Guest Post: Steve’s Vegan Journey

Steven-Hudson

Me in 1988 with my best pal Hudson

The following post is a by my boyfriend, Steve, about how he came to be vegan.  I’m really proud of him and happy to post this on his behalf:

I’m Steve and I love animals.  I think that’s important to say first. I’ve always loved them. As a child I adored our two cats. When we got our first dog, when we brought home our guinea pigs, when we first brought home Bonnie (our rabbit). I’ve always loved them and each of those moments are very special to me. I would play with them, adore them, draw them, talk about them. They were a huge part of my life. As a child growing up I just always had a strong connection to them. However, there was never a connection between what I was eating and what I pet at a petting zoo or a farm.

While I’m a vegan now, I wasn’t always that way. I certainly wasn’t. I was your average kid eating fast food hamburgers and whatever meat products my family would have for dinner. I never questioned any of it. I was an average adult continuing those actions as well up until fairly recently.

In school, at least from what I could remember, there was never anything taught to us about farming or animals. I must have assumed that what was on my plate died willingly, or died of natural causes before being sold in the store. It never occurred to me what terrible tragedies these animals were put through on a daily basis just because of us. I’ve never considered going vegetarian. But then again, I never knew why people chose not to eat meat in the first place. Why make that choice in your life?

However I’ve been exposed to it since a young age. Since as long as I could remember my Aunt was vegetarian. I remember forgetting this once when I was a child, and while we waited for a holiday dinner at my Grandma’s I asked if she wanted a piece of chicken while she waited outside for something. I was young, and I must have forgotten, and she was quick to tell me “I don’t eat that, I’m a vegetarian.” Although I feel a bit better now about that, as I’m a vegetarian as well (and a vegan too), I never asked myself, why? Those questions wouldn’t arrive until years later.

My path to becoming vegan was not a direct route. In my life I slowly came across more and more people who were vegetarian. Now I didn’t have a personal problem with that. You eat whatever you want, as long as you’re not telling me what to do I could care less with what you eat. But that didn’t last forever. I began a wonderful relationship in the summer of 2009 that would directly change and influence my views on animals, meat, dairy, and much more. This was with my girlfriend Allyson. She was vegetarian when I met her, and would become vegan while we were dating.

Food

The delicious seitan philly cheesesteak from Good Karma Cafe in Red Bank

Food was just the start

The notion of her not eating meat wasn’t a big deal to me. When we went to eat we would just find places that had something she wanted. Although it meant I had to avoid eating at places I would have preferred at the time (like a BBQ place or something more meat heavy), I was willing to sacrifice that. Even before being vegetarian she would introduce me to new types of foods, Indian cuisine being one of them. Now I’m a wuss with spicy food, I can’t handle it at all, no way. But I was cautiously introduced to this whole new group of food that I now enjoy. Thai food was next, and soon my tastebuds were evolving.

Of course when dating someone who is vegetarian you are bound to eat at some veggie-only or vegan places. I always found something to eat at these places, I didn’t starve, not at all. In fact, the food wasn’t bad. I actually liked what I was eating! It intrigued me greatly that something that was not meat or chicken, could taste like it. It blew my mind.

An early instance of this was eating at the restaurant Veggie Heaven in New Jersey, a vegetarian Chinese food place with mock-meats, poultry and fish. I honestly thought they made a mistake when the brought out my fried rice with pork. Yes the pork maybe tasted a bit closer to chicken or beef, but wow. I honestly thought they served me meat by mistake. Of course my mind realized it was my tastebuds that were being fooled.

A next notable encounter was at Kaya’s Kitchen in Belmar, New Jersey. There I shared an appetizer of fake chicken nuggets with Allyson. They were amazing, they tasted just like chicken. I told her then, if this type of food was available to me, I would be vegetarian. Little did I know, it would only be a matter of time before I eat those words.

More and more we would eat at vegetarian or vegan places during our travels. I admit sometimes I would have preferred to go to a non-veggie place to eat, but each time I sat down and had a meal I enjoyed it. I was missing meat less and less. But that alone would not be enough to change my meat hungry ways.

