The starting point. Le point de départ.

Veganism is the moral baseline, the starting point, of the abolitionist animal rights movement. The main purpose of this blog is to explore animal issues from the perspective of the emerging abolitionist movement.


Meet my feline family: EssPee, part 1

Today (well, approximately, could be a day or two off) is my little boy EssPee's fifth birthday! He'll always be my little baby boy though. He's been with my ex and I since he was six weeks old. The first couple of weeks were horribly sad and difficult. More about that below. But at least there was one happy ending in the survival of our wonderful little Speedle.

EssPee, aka Spee, Speedy, Speedle, SP Penuche, the Emperor, Sébastien-Philippe and Solomon Phineas, among other names, is a very special and remarkable little cat. In my mind the expression "full of piss & vinegar" will always be associated with him! In some ways he's kind of like a little dog; he loves to play fetch, he wags his tail a lot, he doesn't mind visiting new places (and even enjoys the vet's office), and used to take walks on a leash. He normally lives with my ex but I bring him over for week-long visits on a regular basis. (Or as I joke sometimes, "Emperor Spee visits the colonies!")

His name comes from the initials SP of his original nickname Salt & Pepper (because at that age, amongst his black fur there were lots of longer white hairs all along his sides). He and his family were fosters so we just gave them nicknames rather than "real" names.

They came to live with us because I had met someone online who would do last-chance rescues of nonhumans who were going to be killed in the local Montreal-area shelters. She posted asking for foster homes for mother cats with kittens, since she had a couple of these families to place. I agree to take in one of the families.

And so, EssPee came to live with us along with his Mama and seven (yes, seven!) brothers and sisters. As far as we were told, they had been about to be killed because of feline herpesvirus which gives them congestion, eye infections, and other cold-like symptoms (and while it can sometimes be dangerous in small kittens, generally isn't a big deal and many if not most cats are carriers of the virus). EssPee was the second smallest at about 600 grams; his brother Baby was even smaller, and the rest of the kittens were all similar in size at about 750 grams, if I recall correctly. At six weeks old, the kittens were still nursing, and for the first five or six days things seemed to be going relatively well for Mama, Baby, Alpha, Beta, Booger, Jumper, Grey, Eyeball, and Salt&Pepper.

Then Alpha started to get sicker and became quite lethargic. At first we just thought he wasn't feeling well because of the virus we knew they had, which seemed to explain why he was breathing through his mouth. But then he started losing control of his bladder, and generally looking even worse. It was about 11pm when we realized that there was definitely something other than herpesvirus causing his discomfort and rapidly deteriorating health. We called a cab to take us to the emergency vet, which was unfortunately about a 20-30 minute drive from our apartment. It seemed like forever, anyway...

At the vet clinic they did some tests on poor Alpha and then we learned the awful news: he had panleukopenia, a very deadly contagious disease in cats. The vet regretfully informed us that Alpha's prognosis was extremely poor, as was that of the other kittens since they had most likely already been exposed. The fatality rate among unvaccinated cats is around 90% in kittens and cats under 2 years, and 50% in cats over 2 years.* The virus can survive up to a year in the environment (and some sources say even longer in certain conditions). The only way to get rid of it is with bleach.

In full mental freak-out mode, we left the clinic with instructions to do whatever they could to try to get Alpha through this, got in another cab and went home, stopping on the way to pick up several large bottles of bleach. Did I mention the full mental freak-out mode? What horrible, devastating news...

Back at the apartment, we moved all the cats from the bedroom, where we had been keeping them, to the study. We proceeded frantically to wash the floors and furniture in the bedroom and bathroom (where we had put Alpha earlier in the evening) with bleach, and removed the bedding to be bleached as well. I'm sure the neighbours below must have been disturbed by all the moving of furniture in the middle of the night, but they didn't come up to complain - not that we cared in the slightest at the time, anyway.

I think it was around 2:30 am when the dreaded sound came - the ringing of the telephone. Little Alpha had lost his fight with the panleuk virus.

There's a lot more to this sad story but I think that's enough for today. I'll continue it next time. Right now I have to go make a birthday cake out of hummus and peanut butter, two of EssPee's favourites. With a side dish of water; he loves water. Sometimes he drinks right from the tap:

*Sorry if some of my virus facts are off. This is just what I remember. To get more information about panleukopenia, do some research from reputable sources and/or speak to a vet.

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Joint Statement by a Group of Abolitionist Vegan Feminists for International Women's Week

As abolitionist vegans and feminists, we oppose the use of sexist tactics in the animal advocacy movement. Ethical animal rights veganism is part of the logical conclusion of opposition to the exploitation of all sentient beings -- both human animals and non-human animals. Opposing speciesism is incompatible with engaging in sexism or any other form of discrimination, such as racism, heterosexism, classism, and other forms of oppression.

Unfortunately, we have witnessed many female activists saying that there is nothing wrong with using "sex" as a tool to get our message across, using various arguments to try to justify this view. Further, other advocates have been unfairly attacked for "sexism" because they are openly critical of sexism and sexist choices in the movement. Neither should be acceptable to advocates who take anti-oppression work seriously.

Some advocates defend the use of sex by accusing us of being "anti-sex" or prudish. Abolitionist vegans are not prudes by any means, however, we see that the way sex is used to sell things in our patriarchal society reinforces a view of women as commodities. For example, just take a look at the way in which PETA uses sex in its campaigns - they reinforce harmful Western beauty standards by mostly using thin, large-breasted women, who tend to be posed to appear vulnerable and alluring to the (heterosexual male) intended viewer, as well as mostly* using men who are muscular and trim and posed to look powerful and self-assured. When sexism is being used to try to "sell" justice for non-human animals, at the expense of reinforcing harmful attitudes towards human women, the irony is clear. The seriousness of the injustices committed against both non-human animals and human women in this world are cheapened by the use of tactics based on inane and harmful stereotypes; far from challenging the issue of animal exploitation, this kind of approach reinforces the very stereotypes that have harmed human women and non-human animals alike.

