Dr. Aline de Aluja

Dr. Aline de Aluja

“As long as I can hear and talk, I still defend animals.”

Dr. Aline de Aluja. All photographs by Jo-Anne McArthur.

Driving to meet Dr. Aline de Aluja, her two colleagues talk about her enthusiastically.  She’s definitely an extrovert, they say, direct, extremely sincere, and guided by a strong code of ethics. This is a woman, now 97 years old, who has dedicated her life to reforming animal welfare in Mexico.

When we arrive at her home –– a big house filled with her father’s antiques and fascinating finds from around the world –– two exuberant dogs greet us. One, Canela, was found by de Aluja’s grandson, abandoned. He brought her to live with de Aluja, who took her in with open arms. It’s just one of the many small acts of kindness for which she is famed.

De Aluja was one of the first women to study veterinary medicine in Mexico. She thinks she may have been the fifth female student, at a time when there was not even a female bathroom at the school. She had always wanted to become a vet, but her father wasn’t keen on the idea. “It was quite unusual at that time for a woman to become a vet. Now, there are more women than men vets!”

De Aluja’s concern for animals began at boarding school in Germany, where she attended the same school as Prince Phillip. There, she was the director of the school’s ‘zoo,’ which was home to rabbits, guinea pigs, and a goat, all of whom she loved dearly. One evening, returning to the school after a vacation, she ran to check on the animals, only to find the goat missing. She asked the kitchen staff where the animal was and was told that she would be eating the goat for dinner.

I am convinced that they are aware of everything.

The shock and sadness this caused her motivated de Aluja to become a vegetarian on the spot, a commitment that she has maintained for eighty years. In Europe, even in the 1930s, de Aluja says it wasn’t particularly unusual to turn down meat. However, when she moved to Mexico with her family at age 18, it was a different story. Like many others living in Spain during Franco’s military dictatorship, her father fled to Mexico.

Moving wasn’t easy. When she began studying at university, she encountered the retorts of her fellow veterinary students. “It seemed to them rather eccentric that I didn’t eat meat. They thought that it was absolutely necessary to eat meat; many people do.”

“In Mexico, people are not animal-minded,” she explains. It was different to the culture in Europe, where she observed that people were very attached to their animals. The prevalence of Catholicism in Mexico has something to do with it, she says. “The attitude is, animals have no soul and so they don’t feel, and they are not aware of things. And that is very difficult because I am convincedthat they are aware of everything.”

I don’t care whether they laugh, because I know that I’m right.

Most of her cohort went into small animal practice. Not one to go with the grain, de Aluja began practicing with farmed and working animals. This was challenging, as farmers and labourers typically couldn’t afford to pay for veterinary care.

For many years she taught and spoke at universities, where she was laughed at for her focus on animal welfare. Still, she persisted. “I don’t care whether they think that I’m a little ridiculous,” de Aluja declares. “I don’t care whether they laugh, because I know that I’m right.” These days they don’t laugh, and concern for animal welfare is increasing.

Her favorite part of her job is working with the poor, teaching communities to take care of their animals. She inspires change by showing people that it’s profitable for them to treat their animals well, keeping them healthy and productive. “It is not easy, but I think it is very necessary,” she says.

As long as I can hear and talk, I still defend animals.

De Aluja founded the Donkey Project, in collaboration with the UK’s Donkey Sanctuary, sending teams of veterinarians into the Mexican countryside to provide much-needed medical attention to donkeys, who are used in gruelling labour and receive little food or care for their hooves.

Has she achieved change in animal welfare in the country? “I don’t think so,” she says modestly. Her colleagues disagree. Thanks to de Aluja there is now an ethology department at the university, giving academics and practitioners training in animal welfare. She has been influential in the faculty, which is using the Donkey Project as a model for further outreach work in rural Mexico. Many people look up to her as a leader in Mexican animal welfare. “Do you think I have achieved that?” she asks, surprised. “Well that would be very nice!”

