Sandra Higgins

Sandra Higgins

“Culture or tradition or taste or habit – they don’t justify our belief that we can use them as we wish because they are not one of us.”

 

Sandra Higgins With Mr. Darcy. Photo by Agatha Kisiel Photography.

Sandra Higgins has an easy laugh and a bubbly nature, but talk to her for a few minutes and you’ll quickly realize that she is dedicated, whip smart, and not a woman to underestimate.

Higgins runs Eden Farmed Animal Sanctuary in Ireland, where she manages the day to day operations down to the last detail. Managing a sanctuary is itself no small feat, but Higgins doesn’t stop there –– she’s also running one of the world’s biggest vegan campaigns.

Photo courtesy of Go Vegan World.

Go Vegan Ireland launched in 2015 and Go Vegan World the year after. Both have been more successful than anyone could have predicted. Anyone, that is, except perhaps Higgins herself, whose quiet determination is apparent when she talks about the campaigns.

“They’re designed to confront us with our own values,” she says of the campaign’s ads, an approach she calls “empathic confrontation.” Many of the Go Vegan billboards feature the residents of Eden. They are combined with messages that, while shocking, are simple, direct, and indisputable: “Dairy Takes Babies from their Mothers,” for example, is one of the recurring messages.

The campaign presents people with the consequences of their choices. Go Vegan World isn’t an anti-farming campaign – Higgins is targeting consumers of animal products to encourage individual members of the public to be personally responsible for the impacts their non-vegan choices have on other animals. “It is irrational to blame farmers, slaughterhouse workers, or other employees of the industry,” Higgins explains. “We’re paying them to do a job we ourselves would feel too uncomfortable to do.” One of the activities of Go Vegan World is supporting farmers to transition to plant agriculture as a more ethical, sustainable, and secure way of living that benefits humans as well as other animals.

Linda and Cormac. Photo by Agatha Kisiel Photography.

We had the opportunity to visit Eden Farmed Animal Sanctuary, and as we walk around the sanctuary, Higgins talked about the campaign and her work caring for Eden’s residents. Following her through the fields and enclosures, it’s clear that she is used to working every minute of the day, but as we pass each pen or coop, she still stops to greet each animal by name and offer some insight into their personality or the story of how they came to be there. We meet Dominic, Angela, Timothy, Aoibheann, and David. George, a pig, clearly holds a special place in Higgins’ heart. “If you saw the delicate way that he eats a raspberry,” she says, not to gush, but rather to emphasize his unique personality and gentle nature. Higgins’ every thought is about how to create – as the name of her campaign indicates – a vegan world for the animals.

Everybody has the common goal of wanting to avoid pain, wanting to stay alive, and wanting peace and some happiness. Every single creature on the face of the earth wants that.

She has a profound respect for animals because of everything we already know about their intelligence and social structures –– but perhaps more importantly, she respects them because of all that we still don’t know about their sentience, behaviours, their motivations, their desires. “I think there’s so much for us to learn about them and from them,” she stresses.

Higgins opened the sanctuary in 2008 and built it up slowly over the course of several years. “I’ve worked hard to get to this day when I could take in bigger animals,” like cows Cormac and Linda, she explains. She believes profoundly in the power of narratives. Talking about the individual chickens and geese and pigs in her care is a totally different angle than talking about the abuses of the industry, she says, and Eden’s literature is filled with stunning portraits and moving stories about the animals in her care.

The vegan guide, part of the Go Vegan World campaign, is a comprehensive, well-designed resource that covers everything from why to go vegan to how to get enough calcium to planning a week’s worth of meals. “I just give people what I wish I’d had when I went vegan,” Higgins says. It’s been a huge success, with requests for copies coming in from all over the world and thousands of downloads every month.

I keep thinking, for every person who writes, maybe there’s a person out there who went vegan and didn’t write.

Photo courtesy of Go Vegan World.

The campaign as a whole features billboards and transit ads in some of the most visible places in the UK –– entire walls of tube stations, the sides of hundreds of London buses, and an international rugby match (the first vegan campaign to do so). The impact has been profound. Higgins says that prior to the campaign, there was very little visibility for animal rights in Ireland and that it’s succeeding in opening people’s eyes. She receives constant letters and emails from people saying that the campaign inspired them to research the issues or to go vegan. “And I keep thinking, for every person who writes, maybe there’s a person out there who went vegan and didn’t write.”