Some of the activists defending the use of sex believe that showing our sexuality will call the attention of potential vegans by appealing to their own self image, implying that when they see how sexy being vegan makes us, they will want to become vegan too. This notion is not only misguided but also detrimental to the actual message we should be getting across. Veganism is about animal rights, not about feeling sexy, or having better sex (characteristics we all know have little to do with being vegan or not, but with each individual's lifestyle and well-being) and it is most certainly not about "looking better" than people who eat meat.

Promoting veganism as a way to become "sexy", which unfortunately is almost always equated with "losing weight" in our society (for example, the book "Skinny Bitch" comes to mind), further reinforces prejudices against larger or overweight people, which harms both women and men in our society, but particularly women. Not to mention that veganism is not some magic bullet to lose weight - there exist plenty of vegans who are far from "skinny", who are essentially being given the message that they are failures by these sorts of campaigns that imply or flat-out promote veganism as a way to achieve western beauty standards. Appealing to these harmful standards not only reinforces them, but draws attention away from the true reason people should go vegan, which is to acknowledge the moral personhood of non-human animals.

Many of these activists defending sexist tactics claim that they are not, in fact, sexist tactics, that they "empower" the women who choose to participate in them, and so that criticizing these campaigns is disrespectful to these women - some even claim that to criticize them is itself sexist. These arguments are false for a number of reasons. First of all, these claims are usually made to male activists when they criticize such campaigns. But one's gender does not in and of itself make one more or less qualified to speak about sexism or feminism.

There is a real "men should shut up and listen to women" attitude in these claims that seeks to replace the egalitarianism that feminism demands with a hollow and biologically-based authoritarianism. As bell hooks suggests, while sisterhood is powerful, feminism is for everybody. As abolitionist vegan women, we are extremely glad to have as allies men such as Gary L. Francione, among others, who has been denouncing sexism in the animal advocacy movement and consistently speaking up for feminism for years. While we do of course believe that women should be listened to and taken seriously, listening does not equate to agreeing with or accepting someone's arguments simply because that person is female; disagreeing with those arguments and presenting logical counter-arguments does not equate to being sexist. It is unfortunate, but sexism is so pervasive in our society that some women do not even believe that it's still an issue, do not see how sexism has an impact on their lives, and do not feel that feminism is relevant to them. Some male feminist allies have spent years studying feminist theory; just because they're male doesn't invalidate this expertise.

Furthermore, the view that anything a woman chooses to do "empowers" her is simplistic in that it ignores the patriarchal context in which those choices are made. Yes, the women who participate in the campaigns we are criticizing have chosen to do so voluntarily, and some may feel liberated, or feel as if their choices are themselves a challenge to female objectification, and we do recognize that they feel this way. We are simply asking them to seriously consider that these campaigns are both harmful to women as well as ineffective in challenging the exploitation of non-human animals, and that, in view of this, women should no longer support or participate in them.

As stated above, the view that women are "empowered" or "liberated" by choosing to commodify themselves ignores the structural dimension of sexism in our patriarchal society. Whether we like it or not, our choices to try to "take back" patriarchy's commodification of women by participating in it voluntarily affect the lives of other women, especially women with less power. In a culture that still views and presents women as sex objects on a daily basis, the "taking back" or "reclaiming control" intent of these choices is entirely lost to the greater public, and the objectification and commodification is simply reinforced. When this sexism is reinforced as being acceptable or no big deal, the overall effect is to reinforce the attitudes that allow the trafficking, abuse, and other forms of exploitation and violence that are inflicted on women in poverty and of lower socio-economic status around the world every day.

Some claim that these campaigns are necessary to get the attention of the public. As we mentioned above, this draws attention away from the real reasons behind veganism: the rights of sentient beings not to be considered property. Getting attention at all costs is not the way to promote a serious issue such as violence against animals; in a world where this violence is already not taken seriously, attention-at-all-costs tactics only serve to further trivialize the issue. PETA's sexist campaigns do get attention, but overall it is attention for PETA, not for the real issues. It's a guerrilla marketing tactic designed to get people talking about PETA so that the donations keep flowing. (And look, it's working, since here we are talking about PETA, but we felt we couldn't discuss this issue without mentioning the largest and worst offender, unfortunately.)

Even more disturbing are the video campaigns that juxtapose sex and explicit, gory images of violence to animals, purportedly to grab the attention of young heterosexual men and then to inform them about the treatment of non-human animals. For example, PETA's "State of the Union Undress 2010" features a woman stripping "for the animals", after which a second video automatically begins playing, depicting graphic violence inflicted on nonhumans. How exactly is getting men to associate these sexually arousing images with gory images of violence going to help anything?

The campaigns that blatantly use sex and Western beauty standards are not the only sexist tactics used in the animal advocacy movement. For example, the longstanding campaigns against fur have a distinctly sexist element. By singling out fur, advocates are not only implying that there is some moral difference between fur and leather or other types of animal-derived clothing, which there is not, but they are also singling out those humans who wear fur while ignoring or minimizing the actions of those who wear other types of animals. Most fur in our society is worn by women. Effectively, these campaigns single out as morally wrong a particular use of non-humans mainly by women, while minimizing other equally morally wrong uses by all genders. Does pointing out that a little old lady in a fur coat is wrong to use animals while ignoring a biker in a leather jacket really help anything?

Also worth mentioning are the gender issues involved in animal exploitation. The animals exploited specifically for their milk and eggs are, it should be obvious, females being exploited for their reproductive cycles. They are repeatedly forcefully impregnated in the case of cows and other mammals used for their milk, i.e. raped, then their babies are taken from them, which causes extreme distress to mother and baby. Both mammals and birds are killed once they reach an age such that their reproductive cycle slows down or stops, and they are no longer profitable to their owners. Similarly, female animals of most of the species exploited by humans are used as "breeding" animals, forced to have litter after litter of young, and discarded when their usefulness for this purpose wanes.

