Recognising 40 Years in Animal Rights

October 1st, 2016 2 comments
Peter Roberts

Peter Roberts

In October 1976, Peter Roberts, co-founder with his wife Anna of Compassion In World Farming, engaged me, as their second full-time employee, to be their campaigns organiser. I was a young man with no relevant experience other than working one summer as a student in a chicken slaughterhouse that led me to become a vegan. I had no idea then that the opportunity that Peter gave me would be my first step to living a life that brought together my personal commitment to animal rights with a professional career with some of the world’s leading animal advocacy organisations. I am forever grateful to Peter and Anna for the invaluable opportunity they gave me.

However much I may grumble about living as a vegan in a meat-eating world, there is no other way I would have wanted to spend my life. Although my life in animal rights has not always felt like a gift. The burden, as I know many of you also know, of living and breathing animal rights is painful. The animals’ suffering is never far from my thoughts. Their misery never far from my feelings. There is also the self-inflicted harm we cause to each other as animal advocates. Unlike the message we extoll to others of compassion knowing no boundaries, fraternity is often in short supply in our dealings with our colleagues. We are but frail, pathetic, selfish human animals.

CIWF announces my appointment in 1976.

CIWF announces my appointment in 1976.

The last 40 years has taught me to ignore those whose criticism is meant to make me say things I did not believe and make me feel guilty for actions I have or have not done. I could think and act differently. But my beliefs and my actions are based upon my experiences. They are grounded in my understanding of the four key values of animal rights: compassion, truth, nonviolence, and justice. I ignore those whose condemnation of me and the colleagues I respect as attacks that stink with the odour of the opposite of my key values: indifference, lies, violence, and injustice.

More importantly, whatever suffering we endure is nothing to the misery we inflict upon other animals.

Reflecting upon four decades of animal rights advocacy primarily in the UK and USA but also increasingly in other countries, I recognise significant accomplishments have been achieved that deserve recognition and celebration. But I have never felt more pessimistic than I do now about our future. While I take comfort in my favourite homily that living, day-to-day, as a vegan is a journey and not a destination, I also believe that where we are going is not heaven on earth but hell in a hand basket.

I do not mean to suggest any religious apocalypse. But the more I understand our global impact, including the unrelenting exploitation of billions of animals, the more I believe our environment is severely, if not fatally, harmed. The only way the damage we cause to the Earth will be remedied is when the biosphere revolts and redresses itself. This is, of course, what evolution does. Once change starts, it is difficult to stop. The sense I have now that I did not have four decades ago is that the speed with which we are adversely impacting the planet is increasing rapidly. We approach the point when the Earth is beyond repair without fundamental readjustment. My generation may not see the worst of the climatic revolts to come but the next surely will.

Nonetheless, we must continue to live and work knowing that every day matters and our actions have consequences often beyond our understanding and knowledge. I know I do not have another 40 years of campaigning ahead of me. But I am committed to continue with my life and my work for as long as I can.

For example, my engagement continues with Compassion In World Farming. Since 2009 I have been a consultant with their Chief Executive Philip Lymbery. Also, my work as a consultant continues in the USA with Alley Cat Allies and its founder and president Becky Robinson. My consultancy provides me with the opportunity to continue to volunteer as executive director with Minding Animals International and to write books and make presentations. Presently, my consultancy is particularly busy. This has meant that my writing, including a follow up to my first book Growl, is delayed as is other projects and commitments, including my new website that is in development and a trial series of podcasts. I am also decreasing my presence in social media to focus on my consultancy and writing, and for other reasons to be explored in due course.

Honey had brown button eyes. If she were a human, she'd live on gin and cigarettes.

Honey had brown button eyes. If she were a human, she’d live on gin and cigarettes.

It would be very remiss in this reflection not to recall the many cats and dogs who shared my life and my partner’s. They gave us much joy. They live forever in our hearts.

