Anita Krajnc

Anita Krajnc

Bringing the world together to bear witness

Anita Krajnc looks through the fence to animals being unloaded at the slaughterhouse. Canada, 2015.

Anita Krajnc. Canada, 2015.

To get Anita Krajnc to talk about herself can be a challenge. The Toronto-based activist and founder of the now-global Animal Save Movement (formally called The Save Movement), would much prefer to quote Tolstoy, Gandhi, or Mark and Paul Engler, than talk of her own achievements in animal advocacy. She’s no martyr, just modest, and much more focused on the ethics and fundamentals of animal rights, and the inner working of society and social justice movements. And when it comes to the creation of the Animal Save Movement, which now spans about 900 chapters, branching beyond Animal Save into Climate Save and Health Save factions, Krajnc, no surprise, gives much of the credit to her dog.

Long before creating the first Save chapter, Toronto Pig Save, Krajnc says it was during her time as an undergraduate at the University of Toronto (U of T) in the early nineties, when she first became involved in animal activism. “I saw this poster for The Animals Film,” she says, a 1981 documentary about the use of animals by humans. She watched it with about twenty other people in a basement library at U of T, she says “and I couldn’t believe it. I had nightmares for three days. Then I became a vegetarian, and then an activist.” She soon became president of Students for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and collected data about the number of animals being used at U of T, “which was about fifty thousand vertebrates, a lot of animals,” she says, to provide to media and the ombudsperson. “That was one of the first campaigns I worked on.”

In the following years, Krajnc earned a master’s degree in political science and environmental studies, and a PhD in politics. She got involved in environmental activism alongside her sister – a long-time animal and environmental activist – earning her first arrest in 1993 at Clayoquot Sound, BC, during the “War in the Woods” anti-logging protest, then again in 1997, working with Greenpeace.

Krajnc then began working in academia, including at Queens University in 2006, where she eventually went vegan after watching the 2000 documentary The Witness, and started investigating the veal industry. “I actually didn’t know the veal industry was connected to dairy,” she says.

She then organized screenings at Queens, of the 2004 documentary Peaceable Kingdom, about farmers who refused to kill their animals, and she incorporated animal rights into each course she taught. “Every course! So in Intro to Canadian Politics, for example, I would have a week on social movements and a case study was the animal rights movement.”

At that point she says animal rights had permeated everything she did.

“Like most of us, once we start learning about the issue, it becomes a core. It’s what we really want to do. We have other jobs, but what we really want to do, to talk about, is animal rights.”

This all-encompassing passion is what led Krajnc down the path that would land her, in 2006, face to face with the pigs who would change everything.

“Before bearing witness I was an activist, but it never occurred to me to go up to the slaughterhouse and look at the pigs,” she says. Though she could actually see the former Quality Meat Packers slaughterhouse on Lakeshore, from the streetcar on Bathurst, she says she never went to check it out. “It just never occurred to me to walk there,” she says. “But in 2010, when we adopted Mr. Bean, the dog, [whom is now named co-founder of the Animal Save Movement], I would walk him every morning there, and that’s when we saw the trucks.” Krajnc says she finds it interesting that the origin story of the Animal Save Movement begins with an animal. “One hundred percent if I had not adopted Mr. Bean, I wouldn’t have done it [created the group].” And what Mr. Bean led her to that day, were pigs, looking at her, she says, “out of the portholes, and I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe how beautiful the pigs were, how scared they were, and how unjust it was.”

She calls the moment an epiphany. “I had had a prejudice, or misconception,” she says.

“I thought all pigs were the same, but they aren’t, once you come close to them and look at them. And that’s true for any animal; they’re all individuals. And one day I saw seven or eight trucks and I said, ‘That’s it, we’re gonna start a group.’”

Inspired by the altruistic work of Tolstoy and Ghandi, whom she was studying at the time, Krajnc says she felt compelled to take action. “I thought, I’m just an ordinary person, but if they took the time out and organized in their own communities, then I must.”

And what Krajnc felt she must do – after a few months of figuring out their strategy, doing fundraisers and art shows and investigations– was to bear witness. She quotes Tolstoy:

“’When the suffering of another creature causes you to feel pain, do not submit to the initial desire to flee from the suffering one, but on the contrary, come closer, as close as you can to he who suffers, and try to help.’ That’s where we got the definition of bearing witness. You have a choice: you can flee, or you can come close and try to help.”

Krajnc says bearing witness of animals on transport trucks headed into slaughter is “an aha moment, it really changes you.” And once she experienced it herself, she knew it was something the rest of the world had to see. “Everyone needs to be face to face, to touch the animal,” she says. “Everyone needs to do this. Because if they see this they wouldn’t participate in evil.”

