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Claudette Vaughan, Editor of Abolitionist Online, interviews Joan Papayanni of The World League for the Protection of Animals, May 2007
Living and Breathing the NO KILL philosophy in the animal rights movement follows the way of St Francis of Assisi who loved and communed with the non-human animal kingdom.
“Slowly in our European thought comes the notion that ethics has not only to do with mankind but with the animal creation as well. This begins with St Francis of Assisi. The explanation which applies only to man must be given up. Thus we shall arrive at saying that ethics is reverence of all life”
- Albert Schweitzer [Religion, p. 1521.]
Abolitionist: What role do you think religion has to actively play in the animal rights movement in the future?
Joan: I’d like to think that there is a real role for religion to play in the animal rights movement. There are many religions but Buddhism stand out as one that already has consideration and reverence for animals up to a point. Unfortunately to date the Christian religion not so much but for myself I always think of Christ as being the fount of all compassion. When he came there was no need for any further animal sacrifices and I feel that that point should be emphasized. There are many Christians that are such good and compassionate people and are kind to one another but they seem to be able to blot out the issue of animals from their philosophy. I’ve never been able to understand it. In Genesis it says that man has dominion over the animals and the misinterpretation of the word “dominion” really in actual fact means ‘loving responsibility’ and it’s not meant to be taken that they have the right to do virtually anything they like to animals. It’s a total misinteruptation of the term. I feel very strongly that any compassionate God would see things in that light. Think of all those references in the Bible that says God cares about every individual sparrow, a righteous man regards his beast in Proverbs etc. There are many of these sayings in the Bible. Christians have to take that on board and start to think about it and especially now at this time when out environment is so threatened. Factory farming does so much damage to the environment that even here Christians have to do something active about it. I really hope it will happen. I think it will be a long haul but we in the animal rights movement should really work along with Christians there.
Abolitionist: We have spoken before about the more involved with animal rights one becomes and witnessing all the suffering and sickness they face, it’s at this time one’s religion is important. Your thoughts Joan?
Joan: We have had some great figures in the Christian religion. One who springs to mind is St Francis of Assisi who is the patron saint of animals. World Animal Day on the 4 October is his feast day. He was an outstanding exponent of compassion for animals. To have a figure like that in the Catholic church puts the Catholic church ahead of other protestant religions in animal issues. Our organisation (WLPA) has tried to interest the other protestant churches in animal issues with little success so far though we have had various services in Sydney on World Animal Day to help achieve this. There is a feeling that they don’t really take it as a central issue so I think there is a huge amount of work to be done there. Those of us who do have a Christian belief should work together for this end.
Abolitionist: In all these years your activism for “The World League for the Protection of Animals” has been to a strict no-kill working with animals. How come you have taken this enlightened stance when there’s been pressure to go with the majority is ignore no-kill?
Joan: It comes from the philosophy, that I have, which Albert Schweitzer was the best exponent of and it can be summed up in the term ‘reverence for life’. If you do have reverence for life then you have a reverence for life for all species. In my case it is particularly for cats and dogs as this is the reason I first got involved in the animal rights movement to try and save these animals. To me it’s unthinkable to say I am going to take the life of a cat or dog. I simply could never be a party to that.
Abolitionist: What kind of problems have you experienced over the years with holding this view.
Joan: The problem is of disbelief with people in the community that no-kill is actually achievable. I wouldn’t attempt to minimise the problems surrounding no-kill but we at “World League…” get a manageable number of animals to re-home so in that respect we are fortunate unlike the RSPCA and some of the other organisations. I do realise the problems that the RSPCA is given to deal with stray animals but I think it would be just wonderful to hear them commit to moving towards a no-kill philosophy. Even if they feel they couldn’t achieve it now, if they could share the same respect for other forms of life as those of us that believe with all our hearts in the no-kill philosophy do then that would be real progress.
Abolitionist: Can you tell us your experience with the individual free-roaming cats when they arrive at your doorstep from having spent a life out of doors because when we look at your office cat, Cupboard, what a wonderful big personality she is. Many people assume that these cats are only “ferals” and not worthy of respect.
