Archive for the ‘Animal Advocacy’ Category

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/

 

A Miracle for Thanksgiving

Four years ago this week I adopted this special girl and named her Honey because of her sweet nature. She came to the Dogs’ Refuge Home of WA after being hurt by someone.

The veterinarian said she had suffered blunt force trauma and was permanently blind in one eye. That didn’t bother her. And, well, I loved her immediately.

A year ago Honey lost her hearing and her only working eye began to cloud over, her vision obstructed by a cataract. Her quality of life changed dramatically. She began to bump into things, slept a lot, and lost muscle strength.

My husband and I took her to an eye specialist and were told she could have cataract surgery but there was a risk. Although it was slight, a side effect of cataract surgery is sometimes glaucoma, causing irreversible blindness. So we made a conscious choice to wait until she had nearly lost all sight before the operation.

Two weeks ago my darling 13 year-old was delivered into the arms of a veterinary eye specialist and her cataract was removed. It was touch and go for a week. She got an ulcer and then an eye infection. But today I share with you the moment Honey and I both realized she could see again! Happy Thanksgiving!

Gratitude for dogs, veterinarians, rescuers and the man who paid the bill!

Representing the Voiceless

Representing the Human Society of the United States with Anita Coupe, meeting with Michael Sinacore, Legislative Assistant to Congressman Bruce Poliquin

Representing the Humane Society of the United States with Anita Coupe

At U.S. Capitol

At U.S. Capitol

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday was a pivotal moment in my life. It was the day I took the step from working to save thousands of dogs and other animals each year to fighting for millions.

I am grateful to have been guided by The Humane Society of the United States longtime leader, Anita Coupe.

Together we met with legislative aides in the offices of Senators Collins and King and Representatives Poloquin and Pingree. These are the bills we asked them to co-sponsor and support:

Humane Cosmetics Act (HR2858)

Pets and Women Safety (PAWS) Act (S1559) (HR1258)

Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act (S1121) (HR3268)

Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act (S1214) (HR1942)

Wildlife Trafficking (S27) (S2494) (HR1945)

Prevent Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act (S1831) (HR2293)

Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S697)

Please help us get these animal and human protection acts passed by writing to your members of Congress and asking them to co-sponsor or support. Every one of these acts would stop HORRIFIC abuses against animals (the kind that haunt you). Let’s get this done together! ‪

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me on Facebook.

Teachers: Please get your students involved in government by looking up these Acts and discussing what they’re about.

Why We Do It

Scout: a happy reminder

Scout: a happy reminder

Finding your people and the ‪‎dog‬ who represents why you do it.

I’m in Washington in my new role as Chair of the The Humane Society of the United States Maine State Council. There are 200 people here with me at a leadership summit.

We’re all learning about the serious issues facing animals in our world and how to create and enact laws for protection.

Last night, as many of my colleagues were watching a film about the illegal dog meat trade in Asia called Eating Happiness, I received a burst of love from Scout.

Scout was destined for a brutal ending in Korea when Humane Society International helped a willing “farmer” shut down his dog meat operations.

Scout made it into the loving arms of a woman named Leslie Barcus.

Last night, he was the smiling, loving, happy reminder of why we do what we do.

Finding the Light

andre

Andre

‎Tonight‬: I missed the ‪Pope‬ but found the light.

On my first night in ‪Washington‬ to begin my work with the The Humane Society of the United States, I went to Rosa Mexicano Restaurant for dinner. I was seated near a window and my view was of this man, in a wheelchair, pan-handling.

His name is Andre. As I watched the passersby, I noticed that he was smiling, at everyone. Intrigued by his light, I invited him to have dinner with me. And that’s when he told me his story. He said I could share it with you.

When Andre was 37 years-old, he was working as a security guard. On his way home from work one night he was robbed by six men wearing ski masks. After they robbed him, they shot him six times. He lived but became a paraplegic.

