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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 17 March 2001 Issue:

Welcoming Judy, [email protected]   to our staff. I am happy to present the first article in her new column.


By Judith Marie Gansen

An Activist Is Born

I always felt as though I was different from other people. I remember as young as age 6 when I asked my Mother what the collar of my coat was made of because it was so soft. I was told it was rabbit fur. It was beautiful and white on a navy color coat--the picture of that coat is still to this day etched in my mind--a gift from my Godmother. After I learned it was rabbit fur I didn't like the coat anymore because I had a white pet rabbit. Even at that young age, I knew it was inherently wrong. That skin belonged to it's original owner as the skin on my pet rabbit belonged to him. This was in the late 1950's before anyone really spoke very much about animals having rights.

My maternal grandmother would call me "stata buba" (unsure of spelling) which in Yugoslavian I learned means "old woman." At a very young age I used to go around and say profound, mature things and I would frighten people. I wasn't super intelligent or psychic or anything--just very sensitive, intuitive and compassionate. Our mother was a very kind and gentle person as well and I often wonder how many of my "differences" were passed on from her genes and guidance and how much of me came from my experiences in life. She cared about other people and was a loving person. She taught her children to appreciate the beauty of a flower or an animal. She taught us to put others before ourselves--a beautiful Christian teaching that unfortunately did not extend to animals back then in many ways. Somehow, in my heart I always felt that it did. I still believed though that there were several kinds of animals--some were pets, some were wild, some were "food."

Soon after I got my first real job I was more diligent about reading the paper and watching the news to be well informed. I would hear or read about different cases of animal cruelty and my heart went out to those animals. Something had to be done. I joined my first humane society. While they did good work, much of the information sent to me back then seemed not enough. I wanted to see my small contribution going to change the world for animals. I wanted results. I looked into the trusting, loving eyes of my pound dog I adopted back then, Pandora, and wondered how could anyone harm such a beautiful creature who feels pain and fear just like we do.

Somewhere, somehow I heard about PETA. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. I even liked what the letters stood for. They did things I thought about but didn't have the courage or knowledge to do. They were more results-oriented than many of the other animal organizations whose mailings I received. But I still ate meat--weren't they all vegetarians?? I wrote to them and asked if it would be alright if I still belonged but ate meat. I received a warm and cordial response that said I was welcome to the organization and while they taught that we shouldn't eat meat, they had a few other members who still did. We all have to evolve at our own pace in our desire to help other beings. I have been a PETA member for a number of years now and also belong to other animal organizations working on various issues.

My journey continued as I read articles written by other animal sources as well as the "opposition" to get a more balanced viewpoint. I always try to look at both sides of any issue. I would read newspaper articles about the crazy antics of animal activists and think--"gosh, those people scare me sometimes." Then I would say to myself "but I AM one of those people!" Later I learned the regular press rarely picks up the stories of animal activist accomplishments. Instead it loves to print the outlandish things activists have done--going naked for fur, etc. Something not all of us would do (or could do!!) but it does bring in the publicity which we so desperately need. After all, a lovely person or star going naked generates more attention than a booth set up to educate people about animal issues. The media also loves to do stories about the few activists who break the law which I believe harms our movement--it frightens people and scared people don't grow, evolve or learn. In any social movement there are those who operate outside the majority. However, the majority of animal rights activists are law abiding moms, dads, grandmas, teachers, taxpayers, students, blue collar, white collar--in other words, everyone. The majority of activists believe that the way to change is educate, educate, educate!

I began writing letters for animals. After all, they can't write, vote or make a phone call to complain for themselves, they need us to do that for them. In that respect every one of them is totally dependent on us. Every one--wild and domestic, "food" or not. They need humans to take on their causes and explain them to others. Why they have value, why they matter, why it is so very wrong to harm or exploit them.

I now no longer eat meat. I write letters and make phone calls to help animals as much as I can--always in a respectful and hopefully intelligent manner. My Mom used to say, "You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar." Words of wisdom to live by. Kindness, truth, honesty, justice, compassion. These are the kinds of words that inspire us. To know that one set of four paws, one set of wings or other living creature is living a better life because of something we did. To know that our one letter reached one person. To know that we are a growing movement, fueled by anger, tears and few victories over greed, ignorance and cruelty.

Join us in our journey to wisdom and compassion for other creatures who share our planet. I never thought I would hear myself say these words but--I am an animal activist!!!

Staff: [email protected]

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