I have also met some wonderful, compassionate people over the years. Many of whom I consider to be my true friends and respected colleagues. Thank you for all that you do for the animals.

We share a vision of the world in which compassion, truth, nonviolence, and justice are as much the four points on a moral compass as north, south, east, and west are on a regular compass.

May your moral compass show you way for the years to come.

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Vegan Society’s Advisory Group

April 14th, 2016 No comments

Vegan Society logoI recently accepted an invitation to join the Vegan Society’s Advisory Group (AG), which supports the organisation’s staff and trustees by conducting and sharing academic and other research relevant to veganism. Under AG’s auspices are various committees (e.g., legal, research) which give advice, recommend references and speak on behalf of The Vegan Society at external events and in the media.

I joined the Policy Committee whose role is to provide expertise on public policy and legislative issues related to veganism (e.g., public health, agriculture, animal welfare) and lobbying at all levels of government in the UK and EU. If you are interested in learning more about the Policy Committee and live and work in the UK and EU, please email me at to learn more about how you could potentially get involved.

To learn more about the Vegan Society’s Advisory Group, please click on this Vegan Society.

Thank you!

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My Book Reviews

February 19th, 2016 No comments
The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen by Kwame Anthony Appiah

The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen by Kwame Anthony Appiah

I enjoy reading a lot. It’s a lot like eating, which I also enjoy a lot. They’re both about nourishment. One for the mind. The other for, well, let’s not go there.

My reading is across the board but mostly nonfiction. There is a very small number of novelists who I want to read, including mostly Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen. But there are others, and that’s for another time to consider.

I try to write reviews of the books I read. Reading books and writing about them helps me with my own writing. The same is true for keeping a journal, which I also try to do.

Anyway, all of this is leading me to say that you can read my book reviews here on this website and at Goodreads.

Yesterday, I published my latest review, which is about The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen by Kwame Anthony Appiah. I was underwhelmed by it and you can read why here.


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Tom Regan and His Wife Nancy and Me

February 2nd, 2016 No comments
Nancy and Tom Regan and myself.

Nancy and Tom Regan and myself.

I first met Tom and Nancy Regan at the RSPCA’s Rights of Animals symposium at Trinity College Cambridge in 1977. Recently, I caught up with them at their home in Raleigh, NC.

Tom and Nancy always inspired me to learn as much as I can about animal rights and showed me the importance of ethical action as the capstone to our action for animals.

In 1977, I was the campaigns organiser at Compassion In World Farming. Compassion’s founder, Peter Roberts, took me to the RSPCA’s symposium. This was a special moment in the history of the animal rights movement. With the notable exception of Peter Singer, leading philosophers, advocates, authors, and politicians came together for two days to consider animal ethics and the emerging animal rights movement.

The Case for Animal Rights by Tom Regan (University of California Press; 1983)

The Case for Animal Rights by Tom Regan (University of California Press; 1983)

I was an angry young vegan who, unbeknown to myself, was beginning a career with some of the world’s leading animal rights organisations. Tom was already an acclaimed moral philosopher and a prominent speaker in animal rights. But not everyone present at the conference was a card carrying vegan animal rights advocate.

As I recall in my book, Growl, I remember Tom and Nancy, and Peter Roberts and myself, and other vegans being exiled to what was called the ‘vegetarian table’ in the college’s baronial dining hall. We were fed meagre rations of dull 1970s veggie food. Everyone else at the conference dined on venison that was the charred remains of body parts of deer who had once grazed Trinity College’s grounds. We ate our veggie food in disgust, tut tutting our fellow conference attendees and speakers.

Since then, Tom and Nancy’s and my life have crossed many times and, in particular, after I moved to the USA in 1987.

I heard Tom speak often at animal rights conferences throughout America. He was always an inspirational speaker. In particular, I appreciated how he situated a commitment to nonviolence as central to his animal rights declaration.