Birds

The hens at Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary

Farm sanctuaries

Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York was the first farm sanctuary I have ever visited.  Allyson was doing some writing for school and through a winding road of articles and talking to people she would meet someone involved in protesting the local bear hunts. William was apparently one of these protesters who would get taken away and locked up for protesting, and thankfully quickly released. He and his wife run a small sanctuary in New York and at first I was not too, too interested in going. However we ended up driving there for a visit to meet William and his wife Ellen. Boy did I not know what I was getting myself into.

The surrounding area was beautiful, big trees, open land, hills and scenic views at every turn. A perfect place to have an animal sanctuary, or even just a house. We parked our car and walked around some small trees and shrubs to the entrance to the sanctuary. A photographer was already inside talking to the owners. We we greeted by this friendly bunch and introduced ourselves. A sign was hung outside that asked you not to consume meat or dairy products on the grounds. This would be my first animal sanctuary tour, and boy were my eyes about to be opened wide.

The Safe Haven sanctuary has a good size piece of property to work with. However when I say it’s small, that is only in comparison to the later sanctuaries I would visit. But that’s not a bad thing, not at all. It seems to be a good size for the animals they had living there. As we exited the house we were greeted by the sounds of the goats, chickens and sheep talking to each other. Along the way Allyson would be asking plenty of questions related to the sanctuary overall and by this I learned more than I ever thought I could about these animals.

Our tour started when we were greeted by a large golden retriever. I believe Daisy was her name, she would follow her master during the tour and bark whenever she felt like it. No matter how many times he asked her to stop, she would continue as she pleased, but we didn’t mind. Will spent some time introducing each being. The chickens collected themselves under the wooden bench near the goat pen as we walked by. Cluck, cluck, cluck. They fluttered about sending dirt and dust in the air while flapping their wings. We were told that this was a dust bath, one of the favorite activities of a hen or rooster. It helps keep them cool and they absolutely love it.

I learned about these creatures differently than one may expect. It was not by shockingly violent, cruel videos or in-your-face extremism by others. No, not at all. This was by kind, gentle guiding hands and information based on facts and science. A very direct way of trying to reach me which proved very effective.

Will shared stories of these animals background and their conditions. How they got there, what injuries they may have, why they needed to be helped, etc. Each story got me thinking more and more. One of the most touching items was about the birds. I learned that the turkeys and chickens we see in the stores and on farms today are modified and engineered to be fatter and more meaty for us to kill and consume. Dark or brown feathers are not desirable by the meat industry, so these white “broiler hens” (as they’re referred to) have been in-bred and modified to be this way. White and pale. These animals are simply not designed to live a long life. Factory farms aren’t merely breeding these animals and killing them, although that itself is horrible enough, the truth is much worse.

These factories are engineering these animals to grow faster and be heavier so they can raise them and kill them as fast and efficiently as possible. Less time equals more money. That’s all this is about, profits. The birds are de-beaked and de-toed, a process that mutilates the animal without medical treatment or care, usually using a red-hot heated wire. Why do this? To prevent fighting and attacking. These birds are in such cramped conditions, that fighting is inevitable. They do this to prevent further damage to their final product.

That’s all these animals are to these farms, a profit. The male chickens are destroyed as beautiful little chicks because they are simply undesirable. Someone, somewhere, has decided that they have no use for them. They can’t lay eggs and they are not fat enough to be used for meat. And because of that, they are unceremoniously murdered or left for dead.

Another moving story was about the turkeys. These turkeys suffered the same de-beaking and de-clawing as the chickens. However one of the particular turkeys was doing something that Will pointed out to us. She was making a nest. She wanted so badly to have babies and make a nest, her body was telling her it’s time to do this. However, due to the way she was bred, that is impossible for her. However, this animal was continuing to do as it would in nature, without the knowledge that it’s body has been tampered with to make her mission impossible. In fact some birds are so overgrown due to inbreeding and hormones that they can have difficulty laying eggs. An egg can become lodged inside the animal, eventually rupturing and causing infection, and sometimes death.

The goats were next, Duncan was a beautiful creature who came up to the fence and said hello. One of the roosters clucked around in the goat pen, Will noticed this and mentioned that the hawks in the area would likely be intimidated by the goats and not bother her, although he still kept a watchful eye. A pair of ducks had a nice pen with a little pond. One of these mallards recently had a friend pass away. However they quickly found him a friend in the most amazing way he just wandered onto the farm, likely from a nearby shooting range. At the range these ducks are raised in darkness, so naturally when they open the pen they fly out. When they do they are greeted by an array of bullets from hunters who consider this a sport.

