Thursday, February 22, 2007

Concerns continue to surround proposed animal sanctuary

The Thorold News - Wednesday, February 21, 2007

By Allison Smith - Opinion

The Exotic Animal Rescue Society’s (TEARS) plan to house sick and injured exotic animals in what they deem to be a ‘sanctuary’ continues to stir hot debate among supporters and opponents.

Detractors of the proposal say the group’s idea sounds more like a roadside zoo that would put the health of sick and injured animals jeopardy, with the intention to disguise exploitation as public education.

After interviewing the group, we don’t believe they would intentionally hurt the animals, but the concept of the animal sanctuary is poorly conceived, and will be harmful to any species that reside there.

There were at least as many opponents as supporters in attendance at city council’s public meeting February 6. What disturbed us was the notably small number of supporters who took the time to write a letter in comparison to the many opponents who did. TEARS said they had 1200 signatures for council’s review in support of their mission. But where is the justification for their opinions? Supporters could have lent the project more credibility if they had put their thoughts on paper instead of letting the group pushing the sanctuary form a statement for them. The petition format provides only one standard opinion for the thousands of people behind those names. Seeing the (unbiased) thought process and reasoning behind these opinions would make TEARS’ argument more viable.

The proposal was ill-fated from the start partly because of public perception and opinion. Most people have a very narrow definition of ‘sanctuary’ because the only one that is widely known is the Humane Society, an organization that takes in unwanted, ill or injured animals and gives them a home until they can be adopted. They may be open to the public and put animals on display for that purpose, but they don’t charge a fee to get in. As soon as that line is crossed, to most that organization becomes a private business and should present itself as such. We resent the group misleading us and labeling their venture a ‘sanctuary’ when to most of us, it is a zoo. Why not just call it that from the start and avoid even the appearance of impropriety?

While intending to educate the public may be an admirable objective, TEARS first goal should be to raise the quality of life for the sick and injured animals they bring in. If people see only sick and injured species when they visit the facility, how will they learn how animals are expected to act within their normal habitat in the wild? Also, the group stated they wanted to put the animals on television documentaries and that they could only work up to four hours a day. This may be true for healthy species, but what about those that are severely malnourished or abandoned that arrive at the facility needing to be cared for without the condition that they must earn the attention they so desperately need?

Many valid concerns remain to be addressed before the proposal will be considered. We urge city council and the public to continue seeking answers to the questions surrounding this contentious issue.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Why Vegetarianism?

Choosing a vegetarian lifestyle is the single-most important thing you can do to help yourself, your fellow human beings, the animals and the planet. As Albert Einstein once said: "Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet."

In good company...

Einstein wasn't alone in his thinking. Some of history's most educated and enlightened figures have extolled the advantages of a meat-free diet. Doctors such as Henry Heimlich, inventor of the Heimlich maneuver, famous pediatrician Benjamin Spock and Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer were vegetarians.

So were the philosophers Plato, Socrates and Pythagoras (before the mid-1800's, vegetarians were known as Pythagoreans!). The naturalist Charles Darwin was a vegetarian, as was Leonardo da Vinci, Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Edison, Sir Isaac Newton and spiritual leader Mohandas Gandhi.

Contemporary vegetarians include Shania Twain, Joaquim Phoenix, Ontario Green Party leader Frank De Jonge, Woody Harrelson, Dustin Hoffman, Martina Navratilova, Bob Barker, Mister Rogers, Paul McCartney, Ian McKellan, Natalie Portman, Moby, Dan Castellaneta, Silken Laumann, James Cromwell, Jerry Seinfeld, Carl Lewis, Lenny Kravitz, David Duchovny, Raffi, Tony La Russa, Steve Martin, Toby Maguire, Sarah McLachlan and of course, Lisa Simpson and Apu, to name a few.

Live and let live...

Many people are confused as to what qualifies a person as a vegetarian. Simply put, a vegetarian is a person who doesn't eat animals or animal by-products. This means cows, pigs, chickens, fish and seafood, wild game such as deer, moose, pheasant - essentially, everything that "has a face" - is excluded from a vegetarian diet.

