Wednesday, May 27, 2020

A Tribute to Max

The Vegan VineMax was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer and passed away at home in my arms around noon on April 2, 2020.

I adopted Max from the Bucks County SPCA in Pennsylvania 14 years ago today. He was about four and a half months old. I remember holding his little face next to mine and instantly knowing that he was the one. He had big ears and paws. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he would grow into a beautifully large and long adult cat.

Some might say that I saved Max by adopting him out of the shelter, but he saved me. He changed my life forever and brought me so much joy. I quit smoking cigarettes for good that year (2006), and returned to veganism, acknowledging little difference between Max and any other animal who wants to live and be happy.

Max was my only nonhuman companion. He was my whole world and the love of my life, my best friend, confider, and soul mate. We were alike in so many ways: cautious, insistent, inquisitive, affectionate, vocal, and creatures of habit. Max loved to curl up in small spaces. Sometimes he would sneak into the linen closet, and I would find him fast asleep on a shelf.

I remember the first week after I brought Max home. Initially guarded, he slept under the bed, but at some point that week, in the wee hours of the morning, he crept out from underneath the bed and curled up next to me. It was heavenly. Earning Max’s trust then and over the years to come was like receiving a badge of honor.

Max was handsome, smart, athletic, and playful. We would chase each other around the house and he loved to climb his cat tree, which was fascinating to watch. I would throw his toys up to him and he’d bat them down better than any volleyball player. Quite often my head would be the receiving end of those toys, which would cause me to break out in laughter. His favorite toys were his little plush beaver and catnip-stuffed banana. When I brought cat grass home from the supermarket, he would get so excited that his tail would puff up. Each week when I changed the bed sheets, he’d love to jump on the mattress and hide under the sheets and we’d play hide and seek.

There was no other place in the world I ever wanted to be than home with Max. Our apartment was our sanctuary and he was the epitome of home and happiness. I hated leaving him to go to work and I knew he felt the same because he would often try to engage me (successfully) with play as I stood by the door, not quite ready to leave. Other mornings, he went to the bed to nap and I would return to him one, two, three times for “one more kissy” and to let him know how much I loved him and would miss him. I would tell him I missed him when I was on my lunch break and call out to him in the car on my way home to let him know, “I’m coming, Max!” My favorite time of the day was when he greeted me at the door. We were so happy to see each other. I’d pick him up and hold him for as long as he would let me, and he would rub his head next to mine or nuzzle my ear.

Max was very good about telling me what he wanted and when, but we had such a soulful connection that we frequently communicated without words. Sometimes I would be sitting on the couch and think about him and, even though he would be sleeping in the bedroom, he would somehow know I was thinking about him and suddenly emerge to hang out with me.  If I wasn’t quite ready for bed when he was, he’d often join me on the couch and fall asleep next to me.

I loved the way Max scrunched his nose when he was eating or covered his eyes with his paw to block out the light when he was napping. As I turned down the covers for bed, Max would patiently wait and then instinctively snuggle up on his side of the bed and bury his face under his pillow. Many a day I would linger nearby and watch him sleeping, marveling at how beautiful he was, and how happy and blessed we were to have each other.

Max was my connection to the nonhuman world. Whenever I saw oppression, pain, and suffering among my nonhuman friends and felt helpless, it was through loving Max that I felt a little less sad and a little more useful. I gave him the love I wish all animals felt and received. Max was a constant reminder to me of what is really important. Our relationship was so vital and meaningful to me; it made me highly conscious of the experiences of other animals as I tried to see life from their eyes.

Max was so pure and innocent and good. I came to recognize how much better he was than me. Max taught me to be less selfish as I made every effort to put his needs ahead of my own. He taught me the importance of being still and being together. He taught me the importance of play and enjoying the simple things in life. In caring for Max, I learned the value of time and patience, and the true meaning of love. Lastly, he taught me how to endure and to be brave.

I tried very hard to understand and respect Max for who he was—an equal and autonomous being—and to make him happy. I was constantly researching the best food, litter, and toys for him, and tried to provide him with the best care. I was devoted to him.

In the end, it wasn’t enough to keep him from getting sick. He took a turn for the worse. Constantly throwing up, he finally stopped eating and spent most of his time under the bed. I knew he was in pain. In fact, he told me so three times by his water bowl the morning of his passing. His voice was hoarse and weak, but his words were resolute: “I don’t feel well.” I reached down and hugged him. “I know,” I said. “I’m so sorry.”

The hardest thing I ever had to do was release my Max. My heart is broken because he is no longer here to talk with, curl up with on mornings, or play with. I deeply miss his daily presence in my life and not being able to kiss him and give him “lots of lovie.” I feel empty and useless without him. If home is where the heart is, I feel lost and displaced because Max was both my home and my heart.