Before we visited the sheep I got to meet a very special animal, and she was really something. The photographer was inside a small barn, down on one knee with his camera lens protruding through an opening between two sliding doors. What was he being so careful on capturing? Was he spying on a sheep? No – they obviously weren’t too shy. Stepping closer to him I got a peek of what animal dwelled inside.

It was a rabbit! A beautiful little white rabbit with black spots. She was sitting quietly in the back of her large room, filled with chewed on twigs and wooden platforms. Her holes and burrows were littered around and you could see some dirt on the back of her legs. She seemed so kind and sweet. Years later it would sadden me greatly when I learned of her passing. However it was clear she lead a happy life, the story on the sanctuary website says she would pass through a tunnel to her other animal friends (a tunnel she dug obviously), but always return to her barn at night. But when I visited she was very much alive. When the photographer stood up we chatted a bit, and the rabbit hopped about in her pen before relaxing in a corner.

We then moved onto the sheep. There were four or five of them in a larged fenced in area. Will unlocked the gates and dug through a box coming back up with a huge collection of hay. The sheep knew it was feeding time. He placed the hay in the large feeder and all of them came over for their lunch. Will discussed how when one of the sheep recently passed away, that the others seemed depressed. That got to me as well. People often assume something is not intelligent because it may not have the raw brain power we do, or may not seem to act “smart”. But it was clear to me that these animals were beautiful beings with their own personalities and traits. It’s impossible not to see. Anyone who blindly believes that these creatures are all the same are truly blinding themselves.

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Some of the wonderful sheep at Safe Haven

Loving animals and animal education are the stepping stones of becoming vegan

Safe Haven was a great experience. But I’m sad to say I didn’t go vegetarian just because of that, although it did make me think a lot about my experience there. I did cut down on my meat and egg digestion. But the next few visits to more sanctuaries would see an even greater decrease.  We would soon visit the famous Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. Also Located also in upstate New York, this sanctuary was gigantic and made Safe Haven look tiny by comparison.

This was the first time we visited the place and wow, what a sight. You arrive down a small road and arrive at the owners house. In the distance are gigantic hills and beautiful sights. An impressive solar panel is in the distance, sharing space with some of the resident goats and sheep. Here we got to see even more wonderful animals. Rabbits, pigs, cats, dogs, goats, chickens, and even cows. All happy in their own new environments, truly safe from any cruelty or harm they may have previously encountered. We just happened to catch a tour by Mike Stura, a wonderful person and animal rights activist that takes his title very seriously. I’ll never forget the first part of the tour, or any part of it  for that matter. The way Mike spoke to everyone was in a calm but commanding manner and that moved me. Anyone could get in your face and yell at you why you should do this or shouldn’t do  that and make you feel bad. But Mike wasn’t that person. You could tell the passion he had for these animals and why he was spending his time taking us on tours and talking to us. He was all about education, and you could tell he deeply loved these animals.

Our first stop on the tour  was to meet the chickens and he echoed the stories of the terrible practices done in the industry to these birds. He showed the battery cages on display that held 3 or 4 full-size chickens crammed in a tiny wire cage. This cage was designed purely to fit more birds in one place, meaning more profit for the egg and meat industry. We learned that egg laying hens don’t lay tons of eggs forever. After as little as two or three years they’re ‘spent’ and the production of eggs drops dramatically. It’s at this time where these chickens are “thanked” for their loyal service by being killed. There’s no factory farm that has a section of older hens to live out the rest of their days, they’re slaughtered. There’s no mercy for these animals.

While there a hen laid an egg right in front of us, when asked what they do with them. Mike explained that the eggs are fed back to the birds. This was intriguing to me, but as he explained, the birds go through such a hard time to produce the egg, eating it helps them regain some of the nutrients and energy they lost during the process. This would be later echoed at other sanctuaries we would visit. As the day progressed we visited the turkeys, the ducks, the pigs, and then the cows. Each was a real treat, we all had a great time seeing animals and petting them and taking photos.

