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Please help stop this.

August 8, 2014

I just posted something really difficult on These Glass Walls’ Facebook page. It’s a video of sheep-shearing, which most people consider to be quite harmless.

I struggled with posting it, in part because Facebook has a new background feature whereby posted video runs automatically without the need to click on it. I chose to post it anyway because I believe it’s so important for people to know about the brutal animal abuse behind wool. Yes, commercially raised sheep do need to be shorn because they’ve been bred that way — but no one needs to be shorn like this. The sheer brutality of it is breathtaking. The sheep are punched, kicked, dragged, stomped on, poked in the eyes, beaten in the head with a hammer, and more. All because they struggle when they’re shorn, which they find uncomfortable to begin with. I would imagine they struggle more when they see their flockmates — their family — being so violently abused.

What made it doubly difficult for me to see this is the fact that I just returned from three days at Farm Sanctuary, where the sheep barn is my favourite place to hang out and where I have come to know so many of these lovely animals as individuals. Sheep are such sweet, gentle, loving and kind creatures…they are protective of those weaker than they are and are highly intelligent with incredible memories, including great facial recollection, even among other sheep (or humans) they haven’t seen for years. The sheep in the undercover PETA video could be sheep I know; it could be Jeanne or Hershel or Joey or Freckles.

The video I’ve linked to here and posted on Facebook is very hard to watch, but I implore you to try — and then to reconsider how you feel about wool. It’s about as far from harmless as you can possibly get.

**Please note: if you click on the link, you will see a petition you can sign at the bottom of the page that asks Ralph Lauren & J. Crew, two leading sellers of wool in the USA, to drop wool in favour of animal-free alternatives.

How long should we wait to act?

June 11, 2014

Mercy For Animals Canada has been very busy and I find myself getting increasingly angry and frustrated.

Earlier this week they broke yet another investigation – their third this year, this one at Canada’s largest dairy, supplier to Saputo and its subsidiary, Dairyland. The two-and-a-half-minute video shows staff at the Chilliwack Cattle Company (a.k.a. Chilliwack Cattle Sales, a.k.a. Kooyman farm) abusing cows in horrific ways that would make all but the most hard-hearted person recoil and gasp in sympathy for the animals.

A worker at Chilliwack Cattle Sales kicks the head of a downed cow. Photo: MFA Canada

A worker at Chilliwack Cattle Sales kicks the head of a downed cow. Photo: MFA Canada

The video shows workers kicking and punching the cows, beating them with rakes, chains and metal pipes, viciously poking at open wounds, screaming obscenities at the animals, hoisting them up by chains around their necks, and more.

This farm — again, the largest dairy supplier in Canada — was chosen at random, as are all the farms Mercy For Animals Canada has investigated. The story was featured on CTV’s national newscast, made front page news on the website of CBC, Canada’s national public broadcaster, and has appeared prominently in newspapers large and small, local and national, across the country.

Dave Taylor, chairman of the B.C. Dairy Association, said “We feel it vital to assert that this abuse is in no way common practice in our industry.” The dairy owners say they’re shocked and horrified by what they saw, that it’s completely unacceptable and they have “zero tolerance” for animal cruelty, and they have now fired the eight workers involved. It is possible they may be sincere. But without exception, every single farm owner whose farm has ever been investigated, in any country I can think of, has said exactly the same thing. And yet it happens at virtually every farm. How can that be? If every time it happens it’s decried by the industry as an isolated incident, an anomaly, every single time…then doesn’t that mean it’s the norm? The results of every investigation can’t possibly be an anomaly. When the results are the same again and again, it’s a pattern. It is what happens every day.

Cow about to be struck in the leg at Chilliwack Cattle Sales. Photo: MFA Canada

Cow about to be struck in the leg at Chilliwack Cattle Sales. Photo: MFA Canada

When the undercover investigator at Chilliwack Cattle complained to management — specifically to Brad Kooyman — Kooyman’s response was “Watch for that and make sure nobody hits them unnecessarily.” He did not take direct action, he did not say how the worker should make sure the abuse didn’t happen, and his response in fact suggests that there are times he thinks it is necessary to hit the cows.

The bottom line is, as Director of Legal Advocacy with Mercy for Animals Anna Pippus said, “The company allowed animal cruelty to flourish on its watch.”