The philosophy of animal rights stands for peace, and against violence. The fundamental demand of this philosophy is to treat humans and other nonhuman animals with respect. This philosophy, therefore, is a philosophy of peace. But it is a philosophy that extends the demand for peace beyond the boundaries of our species, for there is an undeclared war being waged everyday against countless millions of nonhuman animals.

His unique contribution to moral philosophy is, of course, much more than animal rights and particularly The Case for Animal Rights published in 1983. In addition to nonviolence, his writings on environmental ethics were instrumental in challenging environmentalists to consider animal rights.

Empty Cages by Tom Regan (Rowman & Littlefield; 2004)

Empty Cages by Tom Regan (Rowman & Littlefield; 2004)

The philosophy of animal rights demands only that the logic be respected for any argument that plausibly explains the independent value of human beings implies that other animal have the same value and have it equally. And any argument that plausibly explains the rights of humans to be treated with respect also implies that these other animals have the same rights and have it equally also.

With our respective organisations, the Animals and Society Institute and the Culture and Animals Foundation, we coproduced the International Compassionate Living Festival for a number of years.

Tom helped me to understand the importance of bringing together animal advocates with moral philosophers, authors and artists engaged in animal issues, and business leaders with musicians. Compassionate change is needed on many fronts, he always said.

Tom and Nancy and their fellow directors at the Culture and Animals Foundation work tirelessly since its foundation in 1985 to promote cultural change for animals.

By appealing to individual intellect, creativity and compassion, the Culture and Animals Foundation believes we can awaken people to the plight and grandeur of kindred animals–and ultimately build a deeper understanding of human-animal relationships and a greater respect for basic animal rights.

On Tom’s retirement the North Carolina State University established the Tom Regan Animal Rights Archive, which is the only archive of its kind in the world. Tom introduced me to the librarians and archivists at NCSU Libraries. Thanks to him, we convinced NCSU Libraries to accept the valuable collections I had established at the Animals and Society Institute. This included The Animal Rights Network Archive, The Animals’ Agenda Archive, the Argus Archives, the Animal Welfare Institute Archives, and the Claire Necker Collection of Cat Books and Collectibles.

Defending Animal Rights by Tom Regan (University of Illinois Press; 2001)

Defending Animal Rights by Tom Regan (University of Illinois Press; 2001)

As much as I am a republican and not a monarchist, Tom is the only person I would accept as a ruling monarch. King Tom would rule us as the very best of benign dictators. With one sweep of his hand across this realm he would stop people from eating meat, he would liberate animals from research laboratories, and he would inspire compassion for all.

What of democracy, may you ask? Its sacrifice would be a small price to pay.

But, thankfully, King Tom is not our ruler but he is the animal rights philosopher and elder statesman. But he is more than that as I consider him to be my friend and mentor. He continues to inspire me—personally and professionally—to work harder and better for animal rights.

It was great fun to spend the day with Tom and Nancy and reminisce the past and speculate the future of animal rights.

New to Tom Regan and want to learn more but unsure where to begin?

I recommend starting with his book Empty Cages: Facing the Challenge of Animal Rights (2004)  followed by Animal Rights Human Wrongs: An Introduction to Moral Philosophy (2003) and Defending Animal Rights (2001). There is a selection of videos of Tom Regan to watch on his website, too.

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What I Did During the Blizzard

January 24th, 2016 No comments
The weather forecast on one of Washington DC's TV channels predicted 20-30" of snow for the area.

The weather forecast on one of Washington DC’s TV channels predicted 20-30″ of snow for the area.

Presently, I’m working on an assignment with Alley Cat Allies, which means that I’m spending significant amounts of time in their Bethesda, MD offices. One of my trips coincided with the blizzard that occurred over the weekend of January 23-24. For the duration of the blizzard, the U.S. government advised people to stay indoors and not venture out. The blizzard started at 1pm on Friday and later that day I returned form the Alley Cat Allies office to the hotel where I’m staying. I write this as of Sunday afternoon. The blizzard has stopped but there are mountains of snow everywhere.

