Are pets vegan friendly?

I was on the internet late at night and came across a vegan discussion thread where someone had commented that you cannot call yourself a vegan if you have a pet. Their whole argument was that vegans should not do anything that exploits or causes an animal to be exploited, and by having a pet you were exploiting an animal for your own personal gain – you have a pet because you want one, not because the animal wishes to be a pet.

This whole line of thought just baffled me really. Now I can understand why someone would not buy a pet from a breeder because there could be a degree of exploitation involved, but is rescuing an animal from a shelter really exploitation? By this logic, are rescue centres and animal shelters also exploitative because they rely on animals in need to stay in business?

I can understand why some vegans (myself included for the most part) do not agree with horse riding, dog racing or Crufts. I do not however believe that owning a pet means that you are exploiting an animal. Now I know I am not alone here when I say that my pets have always enjoyed the best life that I am able to give them: They have unconditional love (even when they have chewed through the third set of internet cables), a warm place to sleep, as many cuddles as they will allow me to give them, and a loving family that literally plan their whole lives around them. My partner and I make sure we stick to our routines to ensure that our bunny stays happy and calm, and I would literally cancel plans if it meant my cat was going to be home alone during the night. My pets (and any animal for that matter) have me at their beckon call and I would not have it any other way.

I have also seen arguments that emotional support animals or service animals such as guide dogs are not vegan friendly. I am sure we have all seen the recent news of an animal activist yelling at a blind man because he had a guide dog with him. Now sure it could be argued that there may be a degree of exploitation involved when it comes to training guide animals but you can not convince me otherwise that these animals – guide dogs, hearing dogs, emotional support animals – are not the most loved, adored and cherished of pets in the whole world. I have been working to educate myself more on what life is like for those who have crippling social anxiety – who can’t even go into a shop without suffering a panic attack – or for those who are blind or deaf and I have seen how much trust and love they have in their support animals. I see people who have regained some of their independence thanks to their service animals and I can see the gratitude on their faces that their service animal is willing to help them.

The entire argument as well that all animals should be free and wild is pointless at this point. The reality is, most pets would not last long out in the wild: We as a species have bred these animals to be companion animals – they are bred to have the majority of their wild instincts removed from them a little bit more with every generation. We made these animals domesticated and as such it is now our job to look after them and to protect them in ways they no longer can.

As with most things in the world it is not a simple black and white matter. It really bothers me that there are some people out there who call themselves ‘vegan’ while spouting such nonsense. There is no such thing as a perfect vegan, and in today’s society there is absolutely no way you can live your life without exploiting something along the way. But what you can do is be as kind, empathetic and considerate as you can be to every living being you come into contact with. If a newbie vegan does ask about a certain topic, encourage them to do their own research and sign post them to different opinions, while still reminding them to do what they believe to be the right thing.

What do you guys all think? Do you think owning pets is a ‘vegan’ thing to do? I would love to hear other people’s thoughts on this matter because it could be such an interesting debate.

T xxx

Should pugs be banned?

You will no doubt have seen the headlines this week regarding the Blue Cross’ latest campaign to tackle the ‘vicious cycle of over-breeding’ that is currently seen in pugs, bulldogs and other breeds of flat faced dogs. The increase in use of photos of such flat-faced dogs has led to a spike in popularity and thus more puppies are being bred to meet this new demand. However, aside from the normal health issues that come with any kind of unethical breeding, flat faced breeds are naturally more prone to a number of health issues.

The Blue Cross is asking and campaigning for marketing companies to stop using flat faced breeds in their own marketing campaigns as part of the #EndTheTrend campaign. Blue Cross are asking marketing firms to use a wider range of dogs in their marketing, hoping to showcase more underappreciated breeds and promote more diversity among dog populations. While the Blue Cross hasn’t actually said this, I personally would also like to see more use of rescue dogs, or dogs that are not ‘pedigree’.

The campaign is mostly centred around dogs, however the Blue Cross have also said that the health concerns of flat faced breeds of pet can also be seen in Persian cats and lionhead rabbits. My little bunny is herself part lionhead, so I am all for bringing more awareness to any breed of animal that may suffer niche health problems compared to their non-flat faced peers.

The health issues that come with flat faced breeds (the scientific term for this is brachycephalic, or brachy for short) include spinal problems, eye issues, heart issues and the main one, breathing issues. Due to the nature of their flat faces, the nasal cavities are either too short or non-existent which makes breathing very difficult for the breed. That ‘wheezing’ noise that pugs make is not cute – they literally cannot breathe properly.

Despite what the headlines suggest there is no call to ban the breeds from being owned in the UK, but there are calls to put heavier regulations onto breeders to ensure that their litters and dogs are correctly monitored and the correct health checks are carried out. I personally will never support breeders – it is one thing to adopt a pet who is already pregnant or you get an accidental litter in early days of ownership, but to actively make animals breed purely so you can make a profit just doesn’t sit right with me.

The current legislation

At the moment in England and Wales, a person who breeds 3 or more litters of puppies in one 12 month period must have a licence to do so under the Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018 (LAIA for ease). A person must also have a license if they breed dogs and advertise as a business of selling dogs. There is current guidance released which states that an activity can be defined as a business if the operator makes or carries out the activity in order to make a profit, or if they earn any commission or fee for the activity. In theory therefore, if a person has an accidental litter and gives the puppies away for free, then this would not require a licence.