The general reaction to MFA Canada’s video seems to be “Oh, I can’t watch!” And this is why I am angry. Most people profess to love animals and abhor their abuse, and most of them have yogurt for breakfast, like to put some cream cheese on a bagel and relish a smear of brie on a cracker. And yet they don’t want to know where their favourite dairy products come from. This seems so contrary. As a society, we want our food labelled. We want to know if it’s organic, if it’s GMO, we want our fruit free of pesticides and our meat free of hormones and antibiotics. We want to know where our food comes from, and damn it, it’s our right! Well, here it is.

If you eat dairy, I am begging you to watch the video. Please see with your eyes — and your heart — what the cows endure with their bodies. If they have to live it because we like dairy, I think we can watch it for two minutes. We owe them that, at least.

We don’t need dairy for our health — really! —and there are lots of great alternatives. Believe me, I know how people feel about ice cream and cheese. Dairy was once my favourite food group and I could not imagine giving it up. I would never have believed I would stop eating dairy and not even miss it. And now? I don’t give a damn about dairy. I do give a damn about not being complicit in the kind of cruelty that is captured time and again in undercover investigations, and it was an investigation much like this one that changed me.

Please, please understand: Organic dairy does not mean cruelty-free. The dairy industry supplies the veal industry. There is no separate slaughterhouse for the “happy cows” where they are painlessly put to “sleep.” There are no happy cows in this scenario.

No one can say anymore that they don’t know. They can only say they don’t care enough to do anything about it. If you eat dairy, please reconsider your choices.


**You can sign Mercy For Animals Canada’s petition here.

A Double Birthday!

April 2, 2014
Ingrid & Marilyn. Photo: Farm Sanctuary

Ingrid & Marilyn. Photo: Farm Sanctuary

Today is a special day for two little goats at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York. It’s their first birthday! It will be celebrated in freedom and with love — but that wasn’t the original plan for them.

Their mum and dad, Delilah and Patrick (you can read their amazing rescue story and see photos here), were rescued in a heartbreaking state of neglect. Patrick was going to be shot and it’s safe to assume Delilah would have been kept for milk — milk that would have been denied her twin babies, who likely would have been raised and bred so that they would produce milk as well.

Patrick and Delilah were not rescued from an industrial farm.  They were being raised by an individual who could have easily marketed cheese from the girls’ milk as being “artisanal,” from pasture-raised goats on a small organic farm. When you read their story, you’ll see how little it matters what it says on the label of a dairy product.

As for their girls, Marilyn and Ingrid, today they — along with their mum and dad — are happy, carefree, healthy goats. They are intelligent, funny, curious and affectionate, and they love to climb and play. The girls have made good friends with “step-sister” Maxie, a goat who’s just a couple of months older than they are, and charming Nancy, a sweet eight-year-old goat whom they’ve accepted as part of their family.

Happy Birthday, girls — wishing you many, many more.


American Humane Certified

March 5, 2014

Comfort Coop Eggs in California is very proud of their operation. They’re not free-range or free-run or cage-free, but they do offer their egg-laying hens a lot more space than most other egg farms do. They have what they call “an enriched colony farm.” They are SO proud of what they do that they’ve kitted the place out with live webcams so you can see the chickens for yourself.

Now, I don’t think everyone who runs a farm — however loosely I may use the word — is evil. I don’t think they’re all bad people who get their kicks from mistreating animals (though enough people do that it certainly keeps undercover investigators in work). I’m sure many of them are perfectly nice people who are earning a living doing what their family has probably done for at least a couple of generations. They have been habituated to believe that the “standard practice” cruelty inflicted on the animals in their care is okay, and sometimes actively encouraged to think of the animals as machines (as was the case in a farm industry magazine article I read last year).

So I think the folks at Comfort Coop Eggs think they have reason to be proud; I think they really believe they treat their chickens well. And it’s certainly a step up from a lot of egg facilities I’ve seen, and heaven knows I wish they’d all install webcams.

A lot of people are probably going to feel really good about buying Comfort Coop Eggs after visiting their website. But they shouldn’t. I want people to think more critically about these things, so here’s what’s still wrong:

  • Even though the chickens have more space than they do at most other egg laying facilities, they still don’t have enough room to spread their wings. Imagine just never, never having enough room to stretch. Ever.