When we got to the cows seeing the veal crates was shocking. I never was a big fan of veal and I can’t recall the last time I even considered ordering it. Of course after seeing this I would never have it again. But seeing this terrible contraption, made for the sole purpose of constricting the movements of a baby animal was heartbreaking. Thankfully Mike balanced this sad scene calling his big buddy Dylan over by raising his arms and calling his name. Dylan came running from out in the field to greet his pal Mike. Dylan is a rescued veal calf, who was no longer a small calf but a giant.  He was the largest cow I had ever seen, I did not know these animals could grow so large! Of course they are often never given the chance to. He was sweet and playful and ate greens right out of our hands. Mike walked in the pen and gave him a great big hug.

We left the farm that day and we learned so much, but I am again ashamed to say I was not vegetarian just yet. Although another severe plummet in my animal intake occurred. We would go back to Woodstock again, and afterwards, returning home I stepped out of the car and announced to Allyson that I was never going to eat red meat again. From then on it was a very slippery slope. I had never liked to eat fish, besides the rare tuna fish sandwich – so that was gone as well… So what was left on the meat side of things ? Chicken. That didn’t last long at all either… I’d had veggie and vegan chicken nuggets and patties, and realized that would be very easy to substitute. The last piece of animal flesh I unfortunately consumed was a poultry sandwich at a burger chain.

Steve-and-Calf

Petting one of the beautiful calves, Mike, at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY

One small step can lead to an enormous journey

In August 2012 I started my vegetarian experiment. The first few weeks were a bit rocky, but living with Allyson helped. We had always made a lot of meals together and she was always very supportive. I had my weeks of vegetarianism before. I think the most I’ve gone was 2 weeks, usually caving at the office cafeteria and eating a sandwich with meat on it just because there was nothing “better” to have. But this time I tried hard, I knew I could do it if I really tried. Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months. Before I knew it I was 3 months in and I felt great. Then six months, and a year almost snuck up on me. I was vegetarian and I felt great. I lost a good deal of weight in the process and I was no longer eating the animals I cared so much for.  Of course, making new animal (and people) friends, like those at For The Animals Sanctuary didn’t hurt either.

I was never a big milk person at all, but I loved cheese. That was going to be the hard thing to give up if I were to go vegan. I thought I couldn’t do it. Just like I thought I could never be vegetarian. However that too, would change. I slowly started trying vegan cheeses – as Allyson went vegan I sampled her food and wasn’t turned off by it. Yes the vegan cheese doesn’t taste exactly  like real cheese, but it’s close – very, very close. And there are many different ones to try and always new types entering the market. And when you haven’t had cheese in a week or maybe a month – it tastes even better. Knowing there were a large variety of non-dairy cheese available helped. But realizing the suffering the dairy cows went through pushed me to being vegan even quicker.

You see cows don’t just produce milk 24/7. No animal produces milk just for the heck of it. They produce milk for their young, for their babies. So how do we get so much milk? We artificially impregnate them. They produce milk, and we steal it from them to sell it. What about their babies? They are ripped from their mother after birth, literally. The baby calves remain so thirsty for their mother’s milk – the milk designed for them but taken from them. The most heart wrenching images of this were in the recent premiere of ‘The Ghosts In Our Machine’. A scene shows a bucket of milk given to a calf. Before he finishes a worker takes the bucket, dumps out what precious drops were left inside, and walks away. The calf turns around to other calves his age. They instantly lock mouths, desperately trying to get more milk from each other’s mouth.

There are no families on farms, only profits to be had. The female babies are kept in the factories and given the extreme bare minimum of their Mom’s milk that is required to survive. The males are undesirable and often killed or left to die as they become anemic and deficient in the nutrients they need to survive. They are often sold to veal manufactures. These male calves are destined to be tied inside a cramped box, unable to walk around or move, so they stay tender until their untimely death at only a few months old. Never seeing their mother again, never knowing love, compassion or the warm touch of their Mom’s body.

Knowing that buying these meat and dairy products helped support these farms abuse these animals made me go vegan. Vegan butter and cheese were fine by me. I didn’t need the “real” thing just to indulge my taste buds temporarily, while an animal suffers due to my particular taste for an item. There were other options available, smarter options.