Joan: Cupboard the cat wasn’t actually a free-living or a wild cat. She belonged to an elderly lady who went into a nursing home. She belonged to somebody but it’s true that she was quite an anxious cat. You can’t imagine the thoughts that must go through their minds when their owner is taken to a nursing home and they never see their owner again. She was quite an aggressive character and matriarchal when it came to the other cats but somehow she settled down and that story had a very happy ending. She was spotted by one of our visitors and now is living a very happy life in the lap of luxury in North Ryde.
I think there are some cats that are very difficult to socialize and that’s why we believe in desex and return if the conditions are suitable for it. Much as we would like to believe that there’s a home out there for every cat there really isn’t a conventional home out there. Governed by this respect-for-life philosophy we’ve got to come around to thinking that part of the solution is desex and return, you need a reasonably suitable environment not too dangerous for the cat, you need carers and feeders who are reliable and you need back-up feeders as well.
Abolitionist: You do a lot of work with cat colonies. What is involved with cat colonies and in Sydney experience has shown that someone alerting “World League for the Protection of Animals” to a cat colony usually means action stations. How do you cope with the situation Joan?
Joan: The size of the colonies can vary between 5 cats to 25 cats. The secret is to be orderly about it and go through the trapping procedure. If it’s a larger colony use several traps and who ever the person is that sets the trap needs to be vigilant about the procedure to ensure that cat is no longer in the trap that absolutely need be which leaves the cat vulnerable to people who don’t have the cat’s best interests at heart. As each cat is desexed he or she is identified so we don’t trap the same cats again and again.
There’s one colony that we are involved with at Abbotsford in a block of housing commission town houses and there are 5 cats in that colony. They are the most magnificent group of cats I have every seen. It’s a matter of keeping an eye on them, seeing how they look and being quick to see if there are any veterinary problems.
Abolitionist: What are obstacles in the way from government, industry and officials to a no-kill philosophy?
Joan: Councils vary. Some councils believe that cat colonies are illegal. There’s one particular Ranger from the southern suburbs who acts like a bush lawyer. He is quite convinced that it’s illegal to desex a wild cat and return it to the environment. World League for the Protection of Animals has had very good legal advice by a very experienced retired barrister and he’s gone into all the Acts and it’s not illegal. There’s no legal bar at the moment to returning a cat to a colony. We do get opposition from Rangers and we get opposition from eco-nationalists sometimes called eco-nazi’s. These people have no respect for any animals except for Australian native animals.
I think you have to be fairly considerate about the place where you are putting the cat back to. No-body wants to put a cat colony in a sensitive bushland area. There are a lot of threatened species. That wouldn’t sit well in promoting no-kill so one has to be sensitive and intelligent about it. Besides there are so many inner city areas ideal for cat colonies this is where the cats we are finding are coming from. We get upset if any bird or animal is killed but occasionally it does happen and unfortunately that is just part of life.
Abolitionist: Tell us some history about your activism, Joan.
Joan: From a child I had always liked animals. My mother was a member of World League for the Protection of Animals. She signed me up in the beginning to become a member then in 1983 when the World League was about to close down they asked my barrister husband to come along and help from the legal point of view. Somehow at this meeting I realised how much good work had been done and I just felt very strongly that it would be a huge shame if the organisation closed. After this meeting everything was set to close the organisation down and then there was a small bequest that was left just in the nick of time. I was invited to become more closely involved and I said “Yes”. My friend Katherine Rogers who had been at university with me was a long time vegetarian and we together put a lot of time into building up the organisation again. I must pay tribute to my husband who was always there and helped enormously with legal problems pro bono for people with animal problems.
Abolitionist: Any final words?
Joan: I’d like people to think about the no-kill philosophy because there are so many good people in the community that just accept that it’s the fate of animals to be killed and this is not the right way to look on other living species. We have no right to believe it’s we that are lords of the universe and to treat other animals in this way. It is essential to have this attitude of respect for other forms of life.
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