Keeping Backyard Chickens Is Not a Good Idea

The following is a letter I sent to Denver’s Washington Park Profile in response to their front-page article on keeping backyard chickens:

chickens-in-coopI’m glad your July article on backyard chickens included the downside.  Given the practical issues of daily care, humane concerns, and health consequences of eating eggs, is this something the city of Denver should be encouraging?
Often would-be urban farmers do not understand what they are getting into, as indicated by this from an NBC News report: “Hundreds of chickens, sometimes dozens at a time, are being abandoned each year at the nation’s shelters from California to New York as some hipster farmers discover that hens lay eggs for two years, but can live for a good decade longer, and that actually raising the birds can be noisy, messy, labor-intensive and expensive.”   Continue reading “Keeping Backyard Chickens Is Not a Good Idea”

Would a Deer Hug a Hunter? I Don’t Think So

Billboard at Colorado and Evans
Billboard at Colorado and Evans

At a major intersection in my Denver neighborhood, this large billboard shows a deer and a hunter in an embrace.  The caption has the deer saying “Thanks hunter, for making sure my home isn’t turned into a mall.”  Really?

The billboard is part of an extensive advertising campaign by The Wildlife Council here in Colorado to convince the public that hunters and anglers care about preserving wildlife.  Then why are they systematically killing them by hunting and fishing?  If you cared about a group of animals, would you want to kill them?  Especially since you are not starving and have no need to eat their flesh?
Continue reading “Would a Deer Hug a Hunter? I Don’t Think So”

The Longest Struggle

longest-struggleThe Longest Struggle: Animal Advocacy from Pythagoras to PETA, by Norm Phelps.  Lantern Books, 2007.

This well-researched history of the animal protection movement filled in for me many missing pieces in understanding both the evolution of animal rights philosophy and the development of organizations working to bring compassion for animals into mainstream Western societies. Along the way and down the centuries, we meet a host of committed activists, well-known and obscure.

Among the latter is Lewis Gompertz (1779-1865), an inventor living in London, who campaigned for slaves, women and the poor as well as for non-human animals.  He was advocating a vegan diet as early as 1824 in his book Moral Inquiries on the Situation of Man and of Brutes.  He published the world’s first animal protection periodical, The Animal’s Friend, or the Progress of Humanity. His organization was instrumental in getting a nationwide ban in England on baiting and animal fighting enacted in 1835.  He walked the talk in his personal life as well; he refused to travel by horse or mule-drawn conveyance, which meant that everywhere he went in London, he walked.  (This was before London’s subways were built.)  Horses– numbering in the hundreds of thousands–who pulled carriages, wagons and streetcars, were often whipped and driven until they died, their needs for rest and sufficient food and water ignored in the name of profit.  Beyond London, Gompertz went only to places within walking distance of a railway station.  “It is entirely reasonable,” Phelps writes, “to call Lewis Gompertz the first modern animal rights activist.” (p. 103) Continue reading “The Longest Struggle”

Doing the Most Good

The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically, by Peter Singer.  Yale University Press, 2015.

How fortunate we are to have a practical philosopher as articulate as Peter Singer!  He doesn’t just talk idly about doing the most good for the most people, but shows us how, based on solid research on the effectiveness of charities and on the examples of actual people who are living their values.  (To “meet” Singer and watch him give an 18-minute summary of the book, I highly recommend this TED talk.)

I especially like that he does not limit the good we can do to helping people, but includes animals as also worthy of our consideration.  He points out that we can prevent a great deal of animal suffering for a very low (or no) cost, e.g. switching to a vegetarian diet.

I also like that he encourages simple living in order to have the maximum amount of our income for charitable giving.  He’s not suggesting austerity, but we can ask ourselves, when contemplating an unnecessary purchase or trip, whether the value of more stuff or experiences is greater to us than what that same amount of money could do in preventing suffering, or saving lives in developing countries.  Continue reading “Doing the Most Good”

Standing Up for Rabbits

I was proud to take part in the Day of Action yesterday in Boulder to urge Whole Foods to stop selling rabbit meat.  Rabbits are the third most popular companion animal; would Whole Foods start selling dog meat if some customers asked for it?  I learned that, although Whole Foods does not permit cosmetic testing on rabbits for products sold in their Whole Body section, they slaughter the very same breed of rabbits for their meat department!  “Pets are not food!” was heard across the country.  Margo DeMello, president of the House Rabbit Society, has written a well-reasoned article on the issue.  See these great photos taken at some of the 44 protest events nationwide at WF stores.