How this is all regulated however it is hard to tell. Licenses are issued by local authorities, and so it is up to the local authorities to regulate and monitor each licence holder to ensure that they are meeting the correct standards. The Kennel Club also runs a scheme of Accredited Breeders and currently runs the largest database of pedigree dogs and a separate register for crossbreed dogs. However this Accredited Scheme appears to be done through a general application and requires any prospective breeder to pay a fee before they can be accepted. The Kennel Club website does state that they have qualified assessors who carry out checks on the breeder, their premises and their litters and dogs, but it does not explicitly state how often these checks are. I would have assumed annually, but I can’t say for certain.

Enforcement

As mentioned above it is hard to tell just how regularly breeders are checked and how enforcement is dealt with. The Kennel Club seems to have their own process, whereby any breeder who is deemed in need of improvement will be reassessed within a set period of time. However they then do not say what happens if these improvements are not made. It seems to suggest that all the breeder stands to lose is membership to the accredited scheme, but nothing more. At least, not from what I have been able to see.

Illegal trading

One of the big things to come from the COVID lockdowns was the increase in people who bought puppies. Spending the majority of their time inside meant it was the perfect time for people to buy a puppy as they now had ample free time to socialise, train and bond with their puppy, as well as providing many people a good excuse to leave the house for more than an hour a day to provide walkies. However this demand meant that many people were buying puppies – whether knowingly or not – from overseas and in many cases the puppies were not given the correct vaccinations or were taken from their mother too early and unfortunately would not survive for longer than a few months once in the UK. You may recall stories such as this one doing the rounds during 2020, with many families suffering heartbreak.

In 2020 a new action plan was published by the UK government with the help of RSPCA that will seek to limit the amount of puppies that can be imported from other countries. It will also seek to stop the importing of pregnant dogs or those who have had their ears cropped. The RSPCA are currently asking for signatures to support this bill, which will also apply to farm animals and primates once in force. You can find the link here.

What are your thoughts?

What do you think should happen?

Do you think banning a breed would be beneficial or do more harm than good?

What do you think the best solution would be?

I would love to hear what everyone thinks about this topic! Please do leave a comment below or feel free to contact me privately if you have any thoughts on the matter or if you find any other interesting resources related to this.

T xxx

What is the difference between plant based and vegan?

I do get asked this a lot. When people find out that I follow a vegan lifestyle, they almost always ask ‘oh, so you must be plant based then”. Which then brings the discussion regarding what the difference is between ‘plant based’ and vegan’. So I thought it would be fun to open up the discussion here!

The main difference

After some research online, the general consensus seems to be that ‘plant based’ is a diet, whereas ‘vegan’ is a lifestyle choice. They are not exclusive though, as many people who follow a vegan lifestyle will also follow a largely plant based diet, but there are many vegans out there (and for the most part I would include myself in this) who do not follow a fully plant based diet, just as there are many who do eat a plant based diet who do not also follow a vegan lifestyle.

What does ‘vegan’ really mean?

The Vegan Society’s formal definition is: “Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

I also want to highlight that the Vegan Society definition is that veganism is a lifestyle – it is not just about what you eat. A plant based diet however is just that, a diet. While some lifestyle changes may be needed to always ensure you are eating a plant based meal, this diet only extends to one aspect of your life – what you eat.

Lifestyle vs diet

I for one will always say that I follow a vegan lifestyle, and not just the ‘vegan diet’ part of it all. I do not eat meat, eggs, dairy, honey or any other product that comes from an animal. I also do not wear leather, silk or fur and do my utmost to ensure that I do not buy any product at all that contains any sort of animal products – this can be anything from the type of glue I use in crafting projects to the type of laundry detergent I use.

A diet on the other hand, is purely the food. Now if you have read even the smallest part of my blog, you know full well that I am as far from p’plant based’ as one could possibly get. Now while this is something that I am working to change for my own health reasons, I do not follow a vegan diet purely for the health benefits that come with it. Quite frankly it has only been very recently that I actually started to take my own health seriously (which can be a discussion for another day). But from what I have been able to see online, those who do follow a purely plant based diet do it largely for their health. While animal welfare may be a concern of theirs, it is not the deciding factor. You will no doubt have seen the stories in the news of athletes and celebrities who follow a plant based diet who make a point of saying that this is purely for the health benefits that come with it. As mentioned above, you can be plant based but not vegan.

I always like to take the opportunity to highlight the part that says ‘as far as is possible and practicable’ because I think that this is very important to remember. There is no such thing as a perfect vegan. It is a myth and a very damaging standard to try to achieve. If you need medication in order to simply get through the day, then take this even if it is tested on animals. If the only thing that gets you through hay-fever season is local honey or bee pollen, then take this. The way I like to think of veganism is that everyone should be doing their best, and this will look very different to everyone involved. At the end of the day, you have to be well enough in yourself in order to promote veganism in the way you want to, so if you don’t look after yourself for fear of being deemed an ‘imperfect vegan’ then you would never achieve anything.

Conclusion

It seems quite obvious that being ‘plant based’ and being ‘vegan’ are not exclusive, and there is of course a large degree of overlap between the two. But I also think that they need to be considered individually when you are first getting started on your own vegan or plant based journey, because the two terms can be used interchangeably and has even confused me a few times!