While some people claim to be vegetarian because they eat less animal flesh than other meat-eaters or because they don't eat red meat, they would be more accurately described as semi-vegetarians. And there are other labels for different kinds of vegetarians.

For example, a person who avoids red meat but eats chicken and fish is called a pesco pollo vegetarian while someone who avoids all animal products, including eggs, dairy and honey, is called a vegan (pronounced VEE-gan, not VAY-gan).

Vegans won't wear leather, fur or wool and avoid products like shampoos, laundry detergents and cosmetics that are tested on animals. Whereas some people become vegetarians strictly for the health benefits, most vegans do it for ethical reasons. But labels aren't important. It's the desire to move toward a better and more compassionate lifestyle that counts.

Plenty of food...

Vegetarians are always asked, "If you don't eat meat, what DO you eat?" The fact is, people who choose a vegetarian diet tend to eat a wider variety of foods than meat-eaters. Vegetarians eat fruits, nuts, grains (corn, rice and other cereal plants), pastas, vegetables, seeds, and legumes (peas, beans, lentils).

Extremely popular in the vegetarian's diet is tofu, a soft, cheese-like food derived from soybeans which can be made to look and taste like anything you choose. Other soybean-derived foods include tempeh, seitan and textured vegetable protein (TVP), all of which make excellent meat substitutes. The meatless 'hot-dogs', 'burgers' (and Tofurky, of course) you find in the grocery stores today are all made from soybeans. There are now more vegetarian meals, including pizzas, burritos, pasta dishes, stir-frys and soups than ever before.

Because there are hundreds of different fruits, vegetables and grains from around the world to choose from with so many exciting and delicious ways to prepare them, making vegetarian meals will never get boring. Many local supermarkets, health food shops and convenience stores are now stocking frozen and pre-cooked vegetarian dishes, even soy ice-'cream.' There's hardly a shortage of food available for those wishing to go vegetarian.

Healthy herbivores...

Some people believe that vegetarians are less healthy than those on a meat-centered diet. This is what the beef and poultry industries would have you believe, and they've spent quite a lot of money on advertising to do it. This however is not the case. In fact, the word vegetarian actually means, "to be lively" in Latin.

Studies have shown that vegetarians are not only healthier than non-vegetarians; they're also less likely to be obese or suffer a heart attack. Vegetarians consume less fat, more fiber, and their cholesterol levels are usually lower than their meat-eating counterparts. And you don't have to worry about getting enough protein. Vegetarians get all the protein (and calcium) they need from plant sources. It's the meat-eaters that have to worry.

People on a meat-based diet actually get too much protein, and excess protein has been linked to various cancers, kidney problems, and osteoporosis. Vegetarians have no problems getting enough of the necessary proteins and other nutrients required to maintain good health.

Reading up on vegetarianism, connecting with other vegetarians or going online for more information will help take the mystery out of it.

Saving Mother Earth...

Few would deny that our planet (or more accurately, our ability to survive on it) is in serious trouble. We're assaulted almost daily with news of drinking water contamination, rainforest destruction or other acts of environmental devastation.

Many of these problems stem from animal agriculture. In fact, livestock production and slaughter are the main sources of water pollution and about one-half of all the water used for any purpose is for the meat industry. To produce just one steak, 2,607 gallons of water must be used.

In addition, pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals used to grow animal feed trickle into our water supplies every day. The waste from these animals is washed into our streams, rivers and lakes, like in the case of Walkerton, Ontario a few years back in which a number of people died from drinking contaminated tap water.

The rainforests pay a heavy price too. We need oxygen to survive, and rainforests provide us with much of that oxygen. Still, about one-third of all rainforest destruction is to provide grazing land for beef cattle. And for every 100 grams of protein consumed by a cow, only 10 grams of meat protein is produced. That's a loss of 90 per cent.

Even from an economic standpoint, livestock production makes little sense. And while chemical fertilizers are expelling deadly nitrous oxide into the atmosphere, deforestation increases the amount of carbon dioxide being released - a major contributor to global warming. Adopting a vegetarian diet is far less demanding on the Earth's resources.

Helping the hungry...