I have just spent two days not leaving my hotel room. I haven’t gone outside since Friday afternoon but I hope to take a walk later today. In any event, I will be going to the Alley Cat Allies nearby office tomorrow to work for the day. Prior to the storm, I stocked up with chips and salsa, cartons of soup, bread, salad, humous, instant oatmeal, coffee, orange juice, and soy milk. I cook with an electrical kettle and a microwave.

This was taken late Saturday afternoon as the storm got worse. It was windy and snowing all through Saturday evening and into early Sunday morning. The storm cleared by breakfast.

This was taken late Saturday afternoon as the storm got worse. It was windy and snowing all through Saturday evening and into early Sunday morning. The storm cleared by breakfast.

It’s been a bit weird to not go outside for two days and watch from my 11th floor window the blizzard raging outside. But, on the other hand, it’s been rather nice to have the time to myself, catch up on sleep, and, of course, work. Lying in bed this morning, I began to make a mental list of projects and tasks I had worked on in the last two days. This led me to getting up and writing a list, which is now turned into this post.

So, for those who want to know what I did in the 48+ hours of the blizzard, here’s your answer and in no particular order:

  • Finished reading Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. I had started reading it about four weeks ago but since then I’ve had long gaps when I hadn’t touch it. This is a novel that you have to concentrate on. I feel I haven’t benefitted from reading it as much as I should. This is the second time I’ve read it and the first time was also not conducive. What I would really like to do is to read Heart of Darkness without too many interruptions over a couple of days. Third time’s the charm?
  • Spoke with various friends via Skype and FaceTime.
  • Emailed and spoke with Becky Robinson at Alley Cat Allies about various ideas and projects.
  • Read six back copies of the London Review of Books and have a similar number to go.
  • Wrote in my journal.
  • Wrote and revised an appreciation of a key figure in the animal rights movement. The next step is to make a video file of myself reading it out.
  • Edited and prepared for publication for my client, Compassion In World Farming, an interview with a scholar. I also drafted a second interview with another scholar.
  • Listened to two podcasts from the Author MBA podcast, which I find interesting and full of useful advice to authors who ‘think like an entrepreneur and treat their books like a business.’
  • Listened to one podcast from the ARZone. The Animal Rights Zone podcast is excellent.
  • Answered email–there’s always email to answer.
  • Posted onto my social media throughout the blizzard photos taken from my hotel room and including some of them here.
  • Reviewed a proposal to revamp this website, which I hope to complete this spring.

Of course, I’m not making any claims of hardship here. I could not help but think of those outside–the homeless, dogs and cats, birds and wildlife and others–who had no choice.

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2015 and Me

January 14th, 2016 No comments

Ever wondered what I do, how I spend my time, and how I make a living? Now, you can find out by reading my annual review for 2015.

As we begin a New Year, which is my fortieth anniversary of being a vegan campaigning for animal rights, I look back on 2015 and my work as an independent scholar and author and consultant with client organisations in the U.K. and U.S.A.

I am very fortunate to be able to live a life in which I have been able to bring together both my personal commitment and professional experience to campaigning for a vegan, animal rights world. The work is not always easy as animal cruelty and exploitation are never far from my thoughts. But there is no other way that I would like to live my life.

So, click here to read about my work for animal rights in 2015.


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What is to be done?

December 3rd, 2015 1 comment

I wasn’t in a position to listen to all of yesterday’s debate in the House of Commons on the question of bombing Syria but I did hear the first hour or so. And the impression I came away with the most was the arrogance of Prime Minister David Cameron and the condescension of the Conservative MPs. The behaviour of the Tory MPs generally, and particularly when Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was speaking, illustrated more than anything I have witnessed before their sense of entitlement to directing the affairs of the country. If this is supposedly what the best of education can buy through private schools like Eton, no wonder, then, this country is running itself slowly but surely into the ground. Those who pay high school fees should be asking for their money back!

