Tag Archives: animal rights


Recently, a sixteen-year-old high school student in British Columbia contacted me and asked me to help him help chickens. “First off, I would like to thank you for running in this election [for the Animal Alliance/Environment Voters Party] and standing up for both animals and our environment,” he wrote. Then he requested my support for his petition, “Ban Battery Cages in Canada,”  against the brutal treatment of factory-farmed chickens, which references the Canadian Coalition for Farmed Animals as its source.

Canada factory farm chicken

Canadian factory farmed chickens. Hell on earth, and methane pollution in the atmosphere

As an animal advocate, I could not resist this appeal on behalf of billions of chickens. Ned’s petition is stellar. It reviews the condition of more than ninety percent of Canada’s egg-laying hens, detailing how these creatures are trapped in cramped wire “battery cages” for their entire lives, forced to exist in spaces smaller than an 8 ½ x 11 inch piece of paper.

These conditions are not only cruel, Ned writes,  but they deprive hens of their natural behaviors of nesting, perching, dust-bathing, stretching their wings or even walking around, and the consequences can be dire. Chickens are fouled and sickened by urine and feces falling down from cages above them. Their feathers fall out and their skin is damaged. Their muscles waste from lack of use, their bones and skeletal systems become brittle, and their spinal cords deteriorate, leaving them paralyzed. Dying and dead chickens litter the cages and are often cannibalized by their surviving cage-mates.

“This is how millions of hens spend their entire lives in Canada, and yet nothing has been done to stop this,” Ned’s petition concludes. “We need to ban battery cages in Canada and make it mandatory for chickens to be raised in a free run or free range system. This is the humane and Canadian thing to do. … Please, for the sake of our animals and our people, do the right thing.”

I read through and signed the petition and agreed to promote it. Soon after, I connected with Ned by telephone and bombarded him with questions. What had driven this teenager’s desire to help chickens? And why had he chosen petitioning the government as the best way to achieve his goal?

“Oh, because at home we always ate free run eggs and one day I just asked my mom why. She gave me some information about battery cages, and when last October’s election was called, I looked at the platforms of all the different candidates, because I thought battery cages, and the way we treat chickens aren’t right, and that led me to your party, the AA/EV.”

“I’m a bit of the odd man out,” Ned admitted. “My friends also followed the campaign, especially about the legalization of pot issue, but I’m the only one who volunteered. And the petition came after the election, because petitions are important tools to achieve results. Look at Europe! Switzerland banned battery cages back in 1992!” Western Europe is way ahead of Canada in animal welfare, Ned and I agree.

And, because we also agree on the intelligence of chickens, and their right to live full, natural lives, I invoked the veganism I assumed we shared.
“Oh, I’m not vegan,” Ned said.

Not vegan? I was taken aback. How could someone so knowledgeable about chicken nature and culture, someone so compassionate about the treatment of animals, justify eating them?

Ned’s explanation was forthright. “We humans are animals, too, and animals have been eating other animals for centuries. I believe that if we treat them right and they live a full life, then there’s nothing wrong with eating them.”

There was more. “Hunting them is better than the food industry,” Ned said. “They live in the wild, and die without fear.” That’s certainly true, but it still implies that humans have the right to end a healthy animal’s life whenever they wish to. Which begs the question: what about veganism?

“I completely support and understand it,” Ned said promptly. “In fact, I’m considering it.

Not promising to do it, just considering it right now.”
How about committing to one meatless day a week? I suggested. It needn’t be a Monday; any day of the week would suffice, making it more convenient and easier for him to honour his commitment.

Ned did not hesitate. “I agree to one meatless day a week, starting next week,” he pledged. “And I also agree to take notes and let you know how I’m doing.”

Ned Taylor

Ned Taylor with Abbey

I can’t wait to hear, and not just because each of Ned’s Meatless Days will save an estimated .54 animals, for a grand total of twenty-eight each year. It’s because I’m confident that this challenge will be so easy for him, and so satisfying that he’ll not only embrace it for life – his life and the lives of animals he cares for so deeply – but that he’ll find ways to reach out to other young people who’ll be inspired to follow his example. When they do, their Meatless Days will add up to thousands of animals saved from the horrors of factory farming and the terror and anguish of slaughterhouses.