With all the food and food choices available to us today, it's hard to believe that people are still starving to death elsewhere in the world. It is estimated that over 20 million people will die this year as a result of malnutrition.

Part of the problem is that governments of developing nations choose animal agriculture over plant crops because selling livestock food to wealthier nations is more profitable than growing fruits, vegetables and grains that could feed local people.

Since far more land is needed to raise food animals than to grow plant crops, less land is available for local farmers to grow their own food. But if crops grown for livestock production were instead used for human consumption, over 10 times more people would be fed.

Here in North America, livestock consumes over 80% of the corn and over 95% of the oats grown. And while one acre of land produces 165 pounds of beef, that same acre can produce approximately 20,000 pounds of potatoes.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, if people reduced their meat intake by just 10%, there would be 12 million more tons of grain available each year. This reduction would be enough to feed everyone in the world who is starving. Going vegetarian would definitely help those who are suffering the worst.

A little more compassion...

The Buddhist book of wisdom, The Dhammapada says, "All living creatures fear pain and death. Try to understand yourself in every living creature: do not torture and do not kill. Stop suffering and death. All living creatures want what you want; all living creatures praise their lives."

It is for this reason that many people become vegetarians. They see the killing of animals for food, or for any other reason, as murder. And while many non-vegetarians truly do love some animals, they tend not to think about how others end up on their plates.

Anyone who shares their home with a cat, dog or other animal knows that these creatures have feelings; they experience joy, fear, excitement and suffering. All sentient beings (those who possess consciousness and sensation) do. A chicken doesn't feel any less pain than a dog does, or for that matter, a human being.

We've been conditioned however, to view food animals as commodities instead of living, feeling beings. When we begin to look at animals as individuals rather than products, we see that they are just as vulnerable as we are and therefore equally deserving of compassion and respect. In the words of Franz Kakfa, "Now I can look at you in peace; I don't eat you anymore."

A lot less suffering...

About 95% of all animals killed in North America are killed for food. Some estimates put that number at close to 10 billion animals - more than the planet's entire human population - each year. In Canada, approximately 650 million animals are slaughtered every year for food – that’s over 1.5 million animals each day.

Life at a factory farm, where most meat comes from, is far from humane. Animals are crammed in by the thousands and will never see daylight or feel grass beneath their feet. Instead, they are forced to live in their own waste, confined to stalls so small they can barely turn around.

Battery hens are kept four, sometimes six to a cage not much bigger than the size of a magazine, making it impossible for them to even spread their wings. To prevent the stressed-out birds from pecking each, their beaks are cut off with a hot blade.

Newborn male chicks, useless to the egg-laying industry, are tossed into bins where they are drowned or left to suffocate under their own weight. Then they are ground up for pet food, chicken feed, fertilizer or food for minks and other fur-bearing animals on fur ‘farms’.

When chickens arrive at the slaughterhouse they are forced into metal shackles on a conveyor belt and hung upside-down to the stunning area where their heads are dragged through electrically charged water designed to stun the birds. This doesn’t always work and the birds wake up as their throats are being cut.

Death should, but does not always, occur at this point. Thus, many birds go into the scalding tanks (to loosen their feathers) fully conscious. They are then eviscerated, dismembered and packaged for the grocery stores.

Factory-farmed pigs have their tails chopped off and their teeth pulled out while male pigs and cows are castrated – all without anesthetics. Mother pigs are confined for months in sow stalls so small they cannot turn around.

Just before sows are due to give birth, they are moved into farrowing crates, restraining devices where the mothers give birth and nurse their young through metal bars. After 10 to 21 days, the piglets are removed and the process repeats, pregnancy after pregnancy. After their ‘productivity’ wanes, around 30 months, the sows are sent to slaughter.

Branding beef cattle (to prove ownership) requires the pressing of a hot metal bar against the animal’s body. This incredibly painful process is not only stressful to the animal but may result in third-degree burns.

Most dairy cows in Canada are kept in tie-stalls where they are tied into individual pens and fed and milked by portable milking machines. In tie-stalls, cows are unable to interact socially with other cows, groom or move freely.