What do you guys all think? Please do leave a comment or even email me privately if you wish to add any comments or have any other questions you would like discussed.

T xx

The reality of the dairy industry

Earlier this month BBC Panorama released an expose into the diary industry. The programme contained undercover footage of a dairy farm in Wales and showed very graphic footage of abuse and violence towards the cows, the calves that were of no use being piled into skips and just the overall low conditions of the farm itself. Obviously it received quite a bit of backlash, with many farmers claiming that this was not an accurate depiction of what happens within a dairy farm: Some farmers were claiming that they loved their cows and treated them with the highest degree of animal welfare, and that this farm in Wales was an outlier that did not do the dairy industry any justices. Which made me start to question what the conditions of a dairy farm should be and while the vegan in me knows that there is no way to have exploitation free dairy farming, the academic in me wanted to look into whether there could be such a a thing as humane dairy farming.

Now of course when researching this matter there are so many different resources to use and I have tried to keep things as balanced as possible. I will link all of the articles I have found throughout this little essay, but I am not going to go too in detail about the legitimacy of each source (i.e who funded the research, who wrote the article, the political platforms on which I found them, the degree of neutrality of them all etc) and that alone could be an entire essay subject all of it’s own. As with all things, make sure you check sources and to always take everything you read online with a pinch of salt: I am trying to remain as unbiased as possible in order to open the avenue for discussion, but as this is a subject I am very passionate about I am sorry if some of the bias comes through!

How is milk actually made?

According to Dairy UK there are roughly 1.9 million dairy cows currently being used in the UK. According to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) they predict a total of 12.52 billion litres for 2021/22. This may seem like a lot of milk, however this is 1.2% lower than the 2020/21 year. They also state that there have been dips in milk production over the past two years due to changes in calving seasons, which leads me onto the next point.

A cow is a mammal, and as such only produces milk when they have a baby. According to Diary UK a cow can produce milk for around 10 months after giving birth to a calf. One of the biggest arguments against dairy farming is how it treats the calves: Female cows are raised to become dairy cows like their mothers and the male calves are either destroyed, used for breeding programmes or sold to veal farms. AHDB even have a whole section on how to raise the female calves quickly to ensure that the farmers make a profit on them by the time they have had their second lactation.

But once you have a pregnant cow, they will be pregnant for around 9 months. During this 9 months they will begin to produce milk and can be milked during their pregnancy. Milking then stops when the cow gets to around 60 days before she is due to give birth, which is known as the ‘dry period’ where farmers are to let the cows’ udders heal prior to their calf’s birth. One reason for this is because, as with all births, cow births can be very traumatic, and if you have a cow that is too stressed out or unsettled leading up to birth then the farmer runs the risk of complications during the birth, injuries to both the cow and the calf, and in some worst situations stillbirths or unhealthy cows and calves that cannot be used the next year. After giving birth a cow can then be re-inseminated after 28-30 days.

Baby calves are then separated from the mothers immediately and put onto a food called colostrum, which is a milk-like fluid made my mammals who have just given birth. Over a period of time the calf is then weaned off of the colostrum and put on a different type of feed until they are ready to be used for dairy production. And the cycle repeats itself for the female calves until they stop producing milk and are then sent to slaughter for beef production.

Which clearly shows how a dairy cow spends the majority of a twelve month period pregnant. I will admit when trying to find information on all of this, the actual official websites were very sparing on the details and their websites are not at all user friendly. It seems the majority of the information is contained in their publications and of course these publications are only available if you purchase them or subscribe to them through some sort of union. I did find one though from the AHDB which was a very intensive guide on how to promote calving seasons and how to ensure a healthy calving season every year and to maximise profits.

Which is what really gets to me: the cows used in dairy are seen as nothing but means of production. Their sole purpose to to make a product that their farmers can profit from, and once they stop making a profit for the farmer then they are sent to the beef industry. But where does this language come from?

The laws for dairy farming

Under UK law all domestic animals are considered chattel i.e they are property. Your cat, dog, rabbit, cow, sheep, llama. They are nothing more than property in the eyes of the law, so whatever they do you as their human owner are responsible for. There are numerous law cases surrounding personal injury claims where a dog has bitten someone and the human owner has been held negligent for the behaviours of their animal. This is governed by the Animal Act 1971 where strict liability applies if your animal causes harm to another person or property. However the Animal Welfare Act 2006 sets out that anyone who is in charge of an animal (be it as a pet, livestock, boarding situation etc) must not cause any ‘unnecessary suffering’ to that animal. If they do cause unnecessary suffering then they will be guilty of an offence and face criminal charges under this act.

Now there is no definition as to what counts as ‘unnecessary suffering’ stated within the act, so case law needs to be very heavily relied upon. I will not go into the details of this here (as again it is a LOT and would require a LOT of reading, re-reading and cross referencing and again will most likely need to be a whole separate essay on its own to really get into) but as a basic that is the standard that animal welfare standards are measured against. For those who may not know, and as a real side note, I am currently a trainee solicitor and during my law degree we spent many a module on ‘the reasonable man’ as a standard for measuring why certain actions were done. Again, it is a whole issue that is up for debate and is a whole other essay on it’s own. But I digress…

In England The Farm Animal Welfare Council provide opinions to the relevant government bodies (Mostly DEFRA) on how welfare is and/or is not being met within farming industries. One of the main issues that constantly arises in their opinions is that as the demand for milk has fallen over the years, in an attempt to improve profitability and to keep their farms running, farmers are allowing welfare standards to fall. According to Compassion in World Farming, most dairy cows have a life expectancy of around 3-5 years as dairy cows are highly prone to lameness and mastitis.

