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

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

Dobrosława Gogłoza

Dobrosława Gogłoza

“We are here for an ultra-marathon, not a sprint.”

Dobrosława Gogłoza. All images by Jo-Anne McArthur for the Unbound Project.

It’s a fall day in Poznan, Poland, and Dobrosława Gogłoza is at the local zoo of all places. “It’s my first time in a zoo in many, many years,” says Gogłoza, a feminist and former grade school teacher who now dedicates her life to helping animals. She is here to visit a pair of foxes who were rescued from a fur farm by the national animal rights organization she helped launch in 2012, Otwarte Klatki, or OK (branded as Open Cages internationally).

Gogłoza says she never expected to collaborate with a zoo, but this one has taken an impressive public stance against fur farming, a fight that OK has championed. So when the zoo agreed to house the foxes in a roomy enclosure with plenty of privacy, Gogłoza’s group agreed.

Gogłoza says that one of her favorite things about the animal rights movement in Poland, a country of about 40 million people, is that it’s so new that her organization, which focuses on farmed animals, often finds itself laying new ground. OK has exploded in popularity since its inception just five years ago.

“For me, that’s the whole fun of working in Eastern Europe,” she says. “I feel that in some other countries, many organizations feel like they can’t do some things because people are watching and they expect you to behave in a certain way.”

Here, you can show the way, because there was no one before you.

That isn’t to say that pioneering an animal rights movement here has been easy, and it’s OK’s anti-fur work that has been the hardest.

About two years after the group started, its members learned that spies posing as activists had infiltrated the organization, attending its strategy meetings and feeding information to Poland’s entrenched fur industry, which is among the world’s biggest. The spies—two women—had secretly recorded Gogłoza for months, and although they’d come away with nothing damaging, they used heavily edited audio to personally target Gogłoza to try to intimidate her into quitting as OK’s leader.

The media and public saw through it, but the betrayal still took a toll. Gogłoza felt “paranoid” for a time. She worried about trusting even close friends and about making harmless jokes in case someone was listening.

“I had moments where I felt like I was just going to quit,” she says, tears welling. “I felt that the invasion of privacy was quite a big deal.”

Dobrosława Gogłoza

Others with OK­—now with about 300 core activists driving its work—were deeply affected, too. Some wanted new volunteers to sign pledges as to their intentions and loyalty, but Gogłoza objected.

“Even though I personally had problems with trusting people, I felt that as an organization we should not lose this trust, because trusting made us who we are,” she says. “Year after year, I’ve seen that many of the great things we’ve done have been done by people who are very new to the organization. So I think the fact that we actually trusted them made them motivated to show their best abilities and best ideas.”

Ultimately, she says, the experience made her stronger, which is how many who know her describe her.

“I don’t think I was born that way,” she says, “but many different things made me stronger and stronger. Like after this whole thing, I feel much stronger than before. Even though when it happened I felt on the verge of quitting, I think now they would have to do much more to get me to the same point.”

Growing up in Namysłów, a small town in southwest Poland, Gogłoza was quiet and shy. In college, she studied English philology and became drawn to the hardcore straight edge scene, which espouses abstention from drugs, alcohol and animal products. She went vegan and soon got involved with local feminists. But something was missing.

“It felt like a hobby,” she says, “not activism.”

Then a friend invited her to an international animal rights gathering in Oslo. This was activism, she remembers thinking, and she fell in love.

Nothing like what she’d seen in Norway was happening in Poland, so with a handful of others, she started an informal, grassroots group that became OK. Gogłoza continued to attend animal rights gatherings outside of Poland and then decided to host one at home. It was a turning point.

“The movement in Poland before that and after that were two absolutely different situations,” she says.

Besides fur, OK focuses heavily on egg farming and broiler chickens, carrying out investigations and producing virtual reality videos that it leverages to establish dialogues with corporations. One of Poland’s largest egg producers recently declared bankruptcy as a result, and others have adopted cage-free policies.

OK also promotes plant-based eating, targeting both food businesses and consumers.

Gogłoza and OK are “truly the piston for the animal rights movement in Poland,” says Iga Glazewska, who nominated Gogłoza for the Unbound Project.

