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Shark!

Cottesloe Beach, Australia

I don’t remember being afraid of anything until I was six years old.

That’s when my mother, unable to get her children inside for dinner,

started a nightly ritual of yelling out the back door, “The bats

are coming, the bats are coming!” Bats lived in our barn, and I’d

never been afraid of them until my mother told us the story of a

local boy who was bitten by one when it became entangled in his

hair — at dusk. That story — most likely created over a cocktail by

my parents and used as a tool for my mother to corral her children

— planted the first seed of fear I had for another animal.

I blame Steven Spielberg for the second seed, planted in the

summer of 1975, when he converted Peter Benchley’s book Jaws into

a heart-pounding, nail-biting, jump-out-of-your-seat movie. The

fi lm about a man-eating great white shark terrorizing Cape Cod

beachgoers caused millions to flee the water and extinguished the

unencumbered joy I, and many others, once felt in the ocean.

Twenty years later, I landed in Australia and was lured into

the Indian Ocean’s spectacularly clear, blue water. A peace washed

through me as I ventured into the sea each morning, communing

and connecting with nature. Surfing waves and spending hours

snorkeling transported me back to childhood and the feelings of living

in the moment. I became addicted to the experience: swimming

with fish, the awakening of muscles, and the salt in my hair.

It ended in an instant when a man who was doing the same

thing one morning at my favorite beach was attacked and killed by

a shark. And then it happened again and again, in what became a

string of eleven fatal attacks between 2010 and 2017 that led Western

Australia to be named the deadliest coast in the world.

During this period, pretty much everybody left the ocean and

hit the pools. I was one of them. But after many months out of

the ocean, I received a message. It was on a 105-degree day. I was

walking the dogs on the beach and feeling frustrated by the invisible

chain preventing me from plunging into the water. Then a quote

from Franklin D. Roosevelt popped into my head and kept repeating:

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It was then I

made a conscious decision to conquer my fear of sharks.

The transition came in baby steps and happened over several

years. It started with knuckle-swimming, when you swim so close to

shore you scrape your knuckles on the sand. Eventually, I also joined

a swim group made up of people who were training for open-ocean,

long-distance swims. In the meantime, the Western Australian

government was considering killing great white sharks, which meant

overriding international and federal protections of the species. The

idea of a shark cull ignited an ongoing local debate about what was

causing the attacks and whether a cull would effectively stop them.

One possible cause was identified in July 2012 by Humane

Society International Australia (HSI). HSI reported, “There may

be a possible connection between the export of live sheep from

Fremantle, Western Australia, and reported shark attacks.” When

export ships from Australia carry live animals — such as sheep, cattle,

and goats bound for slaughter in the Middle East and Asia — hundreds

of animals, and sometimes thousands, die en route, and their

bodies are thrown overboard, providing a consistent food source

for sharks. HSI said that six people in Australia had been attacked

between September 4, 2011, and June 20, 2012, when export ships

were nearby. Further, HSI reported that a similar link was found in

Egypt in December 2010, when a string of five shark attacks within

a single week were most likely provoked by a live export ship that

threw sheep overboard while it passed through the Red Sea.

Nevertheless, the Western Australian government dismissed this

potential connection, and in early 2014, the state’s premier, Colin

Barnett, ordered a shark cull.

Contracted fishermen set baited drum lines along the coast, and

on the first day, as I stepped onto the beach for my swim, I watched

as contractors pulled a drowned shark from the water. My morning

joy turned to sorrow. As much as I felt empathy for the swimmers,

surfers, and divers who’d lost their lives, I now felt empathy for this

dead shark. Killing did not feel like the answer.

My husband, Jon, didn’t agree with me. He believed the cull

should happen. One morning as I set off to attend a shark rally, he

suggested it would be a waste of time and that I’d be sitting on the

beach with only two hundred people. To his surprise and mine, six

thousand people were there, protesting to voice their opposition

to the cull. A poignant sign at the rally pointed out that, the year

before in Australia, twenty-five thousand people had died of obesity

related illness, twelve hundred from car accidents, ten from lightning

strikes, and two from sharks. Overwhelming empathy for the

sharks was shown by the very people who loved the ocean and were

at the greatest risk: swimmers, divers, and surfers. Even more poignant,

relatives of those who’d been killed also protested the cull,

as they believed those who’d died wouldn’t want the sharks to be

killed.