I'm sorry, Max, for the times in our early years together when I was ignorant about food and nutrition. I’m sorry for when I left you alone to do things that I wanted to do. I'm sorry for the times when I didn't understand or when I was impatient and irritated. I'm sorry for the times when I was distracted and didn't give you my full attention. I'm sorry for any shortcomings, but I always tried to do better and learn from my mistakes.

I miss and love you so much, Max. I’m grateful to God for the 14 wonderful years I had with you. You’ll always be my guy. You’ll always be with me because the bonds we have are everlasting. Please come visit me, bunny; don’t be a stranger. I miss you so very, very much. I look forward to the day when we can both be home, together again.

Forever yours,

What greater gift than the love of a cat. –Charles Dickens

Please consider making a donation to Tabby's Place, a cage-free, no-kill cat sanctuary.

How Do I Go Vegan?

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Meat Is Not Only NOT Essential, It's Deadly

The Vegan Vine
Courtesy of  We Animals Media
Amidst a pandemic originating from a Chinese meat market and hundreds of cases of Coronavirus outbreaks in slaughterhouses, President Trump has done the unthinkable: declared that animal flesh (meat) is essential, subsequently ordering all slaughterhouse workers back to business as usual.

Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to keep slaughterhouses open—thereby spreading the Coronavirus—even though he refuses to use the same executive order to produce the necessary tests and personal protection equipment (PPE) that will help stem the spread of COVID-19. What's more, animal enslavement operations, which Trump seems so determined to defend, are why we have pandemics in the first place as they create opportunities for similar viruses like bird and swine flus.

Trump pretends to care about human health and human lives, however, his actions say otherwise as he looks to satisfy the economic interests of a declining and death-ridden industry.

Most slaughterhouse employees are poor, low-wage workers and unprotected immigrants so Trump's complete lack of concern for their well-being shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. Slaughterhouse workers are a means to an end, just like the other animals they are paid to kill and “process".

An industry that is hostile to nonhuman animals is no less hostile to the people it employs to do our dirty work. In a 2011 VegNews article, "Injustice for All", Mark Hawthorne investigated the conditions of slaughterhouse workers and found their jobs to be one of the most dangerous in the world. Most animal enslavement operations are owned by giant, wealthy conglomerates like Tyson, Smithfield, and Cargill. Nothing is more important to these peddlers of flesh than keeping the production line—the killing, eviscerating, slicing, and packaging—moving at all times.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The Silver Lining of COVID-19

The Vegan Vine
I look out my window and I see trees and flowers in bloom, I hear birds chirping, I watch rabbits scurrying about and crows soaring high above. Life goes on for them as usual and this brings me great comfort. Seasons still change, the sun rises and sets, spring brings renewal, and hope springs eternal.

While human animals all over the globe hunker down in an attempt to avoid catching and spreading the Coronavirus virus (COVID-19), life as we know it has grounded to a halt. The natural world, on the other hand, seems mostly immune and for good reason. There is a silver lining to this pandemic as nature and many nonhuman animals benefit from reduced human activity, travel, and consumerism.

  • Airplanes that devour oil, adding tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and interfere with bird migrations have had their flights severely curtailed. 
  • Restaurants, bars, and other non-essential food operations that serve up gratuitous products made with nonhuman animal flesh, milk, and eggs are no longer operating. 
  • With more and more governors ordering citizens to stay at home, less humans are traveling, which means a decrease in gasoline usage and air pollution.
  • More people at home means less interference with free-living animals in general, and less chance of us hurting them.
  • With many businesses closed, people forced to work at home are less likely to order takeout and contribute to more plastic pollution that is choking our forests and oceans and the animals who call them home.
  • Sporting events, casinos, concerts, nightclubs, gyms, theaters, conventions, and all kinds of human activities have been cancelled, resulting in all the above, including less accumulation of scattered trash.
  • Racetracks, circuses, rodeos, and other mass attractions that involve endless exploitation and abuse of other animals have also ceased.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Torturous Animal Experiments Continue in Secrecy at Rutgers University

The Vegan Vine
"As a graduate student, I ordered ten rats, like so many test tubes, for experimental use because they were 'laboratory rats' and I was a 'researcher'," confessed Joan Dunayer in the introduction of her book, Animal Equality: Language and Liberation. "Those labels permitted self-disguise. I didn't see myself as an abuser—not yet. Then I observed vivisection for the first time. At the University of Pennsylvania every veteran vivisector in the psychology department treated rats with callous indifference. I heard rats scream as their ears were hole-punched for identification. I saw them flung by the tail into metal boxes that fit them like coffins. There they stayed 23 hours a day, unable to look out. So that they would work for food, some rats were kept half starved. Others received electric shocks. Still others were subjected to painful injury such as stomach puncture. Termed 'procedures' and 'methods,' all forms of torture escaped moral judgment." After reading Peter Singer's Animal Liberation, Dunayer finally realized that she had "failed to consider most nonhuman animals, the vast majority of the world's living beings. My actions," she wrote, "had displayed as arrogant, self-serving, and self-deceiving a mindset as sexism or racism. The concept of nonhuman rights completed my shift in worldview. No conscious being should be treated like an exploitable thing."