Krajnc brought perhaps the most attention to the growing Animal Save Movement in 2015, when she was arrested for providing water to a thirsty pig on a hot truck. What would later be dubbed #PigTrial made international headlines, sparking debates and commentary never considered before. The charges were dismissed in 2017, in the precedent-setting case that would set the tone for subsequent dismissed cases against animal activists in Canada and the United States.

The name Toronto Pig Save originally came out of a conversation between Krajnc and her best friend, as they sought something inviting, something others would want to join. “It’s such a great name, so positive,” she says, ‘Save,’ it’s such a beautiful word.” And it turned out, she says, to be a good name “to adapt for all different cities.” And adapt they did, to now not only including about 770 different chapters around the world focusing on a variety of animal species, but further branching into Climate Save and Health Save movements.

For Krajnc, however, this is still not enough.

“We bear such a burden knowing what is happening with these billions of animals –trillions of animals with fish– every year, and then on top of that we have this looming climate crisis.”

Today, Krajnc believes Greta Thunberg is the most important person on earth, and she is working with climate activist group Extinction Rebellion, engaging in acts of civil disobedience.

And thus, the seasoned activist, academic and philosopher continues to witness, to disrupt, and to inspire others to change — for animals, people, and the planet.

 

Photos by Jo-Anne McArthur. Interview and story by Jessica Scott-Reid.

Jessica Scott-Reid is a Canadian journalist and animal advocate. Her work appears regularly in the Globe and Mail, New York Daily News, Toronto Star, Maclean’s Magazine and others.

 

Narrated by Anita Krajnc, this short film from We Animals Media tells the story of bearing witness and animal advocacy at slaughterhouses in Toronto during a 24-hour vigil in 2015, wherein amidst the horror, a small miracle took place.

Invisible

Invisible

“People need to see it.”

‘INVISIBLE’ follows two undercover investigators, ‘Emily’ and ‘Sarah’ (their names have been changed to protect their identities), on a pig farm investigation in Europe, offering the viewer an unprecedented glimpse into a world that is deliberately and painstakingly covert.

In a ‘double-life’ kept secret from their day jobs and family lives, Emily and Sarah choose to visit and document the stark and often brutal conditions of farms and slaughterhouses to bring attention to the suffering inherent in animal exploitation.

As darkness falls and the investigation unfolds, Emily and Sarah reveal what drives them to leave their loved ones in the night, the emotional impact of documenting animal cruelty first-hand, and how their friendship allows them to continue carrying out such traumatic work in spite of the psychological cost.

Finally, the evidence gathered and the investigation complete, they leave without a trace – invisible.

Directed by Chris Shoebridge

What inspired Chris to tell this story?

“In 2009 I saw undercover slaughter footage for the first time, and it changed the course of my life. This profound shift happened only because an investigator – an anonymous activist who I will never know nor ever be able to thank – risked their safety and freedom to expose the reality of our relationship with animals. Many of us owe a similar debt to undercover investigators, but how often do we think about what they risk, and what they sacrifice? Do we even know what it takes?

 

While I believe we must be mindful to centre the animals in our activism, I believe it is also important to celebrate the work of those whose passion and bravery drive our mission forward. Not just to honour those people but also, hopefully, to inspire such passion and bravery in others.

 

While Emily and Sarah are just two of the invisible women who make our movement possible, this film is a broader ‘thank you’ to every undercover investigator who has taken risks to help animals, and to every woman who has never received the recognition she deserves yet without whom our movement simply could not exist.”

Hilda Kean

Hilda Kean

Open Your Eyes and See the History All Around You: The Importance of Knowing Our Activist History

It is no exaggeration to say that Hilda Kean set me on the path I am on today. Well, to be more specific, one of her books did–it would be several years until I would actually meet Hilda Kean in person! When I was a graduate student in the early 2000s my research was situated in environmental studies but, at that time, the idea of studying and thinking critically about animals was still quite separate from the scholarship being done in environmental studies. I found this somewhat strange and a little frustrating, but then I came across Hilda Kean’s Animal Rights: Political and Social Change in Britain Since 1800. This was the first time that I had read the work of a writer who had taken human-animal relationships seriously as a subject of cultural and historical research. Her influence has been enormous, not just on my own work, but on the fields of animal studies and human-animal history.

