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Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
14 November 1999

OCTOGENARIAN ACTIVIST A ROLE MODEL FOR US ALL
 By Michelle Rivera, MRivera008@aol.com

It is always difficult to single out an animal rights activist because there are so many wonderful activists out there getting the job done! However, it is important to remember the people who blazed the trail for the rest of us, our forefathers and foremothers (*Henry Berg, **Peter Singer, ***Dian Fossey) who spoke out for animals long before computers made our jobs so much easier. Think of all the things we can do with computers that our predecessors had to do without the help of the internet. Think of the research, the communication, the reaching out to others of like mind who could help spread the word. Letters were written to politicians and companies and newspapers in longhand, or on manual or electric typewriters. Copies were made using carbon paper or copy machines, and letters were sealed and stamped and sent to people we hoped would care enough to make a stand. One of my Animal Writes co-staff members remarked to me recently that, until we were all brought together by EnglandGal and her organization, she felt so isolated and alone. With no animal-rights activity going on around her, it is difficult and discouraging to keep up the fight.

Throughout my years as an animal rights activist, I have met some wonderful people. People like Susan Roghair, the President and Founder of Animal Rights Online, Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) spokesperson Howard Lyman and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA) co-founder Alex Pacheco. I've even met SIR Charles Barkley, the Houston Rockets basketball star who once sent a vegetarian recipe to (PeTA). These are the movers and the shakers of the animal advocacy world. It has been my privilege to be among them.

But there are others who are not quite so resplendent. People who move quietly through the world making life better for animals. People of whom we never hear. These are the people who have been quietly propelling the movement along. I know one who is an inspiration and role model for all of us, someone of whom you will never hear; someone who still writes her politicians hand-written letters because she doesn't own a computer. Her name is Sophia Pia, and her story is quite extraordinary. Sophia is not just an animal lover. Her deep respect and admiration for animals goes beyond mere love. She has a fierce loyalty to animals and to the people who work to save them.

I met Sophia through a series of unbelievable coincidences. I had seen her name in print many times. It seemed that we were destined to share ink in the Palm Beach Post as many of my "letters to the editor" appeared beside hers! The topics and opinions expressed were mirror images of each other. While working as a cruelty case coordinator for the humane society, I was coordinating the efforts to put pressure on the prosecutors and judges on the Timothy Craft cruelty case. Through our newsletter and on radio interviews, I put out an urgent plea for letters to the prosecutors for swift and just action for his horrendous crime of killing his own dog with a baseball bat in the presence of his other dog to "teach the other a lesson". Ms. Pia wrote me what could only be described as "fan mail". She urged me to keep up the fight, that there were those like her who were following my directions, writing letters, backing me up. It was several years before I was to meet Sophia, but what a grand moment it was when I finally came face to face with the woman whose life had so paralleled my own. Through a bizarre, third-person, chance encounter having nothing to do with animals, I entered the world of this most delightful lady.

My first impression of Sophia was that she is full of effervescence and fire. At the age of eighty-eight, she is an inspiration to those who believe that activism is for the young. Her eyes full of curiosity, her heart full of dedication, she possesses the spirit of a soldier. We talked awhile about our mutual respect for animals, our intolerance for those who seek to hurt them, our shame in those who are indifferent to their existence. Sophia, the widow of a former A.S.P.C.A. director, was raised by an animal-friendly, vegetarian mother in an age when "going veggie" wasn't chic. Still a strict vegetarian, Sophia is a model of health and vitality. Ms. Pia spends her days caring for the ducks and homeless cats near her home, and her nights writing letters, in longhand, to legislators, companies and newspapers. Recently, she was approached and berated by an angry Animal Control Officer who threatened her with punishment if she didn't stop helping the cats whose lives depended on her. You can bet she was on the phone to her county commissioner asserting her rights as a citizen. This lady has led a remarkable life.

Sophia Pia has been a member and supporter of many local and national animal groups, Peta and the HSUS among them, for years. The day we met, she shared with me that for the first time since her husband died she felt a sense of belonging. She was at home. It is important that we activists stay together to keep up the fight. It is important that animal activists take turns being the one who is sensitive, being the one who is strong, being the one who always goes to demos, being the one that always writes letters. It is important to note that some of the most dedicated animal-rights activists are never in the public eye: they are the mothers who carefully explain why mommy won't take the children to the circus, they are the fathers who stop the car to help an injured animal in the presence of his child who is a witness to this heroism, they are the little children who sign up for a "clean the beach" project, or raise pennies through cookie sales for their local humane societies, they are wise, senior citizens who spend their time bird-watching and reporting on changing migratory habits. They are the newspaper writers and editors who slant the article about the rodeo "just a smidgeon, just enough, barely noticeable, really." They are you, they are me. They are all around us. Believe it. Believe that we are never, ever alone.

There are those who make big bold strokes of brilliant color on the landscape of the animal welfare movement; but there are also those who create the canvas on which they paint.

*Henry Berg, Founder of the American Humane Association in 1963
**Peter Singer, Author, Animal Liberation; considered the "father of the animal rights movement
***Dian Fossey, martyred for protecting silverback gorillas from poachers.

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