And OK is at the center of the Network for Eastern European Animal Rights (NEAR), which Gogłoza helped launch in 2013 to advance the movement regionally. NEAR now includes activists and organizations in Czechia, Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Hungary, Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Romania, and Bulgaria.

“We are trying to implement our best practices to work in other countries,” Gogłoza says. “Even if we don’t have big resources, we are still very committed to sharing them.”

Animal industry operates internationally, and we have to do it as well.

She also believes the movement must be diverse. She recently spoke at the Conference on Animal Rights in Europe about the challenges of being a female leader, and about the intersection of animal rights and feminism.

“If we really want things to be more equal for female leaders in the animal rights movement or elsewhere in society, we personally have to do more,” she says. “Every time you succeed as a female leader or woman in the movement doing great work, you’re actually making it easier for other women. It makes me angry when I hear people say, ‘I did not invite more female speakers to the conference because there are not enough professional women.’ I feel that if you organize an event, you’re partly responsible for who you are showing as the spokespeople for the movement.”

Besides her strength, Gogłoza is often praised for being highly strategic. OK is quick to learn from mistakes and drop what isn’t working. It has stopped giving educational talks in schools, publishing an online magazine and using certain social media sites—all because its activists have deemed other uses of their time more effective.

It has also paid close attention to what works best in sharing investigation results. For example, compared to data, OK found it far more effective to reveal to the public that mother foxes on fur farms were so stressed they were chewing limbs off of their babies. The same went for naming individual rescued fox cubs.

This taught OK that its focus should be on telling a cohesive, relatable story.

Gogłoza credits all of this to OK’s structure and culture—flat, accessible, open, unafraid of failure, and unreliant on someone at the top telling everyone else what to do.

With this organization, I could quit now, and it would survive. I think that’s one of my greatest achievements. I know that we are resilient.

“We are here for an ultra-marathon, not a sprint.”

Learn more about Otwarte Klatki/Open Cages and support their work.
Text by Corinne Benedict. Interview and photographs by Jo-Anne McArthur.

Creating A Safer Movement

Creating A Safer Movement

“When one of us gets tired, our allies prop us up and take over.

We pass the torch and then pass it again.”

Although the animal protection movement is populated largely by women, as with most industries, women are underrepresented in positions of power. After the initial #MeToo fallout, stories began to surface of (predominantly) female activists suffering harassment at the hands of employers, colleagues, and donors, including in some of the most well-known and most respected advocacy organizations. Because the women targeted were activists, abusers and enablers had long maintained a culture of staying silent “for the sake of the animals,” rather than denouncing successful male activists. The #ARMeToo conversation focused on the need to create a safer space for all activists, highlighting that for every successful male activist who was kept in the movement and in the spotlight, an unknown number of women would leave the movement burnt out and demoralized.

Jaya Bhumitra, former International Director of Corporate Outreach for Animal Equality, shared with us her insights on how #ARMeToo and #TimesUpAR have impacted the community, and how the movement has evolved over the last few years.

“While the years leading up to the height of #ARMeToo and #TimesUpAR in the spring of 2018 – and the subsequent reckoning – were emotionally wrought and exhausting for many of us working to create a safer and healthier space for women and non-binary folks to participate in activism, the solidarity that emerged among us has been the most beautiful silver lining.

As soon as we started sharing our stories of survival with each other, our strength grew. While self-preservation is absolutely necessary when coping with issues of harassment and sexual harassment, speaking in whispers and secrets also protects the perpetrators.

It’s not possible for every survivor to come forward – they need to consider their safety and emotional energy – and that’s why I have been so heartened to see so many women and non-binary folks speaking out about these important issues on behalf of each other. When one of us gets tired, our allies prop us up and take over. We pass the torch and then pass it again.

‘Trauma-bonding’ is not the happiest way to make connections, but the friendships we’ve gained from it have contributed to creating a whole new infrastructure for the movement built on trust and support. With this more secure foundation in place, we are less personally encumbered and more able to refocus on helping the animals we came here to liberate.”