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Filed under Animal Alliance/Environment Voters Party, Battery cages, Ned Taylor, factory farming. veganism, Elizabeth Abbott, Uncategorized

It’s a Dog’s Life at Slobberfest

More than a million people attend Slobberfests all over North America – from Lynchburg, Virginia, Erie, Pennsylvania, Redmond, Washington and Rochester, Minnesota, to Toronto, Ontario, to name just a few of them. Slobberfests honor and entertain dogs and their humans with such events as the “Peanut Butter Lick” favored by the Droopy Basset Hound Rescue of Western Pennsylvania, or the Canine Hot (Veggie) Dog or Ice Cream Eating Contests I witnessed in Toronto. The Best Canine Trick tested skills, but other competitions judged only nature’s endowments: the softest and roughest coats, longest and shortest ears or tails, the tallest and shortest dogs. One lucky dog could even aspire to be crowned Slobber King or Queen in the Pack Parade. Slobberfest 2015From early morning to mid-afternoon, hundreds of dogs roamed up and down the Board-walk with their humans, greeting each other and playing, and visiting the dozens of stalls where volunteers sold food, treats and dog-related paraphernalia, all for the benefit of scores of breed and all-breed rescues, or advertised services from dog-walking, grooming and boarding to invisible fencing, Smartphone Apps and basic fast food for hungry humans.

That`s what Slobberfests are all about: paying homage to dogs and their people, fundraising, networking and reconnecting with other dog fanciers. That’s what I did with Maureen Jennings, who gave the world Detective William Murdoch and the Murdoch Mysteries. As Maureen strolled along the Boardwalk with her dogs Murdoch and Varley, an elderly spaniel-daschund rescue, she noticed me perched next to a pile of my recent book, Dogs and Underdogs: Finding Happiness at Both Ends of the Leash, that I was selling at Slobberfest to profit Big on Beagles, an Assistance Agency for Beagles Experiencing Troubled Times.

dogs and Underdogs for Karen darkWe embraced and chatted, and then Maureen asked Murdoch in a commanding voice: “Murdoch! On a scale of one to FIVE, how do you rank Elizabeth’s book?” Her friendly Austalian Chocolate Labradoodle responded instantly, barking loudly five times and then wagging his tail hard as we praised him for his literary discernment. (Maureen was cheating. She had endorsed my book, and she must have mentioned it to Murdoch.)

Slobberfest was packed with dog rescues. Canadian Chihuahua Rescue and Transport (CCRT) was nearby, and among the little dogs being showcased for adoption there was a pair of Chihuahua brothers who could not be separated. Though this reduced their adoptability, it honored the depth of their relationship and ensured their emotional well-being. Chachi-and-Pablo-010-150x150

CCRT was founded in 1996, after a Texas breeder developed Alzheimer’s disease and forgot to care for her seventeen Chihuahuas, who deteriorated and needed rescue – and transport to wherever rescue was available. A Chihuahua lover from British Columbia had a crazy idea: “if only we could organize a network of volunteers who would foster and drive Chihuahuas to new homes!” Twenty-four hours later, dozens of people volunteered to do just that, and the crazy idea became the rescue’s foundational goal.

Back at Big on Beagles, a woman walking an Italian greyhound with a protruding tongue stopped to chat with me. The little dog was not yet three-years-old, a worn-out breeder rescued from a puppy mill in Kentucky. Her tongue lolled because the horrendous state of her oral health had left her with no teeth at all, and she also suffered from other health problems. But now she was happy and secure, and the Slobberfest she participated in would raise funds to rescue and care for other dogs still incarcerated in puppy mills throughout North America.

Big On Beagles has a hundred stories about the transformation of sad and often ailing dogs into contented and cared-for family dogs with slobbery smiles on their age-whitened faces. A few, too old and sick for adoption, live as permanent residents of Sheba’s Haven, which offers palliative care. Some of these were unloved underdogs chained outside at the mercy of the elements. A few were once-loved victims of their humans’ divorces or deaths. Others were abandoned or mistreated because they failed as hunters, like Sweet Emily, just beginning to shed her anxiety and skittishness in her foster home at Speaking of Dogs rescue. Sweet Emily failed hunterJust before closing time, Murdoch and Varley nudged Maureen towards me for a second visit. She’s a Slobberfest enthusiast, and walking with her dogs, and doing agility training with Murdoch are two of her life’s greatest joys. And because we were in a Slobberfest frame of mind, we discussed the veggiedog eating contest and the upcoming release of The Peanuts Movie, starring the beagle Snoopy.