Now despite extensive online searches I cannot find anywhere government related that states the exact space that a cow needs to live in in order for their welfare needs to be met. I found another publication from AHDB and one from the RSPCA that state that the environment must be ‘adequate’ for the cow’s welfare. Which states nothing really, because again it is very open to interpretation and can change from farm to farm. There is no consistency in how welfare is managed and (at least from my research) enforcement of those welfare standards seem to be very subjective. You have a number of bodies (DEFRA, RSPCA and farming unions) who appear to be working together to increase welfare standards but a lot of this seems to be on the mutual understanding that farmers will simply ‘just do them’. I have not been able to find any real reports on who inspects the animal welfare, how often these are carried out or what happens if you are not meeting these standards.

This yet again beings me back to the main issue with dairy farming (aside from the animals themselves) is that the law does not adequately define what is and is not allowed. The same could be argued for all animal welfare standards across the world as the laws have so much room for interpretation and therefore it is up to the courts to decide whether welfare needs have been met. But again the court can only make decision on a matter if there is a question on whether welfare needs have been met by a specific farm/farmer/individual. Many of the articles I have found state that mastitis (a condition in dairy cows where their udders become inflamed either due to infection or trauma that can be fatal) and lameness (where cows can no longer walk and have lesions on their hooves and legs that cause intense pain) are serious concerns within the dairy industry and many steps are being taken to try and eradicate these problems to improve the profitability of dairy farming.

Mastitis and lameness though are also both conditions that are directly impacted by the environment in which a cow lives. Lameness is brought on where a cow is made to stand for too long, not able to move around properly or is made to stand on uneven/unsuitable flooring for long periods of time. Mastitis is thought to be caused by over milking, where the instruments used to milk a cow are not cleaned properly or are not applied correctly or comfortably and as a result cause infections and trauma to the udders. Both issues clearly highlight though that the welfare positions in place are clearly not enough to solve these very common and clearly very prolific problems within the dairy industry.

Exploitation?

Now there is also the debate to be had over whether factory farming versus family farms. If I had a cow, that lost her calf at birth, would it still be exploitative for me to milk her? What right do I have to milk her? According to Alberta Milk, cows need to be milked to avoid their udders becoming engorged and uncomfortable for the cow. But again this is on an industrial level milking farm, where you want to make a profit from the milk that your cows are producing. I have been able to find very little information on the benefits of milking a cow: There are numerous articles on how milking a cow is beneficial for us (for health, money, productivity on the farm) but I have not been to find any that actually deal with it from the cows point of view. I would imagine that yes, at first the cows udders may get very engorged and uncomfortable, the same way that a woman’s breasts do when they have just given birth. But after a while milk production would slow down, less milk will need to be expelled, until eventually no milk is made at all. Again this is just my assumption, but surely that is standard biology?

Now when you look at how the dairy industry functions, how can it not be exploitative? Cows are kept constantly pregnant, their babies are taken from them, their milk is farmed, treated and then sold on mass for a high profit, and as soon as the cow is no longer producing milk she is then sold to slaughter. How is there any other way to look at this? All of the publications I read from farming unions and pro-dairy organisations referred to the cows and the calves as a production machine – cows exist so that we can milk them and once they stop making milk they are destroyed because they no longer serve a purpose to us. The articles (if you do want to read them) talk about the cows as though they are machines and that it is the role of a farmer to learn how to completely control their cows, from when they go into heat to when they calf to when they can be destroyed.

And I know that there will be some people who will argue that if we stopped drinking dairy overnight what would happen to the cows. But the reality is that dairy cows only exist because we have selectively bread them to produce more milk than is needed. Plus, it is a stupid argument because the reality is that the world will not give dairy up overnight. It will be a gradual process, whereby less cows are bred to be dairy cows and so the number of cows left at the end of it will be a fractional amount of the current 1.9 million currently out there.

Conclusion

I always find that the reality speaks for itself. Dairy is not concerned with animal welfare and is only interested in making a profit for itself. Cows are no more than machines and it again highlights the capitalist ideology that as soon as something no longer provides you with a profit, you throw it away.

And there is a part of me that recognises that dairy farming is a huge and lucrative business (although that is on the decline currently) and they do produce a lot of jobs for the surrounding neighbourhoods. However, is that not the nature of industry? Is that not why competition exists? With the rise in plant-based milks why are dairy farmers not cutting their losses and investing money in to plant based alternatives? If they know that their cows are producing less milk and their profits are down,instead of investing 20% of their income to raising and rearing new dairy cows, why not use that money to invest in growing oats?

While dairy farming may have been a lucrative part of society, I feel that the world is changing at such a rapid rate that the farmers need to adapt or die. As does every single other industry out there at the moment. Even from a business perspective, surely this is the only thing that can be done?

If any of you want to discuss the issue, p[lease do leave me a comment or send me a message. Also if you have any other useful articles or resources for me to check please do pass them along!

T xxx

‘The reality of…’ series

When I was thinking about ways to improve this little blog, I thought about some of the things I wish I had known more about before I started on my vegan journey. There is so much information out there that it can be very overwhelming to really know what the reality of a situation is: I knew that eating meat felt immoral to me, but why did i think this? I knew that most vegans don’t wear wool or silk, but what was this based on?

