-legged dogs!” 

After she opened the shelter and realized how much love she had for dogs suffering on the streets of Kathmandu, Shrestha suddenly saw all animals in a new light. She realized that she was calling herself an animal lover, but in practice, she was only showing that love to dogs. So she became vegan. 

Photo: Volunteers help all the dogs get exercise outside Sneha’s Care in Nepal.

Today, Shrestha is one of Nepal’s most vocal and visible animal advocates. “I want to be a voice for the voiceless,” she says. Shrestha recently successfully campaigned for the Nepalese government to adopt the country’s first animal protection law, as well as new standards covering buffaloes in transport, who suffer in horrendous conditions on the journey from the India-Nepal border. 

“It’s not only people who teach you humanity, 

I learned humanity from these animals.”

She was nominated as Youth Icon Of The Year 2018 by Women With Vision’s 100 Most Influential Women Of Nepal. Most of her volunteers and supporters are women. “Women are full of love. They have so many passions, helping people, helping animals. Women can save the world.”

Are things changing? Absolutely, she says. “Nepal is changing, society is changing.”

Photo: Photo: Staff, volunteers, and visitors spend time with the rescue dogs at Sneha’s Care.

Shrestha believes that educating young people about protecting animals is paramount. “I was never taught in school to be kind,” she says, but now she sees local children visiting the shelter and donating their pocket money. 

And it’s not just us who can teach compassion. “The most important thing is to have humanity. It’s not only people who teach you humanity, I learned humanity from these animals. These animals taught me everything.”

“Women are full of love. They have so many passions, helping people, helping animals. Women can save the world.”

Zara’s memory keeps her motivated. “Zara inspired me to build this shelter. I have her photo beside my bed. I see her every day and she motivates me to help animals.” 

 “She is the reason I have this shelter.”

The animal protection movement in Nepal has many challenges in front of it, but Zara’s legacy is that Shrestha will always be there to face them.

Learn more and support Sneha’s Care.

Photos and video by Jo-Anne McArthur. Interview and story by Sayara Thurston. 

Cora Bailey

Cora Bailey

Cora Bailey

Founder of the organization Community Led Animal Welfare

 

Photos and interview by Jo-Anne McArthur.
Story by Corinne Benedict.

“I saw it, and once I did, I couldn’t turn away.”
The boy is small, far too young to be informing on people running dog fighting rings. But here he is, waiting for Cora Bailey under the appointed tree in the middle of a barren field.

“This is not a nice place,” Bailey, a petite blonde in her mid-60s, says of the neighborhood, a desperate, deeply impoverished part of Soweto, a township on the outskirts of Johannesburg. It’s so dangerous here that few white South Africans dare to come.

But Bailey is different. She visits the townships daily. She knows this little boy well. She worries he’s already going crooked, spending time with the wrong people in the absence of parents. 

Photo: Cora with a rescued piglet at the Randfontein municipal dump site.

Where does she go? Why are we always hungry?

 
“Don’t pick your face,” she says, gently swatting his hand as he tells her what he knows about the latest dog fights and the drug dealers who are involved. Then the conversation turns to him. Bailey asks about his health and explains some relaxation techniques that might help his headaches. She can tell something else is wrong. 

“Tell me,” she says, and the boy, starting to cry, unloads. His mother is never around, he says. She doesn’t look after any of his siblings, so he is left to change nappies and beg neighbors for food. Where does she go? Why are we always hungry? He asks Bailey.

Founder of the organization Community Led Animal Welfare (CLAW) Bailey has dedicated herself to helping animals across Johannesburg’s townships for nearly three decades. It started in 1991, back when she was a board member for the local SPCA, before South Africa’s first democratic elections and in the midst of apartheid and a brutal civil war. 

“Most of that war was in the townships,” says Bailey, a mother of four and grandmother of seven. After massacres, she’d visit their scenes to collect the animals who had been left behind, injured and starving.

 

Quickly, Bailey learned a truth that has defined her life’s work:

If you want to help animals here, you have to help humans, too.