Perhaps the saddest part of the story, he says, is that his best friend, high on drugs, was one of the people who shot him. That person, he said, is now in prison doing 45+ years without parole.

I asked him if he had any advice for people.

He said his advice is for young people. “When your parents and friends tell you to stay away from someone, there’s a reason for it. Stay away from them. Stay away from drugs and people who do drugs.”

Andre told me that he’s not homeless but that he pan-handles to pay his mortgage. And, he needs extra money for pet food. Because, you see, he helps the homeless dogs and cats in his neighborhood. Why doesn’t that surprise me?

Andre. Best dinner date I’ve had in a long time!

Mission Accomplished

Mission accomplished! Two years ago, after witnessing abuse and neglect of monkeys while on vacation on a remote island in Indonesia, I called upon the management of my hotel to create change. As many of you know, I spent my vacation happily releasing nine of the monkeys back into the jungle from which they had been taken. I also worked to build proper enclosures with enrichment for the remaining three monkeys, geese, and a special porcupine.

I’d cut a deal. At the time there was no choice. The hotel would release nine monkeys back into the wild if three stayed. My condition was that the three that stayed must have the chains cut from their necks and they must be free to roam in their enclosure. The hotel agreed and also offered to let the geese out of their concrete enclosure during the day to roam the property and swim in its pond.  Many of the staff were so happy with the changes they greeted me by slapping their heart with their hand while calling me, “monkey lady”.

Six months after these changes, I received an email from the hotel’s manager, Agus Tabah, telling me that the remaining monkeys and geese had been released permanently.

But… I still worried about the porcupine. He was so grateful to me after I brought him a hollow log to live in. We established a friendship during my time there. He was blind from exposure to the harsh sun, confined to a wire mesh cage with only rice to eat and water that dropped into a seashell when it rained. When I greeted him every few hours with fresh fruit, he ran to me and nuzzled my finger. I fell in love with his soul.

The other day I found myself thinking about him and started to cry. I felt like I’d let him down when I left. So I called Agus and asked him about my friend, the porcupine. And that’s when he proudly said, “Jennifer, all of the animals on the property, with the exception of one horse, have new homes. They are all fine.”

Joy! Mission accomplished!

There were many before me who complained of the conditions at the hotel’s makeshift zoo. Because many of you sent emails to the hotel, Mr. Tabah was compelled to follow his own heart and continue the work we started.

Why this update? Because some people don’t think their voice makes a difference. It always does, whether it’s a signature on a petition, an email sent, or a call to your senator/representative/member of parliament. When more than one raises his or her voice against what is wrong, change is created.

I promised the Jayakarta Hotel in Flores, Indonesia that the day they created a kind campus, I would promote them.

As a reward for creating positive change, please consider going over to their page and thanking them with a note that says; “The monkey lady sent me.  Thank you for your kindness to animals.”

Here’s their link: Jayakarta Hotel

 

My friend, the porcupine

My friend, the porcupine

Transport back to the jungle

Transport back to the jungle

Cutting the chains

Cutting the chains

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Moments before leaving for the jungle. Holding up the chains that had been cut from their necks.

Hotel Manager, Agus Tabah. The man who said "yes" to change. At the release site.

Hotel Manager, Agus Tabah. The man who said “yes” to change. At the release site.

Release site

Release site

The geese. Once confined to this enclosure with only rice and sporadic periods of water. Now free.

The geese. Once confined to this enclosure with rice and water given sporadically. Now free.

Release site

Release site

The moment of freedom.

The moment of freedom.

The Wave of Compassion

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As I sat on a beach in Victoria, Australia the other day, admiring the dramatic limestone stacks known as the Twelve Apostles, a sense of euphoria washed over me. I was thinking about the notable shift happening in our world. The stacks have been crumbling, succumbing to the strength of the sea. Similarly, the houses in the world built on greed are collapsing against waves of compassion. An army of caring people is building, activating.