While, as is to be expected in our speciesist society that considers non-humans property, feminism and sexism have always referred to humans, when looking at it from a perspective that is both abolitionist vegan and feminist, this exploitation of female animals' "femaleness" could be seen to fall into the intersection of these two struggles. It is odd that some people claim to be vegetarian (but not vegan) for "feminist reasons" - one would think that if someone believes the eating of animal flesh to be connected with the treatment of women "like meat", that they would also see the use of animal products that come specifically from female animals' reproductive cycles as being connected. Feminism is not merely a matter of having a vagina and a monologue; it is a daily lived practice, a dynamic force for change and liberation, a dialogue, a community, and a social transformation embodied in words and actions every turning moment of our lives.

If feminism is for everybody, that includes nonhuman animals. As animal rights advocates, whether we are male or female or genderqueer, it is our responsibility to oppose the exploitation and oppression of all sentient beings. This will be achieved by educating others in a creative and objective manner. How can we presume to end the exploitation of non-humans while encouraging or accepting the exploitation of our fellow human beings?

The bottom line is: commodifying ourselves does not truly "empower us". We can't use sexist methods to further a social justice issue. All exploitation of sentient beings is related; we're not going to end speciesism, the oppression of non-human animals simply because they are not human, without a firm commitment to ending sexism as well, and certainly not with the kind of attention-at-all-costs opportunism engaged in by certain activists at the expense of other oppressed groups.

Ana María Aboglio
Paola Aldana de Meoño
Jo Charlebois
Elizabeth Collins
Vera Cristofani
Karin Hilpisch
Mylène Ouellet
Renata Peters
Trisha Roberts
Kerry Wyler

*While our original post used the word "only", it is true that not *all* of PETA's campaigns use men or women of a certain body type. While the majority of the people they feature in their ads conform to the Western beauty standard, some of them do feature celebrities with different body types. For this reason we have changed "only" to "mostly".

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Meet my feline family: Azrael, part 3

To get back to the less sad parts of the story, as I mentioned previously, I got Azrael spayed when her kittens were weaned. Since she was only an occasional visitor at my window at that time, what I did was to wait until she came inside on the windowsill to eat, and then I closed the window to trap her inside, before calling the vet to make the appointment. For this reason, I had to keep her in for one week beforehand, to make sure that she would actually be there at the time of the appointment. During that week, she was so bored and listless that it unfortunately reinforced my misguided notion that I couldn't keep her indoors without her getting very depressed, and so I let her back outside a few days after the spay surgery. For several months after that, she didn't trust me and didn't come to my window as much, staying on the outside windowsill when she did.

Eventually she forgave me though, and we became very good friends. I would open my window and call out "AAAZ-REEE-ELLLLLLLL" and if she was within earshot, she would come running, even meowing as she bounded up the spiral stairs. She would come inside, and I would pet her and give her some food. I put a collar on her on two occasions (she lost the first one, which I had put on even before she was spayed, if I recall correctly), mainly because as a long haired cat who was nervous enough about getting petted, never mind getting brushed, she would get matted all along her sides, and eventually the mats would fall off, exposing her skinniness to observers in the street. On the off-chance that someone who saw her like that might think she was a diseased, mangy, starving stray and call animal control to take her away, I put a collar on her to indicate that she had a home. She wasn't too thrilled about getting the collar put on, but by wedging her up against the window I was able to quickly get it on and secured before she could run away.

She began staying in for longer and longer periods of time, venturing into other parts of the apartment or sleeping on the armchair near the window. By this time EssPee (whose story comes next in the series) was living with us, and the two of them got along fairly well. Sometimes they could be found sleeping on the armchair next to each other.

EssPee was an indoor cat from the beginning, and so we would no longer leave the window partially open to let Azrael come and go as she pleased. We would often leave it open a couple of inches though, and on a few occasions realized that skinny Azrael had been able to squeeze out through a two or three inch gap. Not having grown up with humans, she hadn't learned to meow at us to ask for what she wanted, and so would sooner squeeze out the tiny opening, or, to my horror, leap a good six feet from our balcony railing over to the fire escape railing when the window was closed but the door to the balcony open so that EssPee could go out there if he wanted to (he was always a very good boy safety-wise on the balcony).

We did take EssPee out into the yard to walk on a leash when the weather was nice though, and during most of these excursions, Azrael would show up and follow the three of us around the yard, which was quite heartwarming - nice family walks!

The decision to keep her indoors came that summer after a scare where I was afraid she had been killed. My ex and I had gone out of town for a week, with my mom staying at our place to take care of EssPee and Azrael. But Azrael, as mentioned, mostly just likes me as far as humans are concerned, so after four or so days of coming around to find a stranger there instead of me, she stopped coming to the window. When I got home and learned that Azrael hadn't been seen for three days, I feared the worst, that she had been killed by a car like so many other cats in the neighbourhood. I felt responsible and extremely guilty. I *was* responsible; she was a member of my family, one of my dependents, and I had let her continue roaming around a dangerous neighbourhood. I certainly should have known better, but my fear that she wouldn't psychologically adapt well to indoor life had made me decide to wait until we moved out of town (less than two months away at this point) before trying to keep her indoors.

Thinking that she must be dead and it was my fault, I prepared lost cat posters and put them up around the neighbourhood, and visited the lost cat ward at the SPCA to look for her just in case, although it was extremely unlikely that anyone would have been able to catch her without a specific effort involving a trap, and I don't think many people paid that much attention to cats roaming around their yards anyway - it wasn't exactly unusual. I told myself that on the off chance that she was alive and I found her, I would keep her indoors from then on.