For this interview, I arranged to meet Hilda Kean a few summers ago at a vegan cafe in Brighton, UK. When she arrived, she told me that she had almost missed her train because she had awoken to discover a fox in her house that morning! “I don’t see why some people are frightened of foxes,” she calmly said as she recounted the details of what had transpired that morning.

The fox Kean found in her house that morning.

Hearing Kean talk about her encounter with this fox reminded me so much of her writing. In both cases her narrative is framed by a compassionate yet critical inquiry. Her work is grounded by a real concern for thinking about the actual lived experiences of individual animals and she resists historical understandings of human-animal relationships that are informed by clichés or symbolism.

For instance, in one of her recent books, The Great Cat and Dog Massacre: The Real Story of World War Two’s Unknown Tragedy, Kean went to great lengths to learn as many individual stories as she could after the 400,000 cats and dogs in Britain that were killed by their owners at the outbreak of the Second World War. In telling these stories she moves beyond the standard tropes typical in narratives about both this war and of human-animal (and animal-human) bonds. Her meticulous research is grounded in actual events and testimonies and, as such, complicates the narratives we like to tell ourselves about our historical relationships with our companion animals. This is an uncomfortable history and Kean does not shy away from telling it.

Likewise, Animal Rights is a book that looks at the complicated history of animal advocacy in Britain. Kean’s motivation for writing Animal Rights grew out of a sense of frustration about the lack of awareness of activism in previous historical periods.

“It is important to acknowledge that in Britain campaigns for animal rights and animal welfare go back at least to the late 18th and early 19th century,” she stresses. “So, if you like you can say you don’t agree with these ideas, but you can not say that these ideas came from nowhere.”

“These things did happen and they were important.”

Kean underscores how important it is for activists of today to know that “these ideas have not just come out of thin air.” Anti-vivisection, in particular, has a long and complex history in places like Britain, and it was women who were often on the front lines of these fights. Recognizing the work of these reformers from earlier historical periods is important, Kean feels, not only to give credit where credit is due, but also to allow us to take a broader historical perspective on animal advocacy. This can help reframe some of our current struggles to change the world for animals. Kean acknowledges that as we look to this history and realize that some of the fights we are fighting today were also being fought by previous generations of activists it can be “somewhat depressing” at first glance. But Kean stresses that knowing this history also “places things in a broader context of time” to allow us to see how the “ideas and campaigns have been worked through, modified, and emphasized in different ways. They have had some successes over a period of time.”

As a historian, Kean feels it is important to take the full messy, complex narratives of animal advocacy into account. Looking to the past only as a source of “inspirational stories…implies that there were only successes.” There have been, of course, changes for the better. Kean points to the status of companion animals as an example of this, noting “that their lives are better now than they were say in the early 1800s or even in the early 1900s.” With farmed animals, however, she is concerned that things may be “much worse than they were 100 years ago, that moving animals away from fields to inside” has caused even greater concerns for activists.

While Kean is pleased to see so many people working on animal studies topics within academia in recent years, she also sometimes finds it frustrating that this academic work can often be incredibly “esoteric” and seemingly removed from actual animals. For Kean, animal studies is much more than an “academic exercise” and she finds it “quite shocking” that there are some working in this field who “apparently have no interest in living animals.”

Kean also stresses the importance of historians getting up from their desks.

“I don’t think history is all about somebody sitting in a library and writing notes and getting it published in the most prestigious peer-reviewed journal. It is also important to actually look at what is going on in the world.”

Kean embodies this perspective in her own work. For example, during the time she was writing Animal Rights she remembers reading comments in a newspaper that ridiculed animal rights activists who had been protesting the selling of live lobsters. She recalls that the comments were along the lines of “Where do these mad people come from? Fancy doing this about lobsters!” As she was reading about this protest and the public response to it, she couldn’t help but think about the 1829 pamphlet she had found during the course of her research. This pamphlet was “published by what was then the SPCA. It was a campaign about lobsters and the cruel way that lobsters were boiled alive.” As she read the newspaper coverage of the protest in the late 1990s the connections between the 19th century protest and the 20th century protest were obvious to her. “When I’m reading something like that in the newspaper, I’m relating that in my head to other things I’m doing. And it makes me think ‘I have to do something.’ I don’t mean that I have to write to the newspaper necessarily, I mean, I will do that, but it is more around thinking about how to argue the importance of knowing the history of animal rights activism.”

While Kean is passionate about the history of the animal advocacy movement, she is also firmly rooted in the present moment, and keeps a sharp eye out for ways in which human-animal histories remain part of our current environments. “I just see things in the environment that catch my interest.

“I sometimes notice things others don’t because I think most people run around with their eyes shut.”