Photo: A monkey saying hello to Cora Bailey.

“It was never very easy to tell people how to look after their animals when you see the dire poverty,” Bailey says.

“We didn’t ever set out to do food parcels or community gardens or to counsel sick people. But it’s hard not to do that when they have nothing.”

 

Bailey’s days are as varied as they are trauma-filled. Essentially, she spends them doing the best she can to alleviate suffering wherever she finds it, and in a place like this, it’s easy to find. 

Especially when you can’t seem to stop yourself from looking for it.

 

Especially when you’re the only one there is to call. 

Photo: Bailey and community members of the Randfontein municipal dump site.

Photo: Bailey chatting with friends and dogs in Soweto.

On the way to bring food to a man who is dying of AIDS, Bailey might rescue a dog who has been left for dead on the side of a road after being hit by a car or stabbed. On her way to talk to the police about illegally sold rat poison that is also killing dogs, she might hear about a toddler in need of a ride to a hospital after being badly burned by a cooking fire.

While visiting a child with cerebral palsy, she might get a call about a vervet monkey or chacma baboon who has been chased up a tree after wandering into a suburb. 

Sometimes Bailey arrives to find an animal whose limbs have all been cut off. Sometimes she finds a crowd at the base of the tree, in which case she’ll spend hours carefully persuading them to let her intervene.

Imagine how scary this must be for the monkey, she’ll say. He must want to be with his family again.

Whenever her phone rings – suicidal children, dogs with all four legs broken, alcoholic rampages – Bailey’s answer is usually the same, even late at night:

I’m coming.

She is at once as hard and as soft as they come.

 

Hard: Driving through Soweto, she spots a group of young men. They make money fighting dogs and selling drugs, and after Bailey made problems for them, they threatened to burn her house down, which, here, is well within the realm of plausibility. But Bailey doesn’t turn her car around or hurry by. She slows down, pulls up next to them, rolls down her window, leans out and stares. 

 

Soft: Inside a rundown hut, Bailey cradles a woman named Petronela who has AIDS and is gravely sick. Petronela cries about her philandering husband, the pain of dying, and her worry for her children. Bailey listens, and then helps get her into hospice care. 

Photo: Cora Bailey with a semi-paralyzed puppy.

Bailey has been shot at and held up.

When a girl is raped, Bailey is often summoned instead of the authorities. Women with nowhere else to go have shown up at her veterinary clinic to give birth. She has been asked to adopt people’s children, which she has. She has taken on too many fosters over the years to count, both animal and human.

Among them is Moses, who is older now but still close with Bailey. He lives at a place known as The Dumping, a massive municipal garbage dump in Randfontein. Here, the poorest of the poor scavenge for scraps and criminals evading capture hide from the police, who are generally too afraid to come here because of the violence. But Bailey is loved at The Dumping and visits often. She arrives with food and veterinary care and leaves with broken people and animals who she and CLAW will try to piece back together.

 

Bailey finds Moses, who spent years coming and going from her house when he was younger. They chat as they walk The Dumping together. They find a runt piglet struggling desperately to keep up with her litter. Bailey scoops her up. Filthy and tiny, it’s clear she’s severely malnourished –– without the right nutrition soon, she may not survive. Next, they find a bone-thin dog so sick and pained that Moses has to carry him to Bailey’s car. With the piglet asleep in the front and the dog vomiting in the back, Bailey drives to CLAW’s clinic. 

Photo: Moses helping round up dogs for vaccinations and vet checks at the CLAW mobile vet clinic at the Randfontein municipal dump.