I almost couldn't believe it on Monday afternoon when my downstairs neighbour called to say that Azrael had been at her window a few minutes earlier, alive and well. She had just stopped coming around after I hadn't been home for so many days. The pit in my stomach from the past few days turned into a nervous hopeful excitement, as I waited for her to come upstairs so that I could see with my own eyes and truly believe that she was okay.

A few hours later she showed up at my window. I finally felt some relief as I opened the window to let her in. She hesitated partway through, starting to back up a bit, no doubt sensing my excitement. I quickly grabbed her, plopped her onto the floor, and slammed the window shut. I was going to keep my word to myself about no longer risking her life due to my own foolishness.

The transition to suddenly being an indoor cat wasn't easy on her at first. It must have been confusing and it must have felt confining. She wasn't accustomed to using a litterbox, and at the beginning would hold her urine for literally 48 hours, which worried me. A couple of times when she finally did pee she didn't do it in the litterbox. But after a few weeks, this gradually stopped and she was at least going once a day, in the litterbox.

She didn't actually become listless and bored like she had when I kept her in to get spayed a year and a half earlier. (Although there were some very hot days that summer where she and EssPee were both very listless, but that's different!) In retrospect I really needn't have worried about that at all. Mainly she was nervous and had to get used to the new routine. When we adopted Possum, about 10 months old, she and Azrael were not too thrilled with each other, but all that happened between them was growling and hissing and then staying out of each other's way. Not long afterwards we adopted several kittens, with whom Azrael was fine - if they got a little too rambunctious near her, she would just bat them on the head to remind them who was in charge.

Several years and several apartment moves later, she's still mainly the top cat, except that as I mentioned in a previous entry Fred has been bullying her, since the cats' hierarchy is in a bit of a state of flux. The photo on the left shows evidence of when they used to get along! She likes to spend her time sleeping in sunny and/or comfy spots, especially in our solarium and on the top platform of one of the floor-to-ceiling cat trees, and also enjoys sniffing the air at the window screens during warmer weather as well as watching squirrels in the park the apartment looks out onto. She's mainly a very quiet cat who doesn't meow, but every once in a rare while she'll roam up and down the hall at night meowing loudly in a way that I can only describe as otherworldly. It's been quite a while since the last time she's done this; it used to be more frequent back in Montreal not long after we started keeping her inside. I always wonder what's going on in her mind at the time... More recently, she used to love coming into the bedroom at night and sleeping on top of me, but unfortunately she hasn't been able to the last few months since we moved Hanna Harriet into the bedroom - the door is now usually kept closed to keep Fred from fighting with Hanna Harriet, who isn't fond of other cats at the best of times.

So, now you know a little about my sweet yet neurotic Azrael. She's been my dear friend for nearly seven years, and hopefully will be for many more. As an individual with likes and dislikes, preferences and interests, habits and personality traits, her personhood is clear. But there's no difference in terms of sentience between her and each of the billions of nonhuman animals that humans use and kill every year. If you aren't already vegan, take the personhood of nonhumans seriously and go vegan today!

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Meet my feline family: Azrael, part 2

This is the second part in Azrael's story: the story of her ill-fated kittens. Difficult to post about but here it is.

Azrael had two litters of kittens before I had at least enough sense to realize that I should get her spayed, because no one else was going to do it. Both were litters of three kittens. One of these litters was very lucky; my neighbour on the first floor adopted all three of them. She named them Alfie, Pogo, and Katya, the black, grey, and tabby ones respectively in the first two photos.

The other litter was not so lucky. Two of them, who I had named Tycho and Tibs (short for Ti-Boutte which roughly translates to Lil' Tip, because the very tip of his tail was white), were quite friendly and would come upstairs for food, and even come into the apartment. Their faces will always haunt me. Tycho was a beautiful light grey short-haired tabby, too curious for his own good, while Ti-Boutte and Traynor, the third brother, were adorable kitten-sized balls of long-haired brown tabby fluff, as playful as their brother if not as bold. Tycho and Tibs were both killed by cars while they were kittens. In both cases I heard the terrible news secondhand from neighbours.

Traynor, the most wary of the trio, never became comfortable enough to venture into the apartment like his brothers did. If he had, I would have kept them all inside and adopted them, but, misguidedly in retrospect, I didn't want to leave him outside "alone" without his brothers so I didn't keep the other two inside. What I should have done was actively catch him using a trap, while he was still a kitten. He stopped hanging around as much as he got older and his brothers were gone, and stopped using the insulated shelter box I had made for Azrael and her kittens during the winter. I don't think I saw him again for about a year, until unspayed Possum (whose story will be the third in the series) showed up on the block.

Traynor, nearly two years old, then reappeared, and got back into the habit of eating at my and my downstairs neighbour's windows. By this point, I had smartened up and Azrael was an indoor-only cat. When I saw Traynor back in the neighbourhood, I decided to catch him and give him a home and medical care, like I should have done the year before. The transition would certainly be difficult for him as an older feral cat, but with other cats to interact with and human caregivers prepared to give him as much time and space as he needed, it would be infinitely better than following the path of his brothers, older relatives, and so many others. I borrowed a trap from a friend who did TNR, asked the downstairs neighbour not to feed him as much so that he would be hungry enough to go into the trap, and spent the last month I was living in Montreal going out at strange hours of the night and morning, setting the trap and trying to catch him. It was a difficult, sleep-deprived and busy time as I tried to both finish my Master's thesis and catch Traynor before I was to move back to Ottawa.