As I inhaled the salty air from the Southern Ocean, I thought of just a few of the dramatic changes that have happened so far in 2015:

-Barnum & Bailey Circus has promised to, at long last, retire its elephants.

-The Greyhound racing industry in Australia came to a halt when undercover video exposed leaders illegally baiting dogs with live animals. Sponsors have pulled money, trainers have been banned for life and the entire board of Greyhound Racing Australia NSW was dismissed.

-The city of Madrid, Spain announced that it would no longer euthanize homeless dogs.

-The city of Nashville, Tennessee voted to make it illegal to chain dogs indefinitely.

-In Alabama, a convicted animal abuser received a 99-year jail sentence. Goodbye!

-The city of Palm Beach, Florida banned wild animals for private parties/events.

-Three of the largest food providers; Compass Group, Sodexo, and Aramark announce plans to go cage-free for chickens in the USA.

-Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts announced cage and crate-free policies for hens and sows.

-Shane Rattenbury, a politician, introduced legislation in Australia to ban puppy and kitten farming in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT.) The Domestic Animals (Breeding) Legislation Amendment Bill passed unanimously!

When people gather to do good things, good things happen. Please keep signing petitions, emailing legislators, writing letters to judges, contacting newspaper and television reporters, and supporting charities. Thank you for being part of the wave of compassion.

Photo: Blaine Zuver

Bali, Indonesia. Not Paradise for All

I travel to Bali once a year to visit friends and to purchase items to auction for the charities I love.  This week I took my sister Katy for a day of adventures – a 26 kilometer bike ride down the Mount Batur volcano, a lunch with elephants and a rafting trip in a torrential downpour down the Ayung River.   It would have been a perfect day but it couldn’t be.  As I rode through villages I’ve visited often, I noticed change.

Cattle that once roamed the fields were tightly tied up on concrete stalls, ankle deep in their excrement, pigs were crated instead of roaming, and an innocent Asian Palm Civet, also known as a toddy cat, was caged in abominable conditions without water, its cage rattled by our tour guide who explained that because the animal ate coffee beans that some people thought its excrement tasted good.

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Asian Palm Civet

One of the things that had noticeably changed was that the Balinese people were following the western world by taking animals out of the fields and confining them their entire lives, until they were slaughtered.  I don’t know who originally said it was okay to start “factory farming” animals but it’s not.  Meat eaters and non-meat eaters would agree on this one.  And then there were the dogs, diseased and starving.

Having traveled many times to Indonesia I understand the dog overpopulation problem.  Most dogs are homeless.  This is no one’s fault and there are good organizations working to change the situation.  On this day I witnessed over one-hundred diseased, dying dogs and two instances where dogs were chained; one without water and the other, starved and close to death, being strangled by its chain.

Katy and I were being driven back to our villa and were on a busy road when out of the corner of my eye I saw something, something that defied explanation.

The Rescue

“Turn around,” I said to Newman, the driver.  “Please turn around.”  I hoped that what I thought I saw was incorrect but it wasn’t.  A dog was clinging to life on a tight rope made of wire; one move in any direction and it would be hanged by the choke collar around its neck.  I asked Newman to find the “owner.”

A woman came out of an alley with a knife. I could tell she already knew the dog was close to death and had ignored his cries for help.  Below the dog, two sows were lying in crates unable to move, locked in wire cages, crying.  My heart screamed.  I put my hands under the dog, trying to provide comfort and security as the woman fiddled with the bottom of the chain.  I reached toward the dog’s neck and tried to unlock the clasp attached to his collar but it wouldn’t release.  His tail thumped against me.  As I held him it was obvious, he was not “just” a street dog, he was a starved street dog.