Walking, looking, and noticing details such as statues or monuments featuring cats, dogs, horses, or other animals are an important part of Kean’s research methods, and her impressive list of published writing on human-animal histories is a testament to how astute she is at this practice. She also spends a lot of time talking to people, asking questions, and thinks critically about how animals and humans would have interacted in previous spaces.

Understanding this kind of context is at the heart of the work that Kean does. For instance, she discusses the Old Brown Dog memorial, a highly controversial monument dedicated to a dog who was killed in a vivisection laboratory in 1903. During the early 20th century this memorial statue became a touchstone for ongoing debates about animal experimentation until the decision was made to remove it from the Latchmere gardens completely. In 1985 a replacement statue was placed in nearby Battersea Park, but, as Kean points out, the new statue was within the park and this was significant. The placement of the original statue was highly political. As Kean notes, it was “in the middle of a model housing estate for workers. This was a socialist area at the time. So, the location of the statue very much brought across the politics of it, the alignment of ordinary people and animals.” This historical connection is not immediately apparent with the new memorial statue having been placed there just before the demise of the socialist Greater London Council (GLC). This is the kind of attention to detail that informs all of Kean’s work.

“We need to consider these things in their social and cultural contexts.”

When I asked Kean about the kind of advice she would give other writers and scholars who want to make a difference for animals, she replied that “it is really just thinking about what you want to do, and if you want to do things that privilege the position of animals, you just do it.” I couldn’t agree more.

Thank you, Hilda, for all you have done for animals and for the field of animal history.

 

Images courtesy of Hilda Kean, Rosa Harvest and Jo-Anne McArthur. Interview and story by Keri Cronin.

Eight Women of Colour Changing the World for Animals

Eight Women of Colour Changing the World for Animals

“Working together makes us, and our impact, stronger.”

Last month, the Unbound Project partnered with Encompass to highlight the work of women of colour within the animal advocacy movement.

Encompass is a non-profit organization committed to building a more effective animal protection movement by fostering racial diversity and inclusivity.

With Encompass’ support, Unbound’s platforms were used to help amplify the voices of women of colour working in animal advocacy, and further the discussion around the topic of racial diversity, equity, and inclusion.

A big thank you to Encompass and all of the amazing women who shared their advice and insights with us. Read on to get inspired by their wonderful stories!

Aryenish Birdie

Founder and Executive Director of Encompass

Aryenish Birdie has worked in various social justice movements, including those striving for racial equity, queer rights, and reproductive freedom. Since 2017, she’s been fully focused on building the foundations of nonprofit organization Encompass.

Encompass empowers farmed animal organizations to operationalize racial diversity, equity, and inclusion to further our collective mission of animal protection. It also empowers advocates of colour by cultivating leadership potential and providing a space for individuals to enter and thrive within the movement.

Birdie founded Encompass after witnessing firsthand the urgent need for a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive animal protection movement.

“As a queer, light-skinned woman born in the Midwest from immigrant parents, I’ve struggled with identity and place my whole life. I never feel totally at home anywhere, so I’m always searching to belong. Working to develop Encompass has been personally satisfying because it’s an organization I myself need, but more importantly, it feels wonderful to build something for the animal movement that supports other people of colour.”

We spoke with Aryenish Birdie to find out more about her work.

 

Michelle Rojas-Soto

Former Managing Director at Better Eating International / Managing Director at Encompass

Michelle Rojas-Soto is the former Managing Director of Better Eating International, an organization using customized digital media to deliver progressive vegan education on a massive scale. She is a founding member of Gender Equity in Animal Rights (GEAR). Rojas-Soto just recently joined Encompass as Managing Director. Her work is focused on the interconnectedness of issues and manifests her commitment to fighting prejudice, hate, and apathy on all fronts.

She shared with us her insights on how we can work together to make activism spaces more open and inclusive:

“Using language from Tamika Butler, activists who want to support women of colour and gender non-conforming people of colour should shift from being actors to allies, and from being allies to accomplices. Tacitly supporting women of colour and gender non-conforming people of colour is not enough. Instead, we must actively engage with women of colour and gender non-conforming people of colour in their journey, share and even transfer resources to them if we are to achieve meaningful transformation and justice. Essentially, what I am advocating for here is love, the action that requires us to extend ourselves for the benefit of someone’s growth.”

Here are some of Rojas-Soto’s specific suggestions on ways we can do this:

•Connect with women of colour and gender non-conforming people of colour doing work in animal rights, ask questions, find out what they need, volunteer, and help them secure additional resources.

