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Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism

From The Thinking Vegan Blog, written by Kezia Jauron 

Many vegans lament that there are dog/cat rescuers and other animal activists in their communities who are not vegan. I’m with you, believe me. I get it. It is shocking when humane societies serve animals on plates at fundraisers. It is a head-scratcher that someone who works to save whales would order sushi in a restaurant, failing to recognize he is destroying the ocean habitats and food chains that support those whales.

I understand your frustration that nonvegan companon animal rescuers don’t recognize that a pig is every bit as lovable as a dog, and a turkey can be just as cuddly as a cat. They work hard for one or a few species but not every species – just like there are people who feel called to get active on behalf of sea turtles, elephants, wolves, or other specific animals.

Although it would be wonderful if more dog/cat rescuers were vegan, I’d also like it if more vegans gave a crap, and actively helped animals in need. Not eating, wearing or exploiting animals is the absolute bare minimum a person can do. It is the default setting. It is the “moral baseline,” as some say.

Over the years I’ve worked with people and organizations who rescue dogs, cats, birds and other domestic pet species, those who are doing the dirty work of animal liberation. There should be much more respect, and less derision, for “dog and cat people” from the vegan community.

The animal rescuers I know do things that most vegans wouldn’t deign to do – such as run into traffic with a leash in one hand and a can of dog food in the other; wake up every two hours to bottle-feed kittens, crawl through mud to save a lost cat who scratches the hell out of them as a thank-you, cut the chain embedded in the neck of an auto yard pit bull who has never known a kindness from a human, pay their unemployed neighbor’s vet bill, not to mention clean up piles upon piles of shit.

Animal rescuers are willing to trap, trespass, surveil, steal, and otherwise do whatever it takes to do the right thing for an animal, right now, regardless of what the law says. As activists, most of us don’t hold a candle to these people. Too many vegans do very little to proactively help animals.

But what about the estimated 100 animals a year we save by being vegan? Let’s not strain ourselves patting each other on the back.

Going vegan doesn’t “save” 100 animals a year. 100 animals don’t go to sanctuaries or aquaria each year because you are vegan. In theory, you are preventing the future births of 100 animals a year. But with the realities of animal agribusiness, I’m loath to consider that anything more than theory. The minor losses the vegan population causes to animal processors are more than made up for by government subsidies and bailouts, plus exports to developing countries.

Ordering a pizza without cheese or buying cruelty-free makeup doesn’t make you a hero. Going to a potluck or a protest a few times a year is a nice opportunity to have your picture posted on Facebook so other people can congratulate you for changing the world. We should do those things. They feed us – literally and emotionally.

But there are no photo galleries for people who spend their entire weekend doing home checks to make sure that companion animals are being adopted by loving families instead of creeps. There are no awards for people who foster yet another animal because the “owners” are having a baby and don’t want him or her anymore, or people who go out night after night to trap homeless cats so they can be treated for mange, vaccinated, and fixed. They don’t get a prize for every box of starving abandoned kittens they find on the side of the road or every injured, bleeding dog they rush to a 24-hour vet. It is thankless, unglamorous work. It saves animals.

So be kind to dog and cat rescuers. Befriend one who isn’t vegan. Walk some dogs, scoop some poop, volunteer at an adoption event, help feed a feral cat colony. Buy them lunch and ask why, since they do so much for animals, they aren’t vegan yet. Give them a popular cookbook. Take them grocery shopping. Find out how you can be supportive and encouraging.

Then find out how you can do more for animals than signing a few online petitions and clicking ‘like’ to give a nonprofit a dollar.

A rescuer spotted "Reese" running across Exposition Boulvard in South L.A. near USC. She was one foot away from being killed by a van. When she got to campus, people helped catch her, but would do no more. To adopt Reese email


Los Angeles area rescues with vegan cred:


Stray Cat Alliance

Strangest Angels

Molly’s Mutts and Meows

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Good points but why single out vegans instead of non-rescuers in general? Are vegan potlucks and protests really that much more prestigious and personally rewarding than adoption events or shelter trips? Although I've done occasional rescue work and visited shelters in the past, and I've adopted three animals who are still part of my family (and the center of my life), I decided to take a step back and limit my involvement because I didn't want to take on more responsibility than I was equipped to deal with physically, financially and emotionally. When I had fosters in addition to my own babies, I worried that my babies were getting less attention and were getting a bit stressed. I worried about my own ability to deal with a failed adoption--something that happened several times with one of my fosters even though experienced volunteers helped me screen applicants. I can't guarantee to keep a foster animal until he or she is adopted because it would be contingent on the new animal getting along well with the ones I have--I'd hate to have to return an animal to a shelter, but I couldn't keep a dog who might attack her foster siblings either. And my own dog is getting older and needs expensive medicine, something I hadn't anticipated when I first took her home. It's easy to say "he/she could be doing more" when you don't know a person very well, but you don't know what commitments they've already taken on and what their ability is to take on more.