Veganism can tend to be viewed in a very black and white mind frame, in that you are either 100% perfect or you are a bad vegan. Even when I have looked into some of the issues for my own interest and for my own information, the amount of information was still too overwhelming to really wade through, and the information was at both ends of a spectrum: Either 100% good or 100% bad. There was very little middle ground, and I think that this middle ground is where many people sit when deciding whether or not to begin a vegan lifestyle.

I therefore thought it would be helpful to see both sides of the arguments on a number of different topics and issues. Hence, ‘The reality of…’ series was born! I really want to be able to not only deepen my own knowledge of a topic, but also to share that information with others and open up a chance for discourse and discussion. I do not believe that anything in life is as a simple and good and bad, and this is always something that has really interested me. It will also be interesting to see what new things we learn along the way and see if that in turn affects our views on other subjects.

I truly believe that a person can never be too informed about a situation and as someone who loves learning and reading up on different viewpoints and arguments, I am really looking forward to seeing where this series goes. I cannot guarantee when I will post them, as I already think some topics may be WAY more complicated than others and therefore will have way more information to read through. But I will be aiming for at least once a month to begin with and see how I get on with that!

If any of you guys have any topics or issues that you would like to discuss or wish me to research, then please do let me know in the comments, or even send me an email and I shall do my best to get through them!

T xxx

NaNaWriMo 2021

It is the 1st November which means one thing…

It’s National Novel Writing Month!!!

NaNoWrimo 2021 - Facebook Banner - Design by Andrea Floren

I was first introduced to NaNoWriMo about 5 years ago and since then every November there has been an attempt for me to write 50,000 in the month. This works out to roughly 1700 words a day – which may not sound like a lot but actually is quite challenging when your brain just can’t write words that day.

If you enjoy writing then I find that NaNo is a wonderful opportunity to really push yourself creatively, and it also allows you to create a writing habit. I have worked out over the years what my writing style is like, and also how I best focus when it comes to writing.

NaNoWriMo is a non-profit organisation and honestly everyone I have spoken to and interacted with regarding NaNo have been absolutely lovely. They have so many resources to help you write, so that even if you have never written anything before you would feel completely prepared to take on a 50,000 word challenge. They have some really useless prep tips and writing exercises to use if you ever find yourself in a writing slump, and the forums allow you to connect with other people who are also attempting to write 50,000 words.

Before Covid struck, regional and local groups would hold face to face ‘write ins’ where you would meet up with a load of people and help encourage each other with the writing. I only managed to go to one of these write ins and thanks o their support and guidance – plus just the really lovely atmosphere of creativity and expression – I was able to write about 10,000 words in just one sitting! Unfortunately Covid has put an end to all of these, however local groups will still be running virtual write ins and social events throughout November so you can still take part in the social aspect of it all.

Personally, I absolutely love NaNoWriMo. Every year I am always so inspired by the talks they bring out, and to see so many others talk so passionately about their stories, that I am always super keen to take part. Last year though, 2020 really did a number on me mentally so while I still stayed informed about everything happening with NaNo, I didn’t take part in it. And I really did miss it. It feels really nice to have a challenge again that is so creative.

If you want more information and want to take part, their website is www.nanowrimo.org. As they are a charity they do ask for donations, but it is not mandatory. You can sign up and access all of their resources completely free of charge. The people who take part (and run it) are all super supportive, and just seem to be passionate about people writing and – most importantly – having fun while writing. Yes this is a challenge, but it is meant to be fun above all else. Who cares if you end up writing 50,000 words of absolute carnage story, so long as you had heaps of fun writing it!?

I hope I can see some of you guys there, but I also apologise if my posts get super sporadic! I shall do my best but…we shall see!

T xxx

Can vegans support zoos?

I want to have a discussion with you all, because it is something that I have been very interested in for some time. When I was at university I actually did a whole dissertation on whether zoos were good or bad for animal welfare. I went in thinking that there was no way that zoos could be a good thing, however through my research it actually turned out to be a very grey area of animal welfare. I am therefore very keen to see what all of your thoughts are on this subject.

Now this is by no means a comprehensive essay: My dissertation was 10,000 words and even that required a lot of editing down! But I wanted to bring to light some of the main arguments for and against zoos, and the issues that come with them. I have tried to include as many links as I can to articles and research, but as I say I cannot include every single piece of research that I have ever done on this subject. If you have any other interesting or useful reads, please do leave them in the comments below!

Animal welfare

Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, any animal in captivity is covered by this act. Zoos and aquariums are also covered by the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 although this act was amended in 2002 to create more obligations on Local Councils when deciding whether or not to license a new zoo, as well as to ensure that animal welfare practices were more in line with the EU directives. In summary, the animals are to have a suitable environment, prevention and protection from harm, suitable food supplies and their living must be as close to the wild as reasonably possible to achieve.