•Become a vocal advocate for women of colour and gender non-conforming people of colour in forums with other activists who know less than you about the subject.

•Study history, read the books Aphro-ism and Sistah Vegan.

•Be a champion for racial equity and gender equity within your own organization.

 

Jamila Anahata

The Soulful Veganista Blogger and Holistic Lifestyle Coach

Jamila Anahata is a passionate activist, blogger of thesoulfulveganista.com and holistic lifestyle coach.

Through a personal journey to take charge of her own health, which started almost five years ago, Anahata launched The Soulful Veganista, which aims to support people in finding the healer within themselves and to decolonize their lives through a conscious lifestyle. Anahata does this through a variety of mediums including writing and social media, holistic lifestyle coaching, and hosting local events.

“When I first went vegan, my goal was to spread awareness about wellness, holistic living, and veganism in the Black community. Those are still my missions but my advocacy slightly changed after I got into social justice because it’s something we don’t always incorporate in every movement. Now I advocate considering (hopefully) everyone’s level of ability, accessibility, and needs.”

Anahata’s suggestions for building a more inclusive movement:

“The best thing activists can do is to use their platform to amplify the voices of women of colour. Listen to us, respect our stances, learn more about our struggles, share and credit our work, and don’t police us about our delivery as if our words are more violent than the oppression that plagues us and other marginalized folks.”

 

Billie “Bee” Bryan

Creative Professional

Billie “Bee” Bryan on the power of shared values.

Billie Bryan, affectionately known as “Bee,” is an eco-conscious graphic designer, web designer, artist, musician, activist and vegan. She is also a pansexual, polyamorous, transgender woman advocating for the representation and visibility of her LGBTQIA+ community. When “Bee” is not organising queer meetups and hosting workshops, she’s working from home or on the go as ‘Bee The Designer’, providing design and marketing services to small businesses with big ideas!

“Use what you’ve got to make a difference. I decided to put my greatest skills to use in the best way I knew how and to fill a need that few others were able to. That’s how I contribute. Through all of the work I do, both as part of my own non-profit and as a service provider to others championing a similar message, I hope to help open people’s eyes to rampant inequality affecting human and non-human animals alike.”

Born and raised in the Cayman Islands, eco-conscious creative professional Billie “Bee” Bryan is working to radically reshape the prevalent conservative mindset of her country and create a safe, social environment for LGBTQIA+ people across the Caribbean and Latin America through the work of Colours Cayman, the nation’s first LGBTQIA+ non-profit organization that she founded in 2018.

“I consider animal advocacy to be something of a gateway drug to the recognition of a myriad other socio-political issues. And with so many other social movements breaking ground and continuing to gain momentum, people are beginning to connect the dots. The fact that we’re now considering issues of race, gender and diversity when discussing animal advocacy speaks to that. 

There’s a significant amount of overlap and I feel that our commonalities will lend strength to all our efforts. When people with a common interest band together to achieve a common goal, your gender, your nationality, your age or your background is virtually irrelevant; they will fight with you, side by side, as equals. And very few have shown as much empathy and compassion as the activists that I’ve had the pleasure of working with.”

Having worked with or volunteered for animal advocacy groups from around the world, ‘Bee The Designer’s’ clients consist largely of like-minded eco-conscious or vegan non-profits and solopreneurs. “Bee” aims to align her values with those she caters to and amplify their efforts with the help of her creative genius and marketing know-how.

 

Jaya Bhumitra

Former International Director of Corporate Outreach at Animal Equality

Jaya Bhumitra has nearly 20 years of campaigns and public affairs experience in both the private and non-profit sectors, including a decade in animal advocacy.

Recently, she served as the International Director of Corporate Outreach for Animal Equality, an Animal Charity Evaluators Top Charity. She serves on the advisory council of Encompass, and on the governing board for the Los Angeles chapter of New Leaders Council, the premier leadership training program for young progressives.

In the two-and-a-half years since launching the corporate outreach department for Animal Equality, Bhumitra hired, trained, and led new teams in Mexico, Brazil, India, Italy, Spain, Germany, the UK, and the U.S. to achieve 115 animal welfare policies from the world’s largest food companies, meaningfully reducing the suffering of approximately 40 million animals raised and killed for food each year.

Bhumitra’s suggestions on how we can work together to create more open and inclusive activism spaces:

“One of the most important ways activists can support women of colour – and non-binary folks of colour – in the animal protection movement is by elevating their voices. Rather than posting your own thoughts on social media, share a blog or status by a woman or non-binary person of colour who may have a more acute social commentary to provide, but who may not have as wide a platform from which to be heard.