Thanks for the comments. I've had a lot of feedback on the original post - both positive and negative. Part of what prompted this is that the cat/dog rescuers are bashed by the mainstream as “crazy animal people,” and they’re also bashed by vegans as “crazy cat/dog people!” So you're right, it's not just vegans doing the criticizing. It's just harder for me to take it from vegans.

I mainly single out vegans because that's where I hear this often hypocritical criticism of cat/dog rescuers - it's particularly galling coming from "armchair activists" who won't do the dirty work of actually saving animals. And it's fair to say that you have no reason to think this generalization of AR activists not doing hands-on work applies to you! Fostering is indeed hard work and so heartbreaking at times.

Before reading this essay, I thought I would disagree with Kezia. I know some people who rescue dogs, cats and other "domesticates" and ridicule vegans, thinking that other animals just don't count. I absolutely disagree with those people, and find their attitude offensive and arrogant. 

After reading Kezia's essay, I find that I agree with her way more than I thought I would. I have done some of, and would be prepared to do, all of the things Kezia spoke of. But, I agree with so many of the points made in this essay. 

One single vegan doesn't save any lives, for all the reasons Kezia stated. 

People who go out and rescue other animals are heroes, and I agree with Kezia when she suggests we take those people out for lunch, reach out to them, and speak kindly and respectfully to them about living vegan. They deserve at least that. 

Fantastic essay, Kezia! You made some really important points! I liked it even more than I thought I would! 

Yes it is, but I've only had a handful of fosters since 2008 (including the three I ended up adopting). The people you write about in your article are superhuman, and yes they do deserve support, but serving animal products at fundraisers is really offputting even when the organizers are superhuman rescuers. I bite my tongue in these situations because I'm not prepared to take an active role in rescue and organize vegan fundraisers, but I can see where some of the criticism is coming from. I agree with you that we need to look on the positive side and give rescuers the credit they deserve, but overall don't you think rescuers get more validation from society at large compared with activists who emphasize speciesism and rights (not that I'm an activist either, far from it)? I guess I don't see it as a competition between rescuers vs. vegans or vegan activists--some people are more active than others in each of those two broad areas, both kinds of volunteerism can involve hard work, and I'm sure there must be a lot of overlap. I wonder how many AR-oriented rescuers downplay their support for AR because they don't want to jeopardize adoptions or donations?

I think that rescuers get way more validation from the general public than vegans do!

If I was trying to think of an argument that damaged our fight to end speciesism, I don't think I could do better (worse) than "Adopting a vegan lifestyle doesn't save any animals". That aside, it is not true. 

Most non-vegans are consuming animals or animal-derived products from outside of the systematic breeding and killing of animals for food, mainly the ocean. The average non-vegan is estimated to eat 170 fishes per year, many of whom were not purpose bred into existence. A non-vegan might also be eating animals, mainly birds, hunted from the wild. At any rate, by going vegan, the average non-vegan is saving the lives of many fishes each year. Then there are the animals that non-vegans enslave and murder in laboratories to test their products, etc. for them; let’s not forget them, please. What about all the animals that non-vegans cause the enslavement and death of for zoos, circuses, "sports", movies, and other "entertainment". We can't forget about them either.

Putting fishes, hunted animals, and animals in laboratories aside, and I hope you don’t, and focusing on animals bred, enslaved, and murdered in facilities meant for food production, the argument still doesn’t hold water. Yes, the subsidies and large numbers of animal-derived products that are thrown into landfills each year and other confounding variables make the “numbers of animals saved per vegan per year” figures of 198, 100, etc. an overestimate. If everyone was not vegan we would have a number slightly higher than we have now of animals being killed, if everyone was vegan the number would be zero. Surely, then, every person is a step toward zero and has some number that could reasonably be attached to their decision. Remember, we are talking close to 11 billion animals (still turning our backs on including fishes) each year in the U.S. alone, 60 some billion worldwide.

Additionally, there are several ways each person helps – as far as progress in society and law goes – if you believe in majority rule or a population large enough to counter the corporations profiting off speciesism, every person is a number towards that goal. Only when enough people live by vegan ideals will society at large change and the laws that reflect society will change. Again, every person who goes vegan is a step toward that reality. Every person adopting a vegan lifestyle brings us one more step to animal liberation and the ending of speciesism.

Considering animals that are enslaved and killed for food, I think that there is a lag time in "saving" animals. However, restaurants and grocers, because they are all about profit, monitor the demand closely to provide the correct supply, so the lag time might not be that long, when taken in the aggregate. Even though there are subsidies, etc. people are in it for profit and don’t like to “waste” feed, etc. on a “product” that does not make it to market. As a matter of fact, the stores and restaurants throwing out the animal-derived products, etc. are legally bound to minimize it (they are legally bound to maximize profit to their shareholders).

And why downplay the animals "saved" from being bred into existence to be enslaved and killed? "Saving" future lives from being disrespected, dominated, enslaved, and killed is a pretty great thing to do, even the people that just care about dogs and cats recognize that through spay/neuter campaigns.