While it may seem like I became vegetarian and vegan to help myself, that is far from the truth. Yes it helped me be at ease with my own choices in life, but I did it for them. For those who lack the audible voice to tell the world what is really going on. For those that can’t protest, spread the word, or expose the cruelty in these factories. I did it for them. I did it for the animals.

Four-Animals

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Farm Animal Care Conference 2013

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It’s been a long time, but I’ve finally found time to update my much missed blog. The reason for such a huge gap in updates in June is because my  summer was brimming with events, and the events did not stop. Camping, birthdays, a trip to Vancouver (and Seattle, where I had the worlds best vegan donut, Homer Simpson drool), a cruise to Bermuda. All of these things were so fun, and I was glad to go, but I’m happy that autumn is almost here and I can find some peace of mind at home with my rabbits.

My sporadic journeys ended two weekends ago with one final trip: Watkins Glen, New York, for the Farm Animal Care Conference at Farm Sanctuary. I was looking forward to this conference all summer and I can say I am still grinning from the wonderful weekend I had at this event. If I could go again, I would. But once was certainly enough, and the event is well worth your time if you have any interest in learning about farm animal care.

This two day conference is an introduction to those interested in learning what it takes to run a sanctuary, or have any interest in opening a sanctuary. It’s also of interest  to those who just want to know, who want to learn, who want to be more involved maybe at their local sanctuary where they volunteer. Just being behind the scenes to listen to the animals stories, what they endured, and what kind of present medical problems they have because of their treatment, was eye opening and educational.

And there is nothing wrong with just knowing about farm animals and their needs, because as a vegan its important to just know.  While not as in-depth as I envisioned the conference being, we were given 1-2 hours with each species to go over all information, ask questions, and just have a more in-depth look at the state of the animals, signs from their previous traumatic incidences. It was a reminder to me what insanely disgusting, saddening things they endure.

Susie Coston talking about turkey care

Susie Coston talking about turkey care

My own personal interest in originally going to the conference was to someday run a small sanctuary. At first I thought that yes, this is something I definitely want to do. I thought that someday I could work hard and maybe give refuge to a handful of animals at my future home – not a huge operation like Woodstock or Farm Sanctuary, but small, and manageable. Attending this conference helped me realize that this is not a calling to take lightly – its hard, hard work. It requires time, money, energy, even the smallest of animals can be a workload depending on their health and needs. Farm animals, especially those rescued from the industry, are absolutely fragile – mentally, physically, and they are bred in ways that make them incapable of defending themselves, and they are subject to dozens of sicknesses and diseases. Something as simple as their hooves need to be trimmed but they can no longer naturally run them down (same with the tusks of a  pig). They need guidance and protection, and unless you’re able to supply them with the care you’d give someone like your dog, then you should refrain from considering having a farm animal rescue.

Are my visions changed? A little. I still want to help, someday I want to, but I realize the conference gave me the tools I need to make an educated decision, one good for me and for the animals, and skills that help me to be a better vegan and volunteer. Steve and I took a realistic step back and thought about what we are capable of – but one thing this conference made us realize is we really, really have a strong inclination towards the well-being of rabbits.

During the rabbit session we found ourselves blurting out information we knew, answering peoples questions, educating other attendees on rabbits. Farm Sanctuary intends to phase out rabbits because they have an outdoor barn for rabbits and found rabbits don’t do well outdoors (this is mostly true), and Susie Coston (farm operations director) said there is a real need for rabbit rescues. This is absolutely true – while all farm animals suffer equally, I cannot think of an animal more abused than a rabbit – there is an industry for rabbit meat, for fur, for pets/entertainment, and experimentation and medical/cosmetic testing. Rabbits are abused in multiple industries and are seen as disposable, as unintelligent, as plain and happy to just sit in a box or hutch all day. I think if we began some kind of effort, it would absolutely begin with rabbits. It’s something we both agree and feel so strongly about.