After four months, the cull ended. Of the 172 sharks that were

caught, none were great whites, the species blamed for the attacks.

Publicity over the cull brought awareness and change. Surf Life

Saving Western Australia, a rescue organization, became an alert

center for shark sightings and public safety warnings. Using information

from helicopter beach patrols, drones, shark sightings, and

transponders that detected and sent alerts when tagged tiger and

great white sharks passed beaches, the organization delivered alerts

via Twitter and a beach safety app. I got into the habit of checking

Twitter before heading for the beach, just to see who I might be

swimming with.

By 2016, my swim team coach, Ceinwen Roberts — a thirty five-

year-old, five-foot-two, sun-kissed blonde with a beaming smile

and matching disposition — was training us for a 12.5-mile (20-

kilometer) open-ocean race from the mainland to Rottnest Island.

Ceinwen had established the race, called the Port to Pub, and she

was convinced I could do it. Her own swimming history includes

completing the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming: solo swims

across the English Channel, around Manhattan Island, and from

Catalina Island to the California mainland. Two of those swims involve

swimming through the night, and when I asked her about

sharks, she said, “I don’t even think about them. There’s no point.

If it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go. I’m too busy enjoying the

good parts of being out there: the serenity, clarity, salt, fish, reef,

and having nothing to stop me.” She inspired me to enter the race.

Let me be honest: I was scared. But I was also determined. I

knew what the accomplishment would do for me, spiritually, mentally,

and physically. I didn’t know my awakening would actually

come two weeks before the swim.

It was February 22, 2016. The weather was overcast, what

Australians call “sharky,” due to the fact that a majority of shark

attacks occur on cloudy days. I joined a group of fifteen women —

mostly mothers in their late thirties and early forties who called

themselves the Aquabutts — on an ocean training swim, led by

Ceinwen, from Cottesloe Beach to North Cottesloe Beach and

back, a distance of over a mile.

We first swam into deep water, fifty yards from shore, and then

we set off along the coast. The first leg was easy. The swell was pushing

north, and we rode it up the coast. Then, as we treaded water off

North Cottesloe Beach and prepared for the push back, we talked

about how high the waves were getting and how much harder the

return trip would be. We didn’t talk about what we were all thinking:

that we’d congregated in a spot where a swimmer had been

killed by a great white shark years before.

To push us, Ceinwen decided to break the group up. Ten swimmers

would start first, and she would go with them. The five fastest

were told to hold back and start only when the others were about a

quarter of the way down the coast. I was in the second group — not

because I was fast, but because I was wearing flippers.

Finally, my group set off. The water was unusually murky.

Schools of tiny fish moved around me like underwater tornadoes.

I saw a shadow. It was at that moment my goggles lost their seal.

I flipped over and floated on my back, tightening them. As I was

doing this, a shark-spotting helicopter flew overhead. As I watched

it buzz past, I felt comforted just knowing it was there.

I put my head back in the water and noticed that the distance

between the five of us had widened. We were no longer in a pod.

We were spread out in deep, choppy water. And that’s when it happened.

I felt the whoosh of helicopter blades just above me, accompanied

by a deafening siren. I knew immediately what it was and what

it meant. Jaws was with us.

A fear like no other consumed me. Luckily, it came with a massive

rush of adrenaline. I wasn’t alone. I don’t remember much about

the time it took me to swim to shore. The five of us in the second

group crawled onto the beach at the same time. Someone puked. I

stood up and looked out at the angry ocean. Nine of the swimmers

in the first group were almost on the beach, but two weren’t heading

in. We all started screaming. One of the girls was still swimming

and Ceinwen was trying to get her attention. We watched in terror,

screaming for the girl to stop, fearful of the potential horror that

could unfold before us. Thankfully, it didn’t.

The lifeguard at the nearest station told us the rest of the story.

After passing us, the helicopter pilot spotted a ten-foot shark and

radioed that it was heading straight for us. The species was most

likely a tiger or great white.

As I walked away that morning, I was grateful and exhilarated.

Grateful to have been swimming with a very big shark who had the

opportunity to eat one of sixteen women and didn’t. Exhilarated by

the fact that the fear that had paralyzed me throughout much of my

life was gone.