And then there is the assumptions being made about Animal rescuers, they “are willing to trap, trespass, surveil, steal, and otherwise do whatever it takes to do the right thing for an animal, right now, regardless of what the law says.” Really? All these non-vegans you are calling “animal rescuers” are willing to put on the mask, get out the bolt-cutters, and “do whatever it takes”? This is not the image I have in my mind, or the experience I have had, with non-vegans that focus their time on dogs and cats. Certainly the people I have worked with that have this focus seem to be overwhelmingly law-abiding citizens in every way. A lot of the dog/cat rescue stories I hear about are completely legal in every way.

And then there is the same question of who is being “saved”? Are the numbers of dogs and cats being killed each year in the U.S., or the world, going down? Last I heard it was still at about 4-7 million per year in the U.S. (murdered by euthasol or die in the streets, etc.) and going up.

I fully support people rescuing dogs/cats (and everyone else, too!), non-vegan or vegan, but to think they are doing more to bring down the numbers of animals being killed each year than someone who stops consuming animal-derived products seems full of holes. The fact is, a person doing such is very inconsistent (speciesist) and so selfish in their regard for non-dogs/cats that they see them as food/clothing/entertainment/test subjects. I, for one, won’t be spreading this theory that non-vegan animal rescuers are doing more in the fight against speciesism or (same thing) saving animals. Go Vegan. Rescue Animals.

Well said, Mark ... but what makes you say the homeless animal problem is getting worse? I've seen claims to the contrary from some very reliable people. (Nathan Winograd and Mike Fry come to mind.)  Things are still bad, but a lot more people care compared with 20 years ago. If I were to get involved with any kind of activism, I'd pressure shelters to do their job because that battle seems like the most winnable. Nearly everyone agrees that shelters shouldn't be slaughterhouses, even if they haven't made all the connections yet. 

Thanks, red dog. I haven't seen any data that the overall numbers of cats and dogs dying in shelters and on the streets, etc. is going down in the U.S., much less worldwide - but I would love to! I very much like and appreciate the work Winograd and others are doing in the No Kill! movement. I guess on this point, aside from the other points I make about why I feel this theory is flawed and counterproductive, I think that the number of animals "saved" by rescuers is questionable, at least when compared to adopting a  vegan lifestyle. Sure, they are doing something that means everything to those that they are saving, just like those vegans are saving from all the ways they are dying at the hands of non-vegans; and that is great! But there are dogs and cats dying in massive numbers, too - and some as "excess" in breeding operations, etc. like those that are dying for food (and clothing, and entertainment, and testing, etc.). I think rescuers are certainly making a difference and trying their best to lower the numbers being killed, and so are vegans. I don't think that someone that puts animal-derived products in their mouth all day and is also responsible for the deaths associated with non-vegan entertainment, testing, and clothing can realistically be said to be doing more for animals because they work at rescue, and they certainly don't need to have the blood, misery, and death that is on their hands excused because they rescue. The message from me to them in not, "Congratulations, and you are likely doing more than the vegans who do not rescue". My message to them is, "Stop enslaving and killing animals for your selfish desires. All animals deserve your respect. Go Vegan, Rescue Animals."

Well said, Mark. Sometimes I think the only thing that eases the overwhelming helplessness I feel at my inability to end the suffering of other animals is knowing that I am saving at least some lives.
Humane societies serving animals on plates reinforces the disconnect: these you love; these you eat. It's a mixed message to send  pre vegans who may be 'ripe' to follow a vegan example.

To be fair, I don't think Kezia has said that doing cat/dog rescue is better for animals than being vegan.  And let's look at her actual message to non-vegan rescuers: 

Buy them lunch and ask why, since they do so much for animals, they aren’t vegan yet. Give them a popular cookbook. Take them grocery shopping. Find out how you can be supportive and encouraging.

Trying to quantify the "lives saved" is of limited value, I think.  Even if it looks as low as "just" one pig or one salmon, there are still all those small fish that are fed to the animals we directly eat.  Mark has enumerated other reasons that I also disagree with the sentiment that "vegans don't actually save any animals."

But it's hard to argue with the suggestion that we use our common interest in the welfare of certain species to open the door to veganism, rather than simply railing against the speciesism of non-vegan rescuers.

The title and the essay certainly imply that rescuers are saving animals and vegans are not, not even preventing future animals from being bred into existence for slavery and murder. This logic, of course, also implies that rescuers are saving more animals than vegans.

Rallies against speciesism are great, but rallying against a non-vegan rescuer of dogs/cats is not what I was suggesting - I am suggesting honesty, lack of congratulations for what they are doing for animals overall (which is rescuing some, while enslaving, consuming, and murdering others), and lack of implying that they are doing more for animals than vegans.

Including the animals fed to the animals that non-vegans are responsible for enslaving and killing is a very good point.

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