Hannah Murray

Hannah Murray

“I think I’ve always had a strong sense of right and wrong and felt like I wanted to dedicate my time on this planet to making things better. Whatever that looks like, and wherever I can contribute my skills.” ~ Hannah Murray

Grantwriter Hannah Murray enjoys a little cuddle time with rescue cat Tomasito in her home office. Photo by Victoria de Martigny / #unboundproject / We Animals Media
When Hannah Murray was about to turn 30, she packed a backpack and booked a one-way ticket to Buenos Aires to pursue a dream she’d spent years aching to fulfill: to travel, and maybe even live, in South America. While in Argentina in May 2003, she received an email from a former colleague at the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), the California-based organization working to protect the environment and human rights.

RAN wanted to give funding to grassroots activists and organizations based in Patagonia working to combat deforestation. Would she be interested in traveling there and helping them identify candidates? Murray immediately said yes. But before she started this project, she traveled back to the U.S. to pick up her 12-year-old companion cat, Peanut. Then the two of them set off for Argentina in the austral spring, traveling by plane, bus, and car across Patagonia.

“I was sent down there with a handful of names,” Murray, 48, told the Unbound Project.

“I traveled from the northern part of Patagonia and worked my way down to the southern tip of South America. I met with all the groups and then worked with them to help them present what their funding needs were to the foundations. And they all got funding!”

Two days before she was scheduled to leave South America, Murray landed in a town called Punta Arenas in the southern part of Patagonia, Chile. She was there to meet with the last contact on her list — an occupational safety manager-cum-environmental activist named Nelson Sanchez Oyarzo. He’d later become her husband.

Besides helping her find her life partner, Murray’s time in Patagonia led her to the work she does now as grant specialist. Her most recent appointment was with the Humane League, a U.S.-based NGO, where she managed a multimillion dollar grant program for the Open Wing Alliance (OWA), a coalition of groups working to end the abuse of chickens in factory farms. During her three years and three months at OWA, Murray helped about 50 animal welfare organizations receive funding that would allow them to flourish.

“I love being able to connect people with resources to people who are in need of those resources. I focus on really listening to the grantees and trying to hear what they’re communicating — what their hopes and dreams are, what they need, what would make their lives easier.”

Grantwriter Hannah Murray sits at her desk and shares some insight on the need for trust-based philanthropy as a way to increase equity for groups who have traditionally had less access to funding. Photo by Victoria de Martigny / #unboundproject / We Animals Media

A key component of Murray’s work has also been the implementation of trust-based funding principles that incorporate multiyear funding. This type of funding has helped groups receive the resources they need without jumping through unnecessary hoops or needing to undergo tedious administrative processes that can reduce time with their charitable work.

“I feel like all my experience being a grant seeker has made me more sensitive to just the power dynamic issues. Because there are power dynamics — you’ve got someone who’s sitting on the money and someone who needs money.”

Murray says she developed an interest for animal welfare back when she was about eight years old and had gone fishing with her family.

“I just remember the fish flopping around in the bucket afterwards, and I thought, ‘That suffering is not necessary,’” she said. “It was very upsetting to me and I stopped eating fish immediately. It just made me feel sick.”

Once, when she was outside of a circus, she also encountered a group of protesters who helped her “see animals in a different way, instead of just as entertainment.”

“I’ve had a decades-long career in activism and people are always like, ‘Do you really think you can change people just standing around with signs outside? And I’m like, ‘Yes, you can!’” Murray said with a laugh. “I have been changed by several signs at different points in my life.”

Being a grant specialist isn’t the only hat Murray has worn. She’s also a forestry expert with a master’s degree in forestry from Yale. She’s a skilled cook who once ran a food business in Punta Arenas, Chile, selling vegan burgers, falafel and mayo to non-vegan sheep ranchers. She’s also fluent in several languages, including Spanish and Portuguese.

“I don’t have a very linear career trajectory, but I’m OK with that,” Murray said. “I’ve just followed what I’ve been interested in.”

But whatever she’s done, Murray has made sure her work is helping nonhuman animals, the environment, or underrepresented peoples.

“I think I’ve always had a strong sense of right and wrong and felt like I wanted to dedicate my time on this planet to making things better. Whatever that looks like, and wherever I can contribute my skills.”