Someone who claimed ownership of him by putting a collar around his neck had chained this innocent creature.  By chaining him, he was prevented from getting food from the Hindu offerings that most street dogs feed from.  Additionally, he was one slip of his paw away from hanging, his knotted chain leaving him in this predicament. To make matters worse, probably 100,000 people had driven past him in 24 hours and no one had helped him.  It was beyond comprehension.  How could you see that and not stop? How could you look away?  The chained was unraveled but the dog still couldn’t move.  Each claw had curled around a piece of wire as he clung for life.  His claws were frozen.  He could not release them.  He could not move his head.  I have no idea how long he had been in that position, with one movement in any direction causing certain death.

I lifted him gently, rocking him back and forth until one by one, his claws unhooked from the wire.  When he touched the ground, he was grateful, his tail wagging wildly.  The woman held the chain up and looked at me with disdain.  We didn’t speak the same language but I understood that she hated my interference and questioned what she was supposed to do with him now.  “Unchain him,” I said in English.  And with that, she slipped the choke collar off his head, threw it into the back of a truck and walked away.  The dog licked my leg and then went to Katy and licked her hand.  He then ran to a nearby pile of rice that had been dumped near the road and started eating.  He quickly ran down the road and I prayed he would not return to the same place but in my heart, I knew he would.  His loyalty had no boundaries.  I leaned into the truck, grabbed the choke collar and chains, and got into the car.  As we drove off, I said a prayer for the pigs who would soon meet their death.

While I always leave situations like this feeling disheartened, I do my best to follow up.  In this case, I have asked Bali Adventure Tours to require that the local people who participate in the tours take care of their animals by providing food, water and proper enclosures.  Word will quickly get around the village that tourists expect the kind treatment of animals.  It’s up to tourist operators to demand compassionate standards.  It’s up to us to tell the tourist operators, no matter where we are in the world when we witness abuse and neglect, that we require more.  Lastly, we have strong voices and can use them by reviewing our experiences on the Internet.  If you see something that you feel needs changing, post a review.  Reviews work to create change.

As for my friend in this picture, let his story help you break the chains when you see injustice.

To learn more about the good work being done to help animals on the island of Bali, Indonesia, go to this link and donate if you can:  http://www.bawabali.com 

UPDATE:  May 23, 2014:  I have received an assurance from Arifin Tirta Wijata at Bali Adventure Tours that they will kindly take advice from their staff veterinarian in regards to treating the chained black dog I met on the trip.  Staff will administer treatment for parasites and mange and will speak to the owner about proper care, including the need for food, water and shelter.  

They will also speak to issues raised regarding proper living environments for the confined palm civet.  I have asked Arifin to please provide photographs, which I will share to you upon receipt.  The website for Bali Adventure Tours and the Elephant Safari Park is:  http://www.baliadventuretours.com and http://www.elephantsafaripark.com   Never be afraid to speak up when you see atrocities committed against others.  Your voice will create change.  Jen

The Tasmanian Devil

I recently had the privilege of visiting Tasmania. It’s a beautiful island off the coast of Australia. One of the reasons for my visit was to catch a glimpse of a Tasmanian Devil, a marsupial that is on the brink of extinction because of a rare, contagious cancer. I was able to see a few devils at the Devils at Cradle Sanctuary and also at the home of a foster mother who is raising two joeys before their release to either a sanctuary or a disease-free island where a small population remains. If you’d like to learn more about the Tasmanian Devil and the work being done to keep them with us, here’s a link:  http:///www.devilsatcradle.com

Photos:  Jennifer SkiffTasmanian Joey (baby)

Tasmanian Devil

Tasmanian Devil

Indonesia Animal Update

I’m thrilled to report that I have received an email from Mr. Agus Tabah, the Manager of the Jayakarta Suites Komodo Hotel. He has told me that the hotel has now released all the monkeys and geese from cages. This is wonderful news and proves that when you witness atrocities against other souls, you should speak up. Sometimes one voice can make positive change. Many voices can guarantee it! Thank you Jayakarta Suites for acknowledging the voices of your patrons and staff who have compassionate hearts.