It’s not the working class who are at fault. But those who believe that because of who their parents were, where they were schooled, and the well-heeled connections that go along with a privileged life — they are the ones who are responsible for much that is wrong with this country because they are in charge of it. They don’t want change or, rather, they only want change that benefits their class.

While some class privileges have been removed by Labour governments, the U.K. remains a class based country with very little opportunity to — and forgive the horrible phrase — upward mobility.

Moreover, the present Conservative government and its class war masquerading as the neutral fiscal policy of ‘austerity’ will do all it can to protect and reinforce their interests. As much as I would like the Labour Party to offer a viable alternative, I have yet to see it do so.

It is no wonder that I feel increasingly alienated, disengaged and excluded from Britain’s political discourse. Which, I think, increasing numbers of people also feel, if not exactly for the same reasons as mine.

I fear for Britain more than ever before, even more so than in the 1980s when we lived under the democrat dictatorship of Margaret Thatcher. All the benefits and securities of the welfare state, including the National Health Service — these social assets are being steadily sold off to private enterprise. Everything is becoming commoditised and packaged commercially to buy if it can be afforded. This corrosive impact is building a society in which a commitment to community is being eroded and replaced with competition and selfishness.

These values are, of course, the very opposite of what we need when everyone faces problems and challenges that transcend the barriers we have constructed politically and socially — namely climate change, replacing animal consumption with vegan, plant-based solutions to feed the world and foster health, and fundamentally address the pervasive, hidden violence in our societies.

What is to be done?

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Cats in Virginia

November 9th, 2015 No comments

I’m working on an assignment with Alley Cat Allies, the U.S.-based organisation dedicated to advocating for cats, and working closely with Becky Robinson, the president and founder. I helped to produce recently Becky’s book, The Evolution of the Cat Revolution: Celebrating 25 Years of Saving Cats, which gives a behind-the-scenes look at their achievements in their first quarter of a century advocating for cats.

Becky Robinson speaking with the Hampton Roads Community Cat Caretakers.

Becky Robinson speaking with the Hampton Roads Community Cat Caretakers.

Currently, I’m in Bethesda, MD where Alley Cat Allies is based. This past weekend I accompanied Becky on a three-day trip to Norfolk, VA and Chincoteague Island, VA  to learn more about her work for cats in the community. In Norfolk, we met with Rob Blizard, Norfolk SPCA’s Executive Director, who kindly showed us around their facility, and was introduced to his enthusiastic and helpful staff. They showed us their cats and dogs in the shelter and talked about the wide range of services they provide to their human and nonhuman clients. Norfolk SPCA is a very impressive operation and, like many others, achieves a great deal for the animals in their care with minimal resources. Becky later made a presentation to the Hampton Roads Community Cat Caretakers, who can be found on Facebook. Some 30-40 of their members listened attentively to Becky as she described the history and development of trap-neuter-return and Alley Cat Allies.

The spay-a-thon was held in a school gymnasium. The floor was covered in large sheets of plastic. Cats arrived in different types of carriers. Sheets and towels were laid over the cages to help keep the cats calm.

The spay-a-thon was held in a school gymnasium. The floor was covered in large sheets of plastic. Cats arrived in different types of carriers. Sheets and towels were laid over the cages to help keep the cats calm.

We then made our way back up the Eastern Shore to Chincoteague Island, VA  where Caring Hands Animal Support and Education (CHASE) organised a two-day spay-a-thon for 200 kittens and cats. Of course, it took more than two days to do because the research, preparation, organisation, and clean-up to such a worthwhile endeavour took up many additional days. I have read about and heard described temporary clinics where large numbers of cats are spayed or neutered but I have never had the opportunity to witness one until now. It was an amazing operation in many ways — no pun intended!