    Severely overgrown nails. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

    Severely overgrown nails. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

  • They are on wire. Wire does terrible things to a bird’s feet. It digs in, can cause deformities, cuts, and a condition called bumblefoot, which is basically a sac of infection on the bottom of the foot and it’s very painful. If left untreated the infection can actually enter the bloodstream and be fatal. Living on wire also means that the hens’ claws never get worn down and become incredibly long, making it hard to walk. Although that’s not much of a problem when you can’t move more than a few inches in any direction.
  • Because they’re on wire, stacked, as you can see from the side-view webcam, the urine and fecal matter from every hen falls on the hens below. No one should have to live their life like that.
  • The hens are still debeaked because that is standard practice at hatcheries. I’ve seen hens debeaked up to the nostrils, even with part of their tongue cut off. Beaks are filled with sensitive nerve endings and debeaking is painful – often chronically so, particularly if neuromas develop later. It can also make it difficult for the chicken to eat properly.
  • Because modern laying hens have been bred to lay eggs so profusely, they are prone to becoming egg-bound — their body manufactures an egg but the hen can’t push it out, and so it remains impacted and soon rots inside her. Obviously, this can be fatal as successive eggs back up and must certainly be painful. Hens can also suffer from prolapsed uteri, where the effort of expelling an egg actually pushes a hen’s uterus outside of her body.
  • If a hen survives all this, she’ll still be killed at two years of age, a fraction of her natural lifespan.
  • Male chicks are still thrown away like trash and left to suffocate, or ground alive, one-to-one for every hen. Living, breathing, feeling baby animals.

All of this suffering is what’s behind every egg in every carton in every store. It’s in every egg you get from your neighbour down the road. It is inescapable.

Now remember that all this is still a problem at Comfort Coop Eggs. And they are American Humane Certified. Things are so bad that this qualifies as humane. Think about that.

Esther the Wonder Pig

March 2, 2014

All photos courtesy of

If you haven’t heard of Esther the Wonder Pig, there’s a good chance you’re not on Facebook. Esther was adopted by a couple who acted hastily, fell for her cute looks and believed they were adopting a “micro-pig.” Not so. But as Esther grew, and grew — and grew — so did her dads’ love for her and commitment to her. Esther had changed them and they decided to share who she is in the hope that she would influence others, too. Her star on the internet has risen with astonishing speed: her Facebook page received 100,000 “likes” in less than three months and her YouTube channel has had about 300,000 views. Now that she’s even appeared on BuzzFeed those numbers are sure to go up. And she’s starting to receive a fair bit of media attention.

Unfortunately, if predictably, the media attention mostly comes in the form of “fluff pieces.” We are a meat-eating society and people who live in a city and adopt a pig as a pet are a novelty. The other night there was a brief segment on the local news about Esther. While not a hard news story, it still could have been handled much more seriously and sensitively than it was. As it stands, it was a missed opportunity.

Here’s what you learned if you saw the piece: Esther is really cute. And really, really big – she’s pushing nearly 200 kg, or 400 pounds these days. Esther is also smart: she has learned to open the cupboards, sit on command, climb stairs, and asks to go outside to relieve herself. She is funny, adorable, and profoundly endearing — and did I mention big?


Here’s what you didn’t learn but could have, short as the segment on Esther was:

There is no such thing as a micro-pig. No micro-pigs, no mini-pigs, no dwarf pigs, there is no little piggy out there that is truly small. There’s a big difference between “small” and “small for a pig.” And there are a lot of people who are making a living by conning otherwise intelligent people. Farm animal sanctuaries are filled with mature pigs that unsuspecting people bought as piglets, having no idea how much they would grow and being in no position to provide a suitable home for a 400-pound animal. And those sanctuaries are full: they turn people away every week because they have no choice.

Esther’s tail has been docked because that is standard practice on factory farms, where pigs are kept in such close confinement that they engage in neurotic and aggressive behaviours which include tail biting. So “farmers” amputate piglets’ tails, without anesthetic, using a pair of scissors or wire cutters. If Esther had been born a boy, she would have had her testicles ripped out at the same time.

