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, it’s important for us to communicate our message in a way that will interest and engage people to break this stereotype. That’s our challenge. As with any movement, before the sensibility of it has been fully realized, resistance abounds.

Where does some of the rage and impatience originate in animal rights advocates? It’s 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’re 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 don’t join them. It’s rare that they’re ever called overzealous no matter how significant their involvement. 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 the 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 don’t like it. They understand the meaning of cruelty to animals, and they don’t want to confront the reality that they’re 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’m an abolitionist, but I’m 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’s 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 doesn’t 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’re taking concrete and measurable action for animals, you’re heroes for a cause as important as any in the history of the world–the systematic and needless confinement, torture, and slaughter of trillions of animals, the destruction of our environment causing global climate change, millions of people dying from human health conditions caused by eating animals and the effects of industrial farming, and millions more dying of starvation because grain that could save them is wasted on animals. You’re 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’re 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.

91 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Animal Rights Advocates

  1. Thank you Andrew for your eloquence (as always). I need to print this and keep with me for balance, for inspiration..

  2. I needed to read this…thank you for putting into words what we all have felt. Although I’m taking a break from the constant assault of horror and ignorance on Facebook, I WILL be back and in the meantime will continue with all my other activities and efforts to spread awareness and compassion! Lots of love to you Andrew…you are family ❤

    1. Thank you Sherry. The feeling is mutual. I hope it provided you some comfort and reminded you that you are a hero for animals and compassionate people all over the world. Take care of yourself my friend.

  3. Thank you so much Andrew! It gave me so much hope and happiness. I may print it as well and read it when I feel down! 🙂

  4. THank you Andrew, I am feeling very depressed lately being constantly called crazy and extremist. It seems like I am hitting the wall all the time…Being vegan is a great challange. Your letter makes me feel that I am not alone with my thinking and doing. Light and Peace to you.

  5. Wow, this made me feel very emotional. Thank you so much for writing this. I will also refer back to this in times of conflict. Thank you.

  6. Thank you for putting into gentle, powerful, encouraging and hopeful words what I believe we all feel and think, but didn’t have the eloquence to share, or perhaps the courage. I’m going to save this letter and re-read it every time I wonder if I’m doing enough. Thank you.

    1. Thank you so much Emily. I’m very grateful to learn that it has served to remind you of your importance in this cause.

  7. Thank you Andrew, this is such an important message! I must say that there are times that tears and sorrow almost get the best of me, but then I come back with a smile because I know that only smiles will continue to help our animal family as well as humanity. Thank you again!

    1. Thank you Victoria. I know how you feel. I am proud of you and forever grateful for everything you do for the cause.

  8. Brilliantly written, as long as there is breath in my body I will never stop fighting for what is right, it’s nice to know there are so many people out there that feel the same. If I had just one wish it would be that the whole of humanity would wake up one day and have the same compassion and empathy for all living souls as I do.

  9. Thank you,Doctor…sometimes it gets really depressing thinking about all those people who refuse to change their carnivorous ways!!

  10. For all the days when the struggle seems too much. For all the moments when the pain and depression overwhelms. For all the times when the smallness of my actions seems negligible in the face of the suffering. I thank you, Andrew. This is possibly the most powerful gift of writing I have ever received.

    1. Hi Amanda,

      Your actions are never small. They all add up and they all matter. Everything you do and say matters. Keep using your voice.

      Thank you for your comments. It brings me great joy to know that my letter reminded you of your importance to the world.

  11. Thank you very much Andrew. Your words are very significant for me, I think we need people like you to keep our strenghts alive with such eloquent and inspiring speeches 🙂

  12. Andrew,
    I know you dropped your facebook account for a while- did you reopen it or start a new one? Regardless, it appears we are no longer connected there. I wanted to post this blog entry of yours with a note I have written along similar lines (although not nearly as compelling as this post) and tag you. I’ll just refer people here instead. Bravo on this inspiring post! In solidarity my vegan brother.

  13. Absolutely one of the most eloquent and accurate characterization of what it means to be vegan. I so love the question “Is what I’m doing positively impacting animals?” That is such a perfect way for all of us to proceed when we deal with resistance. Thank you!

  14. This was so moving and inspiring and made me cry tears of pride for myself and all other vegans out there. I will turn to this when the barrage of abuse hits again and gain strength in the knowledge Im right.
    Thank you.

    1. Thank you Lizzie. You are on the right side of history. Our challenge is to help people learn what we’ve learned and then ensure their actions reflect the way they feel about it.

  15. Your quote from Nelson Mandela made me weep….because I can feel the immensity and gravity of his words, in this enormous struggle to free the animals of the horror that humans beings have locked them into.

  16. Wow!! You are #1 an excellent and caring human being, #2 you write very, very well and finally I am following you because of all of the above. Right now, because of all the inhumane things that I have seen, I am in the process of becoming a vegan and appreciate your inspiring and encouraging words as I’ve met with some resistance! You are offering an invaluable service and I am following you now!

