Filed under Activism

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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Help Restore A Veg-Friendly Restaurant On The Shore

Photo courtesy of Living on the Veg Facebook

During Hurricane Sandy, many businesses along the Jersey coast were destroyed, and with that many people’s sole incomes and their shops which they worked so hard to obtain and maintain. A local vegan restaurant located in LBI, Living On The Veg, was one of these businesses.

Living On The Veg is run by Lauren and Rob Ramos. Their restaurant was hit with over five feet of water, causing damage that has left them closed since.  Not only was their restaurant hit, but their apartment and only home as well. Living On The Veg was not covered by hurricane insurance, and so Lauren and Rob are left with the unfortunate situation of having to rebuild everything in their lives.

A donation site was set up to help recover the costs needed to renovate and rebuild Living On The Veg. You can find the donation site here.

Many, many wonderful businesses were wrecked by Hurricane Sandy. Just driving down the barrier island, through Sea Brite, is a very emotionally taxing drive. I cannot imagine what it must be like to have something like your business taken from you in such a helpless way. If you want to help, it’s hard to just choose one place and know there are hundreds more.

However, even small donations to various places goes and reaches far and beyond. Helping a business like Living On The Veg with just twenty dollars will add up to the donations of others. You can see it as a potential dinner you may have had there anyway!

Thank you for taking a look. Living On The Veg is one of countless affected businesses, but it is itself  unique place, that cannot be replaced. In New Jersey, it’s important to help keep the vegan community standing as well, so that we can encourage a wonderful place like this to thrive. Hopefully by the summer they will be at a place where they can start anew.

Happy New Year! Veggie Bunny will resume regular posts this week. We look forward to 2013 with you!

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The 2012 New Jersey Bear Hunt: Begins Tomorrow

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the 2012 New Jersey Bear Hunt, an event that will occur for the third year in  a row as part of The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife’s five year population control plan. For the past decade, black bears caused apparent, isolated incidents which have led residents of Northern New Jersey towns to feel threatened. Due to the upsurge in bear sightings in residential areas, the hunt has been a popular choice for population control by northern New Jersey residents, but the hunt has also not been met without controversy from protest groups.

Photo Courtesy of NJ State Site

Photo Courtesy of NJ State Site

The history of the black bear in New Jersey is quite an old one. Around the turn of the 1900s, there were little to no hunting regulations, such as how many bears could be hunted by a single person or per year. By 1971, black bears had been so overhunted that they were close to being depleted entirely. In fact, less than a hundred bears were living in the state, and so a hunting ban was placed.  Over time, black bears began to replenish, and by 2010, the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife documented around 3,200 bears, an extremely healthy number considering the population growth of residents in northern New Jersey. A documented 3,025 calls were placed by residents in 2010 to the Division of Fish and Wildlife in order to place a complaint or threat of a black bear in their area.

Of course, lack of space between 3,200 bears and newly developed residential areas leads to a struggle for food. Food, for a bear, is the most important aspect of their day to day living. They are commonly thought of as omnivores with a penchant for meat, but throughout the year, they mostly sway towards a plant based diet. In the wild, black bears eat lush vegetation, such as leafy forbs, tubers, bulbs and plants along the ground, berries, hickory nuts and beechnuts and acorns, various seeds, insects and larvae from their nests, blueberries, raspberries and cherries, and, occasionally, carrion, fish or the carcass of a found white-tailed doe. In order for their bodies to maintain through the winter as they sleep, they may consume up to 20,000 calories a day in the autumn, gaining thirty to forty percent of their spring-time weight and storing that fat for their hibernation. A mother stays with its cubs for a year and a half, teaching it out how eat, the best ways to find food, and how to climb trees to find limitless leaves to fill up its stomach. From the moment a black bear wakes in the spring, it is wired to consume and eat under any and all circumstances.

Garbage is an easy, desirable food source for black bears. A normal sized can of garbage fulfill enough calories in a day for a bear, and the kinds of foods typically found in a garbage are fatty, filling and quick satisfaction for an ailing bear competing with other bears for food. Black bears are also easily conditioned. Once they figure out a constant food source, they are likely to return. They can also easily open typical garbage cans, dumpsters, and knock down bird seed feeders. A bear-resistant garbage can was designed, one which can only be opened or closed by twisting the top like a screw. The cost of a bear-resistant can ranges from $100-$500 dollars. The cost discourages many residents from buying the can, and the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife offers no program to make the garbage cans affordable.