After spending many years in Patagonia as well as California, Murray and her husband moved to Rockland, Maine, in 2018, with their two rescue cats, Tomasito and Emily Noelia.

“It felt like Patagonia in a way,” Murray said. “Obviously, the landscapes are different but you have this rocky coast [in Maine], you have lots of forests, and you’ve got lots of areas to go hiking.”

While she and her husband feel very settled in Maine, Murray keeps a photograph of a car cruising down an unpaved road towards the Cerro Fitz Roy mountains in Argentine Patagonia — the very mountains that became the logo for outdoor clothing company Patagonia.

“I just like remembering that there’s always an open road ahead, even if you get bogged down by your work. It just reminds me that life can be anything.”

 

Written by Elizabeth Claire Alberts
Photographs by Victoria de Martigny

Carolina Galvani

Carolina Galvani

“…I realized I’m here for a reason, and I’m seeing these horrible things, but something will come out of it. I’m pretty sure that this will create positive change.” ~ Carolina Galvani

During her twelve years as an investigative journalist, Carolina Galvani has found herself in some disturbing situations. One challenging assignment took her into a dozen abattoirs across Belgium, where she covertly filmed cows, sheep, and goats being slaughtered while fully conscious—and often right in front of each other.

“I remember one cow really looking at me while she was waiting to be killed, and it hurt me so much before I was forced to watch her dying very slowly,” Galvani, 42, told the Unbound Project. “But this experience also brought an insight to light. I realized I’m here for a reason, and I’m seeing these horrible things, but something will come out of it. I’m pretty sure that this will create positive change.”

The footage and other evidence Galvani gathered did make a substantial impact. When the media published her reports, Belgium politicians sparked a national debate about whether animals should be slaughtered without stunning, which, as it was believed at the time, could reduce suffering and pain if done correctly. Then in 2017, the Flanders and Wallonia regions of Belgium outlawed the slaughter without stunning—a ban that continues to be upheld today.

For Galvani, being a journalist was a lifelong dream. After first studying economics in college to help her better understand the world, in 2005, Galvani received her master’s in international journalism from City University in London. Shortly after she graduated, Galvani learned about an investigative journalism agency in London seeking a Portuguese interpreter to help with an assignment. Galvani volunteered. The project, it turned out, was to go undercover in factory farms and slaughterhouses in Portugal.

“I was already vegetarian for health reasons, but it was really a shock for me because I didn’t know much about factory farming and industrial slaughter,” she said.

The experience changed her life and clarified the kind of work she wanted to do. Galvani realized that she didn’t want to work for a mainstream media outlet, but to continue using her journalism skills to help foster change in animal welfare, human rights and environmental issues.

In addition to exposing the livestock industry, Galvani has helped to investigate the controversial sale of seal fur in Greece, deforestation in Australia for the Chinese timber market, hunting endangered pink dolphins in South America, and the commercial sale of whale meat in Greenland.

“I would feel a lot of anger when I see these horrible things, but anger usually gives you a lot of energy, and you can do a lot of things when you feel anger if you know how to manage it,” she said.

The investigations Galvani helped conduct have been published by leading media outlets such as the New York Times, the BBC, The Guardian, Channel 4 and Le Monde. Yet Galvani says that she doesn’t measure her success by the amount of media attention her work receives —she measures it by the policy change it can galvanize. Besides the changes enforced in Belgian slaughterhouses, Galvani says that her reporting helped prevent the raising of a whaling quota in Greenland and contributed to a ban on the sale of piracatinga, an omnivorous species of catfish in Brazil, which is often caught with illegally procured meat from endangered pink dolphins.

Then in 2017, Galvani took her love for animals a step further by founding Sinergia Animal, an NGO dedicated to reducing animal suffering in countries in the Global South, such as Argentina, Colombia, Thailand, and Indonesia. One of the organization’s main programs is convincing large corporations to phase out caged egg farming and other cruel agricultural practices. She said that about sixty businesses have already made cage-free commitments in these regions, including McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King, and Unilever. Sinergia also conducts investigations, works to defund the livestock sector, and runs vegan challenges.

