When talking about animals and their suffering, I have
usually tried to keep my own tough break out of it. However, my first
step toward becoming vegan is tied in to my childhood injury and
illness. I lost my right leg to cancer when I was ten years old. I had
slashed my leg on a rusty swing set and about nine months after the
injury, began experiencing pain and then numbness in the area. When
X-rays showed a fuzzy mass, I was taken to an orthopedic surgeon who did
a biopsy exactly at the site of the old scar and found the cancer. I am
pretty sure the illness was a direct result of the earlier trauma.
In order to keep my knee - which would ultimately make
walking with an artificial limb much easier - I had to undergo almost
three years of difficult chemotherapy, causing me to remain at home for
the fifth, sixth and start of the seventh grades. For company, I was
allowed to adopt a calico kitten - the runt of the litter- who I named
Boogie. Boogie helped me to begin seeing animals as true individuals.
She made me want to know more about animals- more about who they are.
I went vegetarian at 18, while still living in my
hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. I had picked up a PETA pamphlet about
how animals live to become food and that's all it took. That was in
1990. I think I knew one other vegetarian at the time and that was it.
I moved to Chicago to study film and made ends meet by
waiting tables at the Chicago Diner, one of the country's oldest
vegetarian restaurants. There I met a number of folks active with PETA
(People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). I turned a school project
into a class documentary project on a PETA demonstration that involved
burning fur coats to attract media attention and raise awareness. PETA
requested use of the film and asked me to become further involved.
At an advertising awards ceremony in 1992, Gillette (a
company that tested its products on animals) was to be honored for it’s
high-tech, cutting edge commercials. I sort of crashed the party and
went to the building’s basement, where a huge rabbit’s costume was
waiting. Its eyes and fur had been retouched to resemble the effects of
Gillette’s brutal animal testing. On the way back up to the event, Tony
Bennett, who would be performing, got on the elevator. He assumed I was
part of the show right up until I ran out of the elevator screaming,
“Gillette tortures animals” and throwing leaflets to the swell crowd
that had assembled for cocktails before the awards ceremony.
Over the next year and a half, I did a variety of
film-related projects for PETA, including undercover footage of
catheterized horses kept in captivity and continually pregnant at a
facility that collected equine urine for the manufacture of Premarin, a
hormone-replacement drug. My first-ever footage was aired in the United
States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany.
I had worked in film and television in a variety of
capacities: production coordinator, production manager, associate
producer, assistant director, post-production supervisor to finally
working in the role I thought I wanted – a television producer/director
where I was writing, traveling with film crews, and making good money.
But I wasn’t happy. I had always wanted to do something with and for
animals, but I didn’t know what. I was too young and too driven in my
career to realize the impact my early activism work had on me.
It wasn’t until six years ago after visiting Farm
Sanctuary that I really began to understand that there is actually even
more suffering and misery for animals in the dairy and egg industries
than the meat industry. That’s a hard thing to wrap your head around but
it’s true. Dairy and egg animals are eventually killed for their flesh
but only after one to five years of psychological torture and physical
pain. That’s when I made it the rest of the way to vegan.
In 2002, I went undercover for Farm Sanctuary;
traveling from stockyard to stockyard in Texas, documenting the
miserable conditions these animals endure to be sold at auction for
their products. The point was to capture video of “downers” (animals
that are too weak, sick or injured to stand and who are eventually
dragged on to the trucks headed to slaughter or left to die without
food, water or veterinary care). It’s awful and grotesquely inhumane. As
long as the animal is alive when she arrives at the slaughterhouse, she
can be sold for meat so they will drag them with chains, push or lift
them with bulldozers or prod them repeatedly with electric prods or
other cruel devices.
I realized I wanted to do something similar to Farm
Sanctuary. Documenting the horrors inflicted on animals by the meat
industry is important, but it is emotionally exhausting. Along with
revealing that ugly truth, I think the best way to reach people who are
not yet vegan is to let them meet the animals. Unfortunately, there is
an endless need for farm animal sanctuaries. We won’t run out of animals
in need of placement after escaping slaughter or surviving neglect and
So I somehow convinced my husband, Doug, that we could
manage to begin a sanctuary. Doug still works in television and film,
and keeps our heads above water while we run the farm. We actually set
out to start a sanctuary and did it! That blows my mind! We have helped
hundreds of farm animals find their way to freedom, either at our
sanctuary or at loving, forever homes where they can live out their life
What I do now for farm animals is no different from
what most people would do for their beloved companion animals if they
had the chance. Farm animals are just as deserving of our compassion.
It's always a beautiful thing to see a chicken who has
never known life outside of a tiny, cramped cage walk outdoors for the
first time. To watch them feel the sun on their backs and feel the grass
underfoot is to watch their rebirth from a life of misery to one of
freedom. It's a sight to behold and it's one that makes me so proud that
I am helping create that happiness. I consider myself a voice for the
voiceless and through me, and the others that make up the Woodstock Farm
Animal Sanctuary, they shall be heard.
Note: Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary is open to
visitors weekends from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m or by appointment on weekdays.
Learn more at www.woodstockfas.org. Donations and volunteers are always
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