helping animals 101

i recently read an excellent and completely thorough recap of the animal rights 2005 conference over at an animal-friendly life, and it reminded me that i’d been meaning to post an entry here about a seminar i attended a couple of months ago. i didn’t have eric’s foresight to "blog as it happened," so this entry is really just going to be some rambling about what i saw and how i felt about it, but i thought it might be interesting or useful for anyone who has never been to something like this, or i guess for people who might be googling the name of the seminar. for the couple of you who have already read this stuff elsewhere, you are excused. heh.

okay, so last winter i learned that PeTA was going to be holding a seminar in chicago called "helping animals 101," and it sounded really interesting to me. i had never been to anything like that, and in fact my entire experience with conventions revolves around listening to people present communication research, so this sounded like a neat opportunity. my sister was super-psyched as well, but as the may weekend drew nearer she realized she wasn’t ready to be away from her sweet baby for that long (and i can understand that!), so i went alone. actually, that’s not entirely true… one of my pals at VRF went, too, and we hung out for the weekend.

i took the train to chicago on friday night, and stayed in the hotel across the street from the (spendy) conference hotel. on saturday morning i walked across the street to meet dave, and PeTA fed us a really yummy vegan breakfast (they fed us great vegan breakfasts and lunches both days).

saturday was kind of the depressing day, and sunday was the uplifting day. saturday we listened to speakers talk about things like: general animal rights stuff, general veganism stuff, the meat industry, the dairy industry, the egg industry, the leather industry, the wool industry, the fur industry, animals in zoos, animals in circuses, animal experimentation (nasty medical stuff like at columbia university as well as things like cosmetic testing and household products), companion animal and wildlife issues, etc. etc. etc.

while the bulk of saturday involved listening to speakers and watching (very well-done) powerpoint presentations, there were also various undercover videos to watch. some of them i had seen before (e.g., meet your meat, linked in my sidebar), but several of them i had not seen. it was VERY difficult to watch these things. i often avoid watching videos nowadays, because i know they will really upset me, and because i tend to trust AR people at their word when i read about what has occurred during undercover operations. on the other hand, video as a medium is extremely powerful, and their very presence kind of removes the bullshit comeback of, "how do you know what is really going on?" because it’s right there in front of you. the imagery is very vivid and it helps people fully acknowledge what is happening out there. at the same time, video images stick with you and help you remember why these things are important to you in the first place.

anyway, there was a wide range of people in the room (omnivores, vegetarians, vegans, novices, hard-core AR activists), so i’m sure there were a bunch of people who had never ever seen most of this stuff, and in that way i think it was good to show it. but at the same time when i know that i react very strongly to these things (and am the last person who actually needs convincing), it was emotionally draining. there was one on circuses (elephants in particular) that just broke my heart. there was another one about a crappy dog shelter in kentucky (where they shot dogs in the head instead of using the put-to-sleep shot, and sometimes one shot didn’t do it, and this concerned citizen was HORRIFIED so he hid in the bushes and taped them doing it all day long even though he wanted to cry the whole time. he is the most loveable little redneck i have ever seen) that made me want to throw up. the meet your meat video i had to psych myself up to watch, over the course of a few weeks, last fall. i have never watched it again, and it was very painful to see it again.

in any case, the videos were NOT the bulk of the day by any means. the presentations were full of research and solid data, and were very interesting to listen to. they also showed us a bunch of their funny and uplifting PSAs (like the fur PSA/interview with david cross, which is hysterical) and they talked very openly and friendly-style… but still, the fact that i saw a good handful of videos that day took a bit of a toll on me. besides the reasons i just explained, here are some more:

1. it’s tough to cry in a room full of strangers

2. it was very difficult for me to watch these things, naturally find them completely abhorrent, and then realize that so many people have NO idea this stuff goes on, and especially that it goes on ALL THE TIME, all over the place

3. it was very difficult for me to realize that most of the people that i know would either: (a) rather not know because it’s too painful and it’s easier to pretend it’s not happening, or (b) not care if they did know, because they’d rationalize that animals don’t matter so who cares if a huge amount of them are leading lives full of suffering. i spent a lot of time during the weekend thinking especially about how i never really talk about most of this stuff in a very meaningful way. most of the people i’m closest to (immediate family, close friends) are spared all of this stuff because i don’t want them to feel judged or alienated. i don’t judge people for thinking differently, but at the same time i feel like if people just KNEW, they would totally understand, and it makes me sad that i am so afraid to talk to people about it.

blah blah blah saturday was emotional. sunday was more "inspiring."

we spent sunday talking about activism. how to write a letter to the editor, how to talk to the media if you are interviewed, how to organize a group of people interested in AR stuff, and so forth. it was fun, even though i’m not particularly activist-y.

that afternoon, we also went to a demonstration at the lincoln park zoo. that is so not my bag (in that i have never done anything like that before in my life), but at the same time, i totally agreed with the spirit of the thing, so if they were going to charter some buses and take us over there, why not? all 200+ of us trundled over and held signs and yelled. it was a really weird and interesting experience. i don’t know that i’d necessarily become a demonstrator for life, but it was interesting. maybe i’ll do another entry about that sometime. anyhow, the demonstration got a ton of press in chicago, which was great.

after that we went back to the hotel and heard more presentations. it was a very nice/interesting day overall, although we watched a couple of sad videos that day too. they finished off the weekend in small groups (with one PeTA staffer each) to answer questions and also practice snappy comebacks for people who taunt AR types. that was helpful, even though i hate role-playing activities.

in all, the weekend made me very reflective, and some of the reflecting i was doing made me kind of sad. i was pretty lost in my thoughts for several days after the seminar was over. i took a bunch of notes and boatloads of literature (all free! giant piles of leaflets and stickers, take as much as you want!), though, so i felt excited/refreshed at the same time. i know that PeTA is controversial, even within the AR community, but i really got an awful lot out of it, and i’m so glad i went. the PeTA staffers were extremely accessible and accommodating and i was quite impressed by the whole weekend.



  1. It’s very hard for me to watch those videos too. I’ve watched Peaceable Kingdom and the Witness, and I bawled my eyes out in both of them, once in public. And from what I understand they’re nowhere near as bad as the PeTA videos. It breaks my heart to know that goes on every day and billions of animals suffer through that every year.
    What I really don’t understand is how people can watch these videos and still eat meat or drink milk. After we watched Peaceable Kingdom we talked with this ovo-lacto vegetetarian friend of ours, who sat through the whole movie and said it was so sad, but she really likes milk. I think the thought of giving up milk never crossed her mind at any point. I don’t get it.

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