That’s what Slobberfest is all about: unabashedly celebrating the bond between canine and human, the immeasurable satisfaction of rescuing dogs in need, and the joy of living with them afterwards.

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Elizabeth Costello

Literature is rife with naming mysteries, from Dominick Dunne-like romans à clef to Shakespeare’s “Who is Sylvia?” Esteemed poet Ken Babstock has introduced a new twist into the name game, and it’s jarringly personal. In “Russian Doctor,” a poem in his just-released collection, Methodist Hatchet, Babstock concludes that Nobel Literature Prize winner J. M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello is modeled on … Elizabeth Abbott. That’s right, on me!

Elizabeth Abbott (and Bonzi)

I’m not inventing this. Here, as proof, is the selection Babstock starred as he presented me with an autographed copy of Methodist Hatchet the day before he flew to Berlin for a year’s stint as a visiting scholar. “Thank you for lending your identity,” he’d scrawled. Actually, I can thank the age-old literary device that, in this case, transformed Abbott into Costello. But judge for yourself.

The worst of the glare slid behind the sales lot tinsel

and she wasn’t a stranger at all. No

stranger; my neighbour, Liz. Elizabeth Abbott.

You may know her work: Celibacy


Mistresses, something on Haiti, and recently, Sugar.

Her home a hospice for dying dachshunds

way station for incoming rescues from Serbia (we nearly

took in Dunja last month.) So, animal

rights activist, retired academic, vegan, but here’s where

the Danish gets sticky. Just last week it dawned

on me, in a dinghy adrift on Georgian Bay, while rethinking

the preponderance of pumpkins in The Life

and Times of Michael K, while the sun crested the horizon

over Huron and settled like a South African

in Brisbane, before I’d had either coffee or chance to tally

the consequences, it came to me, Coetzee – J.M. – him

had modeled Elizabeth Costello on this Elizabeth Abbott.

I know what you’re thinking, but stop. I looked

them up. A conference, Belgrade, ’91, they shared

keynote address three ways with Martha Nussbaum

and must have had, at the very last, lunch, if not more.

I know what you’re thinking. He’d submitted

a paper but was, shocker, turned down: “Paranoia: Can We

Live Among the Animals?” – R. Karadzic.

I’ve read and reread this at least a baker’s dozen of times, with emotions ranging from shock and consternation to resentment and guilt. And comprehension! So that’s why Babstock told poet Karen Solie, interviewing him about Methodist Hatchet, that “Yeah, I’m sure it’ll annoy some people, there’s not much I can do about it. There wasn’t any other way for me to inhabit the world, the poems, this time around….. I think humans, others, even named others, appear at the level of the symbolic in the book and at the level of actuality in the domestic and in love, right up to puppetry. I didn’t know they were going to flood in, I guess, but they have, what am I going to do about it? J. M. Coetzee’s gonna sue me.” [laughter] “Why is J. M. Coetzee in my book?”[laughs][i]

Ken Babstock with Linda, his disabled German Shepherd Dog

I fished Elizabeth Costello from my bookshelf where it had been wedged next to its slim matrix, The Lives of Animals.  Both volumes were gifts from friends who just knew, they told me, that I was Coetzee’s ideal reader. (The Slow Man, Elizabeth Costello’s latest foray, is another story.) But – I saw – I had been critical, and had pocked Elizabeth with citrine Post-Its marking my dismay. How I had wanted Costello and the animals she championed to emerge victorious in her mission to win over her audiences with rigorous logic and learning!

“I want to find a way of speaking to fellow human beings that will be cool rather than heated, philosophical rather than polemical, that will bring enlightenment rather than seeking to divide us into the righteous and the sinners, the saved and the damned, the sheep and the goats,” she said in her (too) measured way. I was tense then, and tense again in rereading, because she anticipates the defeat (“the concession of the entire battle”) I felt crushing us both, and the animals with us.

And yet it’s all there, every truth, every righteous notion, every goodness, the heart “the seat of a faculty, sympathy, that allows us to share at times the being of another.” And in that moment at least, Elizabeth Abbott was indistinguishable from Elizabeth Costello.

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