Changed Lives: Campaigner portraits
Twenty or so years ago, I was 15 and passionate about fighting cruelty to animals. I saw an advert in a magazine, sent off for an information pack and joined Animal Aid. This simple action has had the most profound impact on my life.
I think it was about 1989. A cargo of beagle dogs suffocated to death on a ferry bound from the UK to a drug company laboratory in Sweden. The supplier was a breeding kennels called Perrycroft, located in the picturesque little Worcestershire town of Malvern.
To be in at the start of a great new movement for change is an exhilarating experience. There is a roller coaster of emotions. Shock, horror, despair, relief as you meet others who feel similarly, satisfaction when the media exposes some of the horrors (in those days they were much more sympathetic!) and joy when the public respond by demanding cruelty-free and veggie products. Things we take for granted now were fought for long and hard.
Can it really be 30 years since Animal Aid was formed?
Thirty years ago, fresh out of university, I wasn’t even vegetarian and had never even thought about animal rights.
Now I’m a vegan and Chair of the Animal Aid Council.
I was a meat-munching toddler when Animal Aid was created. Thirty years on, I’m a vegan animal rights activist, thanks to an unknown Greenpeace campaigner (Falkirk, circa 1998) who helped open my eyes, heart and mind with a simple petition and leaflet stall. I instantly became a vegetarian and a vegan soon after. I gradually replaced my motorcycle leathers and animal-tested toiletries and soaked up as much animal rights literature as I could find.
At the age of five, I was evacuated to an isolated farm in mid-Wales. I entered an unfamiliar world of animal agriculture, where I witnessed appalling cruelty which would stay with me for the rest of my life. I sobbed when lambs were castrated without anaesthetic, unwanted kittens were drowned in a bucket of water or pigs were dragged into the barn to have their throats cut. Brass rings were forced through their noses with pliers to stop them rooting and poultry met their end with a knife rammed down their throats. The people were not intentionally cruel: it was their way of life and, as we all know, still is, albeit on a much more industrialised scale.
1988 was the year I became an animal rights activist. I was 30 years old and Unigate was building Europe’s biggest chicken killing factory around my home town of Scunthorpe. I had an instant empathy with broiler chicken – abused animals who suffers a short, painful life. My enlightenment came via the work of brilliant campaigners Clare Druce and Peter Roberts.
In November 1982, during the week that Channel 4 was launched, my husband Pete and I sat down to watch The Animals Film by Victor Schonfeld. The scenes of unremitting cruelty made us aware of the scale of animal exploitation and left us feeling isolated and distressed. Although we had been vegetarians for a year, we decided that we had to do more.
Géra & Rosie Collins
We initially became involved in animal rights when Rosie picked up an anti-vivisection leaflet on a train. She was so appalled by the cruelty that she immediately showed it to me. ‘We have to do something about this,’ she said.
A milestone – my 50th birthday – was fast approaching. Time to take stock, look at my life; reassess priorities. What was really important to me? Animals, without doubt. And what was I doing to help them? Almost nothing! This revelation shocked me and, I'm glad to say, galvanised me into action. I had been veggie from the age of 14, loved all animals and hated the thought of abuse, but had never been really involved in animal rights, apart from signing the odd petition and writing a letter now and again. All that changed almost overnight. I gave up work, began to go on demonstrations and helped raise awareness and much needed funding for various campaigns.
Kevin (an Animal Aid office volunteer)
From an early age, I had always been against cruelty to animals. The turning point came in 1983 when The Animals Film was shown on Channel 4. The documentary depicted animal abuse in graphic detail, and included contributions from people who campaigned against it. This was it for me. I immediately became vegetarian and, through a national anti-vivisection organisation, made contact with a local animal rights group.
Mahersh & Nishma Shah
Being born into a Jain culture, we had a head start in animal rights and related issues, and were brought up as vegetarians (apart from a brief meat-eating lapse in Mahersh's confused teenage years!).
As your average meat-eating housewife of 45, I could watch a lamb in a field, and still down a lamb chop – until I joined the National Council of Woman in 1971. Their 13 special committees included Science & Technology (vivisection) and Animal Welfare (factory farming). My life changed. I soon became vegetarian and later vegan.
Michael Sutcliffe (1924-2007)
The cause of animal rights lost one of its most well- respected, energetic and honest advocates with the death on April 6 (Good Friday) of Michael Sutcliffe. Aged 83 and with his eyesight failing in recent years, Michael died at his work desk, apparently of a heart attack, his research papers all around him. The previous day he had attended a central London protest against the Canadian seal cull.
Núria Querol Viñas
I have always seen other animals as friends and equals, so my road to animal rights activism can be traced back to childhood instinct rather than an intellectual process during adolescence or adulthood.
Imagine what is like to be born in Spain – a country that still glorifies the public mutilation and torture of an animal? Needless to say, bullfighting was one of my earliest subjects for school projects and debates. Despite shyness and a lack of hard information, I was determined to shake the consciences of my classmates.
Olive & Bill Bean
In 1978, we joined around 150 caring people for the first meeting of what turned into Bournemouth & Poole Animal Aid. We saw the potential of Animal Aid and admired the dedication and courage of its founder, Jean Pink.
I have always felt and cared deeply for the welfare of all animals. In the 1970s I was a council member of the RSPCA auxiliary branch, and became involved with the campaign to stop the export of live food animals. During this period, I read a book entitled Victims of Science by Richard Ryder. I knew little about the secret world of laboratories. When I read about the true horrors, I knew I had to join an organisation campaigning against the use of animals in research.