In a cab one day, the driver asked her “Did you put up the chick ad?” Referring to a billboard that exposes the fate of male chicks in the egg industry (death by asphyxiation or maceration on the day they hatch). “I’m horrified,” he said. “I never knew that.”

And it isn’t only non-vegans who are changing because of the campaign. Seeing the messages on such a large scale has revitalized so many activists, Higgins says. Little wonder, given one of its recent victories –– a win that came, almost unbelievably, thanks to the dairy industry, which inadvertently handed the campaign one of the most significant victories for animals in the UK in years. After the campaign launched, seven complaints – filed directly by the dairy industry – were made to the UK Advertising Standards Agency (ASA), claiming that it portrayed the industry in a misleading light. The ASA reviewed the advertisements, as well as evidence provided by Go Vegan World. It did not go well for the industry. In its ruling, the ASA ruled that: “although the language used to express the claims was emotional and hard-hitting, we understood it was the case that calves were generally separated from their mothers very soon after birth, and we therefore concluded that the ad was unlikely to materially mislead readers.” In effect, the ruling sets a precedent for animal rights campaigners around the world to publicly denounce the dairy industry as inhumane. It’s a game-changing victory that received well-earned worldwide attention.

Photo courtesy of Go Vegan World.

In reality though, it’s unsurprising that the ads stood up to scrutiny: Higgins designed them that way. They’re not graphic and the messages are facts that are easy to understand. “A lot of people say that the ads are manipulative, but they are stating facts, that’s all. But they’re tugging at people’s empathy. They nag at the moral conviction most of us share: that it is wrong to use, harm or kill another feeling being, especially when we do so to meet our most trivial of needs.”

Culture or tradition or taste or habit – they don’t justify our belief that we can use them as we wish because they are not one of us.

And this is truly the core of her approach. “What I do is leave them no excuses,” she says, describing her method of asking people to relate agricultural and other animal exploitation practices back to their own values. “Terrible things are socio-culturally sanctioned… It was also the culture to beat your wife with a stick no bigger than your thumb. It was illegal to be gay.” Higgins acknowledges that the Go Vegan World campaign doesn’t make people go vegan, but says that it’s goal is to plant seeds for changes about how animal use is thought of in the public discourse. She believes that social change is not only possible, but that it’s coming –– because it’s logical. “Culture or tradition or taste or habit – they don’t justify our belief that we can use them as we wish because they are not one of us.” As we’re leaving the fields to go inside, Higgins interrupts herself to point, “There’s a nest in that house, you can see the birds.” And that’s who she is: advocating for justice on the grandest scale of any campaign to date, but still focused on each animal, treating every individual life with equal worth. “Everybody has the common goal of wanting to avoid pain, wanting to stay alive and wanting peace and some happiness,” she says. “Every single creature on the face of the earth wants that.”


Interview by Keri Cronin. Text by Sayara Thurston.

Louise (“Lizzy”) Lind af Hageby

Louise (“Lizzy”) Lind af Hageby

“Is it nothing to you all ye that pass by?”

 

International_Anti-Vivisection_Congress,_1913

Lind af Hageby, centre front. The other women in this photograph are: Mrs. Clinton Pichney Farrell, Mrs. L.B. Henderson, Mrs. Florence Pell Waring, Mrs. Caroline E. White, and Mrs. R.G. Ingersol.

I n July 1909 police in London informed the organizers of an anti-vivisection protest that they could not use two of the banners that had been made for the event. In both cases the images on the banners showed a dog being subjected to experimentation. The organizers made sure to point out that these images had been taken directly from publications which promoted animal experimentation. In other words, the organizers of the protest felt that it was important to underscore the fact that these images were not fabricated representations but, rather, were adapted directly from vivisection material. There was “no exaggeration” in these images stressed Louise (“Lizzy”) Lind af Hageby, the organizer of the International Anti-Vivisection and Animal Protection Congress, a multi-day event which included this high-profile public demonstration through the streets of London on Saturday, July 10, 1909.[1]

The police were concerned that the images on these banners could potentially stir up trouble by provoking a “turbulent element” and potentially “lead to riotous proceedings.”[2] Of particular concern was a silk banner that included an image taken from a scientific journal showing a dog who had been subject to experimentation. This image was accompanied by the words “Is it nothing to you all ye that pass by?”