De Aluja hasn’t stopped working for animals since graduating almost 70 years ago, and she has no plans to retire. “If you are convinced of something, even if you retire, I would still go on doing the same sort of work. As long as I can hear and talk, I still defend animals.”

Photos by Jo-Anne McArthur. Interview and text by Anna Mackiewicz.


Dulce Ramírez

Dulce Ramírez

“I deeply admire women who have done investigations”


Dulce Ramírez. All photos by Jo-Anne McArthur.

The first time that I meet Dulce Ramírez, I compliment her on her name – Dulce means ‘sweet’ in Spanish. “I am the opposite,” she says resolutely.

Those who know her agree. A colleague described her as “Persistent and tenaciously persuasive.” She’s also undeniably brave and focused. All valuable qualities when you are leading an animal rights organization in Mexico, a country where culture and national identity are so firmly rooted in food. In Mexico, food is about family, history and culture – and it is dominated by meat and cheese.

For Ramírez, it all started 13 years ago when she found a kitten on the patio behind her house. By caring for this kitten, “I began to understand the emotional world of animals, their needs, and their intelligence,” she explains. “I began to search for information and question more and more the relationship of subjugation we impose on other animals.” The more she learnt, the more it became clear to her that she wanted to advocate for animals.

Fast forward to June 2011, when the Spanish government arrested 12 animal rights activists linked to Igualdad Animal (Animal Equality) in Spain, labeling them ‘eco-terrorists’. Hearing this news, Ramírez contacted the founder and president of Igualdad Animal, Sharon Núñez, to express solidarity with the activists. The following year, the Mexico chapter of Igualdad Animal was founded, with Ramírez at the helm.

“The first thing we did was to show how Mexican industrial farming works.”

In the six years since, Igualdad Animal Mexico has achieved big things. Their first campaign brought animal groups in the state of Jalisco together to successfully end the use of animals in circuses. The organization has developed educational programs, petitioned for legislative changes, and conducted corporate outreach, encouraging companies to adopt policies that benefit animals, such as offering more plant-based options.

For the last two years, the organization has focused on improving the lives of farmed animals. As is the case in most countries, Mexico has virtually no legal protections for farmed animals. But while in some other regions the conversation about farm animal welfare is already well-established in the public discourse, that isn’t the case in Mexico. Given the victories coming for farm animals worldwide and the number of farmed raised and killed in Mexico each year, Ramírez believes this makes Mexico a prime target for bold campaigns and big changes. “For that reason, the first thing we did was to show how Mexican industrial farming works.”

At the foundation of this is investigative work, which Ramírez says is without doubt the most powerful ingredient for creating change. It is these investigations that, by documenting the lives of animals in factory farms, bring focus and strategy to the animal rights movement, she says. Without this footage, animal groups would struggle to develop hard-hitting public campaigns and educational resources telling the true stories of animals in animal use industries.

“I deeply admire women who have done investigations.” 

Ramírez is one of only a few female investigators in the country. The work carries huge risks to personal safety, as well as the emotional toll of witnessing the intense suffering of animals.

“The challenge is always when, at the end of the day, you arrive home and the images come back into your head, you have the smell impregnated on your clothes and body, and it all takes you back.”

What inspires her to do this difficult work? “I deeply admire women who have done investigations, who take pictures of the most terrible situations and who transform it into struggle and activism to change the lives of the animals,” she says.

Igualdad Animal Mexico isn’t done setting precedents for the country. New investigations are planned and the group’s corporate campaigns continue. Their current legislative push — ending the use of cages for laying hens — is in full swing. They also plan to launch LoveVeg, a public education platform focused on changing consumer habits, in Mexico.

Leading the way, and with so many hearts and minds to change, Ramírez knows she is exactly where she needs to be.

Learn more and support Animal Equality.
Photographs by Jo-Anne McArthur. Interview and text by Anna Mackiewicz.

Erin Ireland

Erin Ireland

“I dream of peace on Earth, which won’t be achieved until our world is vegan.”