Esther’s dads, Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter, who were omnivores at this time last year, are now vegan because of Esther. “She completely took away the separation we had between pets and food. As soon as we realized what she was meant for we couldn’t help but be devastated. All we could do was picture her in those barns and it broke us. It was a pretty intense time, lots of guilt, lots of soul searching and definitely a lot of tears. It was a really hard realization to make. This little bundle of joy and smiles we had fallen in love with could’ve been dinner,” said Steve.

The thing about Esther is, she’s not different than other pigs. She just lucked out. As smart and funny and charming and affectionate as she is, all pigs have the same capacity to express those qualities. But they are born into a concentration camp of a food system in which the only reason they are born is to be killed, in which their lives are an unmitigated hell and they are treated like inanimate objects until finally, brutally, that is what they are reduced to. It would be nice if some of the media coverage of Esther would acknowledge at least some of that instead of cracking juvenile jokes about bacon. Esther is someone, not something.


Sweety’s New Beginning

February 10, 2014

On Tuesday, February 11th, Sweety will be celebrating one week in her new home — and for the first time in her life, she truly has a home. After spending seven years as a dairy cow, treated only as a commodity, enduring illness without treatment, of grieving for the babies taken from her, Sweety is now being cared for and loved for who she is.

Thanks to Refuge RR, who first rescued Sweety last month and got her the initial veterinary treatment she so badly needed, Sweety is now home at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York. There is more veterinary care to come; Sweety is completely blind, she has some pressure sores, and she is emaciated. But she now has a warm barn, soft straw, a clean stall, and people who love her already. She’s even made a friend: Tricia is another blind cow who has been lonely since she lost the first friend she made when she arrived at Farm Sanctuary. Knowing that these two beautiful girls, who’ve been through so much, might be a good match, caregivers introduced them on Sweety’s first full day at the farm — and it was love at first sight! Sweety and Tricia are delighted with one another’s company and seem as if they couldn’t be happier.

Tricia & Sweety meet for the first time. Photo: Farm Sanctuary

Tricia & Sweety meet for the first time. Photo: Farm Sanctuary

There is nothing extraordinary about the circumstances Sweety came from. She’s not even from a factory farm, where conditions might have been much worse. This is just the life of a dairy cow. You can help change the world for cows like Sweety by choosing alternatives to dairy. If you don’t know where to start, there are many great resources, some of which can be found at the websites on the right, or on my Veg Curious page.

Read Farm Sanctuary’s story and see video of Sweety and Tricia’s budding friendship.

A Cow Named Sweety

January 20, 2014
Sweety, formerly #211, before. (All photos courtesy of Refuge RR)

Sweety, formerly #211, before. (All photos courtesy of Refuge RR)

Sweety was supposed to be slaughtered two weeks ago. Blind, lame, and painfully thin, she has already lived at least three years longer than most dairy cows. This fact does not make her “lucky.” For Sweety, it has meant three more years of suffering and neglect. Two more assaults on her body as she was impregnated against her will by human hands, three more of her babies taken from her soon after birth (her last birth was twins) so that her milk could be sold for human consumption, for cream, butter, cheese, ice cream. This was her life, not on a factory farm, but a relatively small family farm.

Incredibly, days before she was to be shipped to the slaughterhouse, Sweety was rescued. Refuge RR in Alexandria, Ontario negotiated with the farmer for her release, but they are unable to keep her — they have no room. There is a sanctuary in the United States that is willing and able to give Sweety a home, but the USDA will not allow her across the border without a clean bill of health.


On her way to the vet’s — so thin.

Right now Sweety is at the vet’s where she is having her infected hoof treated and is undergoing a series of tests. Under proper care, with medicine and healthy food, she is healing and getting stronger. Just as importantly, she looks calmer and happier. But it’s very expensive, as anyone with a dog or a cat can easily imagine, and the costs are mounting every day. Refuge RR is responsible for Sweety’s vet bill and they need help urgently. Like all sanctuaries, they depend on donations to help the animals, because unlike the farms these animals come from, a sanctuary is a not a profit-making business.

Sweety at the hospital

Sweety at the hospital

Sweety has been spared from slaughter and deserves to spend the rest of her life free from fear and pain. You can help by making a donation through Canada Helps here; donations of $20 or more are tax deductible. If that’s more than you can spare, I know that any amount would be received with gratitude. Sweety is someone, not something.


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