Author Mark Hawthorne nailed it the first time with Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, which aimed to empower people to get active for animals around the world. Now, he’s nailed it again with Bleating Hearts: The Hidden World of Animal Suffering. It’s the most comprehensive book about animal exploitation ever written. It is an encyclopedia of nearly every horror we do to animals, and how to make a difference on their behalf.
Even as a vegan, I learned much more than I expected. Just when I think I have a good grasp on the enormity of animal use for food, fashion, scientific experiments, and entertainment, Bleating Hearts lifts the curtain on another way animals are used. I can’t recommend this book enough.
I spoke to Mark about the book, his work, and the issues.
No, I still get surprised. Maybe shocked is a better word. I don’t ever want to reach the point where I’m inured to these things. Overall, I think the things that shocked me most were the ways people use animals for sheer pleasure. Not for food, or clothing, or ostensibly to advance scientific knowledge, but just because someone thought it would be “artistic” to mount hundreds of butterflies onto a canvas, for instance, or someone thinks it makes him a big man to shoot a tiger who’s been hand-fed and trusts humans, or someone else gets his kicks by having sex with chickens.
It’s because these things are so repulsive that I conclude each chapter of Bleating Hearts with actions people can take to fight the abuses they’ve read about. I also profile activists throughout the book who are working to make a difference.
The use of animals for war is a great example. The U.S. Navy keeps about 80 bottlenose dolphins trained to detect mines with their natural sonar. Although the Navy says dolphins only locate mines and drop acoustic transponders nearby, so that divers can destroy them, it’s clear that any situation too dangerous for a human is also too dangerous for a nonhuman animal. Even if a dolphin can’t accidentally detonate an underwater explosive, which are set off by a ship’s hull, what do you think would happen should the “enemy” suspect dolphins are being used to find mines in their waters? They’d open fire on anyone with a dorsal fin. Moreover, one of the Navy’s dirty little secrets is that they’ve acquired dolphins from the Taiji dolphin drives in Japan.
Dolphins have also been trained by the Russian military to undertake suicide missions: with mines strapped to their backs, the idea is they’d make contact with and destroy enemy ships—and themselves. This scheme reportedly killed 300 dolphins during training. When I interviewed Ric O’Barry for the book, he pretty much told me, without being too specific, that the C.I.A. had approached him during the 1960s when he was a dolphin trainer for TV’s Flipper and asked him about teaching dolphins to do this for the U.S. Of course, Ric rejected their request and is now the world’s biggest dolphin advocate.
Most readers are probably familiar with the term “bestiality,” which refers to humans having sex with nonhuman animals. For thousands of years, this was tolerated as an innocent practice in many cultures, generally because of the erroneous belief that the animals are unharmed. This social acceptance is changing, fortunately.
But beyond bestiality, there is a subculture called zoosadism that derives sexual pleasure from intentionally inflicting pain or even killing an animal—or watching someone else do it. So-called “crush” videos may be the most well-known example of this: some people get off watching small animals or insects being stomped on, usually by women in spiked heels or barefooted. Other zoosadists derive sexual gratification from stabbing animals or having sex with animals they’ve killed.
And let’s not overlook the fact that artificial insemination in factory farming and at abusement parks like SeaWorld is a sexual assault on animals, both male and female.
Thanks for asking about rabbits, Gary. Sadly, the USDA classifies rabbits as “poultry,” so just like chickens, they are excluded from the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which means they can be killed for food in horrific ways.
I would love it if everyone who wants to share their home with a companion animal would learn about rabbits from a nonprofit such as the House Rabbit Society or SaveABunny and consider adopting or fostering one or two from their local shelter or rescue group. There are even organizations, like New Life Animal Sanctuary, that place rabbits rescued from labs into loving homes.
Rabbits are among the most misunderstood animals, and people don’t realize how smart and funny they are. They make wonderful companions, they use a litterbox, and they are vegan! I defy any animal lover to sit for five minutes with a rabbit and not want to bring her home. Once you’ve let a rabbit into your heart, you can never tolerate the countless ways they are abused. But even if adoption is not for you, you can still advocate for rabbits and support groups working on their behalf.