The success of Sinergia’s campaigns led the NGO Animal Charity Evaluators to nominate Singeria as a standout charity for four years in a row. The NGO also estimated that Sinergia was positively impacting 1.7 million animals each year through its work.

“You can potentially affect millions of animals, so I always felt very rewarded to do this type of work,” she said. “Because for me, like I said before, what matters is to create effective change.”

Galvani works tirelessly for animals, but she also understands the importance of taking care of her mental and physical health. She enjoys hiking, meditating, spending time with her four rescue dogs, and visiting her three rescued pigs who live on her family’s farm.

“I have seen so much destruction,” she said, “so I try to have beautiful things in my life. I think beauty is very important.”

Written by Elizabeth Claire Alberts
Photographs by Francesco Pistilli

Brenda Sanders

Brenda Sanders

“I’m so glad that I’m such a stubborn person and nobody can tell me what to do…. If I had listened, I never would have seen how much people want this change.” ~ Brenda Sanders

Growing up in the Baltimore housing projects, Brenda Sanders didn’t know what real food was. With no local grocery store nearby, her single mother instead bought food from a converted school bus.

“I feel weird even calling it food,” she admits. “It was the most processed, most unhealthy, salty, sugary, fatty animal products that you could think of— the cheapest crap. That was what was being trucked in and dumped into our community, because that’s all that we were worth. So I just grew up thinking that’s what food was.”

In the Penn-North neighborhood, Sanders and friends transformed a vacant lot into a thriving community garden. It served as a safe haven for birds and other wildlife, and provided vegetables for residents until it was closed (after two seasons) by the city for development. Photo by: Jo-Anne McArthur / #UnboundProject / We Animals Media.

Years later, living in the low-income neighborhood of Penn-North, where the closest grocery store was two bus rides away, she stumbled across an eye-opening community meeting: University students were presenting a recent study that had compared the health outcomes of two neighborhoods in Baltimore—an affluent white community and a low-income black community. The study revealed a 20-year difference in life expectancy, but surprisingly the main factor was not stress, nor income, but diet.

Sanders had been vegan for ten years and realized that she had knowledge to share about healthy eating.

“I felt like I could make a difference. It was audacious!”

She emptied her savings account, bought an assortment of cooking equipment, and started Better Health, Better Life. She knocked on the doors of churches and community centers, and anywhere that would have her.

She was met with disbelief and told time and again that these communities did not care about their health, and they would not eat vegan food. But if Sanders is anything, she is determined.

“I’m so glad that I’m such a stubborn person and nobody can tell me what to do!,” she says now, laughing. “If I had listened, I never would have seen how much people want this change.”

She ran cooking demonstrations and shared all she had learned about the health benefits of a vegan diet, sometimes to one person, sometimes a hundred. Wherever she went, people were eager to learn, and parents wanted better choices for their children. They left armed with recipes and printouts.

In Penn-North, Sanders and some friends set about transforming a vacant lot into a community garden. It was a labour of love. They moved mattresses, bed frames, and old tires, and Sanders contracted tetanus in the process. Soon local children became curious, and came out to help weed and build garden beds. They planted kale and collard greens, cucumbers and tomatoes. As the lot transformed, wildlife came to the garden—bluebirds, cardinals, praying mantis, and squirrels—animals that the kids had never seen before. The elders followed and soon it was a thriving community.

Unbeknownst to them, however, the lot had been tagged for development. City officials began harassing the community, citing obscure regulations, and after two seasons, the garden was closed.

Sanders knows it was political.

“These cities have a plan for bringing in higher income folks and doing the whole urban development thing, and building this project that brings the community of low-income people together around a shared vision disrupts that, and they will find ways to deter you.”

But Sanders would not be deterred. It was time to go bigger.

She reached out to fellow vegan and restaurateur, Naijha Wright-Brown of The Land of Kush, and together they dreamed up a free vegan festival that would connect people interested in veganism to vendors, speakers, and educational resources.

Over 1,200 people came to the first Vegan Soulfest in 2014.

“It was way more people than were supposed to be in that building!” she confides. By 2019, the event attracted over 14,000 attendees. “It just took on this momentum— it was like a freight train.”