I still get scared swimming in the ocean sometimes, like when

I’m caught up in a swirl of fish and I know that someone is causing

their panic, but the fear doesn’t consume me. I’ve had a great life. I

understand that everybody’s got to eat. I hope it’s not me that gets

eaten, but if it is, so be it.

By immersing yourself in nature, you can experience a form

of enlightenment. This is when the soul is free of fear and absorbs,

almost by osmosis, the energy of life. The connection between all

species becomes clear. I have friends who’ve been given the gift of

this knowledge. They’ve gone on to change the world.”

Excerpted from the award-winning book, Rescuing Ladybugs: Inspirational Encounters with Animals That Changed the World, by Jennifer Skiff. You can get a copy of the book for the animal lover in your life here: http://www.JenniferSkiff.com/books/

The Aquabutts, minutes after their close encounter

Home

After many months of traveling, I’ve landed back on the island I call home. It’s a place where I’m greeted each day by seals, eagles, rabbits, deer, and songbirds. And at night, I fall asleep to the call of the loons and cries of the coyotes. There is harmony amongst species. This creates inner peace.  ☀️Today, after a swim in a mountain lake, I’ll sit down to work on a campaign to end “killing contests.” I won’t explain. But I will tell you that we should never accept the brutal killing of any animal for so-called fun. It’s wrong and disrupts all of our lives. Those who take pleasure in killing humans or other animals, are stealing from us all. Let’s not let them.

The Compassion Movement in China

I’m in Beijing this week, talking to Chinese nationals about the global work being done for animals. I can tell you it was an unexpected thrill to walk into the Beijing American Center to give a speech and find a room of 100 animal advocates seeking advice on how to create change in their country.

The situation for animals is dire here. These mainly-young people are asking for help from the global community. We must join forces to give it to them.

Jennifer Skiff, Director of International Programs for The Center for a Humane Economy and Animal Wellness Action at the Beijing American Center with Friends
Jennifer Skiff at the Beijing American Center with Compassionate Friends

Advocating for Change in China

Beijing, China

   It was an honor to meet with U.S. Ambassador to China, Terry Branstad this week.  We had an interesting chat.  China, reportedly, has the second highest rate of incidents and human fatalities involving rabies after India.  According to veterinary experts, the main vectors of the virus are dogs.  This has led to fear-based brutality of dogs and, because it can be transmitted by saliva, exceptionally high transmission rates to humans. 

   Experts in China tell me the problem is compounded by a lack of available rabies vaccinations and a glut of counterfeit vaccinations.  It was important to me to relay this message to the Ambassador.  Rabies crosses species and the virus and the dire consequences caused by it can be reduced significantly.  

   After the discussion I presented the Ambassador with a copy of the book, Rescuing Ladybugs.  The title elicited a smile and prompted him to tell a story. 

   Ambassador Branstad told me that when he was a member of the Iowa House of Representatives (1973-79), before becoming Governor, a group of school children requested the ladybug be proclaimed the state bug. While their request wasn’t honored, it was remembered – fondly. 

   Our meeting was a reaffirmation for me that the work to protect one species benefits us all.  Let us not forget to see life through the eyes of children and when we can, reward them with action that ensures their future.  

Jennifer Skiff

Director of International Programs

The Center for a Humane Economy & Animal Wellness Action

U.S. Ambassador to China, Terry Branstad with Jennifer Skiff, Director of International Programs for The Center for a Humane Economy

Living with Gratitude for Those Who Serve

A few months ago I had the privilege of talking to a great group of people in Concord, New Hampshire about The Compassion Movement and the heroes in the book, Rescuing Ladybugs. 

I made quite a few friends that night.  One of them is Jimmy Pappas, a Vietnam veteran, teacher, and published writer.    

After reading Ladybugs, Jimmy reached out to me to tell me he enjoyed the animal stories.  He also wanted to share a poem he wrote about his friend Bobby, a fellow Vietnam veteran.  “Bobby was poor and uneducated, so he would never be able to travel in life. This gives him a chance to travel in death. I hope the world sees him as just a regular human being called on to do terrible things,” he said.

I know that Memorial Day was last weekend but we all know that our love and gratitude for those who serve is everlasting. 