This image was reproduced on one of the prohibited banners for the July 1909 procession.

A lively debate about these banners took place in the “Letters to the Editor” columns of the London papers. Dr. Stephen Paget of the Research Defence Society, a pro-vivisection organization, described the use of these images in this way as a “striking exhibition of insult and hatred”[3] on the part of the activists, and argued that anti-vivisection societies must be losing their support amongst the general public if they were attempting to use shock tactics to draw attention to their cause. Lind af Hageby refuted this, noting that these images were not the “invention of anti-vivisectionists.”[4]

In the end, the police’s decision to prohibit these banners was upheld. However, as a protest to this ruling, one of the forbidden banners was draped with another piece of cloth to hide the offending image, and the resulting blank banner was carried defiantly at the end of the procession.

I find this to be such a fascinating example of the role of visual culture in the animal advocacy movement from this time period! Images can, of course, draw attention to important issues, but imagine the power that this blank banner had in this context. The absence of imagery here was likely as powerful as any pictorial banner in the procession – perhaps even more so. As one eye-witness pointed out, if an image is deemed to “be of such revolting character that it cannot be carried through the streets,” then isn’t this a powerful argument against the action being depicted?[5] As I often remind my students, when it comes to visual culture it is important to remember that what is excluded is often as significant as what is included. In this case, the blank banner was a bold statement against both vivisection and censorship, and certainly a clever use of visual culture by Lind af Hageby and her colleagues.


*I discuss this event as well as the use of visual culture in other animal advocacy campaigns from this time period in my new book, Art for Animals.

NOTES
[1] “The Anti-Vivisection Procession” The Times (July 8, 1909), 3.
[2] “Prohibited Banners” The Standard (July 3, 1909), 8.
[3] “Anti-Vivisection Processions” The Times (July 9, 1909), 4.
[4] “The Anti-Vivisection Procession” The Times (July 8, 1909), 3.
[5] “The Anti-Vivisection Agitation” Saturday Review of Politics, Art, Literature, Science and Art (July 17, 1909), 83.

Ruth Harrison

Ruth Harrison

“Most people… tend to be ignorant of the processes by which food reaches their table, or if not ignorant they find it more comfortable to forget.”

 

M any activists can point to a single moment that changed their lives—a photograph, a movie, a conversation, or a chance encounter that forced them to think differently about the world around them. For British activist Ruth Harrison (1920-2000), that moment took place in 1961 when she was handed a pamphlet outlining how animals were treated in Britain’s factory farming system. Like many people, Harrison hadn’t thought much about modern, industrial farming methods prior to receiving this campaign literature from an activist who had been leafletting with an organization known as “Crusade Against All Cruelty to Animals.”

Harrison was deeply shocked by what she saw in this leaflet and this compelled her to take action. As a recent biographer noted, “despite being a vegetarian, she reasoned that, although she did not eat them, she still had a responsibility towards animals.”[1] Harrison began to research the claims made in the pamphlet to find out the truth about factory farming for herself. What she discovered was worse than she could have imagined; reading about things like veal crates and battery cages filled her with horror and dismay. She described factory farming as “production line methods applied to the rearing of animals, of animals living out their lives in darkness and immobility without a sight of the sun, of a generation of men who see in the animal they rear only its conversion factor into human food.”[2] Harrison felt driven to share her findings with a broader audience, reasoning that if she had not known about the reality of industrial farming then many other people likely didn’t either.

Ruth Harrison, by Brittany Brooks (illustration commissioned for The Unbound Project)

 

In 1964 Harrison published Animal Machines: The New Factory Farming System. This book was meticulously researched and included details of things that Harrison had witnessed on her fact-finding missions to various farms across Britain. She was inspired by Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking work Silent Spring, a shocking account of the health and environmental effects of pesticide use. She was so inspired by Carson’s work, in fact, that she wrote to her and asked if she would write the foreword to Animal Machines. Even though the two women didn’t know one another, Carson agreed because she understood the importance of this project.

