Animal lover to animal activist

Ever think of taking your vegan values to the next level by being involved in animal activism? See how to make it possible. 

Alissa Heidman

A relaxing day of television changed Sherry Burnett’s life forever. A show detailing the meat industry on Animal Planet had her sobbing when she was hit with determination to become an animal activist.

“I wrote a vow to never ever let another animal be murdered because I wanted to eat,” she says.

Since then she has become primarily vegan, attends protests, vigils and shares her thoughts through social media. She and her husband even started a pig sanctuary in 2008.

“We soon found out that just having people come out and meet their first ever big-pig was a form of activism in itself,” Burnett says. “We have had so many people tell us over the years that they could no longer eat pork after meeting our pigs.”

Veganism can be a way for animal lovers to take a stance by ensuring their lifestyle isn’t causing any harm to animals. However, there are many people who choose to take their vegan values to the next level by becoming activists.

Becka Samuels is a University of Guelph student who went vegan about a year ago. Her compassion for animals was so strong that she decided to become involved in activism.

“Being an animal rights activist is about expanding your circle of compassion from just the friends, family and companion animals that you love to all living beings,” she says.

She began her journey as an activist with research which she says is essential.

“Before you can start telling people how horrible something is you need to know every last detail about it,” Samuels says. “One thing I’ve learned is that people will challenge everything you say.”

She became a part of groups such as Guelph Pig Save, Guelph Cow Save and her campus’ Guelph Students for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. She also regularly posts on social media saying her personal posts have been more effective on the people she reaches out to rather than things they find on search engines. Photos and videos found on certain sites can cause skepticism. Samuels says people often claim the images they see are Photoshopped or too old to be relevant.

“When I show them pictures and videos that I have taken myself, there’s really no denying whether or not the footage is legitimate,” she says.

The tactic that has worked the best for her activism is starting out small and working her way up. She started out by quietly handing out leaflet information about animal rights and today she regularly attends protests always taking a positive and peaceful approach. She has been seen protesting at places like Marineland, African Lion Safari, circuses, slaughterhouses, zoos, animal research facilities etc.

Becka Samuels and a piggy companion  Photo courtesy of Becka Samuels

Samuels and piggy companion at a farm sanctuary
Photo courtesy of Becka Samuels

Samuels at a protest outside African Lion Safari on opening day Photo courtesy of Becka Samuels

Samuels at a protest outside African Lion Safari on opening day
Photo courtesy of Becka Samuels

“Some people like to be loud and use megaphones, others like to be completely silent and hold up signs. Some people like to hand out literature and spend time talking to one person individually about what they are doing,” she says. “[But] you don’t want to be creating hostility when doing outreach because people won’t listen to it.”

Anita Krajnc has been involved in animal activism for over 20 years. She is a co-organizer for Toronto’s well known Toronto Pig Save where their goal is to “put glass walls” on slaughter houses.

“The main strategy that our group uses is called ‘bearing witness’ and that means going to a site of great injustice and just being present and trying to help,” Krajnc says.

Burnett attended one of these vigils and says she recommends it for everyone.

“It was a profound experience. Deeply painful but exceedingly moving at the same time,” she says, “You can stand with a placard, you can hand out leaflets to passing motorists, or you can just stand there and cry. It all helps.”

Krajnc says the key to Toronto Pig Save’s success is their peace and non-hostility. She believes being angry during a vigil will follow you throughout your day and create negativity.

“We don’t have graphic imagery, we don’t have angry imagery, we use a cheerful love based approach,” she says. “If you’re very angry it’s very draining.”

Alissa Heidman/Say Vegan

Alissa Heidman/Say Vegan

Activism is a way to stand up for what you believe in and spread awareness in hopes to reach other people. However, being an activist isn’t going to be successful by shoving your beliefs down people’s throats or being negative towards those who do not share your values. In order to be heard you should do your research, start out small, reach out to the community and be involved in what you’re comfortable with. Those who you reach will appreciate your passion and willingness to spread your knowledge.

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