Jimmy’s poem about Bobby has won a Reader’s Choice Award.  He’s asked me to share it with you, my friends – from all over the world.  For your Sunday dose of grateful reflection, please click on this link: 

-Bobby-
Photo Courtesy: His Family

Inspiring our Youth

On this Martin Luther King day, I’d like to honor the youth in our world who are discovering they CAN change the world!  I’m pleased to introduce you to a group of students I’m really proud of – the EHOVE medical careers class in Milan, Ohio.

When Rescuing Ladybugs was released in September, I set an intention.  I wanted the book to be used as a school curriculum.  So when, just a few weeks later, school teacher Kim Davidson contacted me to tell me that she was reading the book to her class, I saw her message as a sign.  That class would be the first to try the book as curriculum!  Kim agreed and the high school class started reading about animals, heroes, and the compassion movement while learning world geography.  I asked them to do me one favor while they were reading, to think about one thing they could do that would make a positive difference for others less fortunate.

Inspired by their teacher and the heroes in the book, they chose to involve the whole school to fill the rooms of the Huron County Humane Society with pet food, treats, supplies, blankets, and so much more.  Their holiday drive was so successful they took truckloads of goods to the shelter.  In doing this, they realized that when you walk on a path to do good for others, you are joined by an army of people willing to help.  I am so very proud of these students.  I am so grateful to their teacher for leading the way.

The successful quest to do good has inspired them to continue their fundraising by participating in a 5K dog walk/run this spring to benefit the shelter and its homeless and abandoned animals.  BRAVO team!

If you’re a teacher and would like to use Rescuing Ladybugs as curriculum to inspire your students, please contact me.  I’d love to work with you to make that happen.

And to the EHOVE students, I love you and can’t wait to meet you soon on Skype!  Jennifer

 

Reading Rescuing Ladybugs and being empowered to create positive change for the Huron County Humane Society

EHOVE Medical Careers Class

Good Prevails! Ending 2018 with Great News for Animals

BREAKING GREAT NEWS!  Something spectacular happened today!  Some might call it a miracle, but it wasn’t because it was created from hard work, perseverance and dedication to right wrongs.  Today, President Trump signed the Farm Bill into law and with it, several animal protection initiatives were born. They include the Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act, the Pet and Women Safety Act and the Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement Act – which makes dog and cockfighting illegal in U.S. territories.  All of these acts – which many of us have worked on for years to see become laws, were incorporated into the Farm Bill as amendments. With this Bill, legislators also said NO to the proposed King Amendment that would have stripped states of farming and animal protection laws.  THIS IS HUGE!

On top of this news, last month Californians voted against the extreme confinement of farm animals and Floridians voted overwhelmingly to end Greyhound racing and the cruelty that comes with it.

We end 2018 on a great note for animals, one that screams to lawmakers that we’re not going to take animal abuse and exploitation anymore.  We’ve given notice that animal welfare is a bipartisan issue.  It’s not about politics, it’s about compassion.

I’ve promised myself to celebrate these wins because I’ve spent years working to help make them happen by going to Washington and successfully meeting with lawmakers.  But no one person did this alone.  WE DID THIS!  If you signed petitions, made phone calls or sent emails to lawmakers, attended fundraisers, gave money to lobby groups like The Humane Society of the United States Legislative Fund and Animal Welfare Action – if you volunteered, wrote letters to editors, and if you saw something wrong and did something about it – I ask you to please celebrate this win with me and end the year with a renewed commitment to keep going to create positive change.

This is a magnificent accomplishment and we must absorb the positive energy that comes with it. We’re all part of the compassion movement and together, with the signing of the Farm Bill, we have; made it easier for women to leave abusive relationships with their pets, made it illegal to eat dogs and cats in the United States, and made it illegal to fight dogs and cocks in U.S. territories – a move that will stop a myriad of illegal acts that go with the torture of animals in these activities.

Bravo to the lawmakers themselves who worked hard for today’s success. And to all the people I work alongside, and to those who I haven’t had the pleasure to meet but who have participated in today’s win by speaking up for those who can’t – you have my admiration and gratitude.  #HEROES

~Jennifer Skiff, Advocate and Author of Rescuing Ladybugs, The Divinity of Dogs, and God Stories

Meeting with Maine Senator Susan Collins to discuss animal welfare issues.

Becky Sentementes with Humane Society of the United States representatives Katie Hansberry and volunteer Jennifer Skiff lobbying for animals in Washington, D.C.