This doesn’t mean only reposting when we have something to say about our gender or racial identities. This means making space for all of our good ideas and to acknowledge our professional expertise, resharing our content whether we’re describing our varied philosophical and practical approaches to activism or opinions on animal-protection- and vegan-related news.

Likewise, it’s crucial to fund the organizations and advocacy efforts of women and non-binary folks of colour who bear more emotional labor and are stretched in more directions than white-led organizations. If we want to see activism spaces become more open and inclusive, we need to make it possible for those initiatives by women and non-binary folks of colour to thrive.”

We spoke with Jaya Bhumitra about how the movement has evolved over the last few years, including how #ARMeToo and #TimesUpAR have impacted the community.

 

Anastasia Orth

Culture and Engagement Specialist at the Good Food Institute

Inspired by the possibilities for growth and innovation in the plant-based foods market, Anastasia brings her skills and passion to The Good Food Institute where she supports the creation of a respectful, fair, diverse, and high-performance culture that enables employees to contribute their very best to the organization.

“Before 2015, I admittedly knew very little about industrial animal agriculture and its impact on the environment, food security, global health, and animal welfare. Four years ago, I just happened to pick up and read Slaughterhouse by Gail Eisnitz; that book turned my world upside down. I spent many hours after work and on the weekends binge-reading everything I could about animal agriculture, thinking to myself, ‘how is it that I am only now learning about all of this?!’ The more I learned, the more difficult it became to focus on my tech recruiting job knowing what was going on all around me.”

Orth graduated with honours from the University of California at Berkeley. After beginning her career in sales, Orth was a recruiter for startups in Silicon Valley where she witnessed first-hand the power of technology to transform and disrupt long-established industries and practices.

“In my pursuit of a career transition, I discovered The Good Food Institute and was immediately inspired by the organization’s multi-faceted approach to using markets and innovation to create a more sustainable, healthy, and just global food system from the inside out.”

Orth’s advice to other women looking to make an impact in the movement:

“Many studies show that women are only likely to apply to jobs if they feel they meet 100% of the qualifications, whereas men will apply to jobs if they feel they meet 60% of the qualifications. I’d encourage anyone who wants to get professionally involved in activism to just GO FOR IT. Acknowledge your learning capacity. Don’t think that you have to know everything before stepping in. I didn’t know much before entering this space—I just knew I wanted to be a part of it. We can learn just about anything, but what’s most important is having the drive and desire—a growth mindset, if you will. If this is truly your heart’s passion, then get after it, sisters! You WILL learn.”

 

Romina Giel

Open Wing Alliance Events Coordinate at the Humane League

Romina Giel is the Open Wing Alliance Events Coordinator at The Humane League, an organization that exists to end the abuse of animals raised for food. Giel’s personal mission aligns with The Humane League’s mission; end the abuse of animals raised for food.

“Since joining The Humane League’s Open Wing Alliance, which works to end the use of battery cages globally, I’ve deepened my appreciation for collaboration. Working with them and knowing that we all have one common goal, is incredibly fulfilling.”

Giel’s advice to other women looking to make an impact in the movement:

“Get involved! Reflect on the skills you have and how you can apply them to activism. Organisations in the movement have volunteer opportunities in every department. Don’t ever doubt yourself or assume you won’t make a difference because you absolutely will! And if you’re not ready to commit to an organisation, showing up to local protests or signing up to receive online actions, makes a huge difference too.”

 

Lisa Feria

Founder of Stray Dog Capital

Lisa Feria is the CEO of Stray Dog Capital, a venture capital firm that invests in early-stage, mission-driven companies that aim to take animals out of the supply chain using innovative products and services. With over 26 investments, Stray Dog Capital is one of the leading early-stage investors in the plant-based market.

With the drive of Lisa Feria behind it, Stray Dog Capital works to accelerate a massive shift away from animal agriculture by helping amazing entrepreneurs deliver incredible food that doesn’t require people to radically change the way they eat!

Feria’s advice to other women looking to make an impact in the movement:

“Don’t be afraid to be visible and open with your thoughts, ideas and brand. Find great mentors and leverage them for introductions and influence. Finally, don’t stop learning and leveling your skills up.”

Follow Encompass to stay up-to-date with their latest projects and progress.

Twyla Francois

Twyla Francois

“Painting allowed me to literally paint the images out, freeing my mind up to return to the field.”

Like many activists, Twyla Francois can pinpoint the moments in her life that led her to animal rights.