Erin Ireland. Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur.

In 2011, Erin Ireland founded her bakery wholesaler, To Die For Fine Foods, almost by accident. She began baking chocolate macadamia nut banana bread as gifts for friends, who raved about the “to die for” loaves. Through social media, Ireland’s banana bread developed its own profile—getting attention from a Michelin star chef, a TV Bachelorette, the Vancouver Canucks, Dragon’s Den, and countless other local reporters. Soon, the banana bread was available in many coffee shops and restaurants, and Ireland had a small team of bakers and a driver to keep up with demand.  

There was only one problem. To Die For’s banana bread wasn’t vegan—and Ireland, after watching Forks Over Knives and then Earthlings, and making the connection between the animals on her plate and her beloved dog, Effie, was becoming a passionate vegan advocate herself. Ireland worked with a local chef to come up with a scaleable solution to replace the eggs so that nobody could tell the difference: psyllium husk and agar agar. With renewed passion for the business, Ireland now supplies retailers all over Vancouver and beyond with not only banana bread, but lemon loaf, power balls, breakfast cookies, and, in the autumn, pumpkin loaf. Vancouver vegans don’t need to go out of their way to find to die for baked goods because they’re in just about every neighbourhood, and non-vegans are discovering in droves that modern vegan food is every bit as delicious as its traditional counterparts.

Every day, I wake up and think about the countless sentient animals who are being used by humans unnecessarily, against their will. My heart bleeds for these incredible creatures who are intelligent and intuitive in ways we can’t possibly understand.

With a background in broadcast journalism, Ireland also innovates as a food reporter. Ireland is familiar to many Vancouverites from her years food reporting for local media. But in a changing era of television stations and newspapers downsizing and increasingly turning to online avenues to stay afloat, Ireland has stayed ahead of the game by reinventing what it means to cover food issues. Through her website and wildly popular social media channels, Ireland reports on the best vegan restaurants, cookbooks, and companies she can find. She also shares real life tips for vegan cooking at home through her intimate Instagram stories, which feel like an encouraging friend walking you through the meal-making process. In turn, she’s offered partnership opportunities from companies whose vision aligns with her own to share sponsored content. In 2017, she was selected as one of Canon’s “One2Watch” photographers, showcasing talented photographers from across the country.

That’s not all. Ireland also organizes regular community events to inspire people to live better: Mindful Book Club, which reads books about animal rights, sustainability, consumerism, and ethics; Mindful Movie Night, screening documentaries while fundraising for various causes; and the Heartbeets Run Club, showing that athletes can be fitter and faster fuelled by plants (Ireland was a NCAA Division 1 volleyball player in college). In 2015, she delivered a masterful TEDx talk highlighting a meat bias in our food media. And in between all this, Ireland is raising her growing young family. She has many other projects percolating and we can’t wait to see what’s next from her!

Learn more about Ireland’s work and follow her on Instagram.
Photos by Jo-Anne McArthur. Interview and text by Anna Pippus.

Pei-Feng Su

Pei-Feng Su

“When you untie the knots, you have to do it bit by bit.”

Pei-Feng Su. All photographs by Jo-Anne McArthur (except where indicated).

P ei-Feng Su gets a call from a donor who presents her with an opportunity: the donor wants to fund her organization to rescue a truck full of dogs bound for slaughter. She says no.

“It’s a choice. We live with the choice.”

Su is the Executive Director and co-founder of ACT Asia, an organization dedicated to humane education in Asia. Since it was founded, the organization has taught more than 65,000 students and trained over 1000 teachers. They’re a small group with limited funding, but they punch above their weight, in part because of their laser focus. Donors want to fund rescuing dogs from meat trucks, and it’s gratifying work in the short term, but finding funding for what comes next – sheltering and caring for the animals – would quickly take up all of ACT Asia’s time and resources.

Because her group’s focus is in education, people say to her, “Oh you just chose the easy job. You don’t have the courage to fight.” She used to agree with them.

Humane education is groundbreaking. It should be taught like English, like math.