In describing the experience here, I may get wrong some of the details and happy to be corrected if you would like to get in touch.

The Recovery Line--the last stage in the spay-a-thon.

The Recovery Line–the last stage in the spay-a-thon.

A team of four veterinarians and their trained assistants and some 10-20 volunteers were led by Jeffrey Newman, DVM, President of CHASE and implemented a strategy in which each kitten and cat was processed through a number of stages. These mass spay/neuter cat clinics were developed by Alley Cat Allies. It was a very impressive operation put together temporarily in a local school gymnasium. The surgeries were undertaken in the Reiss Mobile Vet vehicle, parked in the adjoining lot, which belonged to Jonathan Reiss, DVM. The kittens and cats were a mixture of those who were people’s companions or were outdoor or community cats. The services provided were free and everyone donated their time and expertise.

I volunteered by making sure every cat had a dish of cat food on the top of their cage waiting for them as they came out from the medication.

I volunteered by making sure every cat had a dish of cat food on the top of their cage waiting for them as they came out from the medication.

I found it to be a remarkable experience. The atmosphere was palpable in that the carefully organised operation hummed along with a wonderful sense of community, giving, sharing, cooperation, and fulfilment. The only ones who did not share these powerful feelings were the beneficiaries who wanted to be anywhere else other than in a cage! Even a local artist had brought in a cat to be attended to, made some characterful sketches and left them on display to raise funds. I heard stories about how local people and businesses supported the endeavour by, for example, donating supplies and food. Most of the cats were brought in and later picked up by residents.

The stages that each feline client went through were a medical pre-screening; the necessary paper work that kept track of who they were and where they came from and in which container; and then pre-op preparation, the operation itself, a post-op careful monitoring and, finally, an area where they were left quietly to sleep off the medication.

This was a great weekend in which I learnt much from some wonderful people about the how-to of trap-neuter-return and companion animal advocacy generally.

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Jeremy Corbyn, BUAV, and Me in 1984

October 30th, 2015 No comments

A delegation to the Ministry of Defence of Tony Banks MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Tom Cox MP, and myself as BUAV’s Campaigns Officer handing in a letter to Michael Heseltine, the Minister of Defence, asking a large number of specific questions relating to experiments conducted at Porton Down, the U.K. government’s military research laboratory near Salisbury, Wiltshire.

Scanned from The Liberator, which I co-edited and was published by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (April/May 1984, 5).

Jeremy Corbyn MP, now leader of the Labour Party, consistently shows personal interest in animal rights as a vegetarian and in Parliament with political opposition to violence to animals since his election in 1983.

Liberator 1984


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Alley Cat Allies

October 28th, 2015 No comments

The Evolution of the Cat RevolutionThe U.S.-based advocacy organisation, Alley Cat Allies, celebrates this year a quarter century of saving cats. Alley Cat Allies is the first organization to introduce and advocate for humane methods of feral cat care, particularly Trap-Neuter-Return, in the American animal protection community. By establishing and promoting standards of care, Alley Cat Allies brought the humane treatment of cats into the national spotlight.

Becky Robinson, Alley Cat Allies’s president and founder, engaged me this summer to produce a book celebrating their first 25 years. Writing in The Evolution of the Cat Revolution, Becky gives a behind-the-scenes look at the trials and triumphs of Alley Cat Allies. There’s a Timeline, 25 Accomplishments, and a Conversation between Becky and Donna Wilcox, Vice President and Chair of the Board of Directors, in which they look back on how a band of cat carers grew to be one of the most innovative, gutsy, and effective animal advocacy organizations in the world.

It was a great honour to work this summer with Becky and her colleagues at Alley Cat Allies on The Evolution of the Cat Revolution. I’m pleased to say my involvement with them as an independent consultant continues. My focus is on their strategic plan and building the organisation to implement it.

I look forward to working with Alley Cat Allies and dividing my time in the coming months between their headquarters in Bethesda, MD and my home in England.

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