The issue with legislation though is that it is a blanket. It has to cover so many different species, situations and objectives that it can fail when it comes to practically applying the rules contained within it. A study carried out in 2002 by Clubb and Mason found that elephants die far younger in captivity than they do in the wild. One suggestion is that these animals especially have very complex social structures, one that can be hard to recreate in a captive environment. Their social structures are also constantly changed by the zoo, either to keep groups small or to trade members for a new member to either increase chances of mating or to bring in new visitors to the zoo. Elephants are known to create lifelong bonds with the children and other members of their group, and to constantly have your social group changed undoubtedly has a negative impact on the animal’s emotional and mental well being. They are also huge creatures that are used to walking miles everyday – roughly the same distance from London to Oxford! There is no way any zoo are able to create an environment that really allows for this amount of exercise, and when they do not have the adequate amount of exercise, they can develop a number of physical conditions which they would not have had they been in the wild.

There is also the common knowledge that highly intelligent animals struggle to cope mentally within captivity: If you have not yet watched the 2013 movie Blackfish, I would highly recommend it. It shows very graphically what can happen when a highly intelligent animal is stuck in an stimulating and unrewarding environment. The film highlights very clearly that not only is animal welfare needed for the safety of the animals, but also for the safety of the staff, handlers and keepers who look after these animals. There are countless articles about zoochosis, whereby animals in captivity begin to show symptoms of mental and physical illness: This can include pacing, biting and headbutting the environment around them, heightened aggression towards keepers and other animals in the enclosure, swaying and over grooming to name a few. Some animals, such as great white sharks most infamously, do not even survive a year in captivity: The longets a great white was ever held in captivity was for 198 days.

However this tends to be most common in the larger (usually hunting) animals: bears, killer whales, elephants, big cats and primates. Prey animals, such as meerkats, giraffes and gazelle, tend to do quite well in captivity and are less documented in exhibiting signs of zoochosis. The logical conclusion to this information is that prey animals undoubtedly live longer in captivity because they are not being constantly hunted by bigger animals: they do not need to run and hide at every noise, they do not need to be on alert while eating. For many captive prey animals, the ones born in captivity have probably never even seen a predator. Granted some of this nature will be innately woven into their DNA – to be skittish and scared and on edge at all times – however if you have never seen a lion before, would you know to run? Are these animals still suffering? Of course there is a lack of research surrounding this area and the affect it can have on every animal, but it does make you wonder and is something to be contemplated.

Conservation

A paper by William Conway suggested that while conservation efforts were needed, regulation still is not universal enough to ensure that every single zoo does the same level of work and to the same standard. Every country has their own legislation in place to ensure that zoos carry out a degree of conservation work, however this varied largely across the world. Conway suggests that work needs to be done to create a more cohesive world wide plan, since zoos rely so heavily on other zoos for their animals.

London Zoo, for example, spend a large amount of their profits carrying out conservation efforts, with Woburn Safari Park carrying out multiple conservation projects at their own zoo as well as fundraising to support the efforts of conservation charities abroad. A large part of conservation though is understanding the animals and their natural behaviour and this may not always be possible to monitor in the wild. Zoos allow scientists to observe animals around the clock, to check on their psychical and mental characteristics so that this information can be published to other zoos and experts, and better conservation efforts can be made to suit the needs of the animal in question. Conservation methods can be made to be specific and measurable for that exact animal species in question, rather than trying to use a blanket method for a number of different species.

Education and awareness

This is probably the biggest reason why zoos exist, especially nowadays. I remember going on many a school trip to London Zoo and getting to spend all day hearing about the animals and their different characteristics. As a massive animal lover, there is something truly magical about seeing these amazing creatures in real life. I imagine for some people, it gives a real life animal to put to the horrible stories of deforestation, poaching and climate change that we see on the news. It is one thing to see images of a poacher standing proudly over their kill of a wild lion, but quite another to see that same lion standing before you in a zoo. You see the animals that we as humans are affecting and impacting with our actions and it can really drill home to you the changes that need to be made worldwide to protect them.

A large part of zoos (and I know in some of them they do this anyway) should be to show the impact that we humans are having on these animals. Yes these animals should be in the wild, however these are why animals cannot survive in the wild anymore: orangutans are losing their habitats to deforestation and rhinos are being poached to extinction for the belief that their horns hold medicinal remedies. More awareness needs to be raised around these issues, and it is up to zoos to not only educate the general public to take action, but to also step up and demand better protections are granted to these animals so that they do not end up in zoos as the only means for these animals to actually survive. In 2020 alone, roughly 50 species of animals went extinct (not including the 100s of species of plant life which also went extinct), and the number of animals classed as endangered rose by 16,000 in the last year alone. There are now around 40,000 endangered species around the world, and for many people the only time to ever see these endangered species in the flesh will be at a zoo.

Animal trade

This links very closely to conservation and animal welfare, because unfortunately the trading of animals amongst zoos is necessary for conservation efforts: The European Endangered Species Programme is made up of a number of zoos across Europe, who all work together to increase managed breeding within their endangered species. It is quite obvious therefore that animals are constantly being traded between each zoo, especially when you think that without trade between these zoos, the risk of inbreeding heightens with every new generation born – and this is clearly not going to be helpful for conservation plans.

Now I think we all know that the animals are not transported in first class accommodation: of course there are laws in place to say what an animal must be transported in, but I doubt they are in a luxurious plane all to themselves with entertainment and food available whenever they wish. They’re not on Qatar Air right? Unfortunately that is just a reality of the industry, and way more work needs to be done to ensure that these practises are improved and sustained for the future. But as with all of these things it is a work in progress and it will take more than this blog to kick the whole world into implementing change.