Animal Machines also included a number of photos illustrating the ways in which animals were raised, confined, and killed on factory farms. Many were taken by Ruth’s husband, Dex. Harrison realized that part of the reason that so many people blindly accepted the treatment of farmed animals was that the marketing of meat, dairy, and eggs drew heavily on idealized images of farms as peaceful places where animals are treated well. She wrote:

“Farm produce is still associated with mental pictures of animals browsing in fields and hedgerows, of cows waiting patiently in picturesque farmyards for the milking, of hens having a last forage before going to roost or sheep being rounded up by zealous dogs, and all the family atmosphere embracing the traditional farmyard. This association of ideas is cleverly kept alive by the giants of the advertising world who realize that the public still associates quality with healthy surroundings. A picture of the close-tethered veal calf standing uncomfortably on slats in its gloomy crate, the battery hen cramped in the cage, the closely packed, inert mass of pigs on the floor of the sweat-box piggery, or the sea of broilers in their dim shed, would not, they rightly surmise, help to sell their products.”[3]

The photographs in Animal Machines, then, played a powerful role in interrupting this advertising fantasy.

The publication of Animal Machines sparked a powerful reaction. It led the British government to order an investigation into factory farming practices. Because of her ground-breaking work in this area, Harrison was invited to be part of the team undertaking this work. The results of this investigation were made public in 1965, leading to major changes in animal welfare (e.g.: the concept of the “five freedoms” for farmed animals stemmed from this initiative). The following year, the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, another government initiative, was struck and, once again, Ruth Harrison was invited to be part of this committee. The discussions and findings of these committees led to a new farm animal welfare law, The Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, which came in to effect in Britain in 1968.

Ruth Harrison remained involved with animal advocacy work for the rest of her life, taking on consulting roles with such organizations as the Animal Defence Society, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the World Society for the Protection of Animals. Her groundbreaking work is often overshadowed in the history of animal welfare/rights—as Carol J. Adams points out in the guest essay she wrote for the Unbound Project, it is important that we recognize the efforts of Harrison and of all of the women who worked so hard for animals in the early days of organized animal advocacy.


Notes
[1] Heleen van de Weerd and Victoria Sandilands, ‘Bringing the Issue of Animal Welfare to the Public: A Biography of Ruth Harrison (1920–2000)’, Applied Animal Behaviour Science 113, no. 4 (2008): 405.
[2] Ruth Harrison, Animal Machines: The New Factory Farming Industry (New York: Ballantine Books, 1964), 15.
[3] Ibid., 16.

Lina Lind Christensen

Lina Lind Christensen

Rescuing Hens From the Brink of Death

 

lina-lind-christensen-feb-2015-2696-2

Lina Lind Christensen runs Frie Vinger, a sanctuary for rescued farmed animals in Denmark. She also works with Anima, the largest animal rights organization in that country. Her rescue work is featured in “The Machine,” a powerful new short film produced for The Unbound Project by Jan Sorgenfrei.

UP: Can you tell us about your work with Anima?

LLC: I am a campaign manager with Anima. This means that I am responsible for campaigns educating people about things like egg production. I also do a lot of outreach work with companies, trying to get them to stop using eggs from battery hens.

UP: How did you get involved in this kind of work?

LLC: My interest in helping animals dates back a long time. I have always been interested in animal welfare, even when I was kid. Eventually I ordered some flyers from groups like PETA and, funnily, from Anima, where I now work. I handed out these flyers because I wanted to educate people about how animals were being treated. I became vegetarian 7 years ago after I saw online video footage from slaughterhouse with cows standing in line waiting to die. I found the video to be so powerful – we can see clearly that the cow or bull is scared and trying to get away because she/he understands what is happening up ahead. This made me think about the moral status of animals – should we be killing them at all?

My move to veganism was in “baby steps,” and I kept removing one product and then another. When my husband and I bought our current house we were so happy that it had a garden. We knew about the British Hen Welfare Trust and I asked my husband if we could take in a few hens now that we had a garden they could live in. I had always loved birds, so this seemed to make sense to me. I looked in to organizations in Denmark, to see if there was something like the British Hen Welfare Trust here. There wasn’t, so we decided to start rescuing hens directly on our own. I started calling around to farmers to ask if I could have some of the hens they didn’t want anymore. One of them laughed at me and said “why would you want some of my trash?”

I finished my Master’s degree in Philosophy in 2015 and I had been planning to go on to do a PhD in animal ethics, but I changed my mind — I decided that instead of doing academic work I wanted to focus on rescuing animals. I have a huge amount of respect for people who work in ethics, but I personally felt that for me I needed to have a lot of direct contact with the animals and I find that motivating.