I can see positives and negatives. It’s very frustrating on the one hand, because there’s absolutely no reason for us to still be experimenting on animals after all these years. I mean, c’mon, using animals for cosmetics testing isn’t even a legal requirement in this country, and, sadly, many people believe we won this fight, since we’re not working much on it now. As for fur, I think we were so close to stigmatizing it as a fashion faux pas. Then the movement shifted most of its energy to animals raised for food, and we lost momentum in other areas.
The shift is understandable—animals used for food represent by far the largest group of exploited beings on Earth. And I think we are seeing positive results. One of the benefits of putting so much effort into the animals-for-food issue is the worldwide growth of veganism. Consider Germany’s 2014 Oktoberfest, for example, which catered to vegans for the first time in the festival’s 200-year history. And we’re seeing fewer restaurant staff who don’t know what “vegan” means—the word is going from marginal to mainstream. Meanwhile, meat consumption has been declining in the U.S. All that’s fantastic, of course, but there’s still much more to do.
Many animal advocates will tell you an industry like factory farming is low-hanging fruit, and that if you care about animals and the planet, that’s where we should be putting our time. I think that’s made a lot of activists feel slighted. Many people—myself included—are passionate about animal issues in addition to factory farming, and we feel the call to also campaign against circuses or puppy mills or rodeos or zoos or the persecution of coyotes or a thousand other abuses. I love that we’re seeing a renewed effort to get some marine animals out of captivity, thanks to the public’s response to Blackfish, and I think that may turn the tide back toward a more balanced approach to activism. I hope so, at least.
The five years I spent researching and writing Bleating Hearts were difficult at times. It got depressing, and I’m as susceptible to burnout as any activist. Writing Striking at the Roots was a breeze by comparison, and I include advice in that first book that I have shared at AR conferences and use all the time. I call it the ACTIVE Approach to Avoiding Burnout. Here it is, in a nutshell:
Allow yourself to be human. Hard as we try, we are not superheroes, and we are not going to win every battle. So take a real vacation. Enjoy time with friends. Try to have fun and not feel guilty.
Create something tangible to remind you of your victories. This could be a scrapbook covering campaigns you’ve worked on, a website, a folder—anything that you can refer to that reminds you that you’re fighting the good fight.
Talk to someone you trust. Animal activism is an emotionally loaded endeavor, and as activists it’s important that we unburden ourselves. If you don’t have someone you trust, speak to a therapist.
Ignore upsetting text and images. Applying this step to a book like Bleating Hearts, by all means skip over paragraphs or sections that trigger you.
Visit an animal sanctuary. “V” could also stand for Volunteer at an animal sanctuary. I am constantly amazed by how many activists have never rubbed a pig’s belly, or whistled to a turkey to hear him gobble back, or watched a hen take a dust bath. Get some face time with the faces you’re working so hard to protect. And finally…
Exercise. Walk, run, swim, bike, hike, do yoga—whatever you can do, do it. Exercise is an enormous stress reliever.
The bottom line is, activists are animals, too, and if we’re going to be doing activism long-term, it’s critical that we take care of ourselves.
I agree you and I are very lucky! Boy, I could probably think of a hundred examples to answer your question. One that comes to mind is that lauren is an effective and sought-after public speaker, while my activism skills are more at home in the written word, so we can be sounding boards for each other when we’re stretching beyond our communication comfort zones.
I do as much as I can as a volunteer for Food Empowerment Project, while lauren reviews all my chapters and articles and gives me her insights as a longtime activist. We’re each other’s biggest cheerleaders. We love doing activism together, like protests and outreach, and we learn from each other—she’s taught me to extend my circle of compassion to include issues like slavery in the chocolate industry, for instance, and I’d like to think she’s learned a couple things from me.
But I think the most important point, as corny as it sounds, is that we’re always there for each other for the celebrations and the defeats. When we’re faced with the challenges that are unique to the animal rights movement, there’s nothing like sharing your life with someone who knows exactly what you’re going through. I can’t believe how fortunate I am.