Sanders was helping bring healthy eating choices to Baltimore’s black community, but she still saw veganism as a health issue, not an animal one. Then one day while shopping for shoes, she noticed they were made from kangaroo leather, and something clicked.

She began searching online and discovered an animal rights movement she hadn’t known existed, especially in Baltimore. Bolstered by this newfound network, she moved from knocking on doors to establishing a dedicated vegan community center called Thrive Baltimore. Here, she could run regular classes and expand her offerings to include a four-week vegan education program, film screenings, guest chef cooking demos, and cooking competitions.

People kept coming back, they brought their friends, and it just kept growing—she estimates they’ve reached tens of thousands.

“The events at Thrive got so big, we were busting out of the seams,” she says, then smiles. “Baltimore is different now because of the work we were able to do out of Thrive.”

The more she worked, the more she realized it wasn’t just about health.

“The mission was so much bigger, and the issues were so much more expansive than these health disparities,” she says. “Now we’re talking about climate, and about animal abuse, and about environmental racism.”

In answer, she founded the Afro-Vegan Society, a project rooted at the intersection of human health, animal rights, and social justice. Their annual Veguary program, held during the month of February to encourage people to try vegan living, has helped thousands transition to a vegan lifestyle.

Baltimore was better informed than ever about the benefits of veganism, but access to vegan foods there remained a problem: with access. Vegan foods either weren’t available in the community, or they were too expensive.

Sanders describes The Greener Kitchen as a work of magic.

“It was the wackiest idea, out of all the things that I set out to do… Affordable, accessible, vegan convenience food doesn’t exist, and I thought ‘well, it should.’”

With her characteristic can-do attitude, she gathered a crew of chefs and producers to create a line of vegan foods that were just that.

 

While making healthy, real food that is as cheap as foods filled with chemicals hasn’t been easy, she has proved it is possible. The line of plant-based meats, sauces, and cheeses, all quick and easy to prepare at home, are made in-house to create employment opportunities. The key is keeping it local. Although they could grow the business and stock products at supermarkets, Sanders knows this would price people out: “Then it’ll be only for people who can afford to shop at Whole Foods, and people in the hood won’t have access to it again.”

Both Thrive Baltimore and The Greener Kitchen were forced to close during the pandemic. Not one to have her plate empty though, Sanders used the time to launch the Food & Justice podcast for the Defund Big Meat campaign.

“What I want to do with this show,” she explains, “is to expose the filthy underbelly of our food system and for people to learn everything they didn’t know so that we can start to make more informed choices and choices that are in our best interest.”

“My next goal is to reach millions,” Sanders says before breaking into a smile.

And if anyone is capable of it, she is.

Written by Anna Mackiewicz
Photos by Jo-Anne McArthur

Sunaura Taylor

Sunaura Taylor

“…There is a lot of shame around needing help, being a burden on other people, on your family, on the economy, even. But we all go in and out of being dependent and live on a spectrum of dependency. We are all interdependent.”

Sunaura Taylor

Sunaura Taylor is an artist, writer, academic, and an activist for both disability rights and animal rights. Her artwork has been displayed internationally and she is currently an assistant professor at UC Berkeley where she teaches classes in animal studies and environmental justice.

Taylor utilises her lived experience as a disabled person to present new ways of thinking about disability and animals. Through each strand of her multifaceted work, she examines and challenges what it is to be human, what it is to be animal, and how the exploitation and oppression of both are entwined.

Taylor grew up in Athens, Georgia with three siblings, all unschooled, a radical form of child-led home-schooling based around the idea that children are inherently curious and naturally want to learn. The freedom bestowed by this “unique and pretty wonderful childhood” allowed Taylor’s sister to make a discovery that changed all their lives: that meat is animals.

“That initial instinct that there was something strange or uncomfortable about eating animals really led to all of us, in various ways, investigating the eating of animals as a political issue,” she says.

Today, all four siblings are vegan.

While Taylor had recognised and rejected the oppression of animals at the age of six when she became vegetarian, it was another 17 years before she connected attitudes toward disabled people with attitudes toward animals. Once she had begun to recognise how the oppressions of ableism and speciesism are “entangled,” she set out to investigate them more fully through her art and in her extraordinary book, Beasts of Burden.