But as I said I learned so much, I feel fortunate to have such advice before jumping in. Some major themes and points I found especially important, which I’d like to share:

  • Have the ability to say no. Many sanctuaries fail because they cannot say no and take on too many animals at a time. It’s hard to say no to all animals that need a new home, but if you do not have the energy, time, staff, resources, to take care of a lot of animals, then you are going to burn out and fail. You should focus on making sure the quality of life is good for the animals you do have, rather than have too many and end up giving them a life that is just as neglectful as their previous life.
  • From the beginning, put your absolute best effort in to every possible facet of your sanctuary. Research everything and buy only the best of the things you need: safe heaters, safe medical equipment, the correct kind of barn for each animals, the correct fencing for each species. Don’t do something because its easy, do it because its right, and you will prevent mess-ups later down the road.
  • Prepare from the beginning for pests. Build a barn that will prevent a rat population from building up (concrete floor, rat wire in the walls).
  • Try to find a local vet who you can work with who has knowledge about farm animals, and build a relationship with them based on respect and trust.
  • However in some cases, a vet may not always be right – sometimes if they suggest an animal should be put down, it may not always be for the right reasons. Its important to also use your judgement about if the medical condition can possibly be treated and not just solved by simply putting an animal down.
  • Know your state’s laws and what is required. Some animals like chickens require testing for avian flu. Crossing state lines need to be cleared, and animals that come in sick should be quarantined until they have a clean bill of health.  Have an extra barn or space for quarantined animals, and wear the proper equipment.
  • When caring for an animal, it isn’t worth it to worry or scare them. If they absolutely do not want to be handled or touched because of fear, its safer to let them be. It’s also better for their mental health, because you do not want to make them sick with  fear and worry.

And there just more, just so much more. But that’s why I highly recommend attending this conference if it interests you.

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There is just so much to say about the conference, what was learned and what was said. Luckily the group provided a very thick packet of all the information that was given. And by the end I had made many friends which, all who are passionate and I’m sure will do great things one day.  Overall I would recommend this conference in a heart beat. If you want to see an in-depth look at some things we saw and experienced, click below for more.

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In Loving Dedication to Oswald

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This is Oswald. Her story is a long one, and one that led to a huge surprise in my life, and a lot of lessons learned about rabbits and rabbit care. She left us last week. The pain is still there, and I still tear up when I think about her. But I need to write about this, because I want to remember her, and want to give her a proper goodbye.

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Sanctuary Spotlight at Your Daily Vegan

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YDV Logo courtesy and property of YourDailyVegan.com

If you aren’t already familiar with them, Your Daily Vegan is an amazing, in-depth, hard-working vegan news source site that focuses less on recipes and lifestyle, and more on news and discussions which relate to veganism as a whole. From health advice to think-pieces to profiles on animals and their biology (they seriously do a wonderful job writing posts dedicated to informing the public on animals, especially ones less romanticized), Your Daily Vegan does its best to be a source of information for the vegan who never wants to stop learning.  We like to think our veganism ends with the absolution of all animal products, but we never, ever stop learning, and never should.

And I am beyond happy to be announcing on my little blog here that I will be contributing to this fantastic group as a writer for the Sanctuary Spotlight section. The Sanctuary Spotlight section of Your Daily Vegan focuses on anything and everything sanctuary related, from profiles on sanctuary owners and resident animals, to news items about recent acquisitions of residents, to events and more. This is a personally fulfilling opportunity that happened to me, and one that means a lot.

I have a really, really big interest in sanctuaries, and over time I hope to visit as many as possible. But more importantly, when I cannot physically visit, the next best thing to do is to just let other vegans, even non-vegans, know that there are hard-working, extremely dedicated sanctuaries just within driving distance. Ones that need help, volunteers, support, and donations.  These places provide homes for animals that are the victims of a system we deplore, and they need our help. We can make our activism count by actually taking action and helping these animals.

You can read my introduction post here, where I briefly go over my own personal journey towards being vegan, and, eventually, my connection to sanctuaries and how important they are are in bridging one’s perceptions of animals as individuals.  Keep an eye out on Your Daily Vegan, not just for my posts, but in general, because the woman running the site is so damn good at what she does, and has the passion which drives the site to be the quality it is. And all the writers as well, who write really thought provoking articles that push the conversations we should be having as vegans.

And I promise to give my own little blog some loving, too.  I have some words I want to share about recent bunny-related events in my life for a separate post that I am working on now. For now, however, I am grateful for the opportunities that have come my way and I continue to feel really fortunate and moved.