    1. That’s wonderful news. It warms my heart to know you have found comfort and an open door in the message. Thank you for everything you’re doing to make the world a more humane place.

  17. I definitely needed to hear this. I’ve shared this on my Facebook wall and have asked friends and family to read this if they want to know what’s in my heart. ❤

  18. Thank you for the beautiful letter! Since you bring up abolitionist/realist, I’d like to express an observation.
    I am an abolitionist. This works for me and plays to my strengths as a communicator. However, not everyone is suited for it. And not every scenario asks for an abolitionist approach. I feel that if we tried to make everyone abolitionist, we would have a lot of advocates out there poorly representing the movement when they might have made very moving welfarists.
    In the grand scheme of things, shouldn’t we be supporting the efforts of all advocates? As long as our advocacy always ALWAYS ties back to veganism, I can’t see that some single-issue campaigns could undermine the movement. But we *must* always keep veganism as the goal, and to accomplish it as swiftly as possible.

  19. I’m so sorry I didn’t see this years ago, but now is better than never! A very moving letter, and I hope that all of us will read it and feel re-energized. There is so much moving of society to accomplish yet.

    1. Thank you, Christine. Yes, we have much work to do and if we all keep doing a little, it will add up to a lot. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. I appreciate your compassion for animals.

  20. Thank you Andrew for this moving letter. I’m from a country where ,a lot of people , loves touradas ( bullfigth ) and it’s a hard job to change mentalities. Slowly we make the difference . Many people are Vegan and last october , finally , we electet a deputy from PAN ( party ,animals , nature ) . Thank you again for everything you are doing. Have a Happy New Year.

    1. It’s so nice to hear from you Luz. I can imagine that must be difficult. I’m sure you’re all making a tremendous impact.

      Congratulations on the historic victory for the PAN party! That’s fabulous news!

      Thank YOU for all you do!

  21. This comes at the right time. Just a couple of days ago I was asking myself what keeps me going since I lost faith in humanity. Thanks for the great article and reminder.

    1. Thank you Giorgia. I appreciate you sharing your feelings with us. It’s normal to feel that way but don’t ever lose faith in humanity. While it is true that the depth and the breadth of the cruelty can be overwhelming, I meet so many people in my travels that are heroes for animals. My advice is to surround yourself with people who inspire you and continue to advocate to help people learn and change.

      All the best to you and thanks again for being a voice for animals. You are needed.

  22. Some times I feel I want to die because I cannot bear more cruelty to animals… your quote …”know that your passion offers hope”… made me feel I have to live my life for this. Thank you with all my heart.

    1. That is a common and natural emotion Sonia. Thank you for being brave enough to share it with us.

      The truth is that if you die, more animals will die because you won’t be around to help them. Animal advocates are their only hope. They need you! So, take comfort knowing that while many people have not yet fully realized their full potential to be compassionate stewards of the earth, many people are learning to care more about animals every day thanks to people like you.

      You said it best: Live your life for this cause. I don’t know of a more noble one. Make it the driving force in your life. Harness your sadness into action.

      Thank you Sonia.

  23. I am a professional singer-songwriter based in South Africa. I am vehemently opposed to all forms of animal abuse, especially Trophy Hunting, and have written several songs with this theme. I am offering these songs to any organisation, or artist, who may be able to use them. Here are 3…..

  24. What a beautiful and eloquent letter. You are so right that ultimately it is all about the message and we have to keep moving forward. It is my hope that at some point soon people will look back and say that humans treated animals so horribly for some long but fortunately we have evolved and that is no longer part of our society. A girl can dream! Again thank you for the inspiration.

    1. Dear Polina,

      Thank you for sharing your vision with us. It’s unlikely any cause will ever see their perfect ideal but if we continue to work to improve conditions for animals, conditions will improve for animals. One of our goals should be to inspire as many people as possible who feel bad about what happens to animals to take concrete action to help animals as I described at the end of the letter.

      Hoping your dream comes true!

  25. Thank you for writing and publishing this outstanding essay for those involved in the animal rights movement. Progress is slowly being made but seeing how much suffering still exists makes it almost unbearable for those who do see it. Your essay will help many keep up the fight for those who cannot speak for themselves, including me! Thank you!!!

    1. Thank you for being an animal advocate Karen. I appreciate your note and I understand how you feel. I’m so glad you’re focused on taking concrete steps to benefit animals. Please keep in touch.

  26. Beautiful and inspiring words that somehow ease our struggle in such an indifferent and cold-hearted world. Thank you!

  27. This article is absolutely essential in understanding why it’s so important to not give up hope in changing society’s beliefs around animals. Please keep on publishing them. Hopefully your generation will be able to make a difference and the change the way big corporations think and act about these topics. I would like to see that in my lifetime.

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