The term “nuisance bear” refers to a bear that repeatedly causes trouble by returning to residential areas, usually in search of food. These situations make bears sneakier, desperate to assure themselves enough to eat by winter. The NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife uses category levels to gauge the amount of offenses a bear commits, depending on how many complaint calls the Division receives.

A category three bear is one which the Division finds to exhibit normal bear behaviors, and is dispersed accordingly in the forest. A category two bear is seen as not a threat to life and property, although it has returned in search of food, and is treated with averse conditioning. Averse conditioning is an attempt to teach the returning bear, through negative stimuli, that the area is not a safe food source. However, experts have seen that averse conditioning does not entirely dissuade bears, but only make them sneakier to get what they want. A category one bear, a bear that has returned time and again to the same spots and has stirred many complaints, is considered a threat to life and property, and is euthanized.

Quite a lot of misconceptions are placed not only on the fact that black bears are on the constant hunt for meat, but that they will eat any meat source they can find.  When bears are approached by humans, or find themselves in the company of humans, they become stoic. They are curious, but shy, and loud noises easily scare them away. A lot of the sounds they create, and their body language, can be very easily misinterpreted. Most aggressive noises they make are not aggressive, but of nervousness and fear. When they stand on their hind legs, they are attempting to get a better look at whats nearby, not to be predatory. Black bears would rather be away from you, as they perceive you to be a threat to their own individual actions, and so would rather be anywhere else. Activists, such as the B.E.A.R. Group , feel that these easy misunderstandings between bears and people are what perpetuate a cycle of fear against black bears. They see the solution to the bear population through education of how to deal with bear issues.

Photo courtesy of Philly.com

Photo courtesy of Philly.com

However the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife has given very little focus on the concept of teaching the affected NJ communities about Bear Smart safety tips. Towns across the US who have bear problems have started Bear Smart groups to help residents learn how to co-exist with bears. The lack of emphasis the group plays on these Bear Smart groups, and no way to help residents obtain bear-safe garbage cans, has put a spotlight on the now yearly hunt. While hunting registrations bring in money for the state, the Division is also boasting that the the hunt of the past two years has brought bear populations down to around 2,800.  But how sustainable are hunts in the long run?  The only sure way to protect actual residents from the presence of black bears is to promote education of how black bears behave and interact with humans.

The hunt itself is also one that is on the term of humans. Although some hunters who register, in their six days of hunting, never even come across a wild bear, some hunters do by using such tactics as baiting. Baiting is a way of luring bears to exact spots by using attractive fatty items such as meats, garbage, donuts and other snacks. It is an unfair means to kill an animal that can be easily managed through other outlets, such as education. Not to mention deliberately feeding black bears in New Jersey is illegal, so why do hunters think they are an exception?

You can consult the B.E.A.R. Group website if you wish to partake in any protests, occurring either tomorrow December 3rd or Saturday December 8th. Or you can call Chris Christie’s office in order to ask for him to use his authority to cancel the hunt: 609-292-6000. It’s a long shot, but its definitely worth a try.

Finally, as a last point, you need just look at the numbers here. The total number of bears killed in just the last three years ranged around 1,000. The number of people actually killed by a bear in the state of New Jersey? Zero. Fatalities from bear attacks around the country have occurred, but not at the level many may think. This is why it is important to remember that the stigma of black bears as violent is an old, out-dated one. They want to live their lives as they are naturally inclined to do, and it is only by accident that they find themselves in residential areas. There are ways to coexist, and to see these animals are ends in themselves, finding a way to live, just as we do every day of our own lives.

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Give Thanks(giving) To The Turkeys

Herschel, a resident of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary

Thanksgiving, despite its title and the purpose behind its occurrence, is just like Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Christmas  a commercial holiday. And like all holidays, it occurs every year, creating a need and demand for product. The difference is that the product Thanksgiving demands a need for is turkey, a typically kind hearted creature who, when given the space, can exude an extremely beautiful personality and character.

Most do not consider that a large number of turkeys need to be bred and raised to meet the demand of the millions of homes in the US who celebrate Thanksgiving. That one single day can produce a lot of turkey: numbers from 2011 show that at least 48 million turkeys were bred just for Thanksgiving. 48 million, a little less than the entire population of the country of England. That is a lot of little lives to exist for a single American holiday. And when you consider how much is possibly wasted, since most people believe that a Thanksgiving table is not complete without an entire 30 pound turkey, the numbers seem to seem that much more dramatic.