Located in Durban Deep, an abandoned mining town now plagued by crime, the clinic lacks running water and grid electricity. Sometimes there is power from solar panels, but they’re stolen often enough that Bailey is accustomed to getting by in the dark. She has no formal veterinary training but has saved many lives all on her own. In seconds she knows whether it’s parvo or poison or a tick-borne disease. She lifts the scruff of a neck and can tell the dehydration is severe. She sees ghost-white gums and knows she has to move quickly. 
After the vomiting dog is carried inside, Bailey starts his IV while she soothes him. Next, she goes in search of the appropriate milk for the piglet. She finds a farmer who is happy to give her some, and while the piglet gulps it down, Bailey advises the farmer on how to care for an infected spider bite she noticed on his hand. 

Bailey stays up all night with the piglet, who survives, is named Whammy and ends up at a sanctuary. The dog recovers too. 

 

Things don’t always turn out so well, of course: The animals whose wounds went neglected for too long. The dogs who’ve been too thoroughly destroyed, inside and out, by fighting. When euthanasia is the best choice, Bailey does what is needed, wipes away tears and gets on with whatever is next. Because what bothers her more than the animal in front of her, now at peace, is the one still out there who she might not find. 

“There are thousands of places we can’t reach,” she says. “The hardest part is when you stop and think about how much there is to do.”

For much of what she has done, Bailey credits CLAW’s team. In addition to a shelter, adoptions, and its physical clinic, CLAW offers mobile vet clinics in the townships, where long lines of people wait to have their cats, dogs and more vaccinated and examined. For humans, CLAW distributes food, runs community gardens, assists child-headed households, teaches people how to care for the sick and dying, organizes communities to advocate for things such as water and rape victims’ rights, and hosts community events and a children’s program in Durban Deep. CLAW also serves as a drop-in center for kids, where they sing, read, and soak up attention from Bailey as she imparts the importance of sterilization for their pets and compassion for all. For much of its existence, CLAW received international funding, but today it scrapes by on small donations. 

Photo: Cora Bailey and Anna, a friend and community worker, in some of the community gardens in Soweto. CLAW staff and volunteer teach community gardening to Soweto inhabitants.

Over the years, Bailey says, she has seen progress. In the beginning, she had to beg people to let her treat their animals. Now, people wait hours in the sun for care or walk kilometres with sick pets in wheelbarrows or in their arms. She says the flipside of all the suffering and brutality she encounters is the enormous love that even the poorest South Africans often display for their animals. She believes that anyone can be a good pet owner with a little support, and that everyone deserves the chance to be. 
“I saw it, and once I did, I couldn’t turn away.”
Still, she continues to find herself in communities that have never had access to humane education or vet care. She continues to come across people who see sterilizing a dog as crazy. Then I won’t have a pet next year when this one dies, she still hears.

She says the problem is the overwhelming divide between haves and have-nots in South Africa. The haves must do more, she says.

“We’ve got to get out of this bubble.”

Bailey is technically retired now, having stepped away from the operational side of the organization she founded. All who know her, though, say that it’s is hard to imagine her ever stopping her work in the townships. They worry about her.

They also take inspiration from her. Bailey has influenced activists all over South Africa and beyond.

 

They also take inspiration from her. Bailey has influenced activists all over South Africa and beyond.

“Cora infuses everyone she meets with her passion to make the world a better place for all,” says Kathy Raffray, from the organization Ban Animal Trading.

“She’s a radiant beacon of hope in a very lost world.”

Photo: A sick piglet living at the Randfontein municipal dump in Soweto.

Bailey acknowledges the effects of it all.

“I can’t lie. Anxiety. Insomnia. I’m not always very together. It’s hard to switch off and find peace.”

Why does she do it?

“It was an accident,” she says. 

“I saw it, and once I did, I couldn’t turn away.”

 

Learn more and support Community Led Animal Welfare.
Photos and interview by Jo-Anne McArthur. Story by Corinne Benedict. 

Anne Fawcett

Anne Fawcett

“Animal welfare science has provided us with enough evidence to justify behavioural change.”

 

Anne Fawcett. All photographs by Jo-Anne McArthur.

Anne Fawcett is a veterinarian, a lecturer in veterinary ethics and professional practice, the author of a book on veterinary ethics, and a columnist on issues relating to companion and other animals. To put it simply: her life revolves around animals.