It didn't work. He entered the trap one night, ate the food, and the trap did not go off. I hadn't placed the food dish far back enough, and he was able to eat from it without stepping on the metal plate that activated the trap. As I watched silently from a distance, heart pounding, I hoped I would be able to just try again, and that having gotten food from the trap once, he would be more likely to go in next time. But when he turned around to exit the trap after eating, he must have stepped on the plate because at that moment the trap went off. Facing the exit and already on his way out, he was able to escape before the trap closed, and after that traumatic experience he would not go into the trap again. This is where a drop trap might have helped, had I known about such things at the time. With Possum off the street and spayed, he had already been coming around less, and the continued presence of the trap and myself didn't help that. By the time I was to move back to Ottawa a couple of weeks later I had only caught an unfortunate raccoon one night (whom I promptly released of course; set traps should not be left unattended for more than 10 -15 minutes or so at a time). I left with a heavy heart knowing that as a Montreal feral his life was likely to be very short and very difficult. I hadn't succeeded in helping him any more than I did his brothers the year before when I was much more ignorant of what I ought to do...

These are some of the results of domestication - abandonment followed by generation after generation of short, painful lives. This is happening all the time because humans view nonhumans, even the ones we supposedly love such as cats and dogs, as our property. Even people who are trying to help often have bad judgment, as I clearly did when I first became involved with the neighbourhood cats. This cycle is not going to stop while humans continue to consider animals their property, whether it's as objects to use or as "things with feelings", rather than as true members of the moral community who ought to be taken seriously and should not be exploited for financial gain, nor for emotional gain.

We can all help by taking animals seriously and going vegan, educating others about veganism, and providing care for domesticated nonhumans in need.

Next time I'll continue with the story of Azrael's transition to an indoor cat. This part will have a happy ending, at least.

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Meet my feline family: Azrael

Azrael was born semi-feral outside my apartment building in Montreal in the spring of 2003, during the first year my now-ex and I lived there (this was before I was even vegan). She is a sweetie, and a somewhat neurotic cat. She's quite nervous around humans, the (partial) exception being that she generally trusts me. So when I say she's a sweetie, basically she's my sweetie but tends to appear skittish and/or aloof to other humans. Her nickname is Zella.

She's usually gentle with humans and doesn't lash out at them (i.e. the vet -- she just sits scared and immobile while being examined), but most of the time prefers to run and hide when there are strangers around. Even with me, she loves getting petted but only on her terms, in her familiar "safe" places and situations. She sometimes lets my partner pet her as well, but in even more limited situations. Her story will be long, since it also includes stories of her family members who were not as lucky as she. This also makes it one of the more difficult of this series of blog entries for me to write about. For these reasons I'm just going to start with part of her story now, and continue it next time.

As a long-haired brown tabby cat, Azrael has a bit of the appearance of a Maine Coon cat, except that she's tiny (only 6.6 lbs) while Maine Coons are normally in the 15-20 lb range. Sometimes I joke that she's a "miniature Maine Coon". Since she's so thin, she's been tested more than once for FIV and feline leukemia, and the vets always check her thyroid, but their conclusion is that there's nothing wrong with her, that she's just a naturally skinny girl for some reason.

Azrael's mother was a black cat who may have been fully feral (I was never able to get close to her). We nicknamed her Blackie (I know, very original). As far as I know, she moved on once her kittens were old enough to be on their own. Azrael's father was a sweet stray white cat who was probably abandoned at some point, who lived around the building and was fed by two sets of neighbours on the first floor , and then also by me when he started showing up at my window (it was pretty startling the first time, to look over and unexpectedly see a face looking in the window!). One couple downstairs would put out a shelter-box for him in the winter. To be honest, I can't know for sure that he was Azrael's father, since a litter of kittens can have more than one father, but he was definitely the father of several of her siblings as they were all-white as well. He also got along better with the kittens than male cats are typically thought to, hanging around and getting along with them long after their mother had moved out of the area.

I called him Whitey (again with the originality!). Whitey had runny eyes and greasy-looking dirty tail fur, basically looked like a grizzled old alley cat, and he also happened to be a very nice guy, enjoying getting petted as well as getting food. Unfortunately the couple downstairs, who I later learned called him Casper, didn't take him in since they had a cat who didn't like other cats. I was also in that situation myself as my feline friend Alan who moved out of my parents' home with me was still living with me at the time. That fall Whitey stopped coming around, and I later learned that he was killed by a car. Unfortunately this is going to be a common refrain in my stories from that neighbourhood, especially with respect to Azrael's relatives.

I have to say that at that time I really had no idea what I was doing as far as helping cats goes. Simply putting out food for stray cats and hoping for the best is not the way to help cats, it's a way to give oneself warm fuzzy feelings, perhaps. I'm certainly not saying *not* to feed stray and feral cats, but in order to help them, food and water are not enough. Spaying or neutering and getting the cats indoors, if at all possible, are also essential, especially in urban areas. Some cities have programs for spaying and neutering stray cats at low cost or even for free, and occasionally you may also be able to find a sympathetic vet who will do these surgeries at reduced cost if you explain the situation. It pays to ask around. Borrow or buy a live trap for catching the more feral cats, or make your own drop trap.

Azrael had four or five siblings, and as they grew up they started climbing the spiral staircase of the fire escape like their parents, to ask for kibble that I would put out on the windowsill for them. Three or four of them were white cats (I'm not quite sure in retrospect if the shyest white one was actually one or two different cats), two of whom were relatively friendly at the window. The last sister of the bunch was a light grey tabby. Azrael and her friendlier brother and sister, nicknamed Whitey Jr. and Pita (short for Spanakopita -- don't ask why, I'm not sure myself), were the most common visitors to my windowsill. Gradually, though, fewer and fewer of the siblings came around, and I will never know if any of them were adopted by neighbours, whether they moved out of the area, or whether they were killed by cars. I hope for the former, but the latter was really more likely in that neighbourhood, with the traffic and narrow side streets constantly lined by parked cars on both sides. I can't help but think that I could have prevented whatever horrible fate at least some of them must have met, if I had had the sense to catch them all and keep them indoors. (I would also be living with about two dozen cats now, but that's another matter...)