But if anything, focusing on education is the bravest choice that Su has ever made. Turning away from relieving the suffering of animals right in front of her for the sake of preventing the suffering of a greater number of animals in the future takes a huge amount of courage.

“We’re just firefighting,” she says of many of the campaigns that exist today. She acknowledges the importance of the animal movement’s current campaigns – for stronger legislation, corporate shifts, and moving people to plant-based diets – but, she argues, we need a holistic approach, and educating young people has been woefully neglected by the animal movement.

“Humane education is groundbreaking,” Su says. “It should be taught like English, like math.”

Su wasn’t drawn into the animal movement by any particular feeling of love towards other species, but because she recognized it as a social justice issue like any other. Before working on behalf of animals, she was an advocate for victims of domestic violence and women seeking access to abortion.

In 1992, when Su first started fighting for animals, she would go to meetings in parliament and speak to the media. But, with no PhD, no science degree, and no background in the issues, she quickly felt intimidated, especially as a woman.

In compassionate work, there are always lots of women, but even when I was working in the west, the men earned more.

So, she left the country to learn practical skills, interning with several animal rights organizations in the US.

“I wanted to learn how they survived,” Su says of women in the movement. “And I was empowered.

“In compassionate work, there are always lots of women,” but they don’t always receive respect, she goes on. “Even when I was working in the west, the men earned more.” Su almost took an organization to court because she knew that a man hired after her, and with the same experience, was being paid more.

On gender equality, she says looking back on her 25 years of experience, “It’s better, but it’s not there yet.”

When you untie the knots, you have to do it bit by bit.

Ten years ago, Su conceived the idea for an education-focused organization and, unknowingly, became pregnant at the same time. “I always say I have two kids,” she laughs. Twins, born and raised together.

Su credits her daughter with making her the activist she is today. “I think if I didn’t have my daughter I would have already left the movement. I really think she saved me.”

She works hard to prove that she can be a good mother and a good activist and, with the support of her husband, she’s taken motherhood in stride. “I sent my last email to everyone when I was on the way to the hospital.”

Her daughter has taught her the importance of a normal, balanced life, Su says. “When I became an activist, for the first five years, I had no friends, because I could not bear to go out with them. I think everybody goes through it.”

And now, “I feel like I’m a balanced person,” she says. “My daughter’s life taught me it’s important to have friends. It’s important to have normal friends!” She bursts into laughter at this, but there’s truth in her words.

Raising a child has also reinforced her conviction in what she does. “She’s my best teacher,” Su says of her daughter, Risa. “She really helped me to understand and to see the world as kids do. That’s why I’m so passionate about education,” she says, reflecting on the power of teaching a young child. “They are what you make them.”

Su is playing the long game. “When you untie the knots, you have to do it bit by bit.” When she first started, Su thought ACT Asia might end up teaching humane education in a few schools. Today, they have six years’ worth of curriculum being taught in 130 schools, with more being rolled out all the time.

“We’re not going to break that circle if they grow up seeing abuse. We have more kids in schools now saying, ‘I don’t want to see the circus, mom, because I think that’s wrong.’”

ACT Asia’s work has made them one of the most impactful groups in Asia and a global force in humane education, with several offices now open around the world. Su hasn’t chosen an easy route, but she’s already had a lasting impact for animals.

Learn more and support ACT Asia.
Photos by Jo-Anne McArthur. Interview and text by Sayara Thurston.

Lynn Simpson

Lynn Simpson

“It’s simply a cruel, shameful chapter of our country that belongs in the dark ages.” 


All images of Lynn Simpson were taken by Jo-Anne McArthur at the University of Sydney’s veterinary school.

D r. Lynn Simpson is tough. For ten years she worked in a challenging, almost lawless, male-dominated industry, as a senior veterinarian aboard Australian live export ships.

Each ship carries up to 20,000 cows or 100,000 sheep for weeks at a time over vast seas, only to be slaughtered once they reach their destinations.