 

Despite her obvious passion for animals and their care, Fawcett didn’t initially think of becoming a vet; she first studied philosophy and ethics. But when it came time to graduate, she found that there weren’t many paid jobs available for an ethicist. Rethinking her future, she asked herself that question repeated by careers counsellors everywhere: “What do I really love?” Her answer was spending time with animals, and she decided to maximise that. She went on to study veterinary science and began working in small animal practice.

I was one of those kids who would always proclaim ‘I love animals!’ yet my behaviour wasn’t aligned with this.

For Fawcett, working with animals inspired a shift in how she sees them. “I was one of those kids who would always proclaim ‘I love animals!’ yet my behaviour wasn’t aligned with this. For example, I would sweep up and vigorously embrace our family cat, even though she clearly hated this and always struggled out of my arms,” she remembers. “I loved going to the zoo, but for many years failed to reflect on the fact that while the captive state of the animal allowed me to have an up-close, photogenic experience, that animal continued to live in that enclosure 24/7, 365 days per year, sometimes for decades.”

While many of us consider ourselves to be animal lovers, she believes the challenge is to align our behaviours with those values, and to give thought to how even our most well-intentioned actions impact on others. For Fawcett, truly caring for animals requires observing and understanding their behaviours and acting with consideration for their wants and needs.This is a lesson that speaks to the core of her work, one that informs her teaching and advocacy, and one that is fundamental to her worldview. “I expected animals to fit into my world without realising just how little choice or control they have.” The focus, she believes, should not be what we think and feel, but what we do for animals.

Fawcett uses her position as a companion animal vet to advocate for more conscientious care for animals. In consultations, her human clients often reveal the same disconnect that she experienced between positive intentions and negative outcomes for animals. Cats and dogs come into the clinic with obesity-related illnesses from overfeeding, or behavioural problems due to poor socialisation – the effects of loving an animal without understanding its needs.

One of the reasons we don’t change our behaviour in the light of evidence is the overwhelming force of habit. It’s a constant, daily battle.

She also advocates for continual learning and reviewing of established practices within veterinary science and animal science more broadly. One of the major achievements of animal science in recent years is the boom in evidence to support animal sentience (the ability of non-human animals to feel pain and pleasure, and to experience emotions in the same way that we do). As she became aware of this body of evidence, Fawcett decided to stop consuming animal products. “I felt that continuing to eat animal products was a conflict of interest,” she explains. “Surely the type of use we put animals to influences the type of life we will give them.”

Fawcett feels it is the responsibility of a good scientist to respond to scientific evidence by changing their behaviour and practice. She says, “Animal welfare science has provided us with enough evidence to justify behavioural change. One of the reasons we don’t change our behaviour in the light of evidence is the overwhelming force of habit. It’s a constant, daily battle.”

But Fawcett is seeing positive change. She sees veterinarians paying closer attention to their patients’ welfare, focussing on alleviating fear, pain, and discomfort, and investing in study to refine their practice to improve patient wellbeing.

Through her blog, Small Animal Talk, Fawcett shares information about animal welfare, encouraging colleagues and those with companion animals to reflect on their relationships with them. She also promotes veterinary continuing education and reflective practice, speaking to veterinary students and colleagues about how they can put animal welfare first. She advocates for animals by communicating scientific developments, such as the evidence around sentience, to the mainstream media, and influences policy relating to animal welfare by sitting on various committees. It’s a job that takes commitment and perseverance.

I felt that continuing to eat animal products was a conflict of interest.

“Sometimes I feel like my to-do list is a bit of a dog’s breakfast,” she says. “But if there’s a common thread, it’s about applying knowledge, learning, educating myself and others and making conscious, thoughtful choices about the way we impact these other creatures we share the planet with. And trying to translate my own “love” for animals into behaviour that genuinely benefits them.”


Learn more about Fawcett’s work.

Text by Anna Mackiewicz. Photos by Jo-Anne McArthur.