Intensive milking of dairy cows can result in various physical ailments including mastitis, a painful infection of the udder. Female calves are used to replace older dairy cows while male calves are raised for veal. Male calves are taken from their mothers a day or so after birth, chained up in veal crates, kept on iron-deficient liquid diets and then killed before their first birthdays.

Sick or injured animals (usually dairy cows) that cannot stand up or walk on their own are known as ‘downers’. When they arrive at the slaughterhouse, downers are dragged off the trucks by tractors or loaders. Because they can still be sold as food, they are dragged to slaughter by the use of chains while others are left to die in stockyard ‘dead piles.’

There are very few laws to protect these animals from unnecessary suffering. In 1999, an audit of Canadian slaughterhouses found that 23% of pigs regained sensibility after being electrically stunned at a provincially inspected facility.

In a recent report by Dr. Temple Grandin, 3 out of 7 federally and provincially inspected slaughterhouses were given a failing grade for inhumane stunning techniques. In some plants up to 30% of the cattle were not stunned properly the first time and had to be re-stunned.

Once unconscious, the animals are shackled by a hind leg, hoisted in the air and have their jugular vein and carotid artery slit. After bleeding to death, they are disemboweled, skinned and dismembered.

Sometimes the animals regain consciousness and are skinned alive. Any way you look at it, that's a lot of suffering and death just to satisfy our taste buds.

How you can help…

By adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet, you'll be helping to reduce the amount of suffering in the world in so many ways. Reading up on vegetarianism or connecting with other vegetarians will help take the mystery out of it. Niagara Action for Animals, a local animal charity, currently holds monthly vegan potlucks so check out their website - - for details. If you’d like to learn more about vegetarianism, factory farming or what you can do to help the animals, please visit the following websites:

For a free vegetarian starter kit, call 1-888-VEG-FOOD

A new beginning...

By adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet, you'll be helping to reduce the amount of suffering in the world in so many ways.

Simply put, by going vegetarian, you’ll be extending your circle of compassion to the rest of the world. So if you're looking to make a change in your life or a difference in the lives of others, then make the switch. Go vegetarian.

"We really don't want to hurt, or violate, or kill. We used to believe that we had to do that to live. Now we know there are alternatives. Now we can leave behind our inherited patterns of brutality and domination, creating together a better world for all beings." - Billy Ray Boyd

Meet Your Meat

Vegan Potlucks

Hosted by Niagara Action for Animals, the potlucks are held on the first Friday of every month at the Unitarian Congregation of Niagara, located at 223 Church Street in St. Catharines beside Delta Bingo. They begin at 7:00 pm and are usually followed by a short documentary film addressing various animal, environmental and social issues.

Vegan potlucks are a great way of socializing, meeting like-minded people, trying new and delicious foods and participating in a free exchange of ideas while saving the lives of countless animals. The events are free and everyone is welcome.

If you bring a dish of food, make enough to serve 8-10 people. If you’re not sure what to bring, a fruit tray or veggie platter is an easy alternative to cooking or baking. Non-alcoholic beverages are also needed. If you bring a beverage, a large carton or jug of juice or flavoured soymilk will do just fine*.

* Note: Out of respect for the church's ban on bottled water, please refrain from bringing any to the potlucks.

Also, please bring a small piece of paper or index card with a list of ingredients and potential allergens (nuts, wheat, etc.) to place beside your dish. A stove and microwave are available if your food needs to be warmed. Non-disposable plates, bowls, glasses, cutlery, and cloth napkins are provided.

A Word about Vegan Meals: In consideration of all animals, meals should be free of meat (including fish and chicken), and products that come from animals, such as eggs, honey and dairy. Also avoid using soy cheeses with ‘casein’ (a milk protein) listed as an ingredient. Providing a vegan meal will allow everyone to enjoy your food. To help you with meal ideas, there are plenty of great vegan recipe books available or you can go online to any number of vegan websites (keywords: vegan recipes).

Your participation in cleaning up after each event (doing dishes, sweeping, rearranging chairs, etc) would be greatly appreciated. It can take a few people several hours to clean up, or it can take all of us only 30 minutes!

For more information, please contact Dan at:

Visit the Meatout 2005 Website!