A lot has been said about the modern day farmed turkey, as well, but it constantly bears repeating.  From birth, turkeys, despite being social creatures, are kept in separate small metal cages. Young turkeys, although they prefer to be close to their mother for the first five months of their life, are immediately taken and put in one of those separate cages.  From that point, they also endure two acts called “de-snoodling” (cutting off the decorative red flesh that hangs from a turkey’s chin) and “de-beaking” (a hot blade cuts off the tip of a turkey’s beak, in order to prevent pecking in tight knit cages). These acts are always performed without anesthesia, despite the fact that these body parts contain sensitive nerves. An estimated 300 million turkeys go through this system in the US yearly.

In 1970, only around 100 million turkeys (with an average weight of 17 pounds) were raised by farms for US consumption. But turkey “products” became more in demand (especially as a “healthy” alternative to red meat), and the number of turkeys being bred and raised became higher. Worse, their average weight grew as well, from 17 pounds to a now average 28 pounds (this immediate obesity, so soon in their life, leads to a short life of lameness, skeletal problems, and heart problems. This weight also makes it impossible for the turkeys to naturally breed with one another). Producers expect these animals to have more weight (meat) on their bones in a shorter amount of time, for quicker profit and consumption: most turkeys gain this weight and are then slaughtered for product between the ages of 4 to 6 months. Short, breathless lives in small cages, with no sight of green grass or affection towards another of their kind.

Just recently, in October, Mercy For Animals, not a year after releasing a similar video, unleashed another undercover video illustrating the abusive behavior of Butterball employees towards turkeys. You can find more here (forewarning, the video, which is graphic, immediately starts).

What is most frustrating about the release of this news is how you may see it reported by other news outlets, but there is very little said about the country’s behavior as a whole. We are upset at these kinds of abuses that occur to such unassuming and caring animals, but we would never give up the symbol of turkey on the table for Thanksgiving. The demand seems to always remain the same, especially for the arbitrary sake of “tradition.” Even as people turn to “free range” or “organic” farms, the need and market begins to grow as well. Nothing changes the fact that turkeys are not throwing themselves to be the center of a holiday table.

Fortunately, there are options open for those who wish to disengage from the industry. There are meat free options like Tofurkey, Gardein, Field Roast, and, in general, home-made options that are probably just as meaningful as a turkey. Locally, in New Jersey, places like Good Karma Cafe, Sweet Avenue Bakeshop, Veggie Heaven, and The Cinnamon Snail offer meat free/vegan options and catering. New York City, of course, also has such options at Candle Cafe, Blossom and other locations.

But why not do more than just merely consume?

Beatrice and Boone enjoying their own personal Thanksgiving at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in October

Within this post, if there is one thing I’d most like to stress, is that we should look towards giving thanks not by just consuming food, or products, or things that have been marketed to be desirable around this time a year. Following Hurricane Sandy, you can certainly help out your community by donating to a food bank so others may have a meal at all, or volunteer (you can find opportunities at the most basic level by checking out InterOccupy).

I also want to stress the need to help those turkeys who were able to escape their conditions. You can help by sponsoring or “adopting” a turkey through a local farm animal sanctuary. All farm animal sanctuaries run on donations and fund raising. You can help, and make it personal by helping a specific animal in need. It’s a wonderful way to help out a specific animal, and that way, when you visit, you can interact with them and even maybe bond!

Here are some animal sanctuaries within the New Jersey and New York area where you may choose to adopt:

Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary (Woodstock, NY): Pictured above is Beatrice and Boone, from the Thanksliving event in October. I sponsor Beatrice, who was rescued from a factory farm. She has very obvious scarring, including a clipped beak. You can learn about the farm’s turkeys here. You can sponsor a turkey for as  little as $15 a month.

Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary (Poughquag, New York): Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary is a smaller scale sanctuary tucked neatly away in a small mountain in Poughquaq, New York, on the eastern side of the Hudson River. Here is a list of their residents. Sadie, Roslyn, Ducky and Emma are the resident turkeys, and they are all beautiful. When I first met Emma, I had a special connection with her. To sponsor an animal, you can e-mail them (safehavenfarmsanctuary@gmail.com) with your choice and arrange a payment option.

Here is Emma, the first turkey to ever steal my heart!