A Delightful Visit to Danzig’s Roost

Last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting an animal sanctuary devoted mostly to chickens.  The Rooster Sanctuary at Danzig’s Roost is located near Bennett, Colorado, and houses around 50 roosters and over 100 hens, plus eight ducks, four inquisitive goats, two gentle horses, and an unforgettable potbellied pig.  Not to mention countless wild rabbits who burrow under the coops.  The goats definitely wanted to engage with us; one kept trying to untie my shoelaces!  The horses came over to the fence to greet us, and were rewarded by the treats we gave them.  The hens scurried around us, making soothing hen sounds.  Among the hens and roosters, we saw a variety of breeds of varying sizes, some with stunning coloration, feathered feet, or other unusual features.  We were impressed with the grounds, the numerous sturdy coops and fenced enclosures, a nice pond for the ducks, and plenty of space to explore. Continue reading “A Delightful Visit to Danzig’s Roost”

A Missing Viewpoint about Antibiotics on Factory Farms

The following is a letter I sent to three organizations–Food & Water Watch, Natural Grocers, and Colorado Interfaith Power & Light–who are sponsoring a forum in Denver this week on the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms.  Working to change laws on this is fine as far as it goes, but the best solution doesn’t require legal or corporate change: we need to encourage people to reduce or eliminate their use of animal products.  That viewpoint will not be represented on the forum, although grassfed beef and dairy interests will be.  I call on the sponsors to include the veg viewpoint in any future events on this topic.

To Lisa Trope, Food & Water Watch; Alan Lewis, Natural Grocers; and Colorado Interfaith Power & Light:

I just picked up a flyer at Natural Grocers about the potluck and forum you are sponsoring April 2 regarding antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  I know that Food & Water Watch has a petition campaign urging passage of the Preventing Antibiotic Resistance Act, related to factory farms, where routinely-given antibiotics endanger the health of everyone.  I applaud this campaign.

However, regarding the April 2 event, there is a glaring omission among those invited to be on the panel.  No one is speaking to the approach that is simple, effective, and would greatly benefit human health, the animals, and the environment: namely, encourage people to reduce or eliminate their consumption of meat and other animal products.  This requires no petitions, no changes in laws or corporate agricultural practices.  Unlike the approach of the non-factory farmed meat producers, this would benefit the environment (e.g. grassfed cattle emit more methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas, than feedlot-finished cattle, because grassfed animals must live longer in order to reach market weight).  The meat-reduction solution also benefits human health because only animal products have cholesterol; they also contain saturated fat and no fiber.  This solution also addresses the cruel practice of animal slaughter, which occurs at a time far short of the animals’ normal lifespan. Continue reading “A Missing Viewpoint about Antibiotics on Factory Farms”


Veganomics: The Surprising Science on What Motivates Vegetarians, from the Breakfast Table to the Bedroom, by Nick Cooney.  Lantern Books, 2014.

A very helpful little book for veg activists, Veganomics brings together data collected in recent years about a number of topics, such as: what motivates people to reduce or eliminate meat consumption (answer: primarily animal cruelty and health concerns), what demographic group is most likely to go vegetarian (young women), what are the most effective ways to tailor vegetarian outreach to make it appealing to people (one example: refer to food as “meat-free” instead of “vegetarian”), why to emphasize cutting out chicken, fish and eggs instead of red meat (chickens and fish account for 92% of the farm animals killed for food in the U.S. and represent 95% of the days of animal suffering caused each year by omnivores). Continue reading “Veganomics”

Marc Bekoff on Vegan Activism

Recently I attended a talk and book signing at Tattered Cover Bookstore given by Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and bestselling author.  His new book is Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation ($15.95 New World Library).  He spoke for an hour on a variety of topics, including animal intelligence, human/animal relationships, and how we humans often depreciate the skills and capabilities of non-human animals.  An example of the latter is that when people misbehave, we sometimes say they are “acting like animals.”  Or perhaps we might consider sounds made by another species as primitive, when actually what we are hearing is a complex language.

As an activist encouraging people to cut back or eliminate the consumption of meat and other animal products, I was particularly interested in what he had to say about animals used for food.  Continue reading “Marc Bekoff on Vegan Activism”

The Ethics of What We Eat

The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter, by Peter Singer and Jim Mason.  Rodale, 2006.

At least three times a day, we all make choices that have profound ethical consequences: what we eat.  After interviewing three actual families about the foods they choose and why, authors Singer and Mason track down producers of these commonly-eaten foods and examine the means of production.  Noting that “no other human activity has had as great an impact on our planet as agriculture,” they show how animals, our land, and oceans are treated in that process.  The book is not a vegetarian polemic, although both authors are vegetarians.  Rather it provides a  balanced investigation of hidden factors in food production, and asks readers to make the kindest choices they possibly can.  It is, however, strong in its condemnation of factory-farmed meat, eggs, and dairy products: “Since factory farming inflicts a vast quantity of unjustifiable suffering on animals, persuading others to boycott it should be a high priority of anyone concerned about animals.” Continue reading “The Ethics of What We Eat”