UP: Can you tell us about your first rescue?

LLC: One farmer said he was getting rid of hens in a week, and that it would be ok if I went and took some of them. So, we drove to Jutland, 1 ½ hours away. It was a medium sized farm that had about 50,000 hens. When we arrived, nobody was there – I walked around exploring because I had never seen such a place before. I called the farmer once we arrived and he said he was running late, that he would be about 10 mins. While I waited for him, I looked around some more. I opened a door to a barn, and looked inside and this was a profound moment for me. I had heard about how egg production was organized, but I had never seen it with my own eyes.

I opened the door and immediately saw on the other side of the door, a hen who had fallen out of a cage. She was a little brown hen who had barely any feathers. She was obviously scared and never seen the sun before. It was a beautiful sunny day, the 1st of June – the sun was shining, but here was this little hen just inside the door who had never seen sunshine. I will never forget this moment. I called for my husband to come and see this hen, but when I turned back she was gone. I didn’t get to help her, although I looked for her. It was so dark in the barn, such a contrast from the beautiful sunny day outside. I looked and looked for this little hen, but I could not find her.

I knew that this sort of production existed in Denmark, but I guess I believed that this country was better than other places. I believe many people tell themselves that.

When the farmer arrived he told us to take the 6 hens we came for from the cages, but then before we could he went and did it himself. He brought them out hanging by their legs and roughly tossed them in the crate we had brought with us. He smiled and seemed like he wanted to laugh. He seemed to think we were idiots and said something like “good luck with them. I hope you can get some more eggs out of them.” That was our first rescue, and we have been back to that farm one time since – we managed to rescue 3 more hens the next time.

UP: How did your sanctuary get started?

LLC: After that first rescue of 6 hens we made a Facebook page for our sanctuary and that is when things really started up. At first we had only family and friends following us, maybe a few hen lovers. But as it grew we were contacted by people who wanted to adopt the hens, so we started doing more and more rescues.

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UP: What is a typical day like for you?

LLC: I get up at 6am to look after the hens – I turn on the lights so that they can eat, and then I let them out into the garden. As layer hens, they are very susceptible to diseases, so I check each one individually each morning. I also clean the hen house each day. I spend a lot of time talking to the hens, and when I used to study I would sit in the hen house with them while I read! I also do a lot of “customer service” and I deal with potential adopters. I also spend time doing social media and outreach, and then it is time to go back to the hens again! In the winter bed time for the birds comes earlier because it gets darker earlier. In summer the birds stay up later, but there is always a lot of work to do! I have a “desk job” at Anima and now that I’m spending so much time in front of a computer I realize just how much time I used to spend with the hens when I was a student and at home more!

UP: Do people recognize you in Denmark, because it is such a small country? Do you think that it is harder or easier to have a Farm Sanctuary in Denmark because of its size?

LLC: I think there is a need for farm sanctuaries in Denmark. There are a lot of people who want to visit, connect, and volunteer too! This is good for the animals AND for the humans who want to see rescue and beauty and kindness. I am able to do what I do because I have the hens –people can see them, be with them, and connect with them. This is important.

In the beginning few people recognized me and that made it easier to go to different places for rescues. We weren’t really on social media, so it was easy to do what we had to do. Now there is a lot more attention on Frie Vinger and on the work I’m doing. I know that one of the farmers I rescue hens from knows for sure what I’m doing, but I don’t think he minds. There was one time I was at his farm, packing hens into the cages. One had fallen from the machine they use to kill the spent hens, a “chick grinder” which gases and grinds them up. This hen had a broken wing and I ran to pick her up. The farmer said “it is probably best that hen goes with you,” as if he was happy that she would get a second chance. Most farmers seem desensitized, and normally they laugh at me and the work I am doing — they think I’m foolish to be spending so much money on vet bills, etc., but not this time.

lina-lind-christensen-feb-2015-2564

UP: How do you financially support Frie Vinger?

LLC: It is hard to find donors to help out in Denmark as it is not a very big population. In the beginning things were really tough — my husband and I paid for everything ourselves and we totally underestimated the cost! We did one rescue of 200 hens and it was really expensive! The cost of renting trucks and crates as well as the vet bills really adds up. We spent thousands of our own Euros on the rescue, and at that point I was still a student so we really couldn’t afford it.