Gratitude Transcends Species

This is my friend Hope. Most days now, I drive to her house in the late afternoon and help lift her into the back of her Mom’s car so she can go to the dog park to spend an hour with her friends. Hope is always grateful.

We’ve been friends for a decade and during that time, she has never missed an opportunity to tell me I’m special, that I matter to her. Her smile radiates love and is a gift to me. I’m grateful for Hope.

When all feels lost, gravitate toward dog because love is mirrored and gratitude transcends species.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Love, Jennifer & Hope

Because… Compassion Has No Loopholes

 

There’s a battle being waged in Florida by the compassionate people who’ve witnessed the abuse of greyhounds for decades and are rising up against it.  They’re the people who have picked up the pieces left behind by those who exploit these sweet dogs for profit.  These large dogs are confined in small cages and muzzled for up to 23 hours a day.  Lab reports have proven they’re often drugged to race and statistics show that a greyhound dies on a racetrack every three days in Florida.  The vote to end greyhound racing in Florida is on November 6th.  #YESon13!

I often wonder how some people can sit at home and love their dog more than anything in the world and not make the connection with dogs who are mistreated and exploited.  When Emma Haswell was a young girl, living in Tasmania, Australia, she had an experience with a greyhound that changed her life and caused her to become a hero for animals.  I profile Emma in my new book, Rescuing Ladybugs.  I’m pleased to share the connection with one outcast soul who changed Emma’s life and put her on a course to change the world.

Ross, Tasmania, Australia

“The first animal I had a relationship with was a little crossbred dog called Minnie. She looked a bit like a monkey. Her hair was brown, wild, and wiry, and she had two rows of teeth on the bottom. I’d dress her up in clothes and put bonnets on her, and she’d lie on her back in the pram, while I wheeled her around my grandmother’s garden. She was gentle, patient, and kind. She was everything to me.

I was raised in the city of Launceston, Tasmania, but I actually grew up in the country because that was where my love was, with the farm animals. My maternal grandparents had an eight-thousand-acre farm in a town called Ross, and I spent as much time as I could there. My grandfather was different to other farmers. He had a high regard for animals and would go to extraordinary lengths to find the mothers of lost lambs. He was unique that way and encouraged me to be the same way.

I was fortunate to have lots of pets growing up: rabbits, dogs, a cat, a bantam, a magpie, a lamb called Mary, and a pony named Allegro. Allegro had been a stock horse, used on the farm. I rode her without a saddle, bridle, or halter. We’d go to the beach, just me and a naked horse. I’d put my arms out as if I was flying, close my eyes, and gallop the beach with her.

My first connection with an animal who wasn’t my own pet hap- pened when I was around six years old. There was a workman on my grandfather’s farm who had two dogs, including a little Jack Russell called Sweetie, whom he clearly adored. He also had a greyhound named Flash who was chained to a tin A-frame shelter on the side of a hill, far away from any houses, where the cold wind blew mercilessly.

Flash was brindled, a tan color with dark, zebra-like streaks, and she was small for a greyhound. I was strictly forbidden to go near her because my grandparents told me she’d bite. I ignored them and would sneak up the hill, sit down next to her, and pet her for hours. She was gentle, sensitive, quiet, and lonely. She was the first animal I’d ever met who was clearly sad, unloved, and destitute. She had nothing — not even a bed or hay to sleep on. I was told Flash was a hunting dog, but I never saw her off the chain, ever. She was there for years. I knew she was suffering terribly, and I knew that there was absolutely nothing I could do to help her.

In contrast, the old man who owned her loved his other dog, Sweetie. That dog was his life. She went to work with him on the farm every day and was always at his feet. She had the best life with him. She was adored, and I just couldn’t comprehend how he loved Sweetie so much yet neglected Flash so terribly. I often thought of what it was like for Flash to look down from that hill and watch all the other animals having a good life.

After visiting Flash for a couple of years, I turned up at the farm one day and she was gone. I asked where she was but no one would tell me. Today I believe she’d been taken away and shot.