Beasts of Burden examines how and why we value or devalue beings based upon the capacities they do or do not possess, or the assumptions we make about whether they possess certain capacities. Those who are seen as lacking language, or rationality, or the ability to walk on two legs, or the ability to be physically independent, for example, are devalued and their marginalisation or exploitation is excused, sometimes even justified.

Taylor explains that ableism (a term that names the discrimination and prejudice disabled people face, and the privileging of able-bodied norms), does not only impact disabled people; it also shapes our perceptions of and interactions with nonhuman animals. This, she says, not only shows through the exploitation of those deemed to be lacking certain abilities, but also through concepts such as dependency, which is fraught with negative connotations, and is often associated with both disabled people and domesticated animals.

Disability gives Taylor a different perspective from the mainstream experience and offers a unique way of living creatively outside the patterns shaped by a predominantly able-bodied society.

“We live in a country that is proud of the independent, self-made person,” she says, “the person who pulls themselves up by the bootstraps, and there is a lot of shame around needing help, being a burden on other people, on your family, on the economy, even. But we all go in and out of being dependent and live on a spectrum of dependency. We are all interdependent.”

Perhaps this is the main message of Taylor’s book: that both human and nonhuman animals are vulnerable and dependent, and we need to learn to value care and interdependency.

Dependency is just one of the issues that Taylor has debated with Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation, and an influential voice for animal rights. Singer’s well-documented views on disability are not just offensive, but damaging, having driven a wedge between the animal liberation movement and disability activism. By guiding these social justice movements to embrace their commonalities and unite for liberation, Taylor’s work is helping to heal that rift.

“There is a lot more recognition that there are other ways of thinking about animal liberations,” she says, “ways that are entangled, in fact inseparable from human liberation, so that makes me really happy. And even if people don’t exactly know how to articulate that, or even if they don’t know exactly how they’re connected, there is a sense that they know that they are.”

Taylor’s influence on the animal rights and disability rights movements is profound, and yet it reaches much further. Through both her artwork and her teaching, she is challenging entrenched views right across society and offering a new perspective, an alternative future.

“I just taught a class called Thinking with Animals,” she says. “A lot of the students were science majors who did not take the class for any particular commitment to animal liberation, or even interest in animals, it just fit with their schedule. By the end they were so reflective on anthropocentrism and were critically thinking about how we think about other animals. I was blown away by the openness of the students and lack of defensiveness, and that was really beautiful and gave me a lot of hope for building thriving interspecies futures.”

Sunaura Taylor is currently writing her follow-up book Disabled Ecologies: Living with Impaired Landscapes. Her artwork can be seen at SunauraTaylor.com

Written by Kate Fowler
Photographs by Jo-Anne McArthur

Helena Hesayne

Helena Hesayne

“Animals are always the first casualties of war and economical crisis.” ~ Helena Hesayne

During the 2006 war in Lebanon, also known as the Israel-Hezbollah War, Helena Hesayne tells of how she had to remove the roof of her jeep. This was to ensure that Israeli forces in the air could see that she was transporting food – dog and cat food – and not weapons. With most of the people removed from the Hezbollah area at that time, there was no garbage for the many stray companion animals to scavenge for food. So Hesayne, Vice President of Beirut for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (BETA), and two other BETA members bravely headed out to feed the animals. But she doesn’t feel it was bravery that guided her. It was just what needed to be done for the animals she loves so dearly.

“I grew up during the war,” Hesayne explains, meaning the Lebanese civil war from 1975-1990. “I was in the Lebanese Red Cross when I was 17 until I was 19, so we just got used to it,” she laughs. Hesayne speaks casually of war not because she feels it is a casual thing, but rather, as she often says, “it’s very hard to explain; you have to live it.”

For example, she describes, “When we were young and we had an exam, we used to pray in class ‘oh I hope today they’re going to bomb, that way we won’t have the exam,’ she laughs again. “We lived day by day.” And it appears that this strategy of finding humour in daily life in Lebanon is what continues to help Hesayne stay focused on the animals as the country now faces a major economic crisis.

“Animals are always the first casualties of war and economical crisis,” she says.

Hesayne has always loved animals.

“I always rescued when I was a kid. If I found a stray, I was always helping.”