Since then we have focused on doing smaller rescues, but we saw that the project had a future and we began asking for a bit more money from the people who adopt the hens from us. Now when people want to adopt they have to apply and they pay a fee. Not only does this help raise money for the rescue work, it helps to weed out people who want the hens for slaughter!

Now Anima helps a lot with fundraising and extra expenses. We have multimedia and videos that have helped to spread the word about our work and this has helped a lot, it has generated donations. In November 2015 we got our first monthly donor! We are going to start a virtual “adopt a hen” program that will also help support the work we do.

UP: What do you want so say to the world about animals?

LCC: I want more than anything for people to understand that animals are individuals. I want to give them their individuality back and, of course, I want to save them all too!

5 Lawyers

5 Lawyers

“We Do It Because We Don’t Have a Choice”: 5 Canadian Lawyers Who Are Changing the World For Animals

L-R: Camille Labchuk, Sophie Gaillard, Anna Pippus, Lesli Bisgould, Alanna Devine.

L-R: Camille Labchuk, Sophie Gaillard, Anna Pippus, Lesli Bisgould, Alanna Devine. All photopgraphs for this story by Jo-Anne McArthur / The Unbound Project

In recent weeks there has been a spotlight on Montreal. Of course, this world-class city is known internationally for its history, culture, and jazz, but lately Montreal has been getting media attention for another reason, the City’s attempt to ban pit bulls through breed specific legislation (BSL). Alanna Devine and Sophie Gaillard are lawyers who work at the Montreal SPCA, Canada’s oldest animal protection agency, and they have been at the forefront of the fight against this legislation.

The current fight over BSL in Quebec is just one of many recent cases where Canadian lawyers have used their expertise to try and make a difference for animals, and this summer we had the opportunity to bring Devine and Gaillard together with three other lawyers who have also made headlines for their commitment to standing up for animals in Canada: Camille Labchuk, Anna Pippus, and Lesli Bisgould. These five women have been highly visible and influential in the field of Canadian animal law in recent years. Bisgould, who opened Canada’s first practice in animal rights law, has now moved from practicing animal rights law to teaching it. Pippus and Labchuk have spent much of their professional lives building Animal Justice, Canada’s only national animal law organization (Labchuk is currently serving as Executive Director of this organization) and, in this capacity, have contributed their expertise to a wide range of cases involving animals. We spent the day with these 5 women to talk about the field of animal law, how they have seen animal protection and animal advocacy evolve in recent years, and their advice for those wanting to work in this area in Canada.

While all five of these lawyers have different backgrounds and areas of expertise, there is much common ground between them. “We are all focused on achieving animal liberation through the law,” Pippus pointed out, “and I think that is what sets us apart.” Labchuk agrees, “for me, law school and being a lawyer is just a tool to accomplish animal liberation. It is not an end or a means in and of itself.” The idea that the law can be an important tool on this front is, itself, groundbreaking and new. Bisgould remembers how things used to be, how the dominant way of thinking about animals and the law used to be that the law was “a tool that lawyers used to empower advocates to fight for things.” Now, however, “lawyers themselves want to be advocates. And that itself is a change.”

Devine, Gaillard, Labchuk, Pippus, and Bisgould all agreed that things are changing rapidly in the context of animal law in Canada, and that in recent years there has been a groundswell of interest in using the legal system to make the world a better place for animals. Another important change that these women see is that there seems now to be more of an acceptance that lawyers can care deeply about the cases they work on. Gaillard remembers being told in law school that “you can’t be overly passionate about whatever case you are working on, that you have to remain cold and objective and you can’t be emotionally invested in the case that you are working on because you won’t do a good job. This idea that you can only be a good lawyer if you are emotionally removed–I always thought that was bullshit!”