Is the trade industry necessary? For conservation plans, yes, undoubtedly it is. Without these trades, managed breeding programmes would not be able to exist past the first new generation as the risk of inbreeding becomes far greater and harder to manage in one zoo on their own. However, would the entire EEP even exist if better measures were put in place world wide to stop the unsustainable killing, deforestation and poaching of these animals in the wild? Another debate for another time but it is something that needs to b e weighed up when discussing this issue.

Economic/tourism implications

Something that also needs to be considered is the economic impact that zoos have on a city. London Zoo alone have roughly 1.25 million visitors every year and with a day ticket costing around £35.00, that is an obscene amount of money being raised. That doesn’t even include the amount of revenue brought in for the food and drink, plus donations from supporters. The taxes that they pay must be in figures that the likes of us may never even imagine. Zoos are also a massive tourist draw, with people travelling all over the world to see different animals. San Diego zoo on its own is an entire day out – look at the size of this place! Every country in the world relies heavily on tourism to bring people into their country and to show off their what their country has to offer, and a massive part of that may be their world renowned zoos.

This also doesn’t even begin to cover the amount of people it takes to run a zoo and the amount of jobs that a zoo creates: Aside from the actual keepers and handlers, you also need to account for chefs, waiting staff, retail assistants, security, account teams, corporate managers, HR staff, garment makers for the clothes on sale and the toys which can be bought, the graphic designers for the zoo signs and information boards and the architects and labourers who build the exhibits and the enclosures. Millions of people world wide are employed by zoos, so to get rid of them completely would mean millions of people lose their livelihood. Even I worked at a zoo while I was studying at uni, as a part time waitress, and I was just one of a team of 50 people. Zoos are a massive industry and for many keepers, I imagine their entire life has been in training to work at a zoo, to care for these exotic animals that very few people ever have the chance to see let alone care for.

My thoughts?

Personally, I am still so conflicted. I know that zoos are important and I think it would be incredibly damaging to abruptly close down an entire industry. I also believe that zoos are beneficial for some animals and actually provide a better quality of life than they would have had in the wild. But that does not mean I am happy that these animals can’t live in the wild. In an ideal world, these animals would all be left to live, thrive and enjoy their environment without us humans barging in to take from them. I try my best to always advocate for animal welfare, but it would be naive of me to ignore the impact that zoos have on this work. The donations they provide to other charities that carry out real groundwork in other countries is fundamental in helping create change.

Now would I chose to go to the zoo if I had a day off and nothing to do? Probably not. But if my nephew or my family wanted us to take a trip to the zoo as part of a family day out? I would go, not only so that I could spend time with my loved ones and see these beautiful and majestic creatures up close, but also because again it is the education and awareness that zoos can create that can inspire new people to take a stand to protect an animal they have just fallen in love with. I hope one day every animal can be at peace and at home in the wild, but until then I want to support conservation and education efforts.

As I said, this is by no means meant to be comprehensive, and it is only meant to provide you with a basic overview of some to the main issues surrounding zoos and the work that they do. But I hope it has at least inspired a thought in you, and has inspired you to do more research into what you as an animal lover can do to help protect them – both in captivity and in the wild.

What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments, and if you guys have any other interesting articles to read, then please do leave those in the comments as well!

T xxx

Why perfection is a myth

Following on my previous post, I wanted to take another little opportunity to reiterate that veganism is not an all or nothing lifestyle. That just because you are vegan does not mean that you also have to try and right every other wrong in the world. The idea of the ‘perfect person’ is a myth and it is not something I would ever tell people to try and aspire to be.

I have met so many vegans who burn themselves out because they try to do too much. The reality is, the world is a very messed up place and there will always be someone in need of help. I have nothing but admiration for those people who do try to help everyone they meet and to fight for every cause under the sun, but I also see these people burn out so quickly and get so bogged down in the badness that they don’t ever stop to just enjoy even the smallest things.

I try to help the homeless as much as possible, but I also do not earn that much money and at the end of the day I still have my own bills to pay, my own pets to support and my own roof to support. I give food when I can and spare change when I have it, but I will never advocate for anyone to bankrupt themselves just to help others. Because that doesn’t help solve the larger situation nor is it a long term solution for the homelessness crisis.

I try not to support big corporation businesses, but if the only place available for me to meet my friends for a coffee is a Starbucks then so be it. I make sure to always have a reusable mug in my bag or to use my own metal straws. But no matter how good a person you are you will never be able to do everything, and I think it is so damaging to have that perfectionist mindset.

As I have mentioned previously, one of the most damaging parts of the vegan community is the idea that veganism is about being perfect. That if you cannot be perfect then you might as well not even bother being vegan. The reality is though that everyone has their own life outside of their vegan one: We all have hectic jobs and busy family lives and complex social circles that we are constantly trying to juggle. So yes, you may want to only go to a locally owned, completely plant based bistro, but if your family want to go to a chain because it’s the only place that offers an option for everyone, then it doesn’t mean you are a ‘bad vegan’. If you work somewhere which involves working with a lot of paper or plastic, then you are not a ‘bad environmentalist’.

Over the years I have tried my best to help as many as possible in the best way that I can. I cannot financially support every homeless person I see, but I can donate old clothes to homeless shelters, and share resources with my wider community in the hope of inspiring them to also assist. I donate to charities that can provide long lasting support to those in need and I try to always educate myself on how these situations come to be. It can be anything from drugs, to mental health issues to just bad luck and tough times. I do my best to signpost people to charities or resources that could help them get back on their feet and to move forward with their lives.