As the kittens grew up, Azrael became the most frequent visitor at my window, and eventually the only one left among her siblings. She got into the habit of having me pet her while she ate, and to this day she prefers eating this way. It seems like she feels safer, whereas without me there, she's more likely to be bothered by one of the other cats, or a noise, and so to suddenly "lose her appetite" and run away without eating. Food is generally not a big interest or motivator for her, compared to other cats, and she's very sensitive to being disturbed. This is certainly one of the reasons that she's so thin. So, I always stay with her at feeding time, petting her and trying to keep the other faster-eating cats from nosing into her dish or circling her and sniffing at her tail (Thor does this regularly; he knows it will upset her and she'll run away leaving her dish open so that he can move in), and encouraging her to eat more than she would have otherwise.

The funny thing about how she runs away when another cat bothers her at the food dish is that she's one of the more dominant cats in the household. If one of the younger cats is goofing off near her, they might get a Look that stops them in their tracks and causes them to take off in the other direction, knowing that a swat in the face won't be long to follow that look. She also absolutely hates when other cats fight, and upon hearing hissing, growling, or other sounds of fighting, will come running from wherever she is to break up the fight. More than once I've seen her leap off one of the highest platforms on the floor-to-ceiling cat tree and go running off to break up a fight. I call her "the enforcer".

In general she gets along relatively well with most other cats though, and although she's mostly solitary she has been known to sleep next to Thor, Jasmine, Julius, and up until recently Fred, on occasion throughout the years. She doesn't like Fred these days, since the two most recent additions, Wade and Seymour, have upset the heirarchy lately. Fred, accustomed to being the alpha male before the newcomers arrived, has been upset that he no longer seems to be the dominant male, and is taking it out on other cats, one of them being Arzrael. (I kind of wonder if he started bothering her because she would come to physically break up the fights he was picking with Hanna Harriet not long ago, which maybe gave him the impression that she "started it" with him...) So for now, Fred dominates Azrael, Azrael dominates Wade and Seymour, and Wade and Seymour dominate Fred, making a strange circular situation that will hopefully resolve itself soon! It's sad to see Azrael scrunch up, flatten her ears on her head, and hiss at Fred when he comes near her, when up until recently they used to sleep next to each other on the bed.

Next time I'll continue with the story of Azrael's transition to becoming an indoor cat, and the unfortunate story of the kittens she had before that happened. Azrael's relatives, as well as EssPee's (whom you'll meet later) were a big influence on the development of my views against domestication and the concept of "pets". It's another form of exploitation, like the use of animals for food, clothing, and other purposes. If you're not already vegan, please consider taking animals seriously and going vegan. And if you have the ability to do so, please consider adopting an animal in need, like Azrael once was, from a shelter, rescue group, or off the street if there are strays in your area. Check out my other posts or the links in the sidebar for more info about veganism and animal exploitation, and be sure to check back here for the next part of Azrael's story.

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"Companion" animals

It's about time, okay, way past time, that I revive this blog! I'd like to start out by introducing my feline family members, over the next few months.

My partner and I live with eight feline refugees, and I am also involved in the lives of five more who now live with my ex. Why do I call them "refugees"? I consider them refugees from a society in which they, like other nonhuman animals, are property. While they are still legally our property, we have taken these individuals into our home in order to do our best to restore their personhood and give them the care that they need, what we owe them as persons with moral rights.

As "domestic" animals, they are animals who are dependent on humans, whose existence has been engineered, facilitated, or simply allowed by humanity in order to fulfill certain functions -- in the case of cats, generally "pest" control, companionship, aesthetic qualities, and also as food or for clothing in some cultures. These relationships are based on the fact that they have the legal status of property; they are exploitative, and although there are many "companion animals" who are treated very well, they still have no legal rights.

The weak animal welfare laws that do exist for "companion" animals do not mean that they have any rights -- as the owner of the animal, one could still bring their healthy cat or dog to a veterinarian to have him or her killed at any time ("euthanized", a misuse of a word that should only apply to ending the terminal suffering of someone who is dying painfully, human or non-). Breed-specific legislation like pit bull bans that allow for dogs to be seized and put to death make it all the clearer that so long as animals are our property, their well-being will never be entirely safeguarded.

Nonhumans' status as property precludes them having any rights; whereas if we humans were to accord them the personhood that they should have as sentient beings, this would preclude our using them for any unjustified purpose, including our continuing to breed them for companionship. Even though I love living with cats very much, as much as anyone could, if I had the last two fertile domestic cats in existence, I would not breed them and continue perpetuating this unjust relationship where they are dependent on us for all their lives.

As you can guess, then, none of our cats were bought from breeders, pet stores, or people who "oops" didn't spay their cat and now have kittens for sale. But there are still all too many stray, abandoned, and feral cats in shelters and on the street, whose situation has been caused by humans and who are in desperate need of homes. The justice we owe these nonhuman persons already in existence includes providing them with care.

Why do I live with cats rather than dogs or guinea pigs or other nonhumans in need? Well, they are all equally deserving of restored personhood, but I began adopting semi-feral and stray cats in need directly off the street (in fact directly at my window) while I lived in Montreal. Not to mention that I'm quite familiar with cats and for that reason (plus the fact of living in an apartment), I can care for more cats than I could, say, dogs.

So, as I mentioned, I'd like to introduce these nonhuman persons who are part of my family. I'll do so in the order in which they came to live with me. Each one has a story, each one is an individual, each one is a sentient being who should have the legal right not to be property, as should other nonhuman animals. Veganism is the moral baseline of what we owe other animals in general, but additionally, in the case of domesticated nonhumans in need, I believe the virtuous thing to do is to provide them with a home and proper care, when we have the ability to do so.