The animal activist group Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! (SAEN) recently filed a federal complaint against Rutgers University after three nonhuman animals were discovered to have endured horrific deaths in Rutgers University laboratories: a rabbit was boiled alive during cage sterilization, a goat died after becoming stuck in a feeder, and a pig died when her bowel was accidentally perforated during an experiment.

These deaths are only the tip of the iceberg. While the rabbit, goat, and pig fatalities were considered "accidents" and negligent violations of federal regulations, their deaths were not illegal because nonhuman animals are still considered property under American law. The University's use of these and other animals in unnecessary, wasteful, and costly experiments directly result in the untimely and obscure deaths of thousands of living beings every year. When I speak to Rutgers students and alumni, they are shocked to learn that Rutgers conducts animal experiments. The business of torturing other animals is not something Rutgers advertises, but it should outrage every student, alumni, and taxpayer who supports the University.

Vivisection is the restriction of individuals to confined environments and the routine infliction of pain, injury, deprivation, and death for experimentation. Vivisection commonly involves torture under the guise of "science," yet it is inherently unscientific. Many LGUs (Land-Grant Universities) devise all kinds of schemes—including creating new diseases—to acquire "research" monies to torment nonhuman animals and fund archaic experiments. Research is big business, so breeders, government agencies, pharmaceutical companies, universities, and others who profit generously from vivisection will do anything to keep the money flowing in.

Laboratories are living hells. Some nonhuman animals are born there and never leave. Many spend their entire lives surrounded by concrete and steel, subjected to nonstop physical and emotional pain. Reactions to trauma include persistent gagging from repeatedly having tubes stuck down their throats; chewed off fingernails from anxiety; rocking, and banging their heads on cell walls. In addition, hypervigilance, depression, and self-abuse—biting themselves—have also been exhibited in nonhuman animals manipulated in laboratories. These symptoms of distress have also been observed in human animals who have undergone physical and sexual abuse, war, and other traumatic experiences because suffering is universal, no matter who is experiencing it.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

What the Coronavirus, the Film Contagion, and Infectious Diseases All Have in Common

The Vegan Vine
In the final scene of the 2011 thriller Contagion, we learn that the deadly virus that killed 2.5 million people in the United States and 26 million worldwide by day 26 had originated in a Chinese "meat market." The "chef," who had been handling the corpse of the infected pig, wipes the pig's blood and saliva on his apron and heads out of the kitchen to meet with Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow), a customer who requests a picture and to shake his hand. Beth becomes patient zero.

Two things came to mind when I initially heard about the Coronavirus, a zoonotic disease that is rapidly spreading across the globe and whose source has also been traced to a "meat market" in China where nonhuman animals were sold for human consumption. The first, was the movie Contagion, which relied heavily on science and was praised by experts for its authenticity. The second, was the inevitability of such an outbreak due in no small part to our insufferable and systematic exploitation and abuse of other animals.

In "Beyond Humanism, Toward a New Animalism" David Cantor wrote:
Humans’ various holocausts against nonhuman animals . . . brought limitless disaster upon human beings, who until relatively recently were ignorant of organisms invisible to the naked eye. Hundreds of infectious diseases that chickens, pigs, cows, rabbits, camels, sheep, goats, horses, dogs, and others had adapted to over millions of years wreaked havoc on humans who assumed they could enslave other animals with impunity. Supernatural explanations arose for smallpox, bubonic plague, influenza, and other scourges that in actuality were zoonotic.
In "Animal Abuse: It's Why We Have Infectious Diseases," Cantor went on to describe the root cause of much human suffering brought about by our animal-abuse policies, cultures, and practices. Here are just some of the more well-known zoonotic diseases he addressed:

AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome):
The best-documented and most likely theory holds that human beings acquired the HIV virus which causes AIDS from unnatural contact with chimpanzees — namely butchering them for their flesh ("bushmeat"), enslaving them as pets, or attracting them to settlements or crops, most likely starting in the late 19th or early 20th century.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Threatening Nature of Vegans and Truth

I was interviewing for a job and was prepared for the ubiquitous question: tell me a little about yourself. I mentioned a few interests, like organizing, reading, and writing, but it wasn't enough to satisfy my interviewer. I hesitated to mention my being vegan and knew if hired that it would eventually come up, but I went for it anyway. The interviewer seemed intrigued and as most "animal" conversations go, she related to a former dog companion whom she had loved and discussed at length.