While all five of these women strive to use the law as a way to fight for animal liberation, they also recognize that legal avenues can sometimes be “imperfect” in this respect. As Gaillard points out, “when we choose law as our tool we are forced sometimes to bend to what we can use.” She remembers a friend and mentor cautioning her against going to law school if she really cared about making a difference for animals. “You can’t be an animal lawyer and be true to your philosophical beliefs in your practice,” she recalls her friend saying. Gaillard was undeterred and respectfully disagrees with this point. She understands that sometimes legal strategies take a long time to unfold and that sometimes it is necessary to move incrementally and that this might involve compromise:

there may be little bits that you can do that are true to your principles, but I think a lot of our work requires a little bit of sidestepping and tackling what may seem like minor issues in the grand scheme of things, but these ultimately help develop case law in way that advances the interests of animals

In this field things can move slowly, and what seems like progressive steps forward are often thwarted by several roadblocks. While this can seem daunting and discouraging, it is important to celebrate the milestones as well as the smaller victories along the way.  As Devine points out,

anything that we do that reduces suffering in some way, shape, or form should be considered a victory, so whether it be one animal and focusing on that one animal, or one person who has decided that they are going to change their way of life because they actually understand that they don’t need to eat animals or wear animals, and that they can live a happy, healthy, joyful life without the causing suffering of others is a victory.

For Pippus it is also very important that people “see that the movement is gaining momentum and that we are having victories, that we are changing things” because this is an important part of changing the status quo.

All five of these lawyers are vegan, and want to push the conversation about the treatment of animals in Canada to include all animals. It can be frustrating to see people who care deeply about companion animals—people who love the dogs and cats they share their lives with—turn a blind eye when it comes to the suffering of other animals. This is acutely felt with the rise of so-called “happy meat” and things like “cage free eggs.” However, as Pippus points out,

if somebody is saying ‘I care about how animals are treated and therefore hens should be out of cages,’ we just now need to take that compassion and care and say, ‘ok, well, if that is how you feel, the only solution is animal rights and veganism.’

This is echoed by Devine who believes that

if you can get people to acknowledge that first step with respect to farm animals, to acknowledge that they care how these animals are treated, then eventually they are going to understand that it is not humane to do any of the things that we do to farm animals.

Even when things get tough, and the victories seem few and far between, Devine, Gaillard, Labchuk, Pippus, and Bisgould continue to be motivated to fight for animals through legal channels. Gaillard stresses that they are not in it for the victories but, instead points out that, “we do it because we don’t have a choice. It is like we are going to die trying. We can’t not just sit by and watch cruelty to animals happen without trying to do something.”

For Devine, the most important thing that lawyers can do to change the status quo for animals is to normalize the conversations taking place about animals in our society.

One of the really important things we should be doing, and I think we are doing, is encouraging the teaching of animal law in law schools, speaking with future lawyers and judges and politicians, and ensuring that their personal beliefs are aligned with an understanding of animal sentience and animal rights, and I think this is hugely important.

This, she feels, will move concern for animals in legal realms from the margins to the mainstream. “I mean, if you are in front of a judge who is vegan, someone who understands that animals do not need to suffer for the various purposes we make them suffer for that are completely unnecessary, and I think that is fundamentally important.”

The field of animal law is growing exponentially in Canada—as Bisgould puts it, “animal law has gone from an idea to a fact.” This is echoed by Labchuk who notes that when she first started “there were a handful of animal law classes” and that many people were dismissive of her goals to be an animal rights lawyer. She points now to the increasing number of academic publications on animal law in Canada as well as the number of high profile cases involving animals that regularly make headlines in mainstream media—“these issues are in the news every single day.” This rising awareness of animal law is starting to find its way in to Canadian law schools as well. “That is what excites me about the future,” Labchuk says, “that in 20 years now we are going to be in that situation where everyone who has gone law school will have had exposure to an animal law class.”

Related to this, all five of these women also see mentoring as an important part of their professional lives, and all regularly talk with students who are interested in this career path. Further, all agree that there seems to be a noticeable spike in the number of young people—in particular, young women—who want to go in to animal law in Canada. Bisgould advises students to have an open mind and to gain a wide range of experience. “Animal rights work can be bleak,” she stresses, “and it can be useful to work on other sorts of cases too. If you don’t depend on animal work for your living, you don’t have to compromise and take the wrong cases just to pay the bills. And you can afford to give low fee or pro bono service to advocates who need it.”

While the interest in the field of animal law has really exploded in Canada in recent years, the number of jobs openings in this field has not kept pace with the rising interest. “The jobs in animal law are few and far between,” Labchuk laments, but that doesn’t mean that people who want to get in to this field should be discouraged.

Whether you work in it full time or not, you can make a huge contribution to the field by working in a bigger firm, by working at another organization, and doing animal law when you can–whether it is pro bono files, volunteering on the board of an organization–there are a lot of ways to contribute to the field.