It is an industry that has frequently been in the media spotlight for shocking animal cruelty – in recent weeks to the point of public cries for the entire industry to be ended for good. Simpson is one of very few women to have seen the harsh realities of this trade first hand.

Simpson decided to become a veterinarian at the age of six, when she first discovered that being an animal doctor was a profession. In her third year of vet school she got a job on the wharf in Fremantle loading livestock onto ships. Simpson remembers seeing dead and injured animals being dragged off the trucks that had come from the farms. It was here that she first realised something was wrong, that these animals were suffering.

It was clear to all that what we were involved with was wrong, however, at least we were bearing witness and taking complaints back to shore to push for reform.

Within three weeks of graduating, she took her first live export voyage on a ship bound for Saudi Arabia. Over the next ten years she would work on 57 voyages. It was an exciting career full of adventure, which saw her sailing through environmental disasters, war zones, and pirated waters.

Because of the sheer number of animals she looked after, and the severity of their suffering, her work seemed larger than life. It was also chaotic, filthy, and brutal. On board, the overcrowded animals suffered heat stress, suffocation, starvation, and thirst, so tightly packed they were often unable to easily reach water as they were shipped into the heart of Middle Eastern summer. Lying down meant they were likely to be trampled by the other desperate animals beside them. Mother cows and sheep suffered miscarriages or stillbirths; still more had their babies crushed to death under the sea of hooves. Simpson describes the animals on one voyage as actually having melted, “cooking from the inside.” She spent her days seeing to their injuries, doing what she could to relieve their suffering, and euthanizing those she could not help.

What kept her going on those harsh journeys? “Black humour,” she says, “and wine.” Knowing she was providing a meaningful service to the animals by trying to reduce their suffering also gave her a sense of purpose. “It was clear to all that what we were involved with was wrong, however, at least we were bearing witness and taking complaints back to shore to push for reform.”

Over the years Simpson made countless reports to the Government detailing the bloody reality of life aboard the ships, but her concerns for the welfare of the animals went ignored. Only the number of deaths was recorded.

Like many ‘whistle-blowers’ I was simply doing my job, reporting to authorities and working to improve welfare.

Then, Simpson was offered the opportunity to make a lasting difference to the welfare of animals in the live export industry. In 2012 she was offered a job as a technical advisor with the Department of Agriculture, the live-export industry regulator, while it carried out a review of the Australian Standards for Exporting Livestock.

The report she submitted exposed the cruelty and suffering at the heart of the live export trade. Her evidence, including graphic photographs, was an unprecedented body of work documenting the horrors routinely occurring on board. Simpson felt she was making a powerful case for reform of the industry – she was finally being heard.

When the evidence was accidentally leaked to the public in 2013, it was explosive, blowing apart claims by the industry that animal welfare was a top priority. It also ended Simpson’s career. She was gradually dismissed from her position under pressure from live exporters, revealing undue influence of industry within government. She was ostracized by her colleagues and blacklisted by the industry. “It was a very lonely and frustrating time,” she says. “Like many ‘whistle-blowers’ I was simply doing my job, reporting to authorities and working to improve welfare.”

Since her dismissal, Simpson has been unable to work in the industry to which she gave ten years of her life. But there was a silver lining: “I could then strategize to speak up loudly and raise awareness, knowing I had nothing to lose.”

Simpson’s vast experience within the industry has given her advocacy a credibility that other whistle-blowers don’t have. Where many have been discredited as ill-informed, Simpson has years’ worth of hard evidence behind her. Her voice holds weight.

Simpson has left a powerful legacy in the fight to end live export, both from within the industry and from the outside. In the years since her explosive dismissal, her story has paved the way for more whistleblowers to come forward, keeping the issue in the public eye.

“It’s simply a cruel, shameful chapter of our country that belongs in the dark ages.” she says with absolute conviction.

To follow the story about live transport in Australia, visit Animals Australia.
Photos by Jo-Anne McArthur. Interview and text by Anna Mackiewicz.