For The Animals Sanctuary, Blairstown, NJ

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For Earth Week I wanted to write a post focusing on the importance of volunteering for different groups. Whether you are interested in cleaning up, recycling programs, helping others to accessible food, or animal sanctuaries, all subjects lead back to the health and well being of this planet. Not to get too crazy hippie on you, but I do think the amount of action we take, the energy and love we put into something, in turn creates a positive force. Whether we benefit personally from it, you can’t predict. But if your actions lead to happier people, to a healthier Earth,  I think everyone benefits. These small efforts build upon one another, and they can only be done when you engage directly with them.

One area which always needs help is at your local animal sanctuary. The people who run these animal sanctuaries are extremely passionate people who are brave for taking on the task of giving multiple rescued animals a permanent home, but they aren’t superhuman. Most times, they need the volunteer power to help keep the sanctuary functioning. By helping, you do good for the sanctuary keeper, the animals, yourself, and help to maintain the ideal that is respecting animals as ends in themselves.

One sanctuary not too far from me is For The Animals Sanctuary, a small scale operation hidden on a curvy road in the northern New Jersey town of Blairstown. It is run by Debbie Kowalski, who may very well be an actual superhero for founding the sanctuary, and running it by herself as she works a full time nursing job. With help from dedicated volunteers, they have rescued many animals. Some current residents include thirteen goats, five cows, four pigs, and a few chickens, all on just 8 acres of land. The space is small but used well. It’s lovely to see the animals graze together in a large stretch of land down the hill from her home. All of them are friendly, and really beautiful to look at.

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Recently, on April 6, For The Animals held a work party, a gathering of volunteers meant to give the animals’ living spaces a good overturning. With as many as 30 people showing up, the work was seen less as work, and more of a time to get to know fellow vegans in the NJ area (though a handful came from NY just for the clean-up!). For a few hours, we lifted heavy wet hay with pitchforks, pushed wheel barrows and tarps down hill, lifted heavy mud from the pig’s living space, while outdoors, enjoying the sun and the feeling of helping this small but wonderful sanctuary out.
In the distance, the animals continued to graze in a large stretch of field, unaware they’d soon come to find their sleeping/eating spaces nice and shiny.

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Photo courtesy of For The Animals Facebook

After the clean up was done, we shared in a giant potluck. Sadly I have no photos since I was busy eating (!), but everyone brought something amazing. It felt like a vegan buffet – I hadn’t eaten that much good food in a long time. Delicious home-made foods such as tiramisu, kale salads, cashew cheeses, chimcurri tempeh, and Debbie’s awesome pot pie. But what I loved most was meeting new people and trying the kinds of foods they also like, and relaxing after a good 3-4 hours of heavy lifting/cleaning. Following the potluck, we were given a chance to spend time with the resident animals. I had saved veggie scraps throughout the week to give to the animals – and they definitely inhaled everything we  gave them.

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Photo courtesy of For The Animals Facebook

Theresa Sarzynski, who also helps the sanctuary to operate, was also selling her vegan inspired jewelry, shirts, bumper stickers and buttons. Her work is really awesome, and I was happy to buy some buttons. Hopefully next time I remember to bring enough money to buy something like a necklace!

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As the sun got low in the sky, it was time to go, but it was definitely a full day of meeting wonderful people, wonderful animals, and wonderful experiences. For The Animals is a really moving place to be. I highly recommend visiting them – you have to check their website for visiting days. However, if you like them on Facebook, be sure to check out for future volunteer days and events. On May 25, they will be having fun, kid-friendly Summer Shindig event:

FTAS-Summer-Shindig-2013-smBe sure to come meet the wonderful animal residents here, and enjoy the lovely North Jersey scenery. If you cannot make it, pleasure consider donating to this small scale, but deeply passionate sanctuary. For just $10 a month, you can help them to continue operating. It really is a worthy cause, both for the animals but for the lovely people who run it.

Overall, there are many ways you can approach Earth Day, and Earth Week. For me, its finding the best way to connect to the things on this Earth. And what better way than to help volunteer at a sanctuary? You come to find kind people, gorgeous animals, lovely serene settings, and a fuller, more appreciative love for the things around you every day.

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