Several if not most of the cats' stories will contain some disturbing and sad parts, but unfortunately that tends to be unavoidable when it comes to humans' exploitation of nonhuman animals, and I would like to present as complete and honest examples of results of the domestication of nonhumans as I can.

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Downloadable abolitionist pamphlet to promote veganism and animal rights

Looking for an abolitionist pamphlet to use for promoting veganism? Feel free to download our tri-fold pamphlet and have copies made for distribution. (Be sure that the correct double sided printing option is used so that the tri-fold works properly.) This pamphlet is bilingual, english on one side and french on the other. An english/spanish version will be coming soon!

Click here to download the pamphlet.

Read this doc on Scribd: animalemancipation

Being used like an animal. Being a cow, pig, sheep or chicken often means living a terrifying and torturous life in a factory farm until you’re killed or left to die when you are no longer profitable. Being a mouse, a rabbit, or a guinea pig frequently means being the subject of painful medical experiments. Elephants, tigers, lions, apes, and other animals great and small live miserable lives in unnatural conditions in zoos and circuses. The result is that billions of animals live lives of totally unjustifiable exploitation. There is no need to eat or wear animals, to run pointless experiments on them or to use them for other purposes. Taste, convenience and tradition do not make animal use “necessary”. animals by reassuring people that using animals is fine -- so long as it’s done “humanely”. And typically, the only reforms passed are those that are, in the end, profitable to the companies, helping them to make animal exploitation even more efficient. The idea that reform could lead somehow to an elimination of exploitation or will somehow liberate animals is simply not reasonable. What is necessary is a direct and abolitionist approach. Changing minds and changing the law. The best way to address the problem is head-on and honestly, by calling for abolition: an end to all animal use, period, and by ending our own personal animal use as much as currently possible. What does that mean for animals? It means an end to painful medical experimentation, to the prolonged suffering of life on a factory farm, to the terror of death in a slaughterhouse. Does that mean we’ll have to give sheep the right to vote? Of course not! It only means that they will have the right not to be used by human beings. The underlying problem isn’t treatment standards — it’s the belief that animals are ours to use. The root cause of animal exploitation is that, under the law, animals are property rather than persons like you or me. That not only allows but encourages humans to treat animals pretty much however they want. There are only light penalties for violating the restrictions that do exist for harming certain animals (eg, laws against cruelty towards companion animals). As long as non-human animals are considered property, companies will be free to breed and use them for the purposes they find profitable. Companies’ legal rights to use the methods that get the most profits out of their animal property will always take precedence over the interests the animals have in avoiding pain and in continuing to exist. Change starts with you, today. Change is about taking personal action -- not about making a donation. The best way to help animals is to take their rights seriously, which means opposing their use by human beings. This means going vegan -- eliminate your use of any products that contain animal ingredients or are tested on animals, as well as any use of animals for entertainment or other purposes. Animal welfare groups are not committed to ending animal exploitation. Animal welfare groups have been very ineffective in improving the lives of animals. Traditional animal welfare groups believe that animals should be property, but that we should treat them “more humanely”. Newer welfare groups may use the words “animal rights” but they also claim that “more humane” animal exploitation is fine, or that actions which encourage the use of animals will somehow lead to an end to the use of animals. For example, rather than champion the interests of animals exclusively, many animal welfare groups give awards to animal exploiters and encourage people to buy “more humane” products from these companies. This only makes animal exploitation more profitable, which certainly does nothing to help animals. Go vegan! Lives depend on it! It’s much easier than you might think. Alternatives to animal products are widely available. Grocery stores carry non-dairy milks, fresh fruits and vegetables, and other dietary alternatives, and your taste buds will quickly adapt to your new way of eating. Clothing and shoe stores carry a wide range of products that use no wool, no silk and no leather, and there are many other vegan-friendly businesses on the Internet. It’s never been easier to be vegan, and you cannot do anything more meaningful for animals than become vegan and work to convince others that non-human animals have a right not to be used by humans. Go vegan and visit for more information, resources, and support. She’s not a milk machine. She’s someone’s mother, someone’s daughter, but they keep her in a tiny stall and they use her as a piece of property. They’ll take away all of her children. At 6, they’ll kill her even though she’d naturally live to be 20. She needs your help. Kinder, gentler exploitation is not the answer. Words like “humane” and “free range” are misleading as they are even applied to crowded, unhealthy conditions that are not significantly different from factory farming conditions. All animals used for human ends are still controlled in every aspect of their lives, are still sent to the slaughterhouse or otherwise have their lives cut short once they are no longer profitable, none of which can be called “humane” without rendering that word meaningless. More important, “kinder, gentler” exploitation will never help animals in any serious way -- if anything, it only encourages more animal use. Reforming the system will not end the system. Reform will never eliminate the system of animal slavery itself because that’s not the goal of “reforming” a system. Reforms, even when successful, do nothing meaningful to address the root cause of animal suffering; in fact, reform campaigns harm Être utilisé comme un animal. Être une vache, un cochon, un mouton, ou une poule implique souvent une vie terrifiante et de torture dans un élevage intensif jusqu’à ce qu’on soit