My experience with Flash was the first and the only time during my childhood that I witnessed such poor treatment of an innocent animal. It took two separate events, many years later, to trigger me to take action for animals the way I’d wanted to take action for Flash.”  ~Emma Haswell, Brightside Farm Sanctuary

You can read more of Emma’s story in the book, Rescuing Ladybugs:  Inspirational Encounter with Animals That Changed the World.  http://www.JenniferSkiff.com

And please, if you live in Florida, vote YES on 13 to finally end greyhound racing for the love of all.  #compassioninaction

Photo courtesy:  Alex Cearns, https://www.houndstoothstudio.com.au, of Pixel the greyhound.

To activate for the vote, please contact:  http://Grey2KUSA.org

 

 

Josh Balk:  Hero to Farm Animals and the Rest of Us

Jennifer Skiff & Josh Balk

 

Excerpted from the book:  Rescuing Ladybugs

I first met Josh Balk when we were seated next to each other at a leadership summit dinner for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in Washington, DC, in 2015. Josh, a boyish redhead with a wide and welcoming smile, was wearing an HSUS staff name tag. We introduced ourselves before sitting down to listen to US Senator Cory Booker, a fantastic orator and animal welfare advocate, speak to a room filled with HSUS volunteers. It wasn’t until the next day, when we were working together on a Massachusetts ballot initiative to end the extreme confinement of calves, pigs, and egg-laying hens, that I discovered this young man in his midthirties was, in his own right, a world leader in the social justice movement for animals. As vice president of farm animal protection for HSUS, he is credited with negotiating groundbreaking deals with food companies to better the lives of farm animals. He is also an entrepreneurial golden boy, having cofounded the food technology company JUST (originally called Hampton Creek).

Like many people who’ve chosen a career path advocating for animals, Josh was an empathic child and was especially affected by animal suffering.

“As early as I can remember,” he says, “I cared about animals. I had dogs at home, and I loved them very much, but I still had a feeling that animals outside my circle mattered. I felt incredibly sad when I saw suffering — even on television programs. My dad and I often went fishing, but once I got the fish, I felt bad about the whole thing. To this day, I have nightmares about my fishing past.”

After high school, driven by a steadfast sense of right and wrong concerning animals and their treatment, Josh aligned himself with like-minded people. While attending George Washington University in Washington, DC, he interned with HSUS and later became a volunteer. Advocacy turned to activism in 2002 when Josh accepted a job with the nonprofit Compassion Over Killing. During his time at the organization, he worked undercover in a chicken slaughter plant owned by Perdue Farms. He was twenty-five years old.

***

Howell, Maryland

I still remember my first day on the job. My shift was early morning, so it was before sunrise. The ride to work was cold and dark. I parked in the lot, walked into this decrepit building, and found my way to the locker room. I remember I was paralyzed with fear because there were a dozen or so workers there eating and getting changed and drinking coffee. I was sure they could see the hidden camera on me.

Then the supervisor came in and motioned for us to get in the shackling room. We followed the supervisor in, and I got in line with the rest of the workers, all in front of the conveyor belt. The belt was waist-high and just above it were metal shackles. I heard a noise to my left. A truck pulled up, parked, and dropped an unrecognizable white mass on the belt. Then the belt started to creak and churn a little bit and move. The shackles began swinging, and I looked over again and saw the chickens approaching, piled on top of each other on the conveyor belt heading my way. I thought, Oh my God, this is actually happening!

We were being trained to grab the chicken and shackle her. That’s it, I remember thinking, I can’t believe I’m going to grab this poor animal and do an unconscionable thing: shackle her and send her to her death. I grabbed her and she started flapping her wings to try to free herself. She was trying to scratch me and peck at my hands. She was fighting for her life. She struggled with every ounce of energy she had. Her legs were all crooked because chickens in the meat industry are genetically manipulated to grow so big their legs often cripple beneath the weight of their bodies. Her breast was featherless and bright red, burned by ammonia from the floor of the factory farm where she was raised. She was scared and screaming, and I remember saying underneath my breath, behind the surgical mask I was wearing, “I am so sorry. I’m so sorry.”

It was an experience I will never forget. It’s one thing to read about or watch the plight of farm animals. But nothing can match seeing the suffering and fear firsthand. Seeing this poor bird in pain for no fault of her own inspired me to fight on her behalf and the billions like her in the poultry industry.