Then the civil war started, and Hesayne temporarily moved to France to be with an aunt. Her aunt had dogs of her own and Hesayne experienced for the first time caring for them as her own pets, walking them, and having them in the house. “In Lebanon in the seventies, having a dog in the house wasn’t very common,” she says, “maybe just the little fluffy ones. Big dogs had to stay in the garden.”

Upon returning to Lebanon in 1994, after moving between France and the US and gaining her bachelor’s degree in architecture, Hesayne then rescued a German shepherd named Brooks. Brooks’s owner had died in a motorcycle accident around the same time Hesayne’s father died. She felt a special kinship with the dog in this way. He became a constant companion, accompanying her to work and everywhere she went. She then added three huskies to the bunch, bringing all to the office each day, far before dog-friendly workplaces were a thing. “And I would only hire people who loved dogs,” she laughs.

In 2006 Brooks died and Hesayne was devastated, she says, “I was so depressed.” Soon after though, something amazing happened. She attended a fair where BETA had set up a booth. At the time the group was just starting out. Upon meeting the volunteers, they encouraged Hesayne to join them. So she did, first volunteering at the shelter on her lunch breaks, then adding every weekend. When the 2006 war started later that year, she then became more involved, helping those starving strays. As she recalls, when people fled the country, many would leave their pets behind causing many to be strays.

“In the majority of cases, animals – pets – are just a commodity, not part of the family,” she explains.

By 2008, Hesayne was named vice president of BETA, a volunteer position she continues to hold alongside her job as an architect. Today the group is made up of 15 board members and 20 volunteers, many of whom are from other countries. BETA also shelters over 1,200 animals including dogs, cats, donkeys, horses, monkeys, and some wildlife. The group works with rescue organizations in Canada and the UK (also the US when permitted) to adopt out companion animals abroad (the other animals are placed in sanctuaries or remain at the shelter for life).

Today the mentality around having dogs in the home in Lebanon has changed says Hesayne; however, she adds, the problem now is the types of dogs most people want and where they are getting them from. The majority of mixed-breed stray dogs that BETA rescues are adopted by foreign families, while puppy mills, some actually owned by veterinarians, supply “designer” dogs to locals. “They also import a lot of dogs from Ukraine and other Eastern European countries, that are supposedly pure breeds and that come with health issues.”

Once, Hesayne recalls, someone contacted the shelter seeking a purebred dog, “he said, ‘It’s like I don’t want to drive a Fiat, I want to drive a Ferrari.’” This all lends to that mentality of animals being commodities, which she says continues today. And with current economical concerns in the country, dog-dumping by those who can no longer afford their dogs feeds into mounting problem with strays.

Thankfully though, Hesayne says there has been a shift in the region regarding spaying and neutering.

“When we first started, we were the only ones at the vet to do spaying and neutering and people would tell us ‘wow, it’s against God, how can you do that, poor animal.’”

Today she says it’s common to spay and neuter pets.

There is also a change in mentality around rescuing strays, she says.

“When we used to rescue a dog on the highway, no one would slow down, they would even get upset. Now not only do they slow down, many times you have people stopping and helping us.”

As Lebanon continues to cope with economic struggles, the global pandemic, and often extreme weather, Heysane says it’s the animals that keep her there. “The shelter will never be empty,” she says. Some dogs have been there all their life, for ten years or more. But, she says, the dream of finding each one of them a great home remains her guiding light.

“I just love them,” she says.

Written by Jessica Scott-Reid
Photographs by Seb Alex

Erin Wing

Erin Wing

“The mother cows turned to look at me and I could feel that they were asking me for help. You may not speak the same language, but you can understand when they’re asking you for something. They started to vocalize and I interpreted it as an act of mourning.”

At just 25, Erin Wing went undercover and spent the next two years working at chicken, dairy, and salmon farms documenting the institutionalized abuse of animals in these industries.

She was attracted to the work because of a deep connection she felt with animals who were her companions through childhood experiences of household violence, and it was this history that convinced her she was right for the role. But even she wasn’t prepared for all that would follow.

“I definitely went in bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,” laughs Wing. “I thought: I will do one investigation that will change everyone’s perspective, and everyone will be vegan within a year.”