"It must be a great sacrifice to be vegan," she finally stated, almost questioningly.

"It isn't a sacrifice, but a great joy," I beamed. "Going vegan is one of the best decisions I ever made because I no longer contribute to animal suffering through what I eat." I could see the wheels turning.

"Well, it's a choice, right?" she asked, rather rhetorically and smugly. "And that's your choice."

I smiled, noting the usual self-protective posturing. "Yes," I said.

Nonvegan rebuttals like the one above are both confounding and instructive, and provide interesting studies in psychology. When confronted with my being vegan, the interviewer quickly sought to make me "the other" so she didn't have to examine her own behaviors. Likewise, she sought to separate herself from me by implying that my being vegan is my own "personal choice," instead of a moral requirement. This begs the question: why would anyone want to defend a choice to do harm to others?

Years of experience has taught me that people need to put distance between themselves and what I'm espousing so they don't have to examine their own self-deceits. When someone insists that my being vegan follows my own "personal beliefs," I promptly point out that we both share the same beliefs. When I ask them if they believe that causing other animals unnecessary harm is wrong, they agree. Thus, when I point out that eating the flesh, milk, and eggs of other animals is unnecessary, causing billions of animals to be needlessly tormented and killed every year, they typically get defensive. The only difference is that I'm acting on our shared values and beliefs, while they are not.

"A person who tells you that eating animal products is a personal choice is experiencing a state of cognitive dissonance," wrote Robert Grillo in "Eating Animals and the Illusion of Personal Choice" (Circles of Compassion: Essays Connecting Issues of Justice, 2014). ". . . they have made this issue personal precisely in response to vegans making it public. Making the issue personal is a nice way of saying, 'I don't want to be judged or held accountable for my actions that harm animals.' So this is not so much an attempt to defend eating animals as it is a defense intended to block any further discussion or evaluation. Moreover, personalization removes animals from public discourse and keeps them tucked away in our closet of denial and silence."

Thursday, June 27, 2019

"Farmers" Don't Deserve Public's Money or Pity

The Vegan Vine
Overgrown hooves and anxious looks.  © Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals
The words "farm" and "farmer" typically portend nostalgic and romantic notions of an American way of life. In the 1980's, like many teenagers, I was a fan of FarmAid concerts that sought to keep families from losing their farms. Songs like "Scarecrow" by John Mellencamp immortalized the financial struggles of farmers. Over the years I've seen many local farms disappear to human development.

When I became vegetarian, then vegan, I found that not all farms and farmers are created equal. I learned to let go of idealized, culturally-programmed concepts of these terms that—like the Old MacDonald nursery rhyme and Oscar Meyer jingle—conjure up naive and harmless impressions. Instead, when I came face to face with the truth of what most "farms" and "farmers" do, I uncovered violent operations where millions of nonhuman animals are needlessly bred, enslaved, and killed for their flesh, milk, and eggs.

There is a world of difference between farmers who grow fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, and vegetables, or operate local, plant-based CSA's (Community Supported Agriculture) and "farmers" who oppress, manipulate, and massacre other sentient beings for a living.

"Divorced from the land, numerous 'animal agriculture' operations have no farming component," wrote Joan Dunayer in Animal Equality: Language and Liberation. "Yet, the exploitation of captive nonhumans for food retains the name agriculture, evoking pastoral images of cows grazing, pigs rooting, and chickens pecking in the spacious outdoors. . . . Farm is largely an anachronism. . . . 'Farmers' and 'producers' who deal in flesh, milk, or eggs actually are slaveholders. Slaughterers are mass murderers. Assisted by words that falsify, consumers of products from nonhuman bodies pretend otherwise."

On May 23, President Trump authorized a $16 billion aid package for "farmers" to tide them over during his trade war with China—this is in addition to the $12 billion they were given last year. It is not the responsibility of taxpayers to bail out food-industry enslavers, otherwise known as "farmers," who uphold the catastrophic animal flesh, milk, and egg cartels. Nor is it our responsibility to finance those who abet these cartels by turning their soybean and corn yields over to feed companies to fatten nonhuman animals for slaughter. In fact, 75 percent of all soy and 95 percent of all corn grown in the United States is used strictly to fill captive nonhuman animals ("live-stock"), in spite of the fact that if this grain were consumed directly by humans, we could feed nearly 800 million people, potentially wiping out human hunger across the world. Furthermore, subsidies to soy and corn farmers indirectly help lower costs for those who breed nonhuman animals for consumption.