***

Josh’s work exposed cruelty to animals at the Perdue plant, and media coverage brought to light the abusive slaughter practices in the chicken industry. A year later, Josh transitioned into a role leading the corporate negotiation efforts for the farm animal department at HSUS. There are currently no federal laws that regulate the treatment of the nine billion animals raised for food in the United States each year inside factory farms.

To circumvent the government’s passivity in protecting animals used for food, Josh was directed to eliminate the worst factory farming abuses by convincing companies to require higher standards of care for the animals used in their supply chain. He moved swiftly, leading a team that convinced hundreds of companies to adopt strict animal welfare policies. Threatened by his success, meat producers worked against him by strengthening their lobbying force in Washington. One lobbyist, Rick Berman, went as far as to create a Facebook page and website called “HumaneWatch,” which attacks HSUS and its staff, including Josh. Instead of embracing consumers’ cries for change, Berman tries to silence the good work of the organization. But the attacks have only served to strengthen Josh’s resolve.

Most meat, eggs, and dairy come from factory farms where animals are raised in windowless sheds, provided no enrichments, and left to breathe an unhealthy amount of ammonia emanating from their own waste. In the United States alone, hundreds of millions of these poor animals are confined in tiny cages that prevent them from moving more than a few inches for their entire lives. As the human population increased and the standard diet included more meat, eggs, and dairy, there was a growing need for these products to be produced as cheaply as possible. As a result, small family-run farms have given way to factory farms that value the mass production of meat over the humane treatment of animals.

Witnessing this inspired Josh to start a food company.

***

In my work, I was being exposed to it all. The more I knew, the more it became clear that the animals needed us to be as strategic as possible during our finite time on earth if we really wanted to help them. I wanted to disrupt global factory farming, which represents the more than 90 percent of farm animals who we make suffer in the world.

Aside from the transformational work I was a part of at HSUS, I thought that if I could form a company that produced plant-based foods that are affordable, marketed to the mainstream, and taste just as good as animal-based food, then I could make a further difference.

I pitched my idea on the phone one night to my high school friend Josh Tetrick. He had wanted to start a company that was inherently good for animals and liked my idea. So we started building a team. We hired a chef, a head of research and development, and a person to lead sales. We impressed a venture capital team enough to get a half million dollars, and we got started. Hampton Creek — named after my late St. Bernard, Hampton, who was such a love for me — was formed.

Our goal is to create the biggest company in the world that happens to be good for animals. Our values were to be innovative and aggressive, to go fast so I can have the biggest impact I possibly can in my lifetime. It’s a mentality that requires thinking about mortality. I’d hate to, in my last moments, think I could have made a bigger difference but didn’t give it a shot. If I was bold and acted with courage to take leaps, I think I could peacefully say good-bye to this world.

***

In 2011, Josh Balk and Josh Tetrick cofounded Hampton Creek, later renamed JUST, when they were both thirty-two years old. Their products — which include egg substitutes, cookies, cookie doughs, mayos, salad dressings, and even “egg” patties — are made completely from plants. Their most popular product is Just Mayo, an egg-free mayonnaise. They started selling “clean meat” in 2018 — meat grown from a small cell sample; that is, meat that has never existed in animal form. The product is expected to change the world by eliminating factory farming and the subsequent need to slaughter animals.

Proof that innovation can be rewarding, within three years of the company’s inception, the two Joshes had raised $120 million to fund their venture. Within four years of its founding, the company was valued at $1.1 billion.

As vice president of farm animal protection at HSUS — his full-time job — Josh leads a team that has persuaded hundreds of companies — including Walmart, Kroger, Kraft Heinz, Starbucks, Aramark, and Supervalu — to adopt animal welfare policies that prohibit extreme confinement of animals raised for food. He’s also worked to pass laws ending the crate and cage confinement of calves, pigs, and chickens in a dozen states through successful ballot initiatives or legislative campaigns in state houses.

According to Paul Shapiro, founder of Compassion over Killing and former vice president of policy at HSUS, there are more laws and corporate policies protecting farm animals than ever before, and more consumers are leaving animals off their plates and eating plant-based meals instead. This colossal shift is due to Josh and other leaders in the compassion movement who confront cruelty head-on, using common sense and innovation. By exposing a food system that is inherently bad for animals and the people who eat them, they’re creating positive change for everyone.

Link to get a paperback, e-book, or audible copy of Rescuing Ladybugs:  http://jenniferskiff.com/books/