This sentiment is echoed by Devine who points out that “there is no one path–don’t be afraid to forge your own path. There are many people doing interesting things in animal law that don’t do it full time.” Gaillard agrees, noting that

even if you don’t manage to get a position in the end that is 100% animal law or working for an animal rights or animal protection organization, there is still a lot that can be done in traditional lawyer jobs, especially in government or in the criminal justice system. We need politicians and judges and lawyers that are open-minded in terms of animal issues, and having lawyers at the government level that care about animals would make a huge difference.

While Canada lags behind the United States in terms of the development of animal law, there was general consensus that this might, in fact, be a good thing, that those working in animal law in Canada now might have a bit more freedom to craft and shape things in ways that make sense for our current social, cultural, and political climate. As Devine points out, “our laws are different and I think that people’s perspectives have evolved, and maybe it is not a bad thing that we are only starting now to think of creative ways to challenge the status quo in Canada.” Labchuk agrees, noting that “we are at the very beginning of the movement, and there is so much room to shape it in the right direction at this point.”

Bisgould, who is considered by many to be one of the foundational figures in animal law in Canada (and certainly someone that Labchuk, Pippus, Devine, and Gaillard all point to as having a huge influence on their development in the field), is even willing to seek another phrase to replace “animal law” because she sees it as falling short of being able to “sufficiently convey the idea that the goal of the discipline is to erode animals’ property status and establish actual legal rights for them. Animal law is so broad a term that it could apply to all sorts of conflicts involving animals, where their interests don’t necessarily matter.” Pippus agrees that there is a distinction between merely practicing law that involves animals, and expanding the law to include “animals’ interests in court in a whole slew of ways.” As she stresses, “animals should be in every area of law because animals affect every area of our life.”

Perhaps one of the most promising things about the future of animal law in Canada is that there is a lot of co-operation and coalition-building among various organizations dedicated to animal protection in Canada. “There is a lot of behind the scenes co-operation,” says Devine, “we are connected enough that even though we may take different approaches to different issues, we are still going to communicate because everyone still has the goal of reducing suffering.”

Labchuk, for example, speaks with pride about the way a number of different groups came together in support of Bill C-246, a recent private members bill put forth by Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith which aimed to update and modernize Canada’s animal protection legislation. Even though this Bill was ultimately defeated, the way groups who might not normally work together did so in this instance is highly encouraging as are the conversations across the country that this proposed Bill sparked.

Lesli Bisgould, Camille Labchuk, Alanna Define, Sophie Gaillard, Anna Pippus.

Lesli Bisgould, Camille Labchuk, Alanna Define, Sophie Gaillard, Anna Pippus.

Devine, Gaillard, Bisgould, Labchuk, and Pippus all agree that they have been fortunate to not experience overt discrimination because of their gender in their professional lives. Labchuk credits this to the fact that

in Canada the animal rights scene is not only dominated by women at all levels, but especially in the leadership positions. The heads of most of the animal organizations in Canada are women. Whereas in the States, it is almost all men. I don’t really have any explanations as to why that is in Canada, but, as a consequence, I’ve personally never thought about gender as a limiting factor in moving forward in this field because I’ve never seen it to be. And my role models in the field have all been women.

Pippus agrees, noting that when you are vegan and “involved in animal rights, you are already a bit of an ‘outside the box’ thinker and don’t internalize other people’s ideas. I’m too convinced that animal liberation is right to take any sort of scoffing at it seriously.”

One thing that does come up, however, is the idea that they might be more concerned about animals because they are women. Gaillard points out that in her line of work “being compassionate and concerned for animals is often equated with being overly emotional and sensitive, and I find that a form of sexism.” For Pippus, the idea that being emotional is something to be ashamed of is infuriating—“you are dismissing me because I’m emotional? Damn it! I am emotional. I’m angry and I’m irritable about animal abuse, because who wouldn’t be?”

These kinds of conversations represent new horizons in the ways in which animals are being talked about and considered in legal circles. As Pippus points out, “cultural attention to animal issues is taking off like never before.” In Canada, this is in large part thanks to the ground-breaking efforts of people like Devine, Gaillard, Bisgould, Labchuk, and Pippus who will not back down in their collective fight for animal liberation.