 Catskill Animal Sanctuary (Saugerties, New York): You can sponsor one of the resident turkeys here for only $18 a month. You can help make their good life on this 100-acre land even better! Learn more here. May I add Saugerties is a lovely little town? You can visit your turkey, then do some holiday shopping at a local, non-chain store, to help a local business, as well!

Farm Sanctuary (Watkins Glen, NY): The OG animal sanctuary, Farm Sanctuary now also has locations on the West Coast, so you can choose to help sponsor no matter your location! They currently have an Adopt-A-Turkey project, so you can help make their program a success, and raise awareness about how much you really do care about turkeys.

For The Animals Sanctuary (Blairstown, NJ):  For The Animals Sanctuary is a lovely little sanctuary in northwest New Jersey. They do not currently have any residents turkeys, but they are in dire need of emergency funds to help replenish funds used for sudden medical situations. Please visit their site here and see what you can do to help!

You can also check out the website Pardon A Turkey, by Mercy For Animals, which informs the general public about turkeys, and why it is meaningful to let them be, rather than use them for a meal.

Once you meet a turkey in peaceful bliss at one of these farms, it is hard to think that any harm would ever deliberately be done to them, and about how they are just one lucky escapee out of 300 million. Turkeys are full of vibrant life, love and look to live their natural lives the way we do. Beyond my own thankfulness of where I am today, and the health and prosperity of my family and friends,  I see no other reason to take away happiness from any other thing. That is why we should give thanks to all living things, and give Thanksgiving to the turkeys, rather than take it from them.

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ThanksLiving 2012

Beatrice & Boone wolf down a buffet of amazing food

Every week I say it’s time to update the blog, and on this rainy Friday I finally have found some time. It’s of course perfect timing because now I can share my experiences from attending ThanksLiving at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary last Sunday, October 14!

If you are not familiar with ThanksLiving, its a very lovely concept: each year Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary hosts a banquet fundraiser which also acts as an event to celebrate the continuation of living for those animals who are fortunate to live at the sanctuary. The event focuses most adorably on the turkeys, who get their own little feast before every else gets to eat.

I had always wanted to attend ThanksLiving but never quite found the money or time – but this year I made a concerted effort to make sure I could go, and it was every bit worth the money. The event is always sold out, and with good reason – its extremely fun! A days worth of hanging out at the farm, in Woodstock in the autumn, with gorgeous weather and beautiful animals and people. The food, a full vegan Thanksgiving meal, was prepared by Kevin Archer,  along with desserts from the greatest bakery ever, Vegan Treats!

Along with food, there was a lot of wonderful things to do within the tent set up for the event. There was a silent auction, where you could bid on such things as VIP Daily Show tickets, a Vitamix, and vegan shoes. There was also an amazing raffle, including giftcards to amazing stores & restaurants, a Lush boxset, cook books, etc. The Woodstock Farm Sanctuary store was also set up, and so I bought a really nice t-shirt.

Inside the dining area for ThanksLiving

It was also wonderful because I bumped into Emily from Jersey City Vegan! Emily’s blog is one I admire a lot. Emily is extremely passionate about animal rights activism and her bubbly personality and enthusiasm is inspiring. She was volunteering there all weekend – something I’d like to try next year, as I am now becoming more and more familiar with the sanctuary! And I’d like to mention that with the event, each attendee receives a goodie bag of vegan gifts. Inside each bag also included an adorable mini Thanksgiving cookbook, with recipes by Emily! I am definitely going to try making these recipes for my family this year.

Emily, who was volunteering at the raffle table, was there to celebrate with me when I found out I won something!: a $50 giftcard to Turquoise Barn in the Catkills, an all vegetarian/vegan Bed and Breakfast retreat. I don’t normally win things, so this was wonderful. But even more rewarding was the fact that earlier in the day I had lost a necklace in Woodstock that meant a lot to me. I was upset in the morning but ended the day feeling a lot better. Especially after having attended ThanksLiving!

What is most important to remember about the event however, beyond the raffles and wonderful food, is that it is a fundraiser to help Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary continue to function throughout the year and take care of its 200+ residents.  Jenny Brown mentioned in her speech that it costs over $600,000 to run the farm yearly. Every little bit counts, so please consider sponsoring an animal or donating or buying a $50 membership, so that the residents of the farm can continue to live out their natural lifespans in peace.

For more photos (taken by Steven Matarazzo), click below!

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