Now the Deputy Director of Investigations at Animal Outlook, Wing relinquished her anonymity to speak out about what she saw on several American farms, and her testimony is confronting.

Foremost in her stories is the constant presence of violence.

“Those environments are meant to take away all the better parts of yourself, all the parts that feel compassion, that feel happiness, that feel kindness, because you can’t really feel much of anything,” she says. Workers must become desensitized in order to survive.

At a salmon farm in Maine – the first-ever investigation of a salmon factory farm in America – she remembers looking into a bucket where a salmon was slowly suffocating to death. Noticing her discomfort, a co-worker tried to reassure her: “It used to bum me out, the way we kill these animals – but then you get used to it.”

It was through stolen moments with the animals – like lingering in the back area of a milking facility to show the cows a moment of affection – that Wing managed to stay connected to her humanity. When you see the animals for who they are, she says, “it’s hard to ignore that better part of yourself that says, ‘is what I’m doing right?’”

Despite the personal toll, Wing is quick to re-centre the animals. “It is all about them,” she insists.

“I describe this job as existing in solidarity with them, seeing their experiences first-hand, and coming away with the animals’ testimony.”

When asked about the worst things she has seen, Wing doesn’t hesitate – there are countless examples. She describes an injured cow being dragged and hoisted 20 feet into the air by her hips and sprayed in the face with a high-pressure hose.

In her last investigation, at Dick Van Dam Dairy, a factory farm in Southern California, the violence was visceral and constant with workers beating the cows every single day. “I was being affected in a way that I wasn’t able to control,” she remembers. “The degree of violence was pulling me back into memories, situations that I hadn’t been in since I was young. And I realized this was very dangerous for me mentally.”

She knew that her remaining time as an investigator was limited.

“I describe it as maintaining this dam inside of myself, and after every investigation there was one crack in the dam, and then another. There was no way I could keep going and keep up the facade of just being another worker. I knew that once that dam broke I would be at risk of losing a part of myself that I was afraid I would never be able to get back: that ability to connect to other animals in a way that is meaningful.”

Wing believes that the public seeing this footage will be surprised not only by the abuse, but also to discover what animals who are farmed are really like – which is precisely why footage captured undercover is such an important resource.

“We hope to change public perception of animals, and hopefully people see them as being worthy of our protection, and that their suffering does matter,” says Wing.

She recounts one night shift at the dairy farm, finding two newborn calves dead in the dirt.

“The mother cows turned to look at me and I could feel that they were asking me for help. You may not speak the same language, but you can understand when they’re asking you for something. They started to vocalize and I interpreted it as an act of mourning.”

This is one reason that the animal agriculture industry operates under such secrecy, says Wing. “They don’t want people to see that these animals are sentient, that they have family units, that they can show affection, that they are intelligent in many different unique ways.”

Sometimes footage is compelling evidence bolstering legal action against offending facilities. From the four investigations that Wing undertook, one chicken farm was closed, and the owner banned from working with animals for a year. The other three facilities are still operating.

While working in the field felt like she was shouldering the immense responsibility of the work alone, retiring from investigations has allowed Wing to feel part of a greater movement working together toward a better world for animals. “It’s what I always wanted to do with my life ever since I was a little girl.”

Looking to the future, she is excited about Animal Outlook’s new Farm Transitions program, which will help farmers transition from farming animals to farming plants.

“It’s an alternative that is offered to farmers that shows that you don’t have to participate in these animals’ suffering, you don’t need to desensitize yourself, there is another way and a better way.”

Erin Wing, Deputy Director of Investigations at the animal advocacy NGO Animal Outlook, spends time with Lola at Wildwood Farm Sanctuary & Preserve.

Erin Wing, Deputy Director of Investigations at the animal advocacy NGO Animal Outlook, spends time with Lola at Wildwood Farm Sanctuary & Preserve. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / #unboundproject / We Animals Media

Wing doesn’t think she could ever go back to a life outside of animal advocacy after all that she has seen. And despite the horror, she still has hope: “I see the future as being very bright.”

A big thank you to Wildwood Farm Sanctuary & Preserve for hosting Unbound’s photo shoot with Erin Wing.

Written by Anna Mackiewicz
Photos by Jo-Anne McArthur