An Open Letter to Animal Rights Advocates

To every animal rights advocate,

We often hear people dismiss animal advocates as radical or fanatic. In some circles, the term has a negative connotation, like “hippie” or “emo.” Fortunately, as people learn the truth about animal agriculture, the fur trade, seaquariums, the circus, experiments on animals, and other acts of cruelty, the perception changes. As advocates, we should communicate our message in a way that will interest and engage people to break this stereotype. That remains our challenge. As with any movement, before the sensibility of it has been fully realized, resistance abounds.

Where does the rage and impatience originate in animal rights advocates? It is primarily rooted in the fact that the issues we care about can be easily solved. As soon as people decide to make better decisions, they can transition from someone responsible for the exploitation, abuse, and killing of animals to a more compassionate person.

Understandably, sometimes advocates’ frustration gets the better of them when people offer trite replies such as “I could never give up chicken” after watching a video or reading a book about the horrors of factory farming even though companies make delicious plant-based meat. An animal advocate has likely seen a chicken inhumanely confined, diseased, debeaked, scalded, skinned, and shredded alive, so when the animal eater’s response and the imagery collide, it may ignite a visceral reaction that causes anger to trump reason. To care so much is a fault worth little criticism, although it is prudent to stay focused on the goal, which must always be the animals’ best interests.

When people say they are volunteering to end child abuse, poverty, crime, cancer, or working to improve other social conditions, their fellow citizens typically celebrate their efforts even if they do not join them. Rarely are they ever called overzealous, regardless of their passion. Why is it that animal advocates are so often harshly criticized, mocked, and ostracized? Where does the backlash originate? People who support cruelty to animals sometimes use criticism as a defense mechanism to justify their complacency because, unlike the other issues mentioned above, such as child abuse, where people are unlikely the cause of the problem, they realize that when it comes to the issues animal advocates work to improve, they play a pivotal negative role.

Animal advocates’ words strike a chord, and people who eat, wear, or pay to see animals exploited do not like it. They understand the meaning of cruelty to animals, and they do not want to confront the reality that they are participating in it, so they seek to sully the credibility of the messengers. Find comfort knowing that time and time again, people who make the transition tell us with heavy hearts, “I don’t know what I was thinking. I will never eat animals again. I don’t know if I can ever forgive myself.” We know exactly how they feel.

How do we overcome the dilemma of those who refuse to change? We must recognize people’s motives and remain patient and persistent and continue to inform ourselves and others about the realities of animal agriculture and its impact on animals, people, and the planet and all other forms of cruelty. I am an abolitionist, but I am also a realist. While ending animal agriculture and allowing animals to live their lives unfettered by the human hand is our goal, we must not dismiss incremental success (i.e., Meatless Monday, vegetarians, people who refuse to wear fur or go to the circus, etc.) if the only other choice is no progress at all. It is a hard reality to accept in the face of brutality on such a massive scale. It is, however, reality, and to deny the scope of the problem and the effort it will take to eradicate it or the important impact of every act of kindness is to lack vision about what these decisions mean to the affected animals and what it requires to reach the end goal.

We must carry ourselves with dignity and recognize that our detractors will work hard to find fault with us to paint us as fanatics. We must not give them the opportunity. We must work smart and hard. We must stick together. There is too much infighting in the movement that does not serve the best interests of animals. We must be willing to ask ourselves tough questions such as “Is what I’m doing positively impacting animals?” We must hold ourselves to high standards even in the face of conduct unbecoming and be willing to endure ridicule and abuse knowing that the animals suffer a much worse fate than hurtful words.

If you are taking concrete and measurable action for animals, you are heroes for a cause as important as any in history—the systematic and needless confinement, torture, and slaughter of trillions of animals, the destruction of our environment causing a global climate crisis, millions of people dying from human health conditions caused by eating animals and the effects of industrial agriculture, and millions more dying of starvation because grain that could save them is wasted on animals. You are fighting against enormous odds, including a foe in the powerful agricultural industry that will spare no expense to continue fooling the public into believing a web of lies about the realities of eating animals and the nature of agribusiness. Recent efforts to make it illegal to film abuse in their factories provide ample evidence we are making progress. The booming plant-based meat industry offers additional evidence that the future looks promising.

When the thought of animals suffering becomes too much to bear, know that your passion offers hope, your strategic advocacy has changed and saved lives, and you are not alone. Keep holding those signs, keep handing out leaflets, keep sharing those videos, keep boycotting, keep talking to your friends and family, keep signing petitions, keep calling your legislators, keep educating yourself, keep holding fundraisers, keep making presentations, keep organizing and attending events, keep supporting nonprofit organizations, and keep making the world a more humane place. Don’t stop. Don’t ever stop.

Where there are people advocating for animals, there is compassion, hope, and endless possibility. Thank you for helping to make the world a more humane place.


92 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Animal Rights Advocates

  1. What a thought-provoking article. I really liked his angle and most of his point. It’s important to show compassion towards animals and do what is right. But, we can do it with dignity and not fanaticsm.

  2. Read your article with great interest and its well written. Thanks for making us think about important issues. I myself am not a vegan but I do realise that animals are badly treated to provide us humans and this is not acceptable. Even if we eat animals they should be treated respectfully and slaughtered painlessly. I am eating much less meat which is possible for everyone to do and I aim to buy free range which, in the south of Portugal and other rural communities is very possible if you buy local. Free range unfortunately is often more expensive, just like eco products, making them a luxury rather than a necessity. A lot needs to be done and awareness plays a key role. Filming in slaughter houses should and must become legal everywhere and films should be aired on the news from time to time. Cruelty is not acceptable.

    1. Hi Corine,

      Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. It’s great hearing from you.

      Yes, animals are raised in the most inhumane ways whether in a factory or even by a backyard butcher. Cruelty has no limits.

      You may find it interesting that slaughtering animals painlessly simply doesn’t exist. Even under the most humane methods, the animals experience tremendous fear, they smell death around them, and they suffer. They are intelligent enough to know what is happening. They hear the screams of pain around them. They know.

      I commend you for eating fewer animals. It’s a great step and it matters! Yes, cameras in slaughterhouses would go a long way to reducing abuse and helping people to understand what happens to these animals.

      Thanks again!

  3. I became vegan and an animal rights activist in 2014 and just as you mention in this article, deeply regret that it wasn’t sooner. So often I feel overwhelmed when I realize that the vast majority of people in the world are oblivious (or wilfully ignorant) to the cruelty perpetrated on animals. Every 2nd weekend a group of activists here in Connecticut show film footage of what goes on in slaughter -houses. We explain that all of the horrifying actions they witness are legal, yet there is no end to the excuses for not being vegan. We continue to do the demonstrations because at least we are planting a seed with every conversation. Your article describes so well the frustrations animal rights advocates experience. Thank you for such a poignant piece.

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