One of the first was when she was 13. Growing up in a farming community in rural Canada, she joined 4H like most kids. She spent countless hours raising and getting to know her veal calf before enrolling him in the town fair, not understanding what would happen there. When she realized the man bidding on her beloved friend was the town butcher, she pleaded in tears to keep the calf, which 4H prohibits. She has no idea how she got a copy, but soon she was reading Peter Singer’s “Animal Liberation” and no longer eating meat.

Years later, as an adult, Francois was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery where doctors discovered stage IV tumors in her abdomen. She was an administrator at the University of Manitoba at the time. While working for the vice president of research, she’d seen documents detailing the university’s research on dogs, including where they’d come from – the city pound. Some arrived with name tags still on their collars. Francois spoke up to no avail, so she moved to another department at the university, but there her values were only challenged further.

Facing the possibility of death, she re-examined her life. While undergoing chemotherapy, she co-founded a small non-profit animal advocacy organization and threw herself into the world of animal rights, first as an investigator and then as an artist.

These two kinds of activism might seem like separate paths. But Francois says the first naturally led her directly to the second.

Besides the research on dogs, what did you see during your time in academia that conflicted with your values?

Any efforts I made at challenging the university’s use of animals were quickly dismissed – the university relied on funding from the various granting bodies and wouldn’t do anything that would risk it. Eventually I felt I had to leave the job and moved over to work for the vice president of external relations, but things just got worse. The university accepted funds from all of the corporations no one else would touch, granting them the ability to rename faculties. (Monsanto’s – now Bayer’s – headquarters are still located at the University of Manitoba.) A large oil company happily accepted the offer and renamed the Faculty of Environment to the Faculty of Earth and Earth Resources, setting the tone that environmental protection would no longer be the primary mandate of the faculty.

A new Smart Park was built to commercialize research, including, of course, animal research, and special films were ordered for the buildings’ windows to prevent photos and videos from being taken, giving the impression of transparency without having to actually provide it. In Smart Park, researchers didn’t even have to release statistics on the number of animals they were using or what they were using them for because they were under private ownership. I cried on the way home from work every day. The cognitive dissonance became unbearable and my body forced onto me what my mind wouldn’t [when I got sick]. It ended up being a blessing in disguise.

Your 10-plus years as an investigator included top roles with Animals’ Angels, Canadians for Ethical Treatment of Farmed Animals, the Canadian Horse Defense Coalition and Mercy For Animals Canada, and your work led to facility closures, animal cruelty convictions, documentaries, government-commissioned research and animal rescues. Why did you stop doing investigations?

I started having more and more difficulty handling investigations as time passed. Part of it was learning the complexity of emotions farmed animals experience and understanding how much they must suffer in animal agriculture. Each time I would get to know a species through one I was able to remove and bring to my property to live out their life free from exploitation, investigations on that species would become more difficult. Eventually I got to know all of the species used in animal agriculture, making it nearly impossible to continue with investigations.

I also questioned whether what I was doing was having an effect. Initially, I had a strong belief that undercover investigations were the most effective way to bring about real change for animals. We put together complete evidentiary packages for law enforcement, and major media outlets provided extensive coverage. But while those releases caused a slight ripple in society, the response wasn’t what I thought it would be. It was devastating to find that the one thing I’d pinned all my hopes on failed. It was my answer to the doubts I’d always had about my previous investigations – that perhaps I hadn’t presented a full enough case or released it exactly the right way. With the undercover work, everything was right, at least according to what I felt was right, and yet it didn’t have much more effect than my earlier work had.

The argument that continued to hound us as well was the (false) claim that our findings were a one-off, and that all we did was expose one rotten apple in an otherwise unblemished industry. We couldn’t put out investigations fast enough to counter this argument and I realized undercover investigations weren’t the panacea I had believed them to be. What was needed were constant releases of evidence from multiple sources across the country, which is exactly what’s happening today and why we’re seeing such a massive shift in how Canadians view animals, along with a concordant increase in veg’ism.

What did you learn from being an investigator?

I learned from doing investigations in Canada that conditions for animals are much worse than any of us can imagine, and that while there definitely are some individuals who are sadistic and enjoy deliberately making animals suffer, the vast majority of those in animal agriculture aren’t intentionally cruel. They’ve absorbed the message that animals are less-than, or simply regard them as commodities. Others in the industry recognize that animals shouldn’t be made to suffer but fail to understand that standard practices such as separating calves from mothers immediately after birth are also forms of suffering.