tué ou abandonné à la mort quand on n’est plus profitable. Être une souris, un lapin, ou un cochon d’Inde signifie souvent être le sujet d’une expérience médicale douloureuse. Éléphants, tigres, lions, grands singes, et divers autres animaux sont soumis aux conditions artificielles d’un zoo ou d’un cirque. Par conséquent des milliards d’animaux endurent une vie de misère, d’exploitation, et de souffrances. Il n’est pas nécessaire de manger ou de porter des animaux, de mener des expériences inutiles sur eux, ou de les utiliser pour d’autres raisons. Goût, complaisance et tradition ne rendent pas « nécessaire » l’utilisation des animaux. réforme nuisent aux animaux parce qu’elles réaffirment aux gens que le fait d’utiliser les animaux est acceptable – pourvu qu’ils soient traités de manière « humaine ». De plus, les seules réformes typiquement adoptées sont celles qui sont, en fin de compte, financièrement avantageuses pour les compagnies qui profitent des animaux, et ainsi qui les aident à exploiter de manière plus efficace. L’idée que les réformes pourraient mener un jour à l’élimination de l’exploitation animale ou pourraient libérer des animaux n’est simplement pas réaliste. Ce qui est nécessaire est une approche directe et abolitionniste. Transformer les esprits et transformer la loi. La meilleure façon d’affronter le problème est de manière directe et honnête, en réclamant l’abolition : la fin de toute exploitation animale, tout court, et en éliminant chacun notre usage personnel des animaux autant qu’il est possible de le faire actuellement. Qu’est-ce que cela veut dire pour les animaux? Cela signifie la fin des expériences médicales douloureuses, la fin de la souffrance prolongée de la vie sur une ferme industrielle, la fin de l’horreur intense de la mort dans un abattoir. Cela veut dire que les animaux seraient capables de gérer leur vie eux-mêmes, sans domination et exploitation par les humains. Est-ce que cela veut dire que nous devrions donner le droit de vote aux moutons? Bien sûr que non! Cela veut dire tout simplement que les animaux auront le droit de ne pas être exploités par les humains. Les normes de traitement ne sont pas le problème – L’exploitation des animaux l’est. La source fondamentale de la souffrance et de l’exploitation des animaux découle du fait que les animaux ont le statut légal de propriétés, plutôt que de personnes tout comme nous. Cela autorise et encourage les humains à traiter les animaux de n’importe quelle façon. Violer les restrictions qui existent (p.e. lois contre la cruauté envers les animaux de compagnie) n’entraîne que de légères pénalités. Tant que les animaux sont des propriétés, les compagnies sont libres de les élever et de les utiliser à n’importe quelle fin qui leur soit profitable. Le droit légal des compagnies d’utiliser les méthodes qui leur génèrent le maximum de profits aura toujours préséance sur les intérêts des animaux à éviter la souffrance et à continuer à exister. La transformation commence chez vous, aujourd’hui. C’est l’action personnelle qui alimente le changement, pas le fait de faire un don. La meilleure façon d’aider les animaux est de prendre au sérieux leurs droits, ce qui entraîne s’opposer à l’usage des animaux par les humains. Cela veut dire devenir vegan - éliminer son utilisation de produits qui contiennent des ingrédients animaux ou qui sont testé sur les animaux, ainsi que tout autre usage des animaux pour le divertissement ou autres fins. Les groupes réformistes pour le bien-être animal ne sont pas engagés à l’abolition de l’exploitation animale. Les groupes pour le bien-être animal ont eu très peu de succès à améliorer la vie des animaux. Les groupes réformistes traditionnels croient que les animaux devraient demeurer des propriétés, mais que nous devons les traiter « mieux ». Les nouveaux groupes réformistes utilisent parfois l’expression « droits des animaux » mais disent aussi que l’exploitation « plus humaine » est acceptable, ou que leurs actions activistes qui encouragent l’utilisation d’animaux pourraient un jour mener à l’abolition de l’exploitation animale. Par exemple, au lieu de défendre les intérêts des animaux exclusivement, les groupes de bien-être animal décernent souvent des prix aux exploiteurs et encouragent les gens à acheter des produits « plus humains » de ces compagnies. Cela sert uniquement à rendre l’exploitation animale plus profitable, ce qui n’aide certainement pas les animaux. Devenez vegan(e)! Des vies en dépendent! C’est plus facile que vous ne le pensez. Des alternatives aux produits d’origine animale sont largement disponibles. Les épiceries vendent divers breuvages non-laitiers, des fruits et légumes frais, et autres alternatives alimentaires. Des magasins de souliers et de vêtements vendent une gamme de produits sans laine, sans soie et sans cuir, et il existe beaucoup d’autres commerçants vegans sur Internet. Il n’a jamais été aussi facile d’être vegan, et vous ne pouvez rien faire de plus important pour les animaux que de devenir vegan(e) et de travailler à convaincre d’autres gens que les animaux non-humains ont le droit de ne pas être exploités par les humains. Elle n’est pas une machine à lait. Elle est mère, fille, individu, mais elle est confinée dans un petit enclos et elle est utilisée comme une propriété. Tous ses enfants lui seront enlevés. À l’âge de 6 ans, elle sera mise à mort alors que la durée normale de sa vie aurait pu être d’une vingtaine d’années. Elle a besoin de votre aide. L’exploitation plus douce et modérée n’est pas la solution. Les termes comme « plus humain » ou « en liberté » sont trompeurs puisqu’ils se voient mêmes appliqués à des conditions malsaines et surpeuplées qui n’offrent pas de différences significatives par rapport aux conditions de l’élevage intensif. Tous les animaux exploités pour les désirs humains sont quand même contrôlés dans tous les aspects de leur vie, sont quand même envoyés à l’abattoir ou se font tuer autrement lorsqu’ils ne sont plus profitable, et rien de tout cela ne peut être considéré « humain ». Pire encore, l’exploitation plus « douce » et « modérée » n’aidera jamais véritablement les animaux – cela a plutôt tendance à encourager davantage leur exploitation. Devenez vegan(e) et visitez pour plus d’information, des ressources, et du soutien. Réformer le système ne mettra jamais fin au système. Il est impossible d’utiliser des réformes afin d’éliminer éventuellement le système d’esclavage animal, puisque modifier un système n’a jamais comme but de rejeter complètement le système et ses principes de base. Les réformes, même les campagnes réussies, n’adressent pas du tout la source fondamentale de la souffrance animale; en fait, les campagnes de