I also learned that in Canada, government and law enforcement can’t be counted on to protect farmed animals. There are no governmental bodies that conduct inspections for compliance on farms and the animal welfare legislation that does exist exempts farmed animals, along with practices considered standard, such as castration without anesthetic or analgesics and the use of intensive confinement systems. So for the vast majority of a farmed animal’s life, they are completely without protection.

The two pieces of federal legislation that exist are for animal transport and slaughter at federal facilities, but as investigation after investigation has shown, these regulations are rarely enforced. Instead, the officials that are present are often involved in incidents of cruelty themselves or are so subservient to the workers that they are rendered ineffective. Inspections and enforcement are also becoming increasingly de-regulated. For example, in a recent access to information request, I saw that inspections of the unloading of trailers at a large “federally-inspected” pig slaughterhouse that used to be conducted by Canadian Food Inspection Agency officials are now done by plant employees, who, relying on their employer for a paycheck, are highly unlikely to find any issues of non-compliance.

Why did you turn to art?

I began painting shortly after becoming an investigator and did it as a means to cope with what I was seeing in the field. The imagery seared on one’s brain after an investigation can be haunting and difficult to shake. Painting allowed me to literally paint the images out and put them onto the canvas, freeing my mind up to return to the field.

Later, after many investigations and exposes that sadly didn’t lead to the widespread changes in consumer behaviour I was hoping for, I realized that we weren’t reaching a substantial portion of the population with our message. In particular, kind-hearted, sensitive animal lovers found the images too upsetting and turned away before absorbing the message. These were the very people most likely to make changes to their diet if they could connect with the message. I realized that art, with its ability to be less threatening, could be a way of reaching these people’s hearts. This is because of how subjective art is – we each see in it what speaks to us and feels personal to us. That leaves much of the interpretation up to the viewer who then feels a sense of discovery and ownership of making the connection. Psychological studies show that this sense of responsibility is a direct catalyst for changing behaviour.

And because humans are social beings and look to others to determine how to feel and react in ambiguous situations, which sadly is the case with farmed animals, my hope is that seeing someone lovingly providing water to a dehydrated sow or gently holding a piglet as one would a puppy changes how we view these animals. It reminds us that farmed animals are just as capable of suffering and just as deserving of our respect and sense of responsibility.

Discuss a painting of yours that is especially important to you.

“Free Me” is likely my most well-known piece. It features a pig in a dimly-lit concrete pen peering hopefully through a window out onto a clear, sunny day. As the viewer’s eye moves to the right to explore the darkness, the pig’s dead body, suspended for bleeding, comes into view. The painting came about after my first investigation at an assembly yard, where animals were temporarily housed while being marketed to slaughterhouses – in this case, thousands of miles away. The pigs were cull sows and boars used for breeding who had spent the majority of their adult lives confined to barren concrete and metal cages barely larger than their own bodies. When the pigs were loaded onto the large multi-deck trailers to be taken to slaughter, many pushed their snouts through the portholes of the trailer, trying to feel the sun on their faces. I realized it was likely the first and last time they would ever experience this simple sensation. In all of their suffering, they still had a desire to feel the sun on their skin. They had to strain for it, and many who were too sick, diseased or injured to reach the portholes weren’t even able to experience it. Their only certainty in life was their death which awaited them at the end of this journey as it had hung over them from the moment they were born. It was as inescapable as a shadow.

I never thought I’d release that painting because it was just too personal, but I eventually did and it became part of the Animal Activism Art collection in Stuttgart and is now on permanent display at Land der Tiere, the largest farmed animal sanctuary in Germany.

How do you think your art is making an impact?

I find that I’m reaching a completely different group of people than I did with investigations. It was only when I started releasing art that people from the small farming community I grew up in began contacting me, saying they’ve been following my work but didn’t feel comfortable contacting me until recently. That means a lot because I know where they come from and the difficulty in openly recognizing animals as anything other than commodities in an area that relies on that view. I’m always pleasantly surprised after exhibitions or when articles about my art have been published when people contact me to say they were inspired to make a change. The Recasting Series, which features women of all ages connecting with farmed animals in ways they would companion animals, seems to resonate with many people.

What is next for you?

There are a number of pieces I’m keen to do but have to wait until my technical skills are up to the challenge! I’d specifically like to continue adding to the Monkey Wrenching series, which features people of all ages actively liberating animals. I’d love to do a subseries of seniors liberating animals in particular, as I’ve found surprising support from this age group. No one is ever too young or too old to take action for animals.

 

Learn more about Twyla Francois and view her art at twylafrancois.com.

Photos by Jo-Anne McArthur. Interview and story by Corinne Benedict.