I also cannot save every single animal from torture. At least not over night. If the most I can do is simply not eat meat and dairy and eggs, then that is still a powerful statement to make. I share resources on my social media, on this blog and in my general discussions with people that I meet who ask me about why I’m vegan and sometimes those little acts can inspire someone else to start refusing meat products or to swap their dairy for nut milk. In the grand scheme of things I am not on the picket lines protesting against factory farming, but I am still doing what I am able to do in my current situation.

And I think that is the most important thing to remember when it comes to any type of activism, is that you can only do what you can do. In many cases you simply sharing resources or information online is more than enough. One of your followers could see that picture of a baby cow being torn away from it’s mother and change their diet there and then. They could then forward it onto to other people who also decide to change their diet and to stop supporting the meat industry and it snowballs from there. All because you shared one little picture. Sometimes it can be so hard to see the far reaching influence that we as individuals have, even though there is literally an entire career market based on being an influencer. If someone can convince you that you need to try this new make up product, what’s to say you can’t convince someone else to give up eggs?

Veganism is about living a life that causes as little pain as is possible. No matter what you do, you will never be perfect and someone who obsessed over ‘Perfection’ for the majority of my teens and twenties, let me tell you it is never achievable. There will always be an injustice somewhere int he world that will need righting and so you will never achieve that utopia you chase after. Sometimes, when I get so depressed at the state of the world and the issues that are so prevalent within my society, I stop and I just sit for a moment. I try to remember that even if I was the only vegan in the entire world, by not eating beef I saved at least one cow’s life. By not eating eggs, I have saved at least one female hen from a life of demand. By not eating dairy, one baby cow gets to stay with their mom. And if I never achieve anything else in my life, I know that at least I have done that.

If you ever need a reminder of the impact that you as one person can have, even by simply changing your eating habits, see this calculator. Even the smallest of acts matter and over time those tiny acts can have massive impacts across the world. Veganism is going from strength to strength and the number of people changing to a vegan lifestyle are doubling every month, let alone every year. Below is my impact and…ignoring everything else, 1915 animals are alive today because of me. My goal in life has always been to save animals, so I am pretty bloomin’ chuffed!

Above all things I want people to remember to look after themselves. If you don’t look after yourself, you will not be able to do as much as you want to do and it will inevitably lead to you to feeling nothing but disappointment and sadness. Their is a wonderful phrase which says that when you are on an aeroplane, the first thing they say to you if there is an emergency is to put your own mask on first. Once you have your own mask on, you can then help everyone around you. It is a phrase that I have been hearing more and more, especially with 2020 and the whole COVID19 malarkey, and yet it is such a true statement. You need to look after you first, and everything else will come together easier.

I made this blog as a little way to share my vegan journey, and if I happen to help a few people come to grips with the lifestyle then I consider this a success. I want this blog to be a place of open and free discussion, so if you have questions, or resources or thought that you just want to share, my comments and emails are always open to you.

Stay safe everyone, and I shall see you all soon!

T xxx

Dealing with the loss of a pet

On Christmas Eve, our Pippin finally crossed over the rainbow to be with his brother Merry. We had noticed him slowing down for a few days – not as energetic and a bit unsteady on his feet – and when we woke on Christmas Eve he was in his final moments. As with most pets, it happened quite quickly, and we sat by him and held his paw as he took his final breaths in his home. He was home, he was safe and he was loved more than anything in this world.

I’m glad the last picture I ever took of him was such a handsome one.

Needless to say, our Christmas didn’t feel the most Christmassy. Add on top of it all COVID and the Tier 4 restrictions we are currently under, and we couldn’t even be around our family. I am very lucky though that I and my partner at least have each other, and we still have two very healthy, happy and trouble-making bunnies in our lives. But the house already feels a bit too big now. After Merry back in May and now Pippin, I think I am well within my right to say this one f-bomb on my blog: Fuck 2020.

People sometimes say that when a pet dies it is not the same as when a human dies, and to some degree I agree. But at the same time, it still hurts a whole bloody lot when the little creature that you have loved and cared for and played with and shared a home with for the last 3 years does pass away. The average age for a gerbil is 2, so our boys making it to 3 makes it a bit easier to deal with, as I know that both Merry and Pippin had long and happy lives with us.

Literally stopping everything to say hi to us

I think that is the main thing that you can take away with you when you own a pet. There is the knowledge that in almost every case, you will outlive your pet. Nature is a cruel and unforgiving thing and try as we might we cannot stop it from taking it;s course. All we can do, is ensure that we give our pets the best life possible, even if it is only for a small amount of time. Give them as much love as they will let us and make them comfortable when that rainbow bridges finally beckons for them.

We are also trying to think of ideas of what to use their cage for. It feels wrong to throw it away, but it also feels wrong to just put it in some dark storage room. We are thinking of using it as a sort of terrarium to grow some herbs in the house? If you guys have any other suggestions, please do let me know in the comments!

In honour of Pippin, please give all of your fur babies extra treats and as many cuddles as they can stand today. I know that Pippin is now with his brother and they will both have endless chocolate drops and loo rolls to chew on, and that while they both may have become grumpy old men in their old age, they knew how loved they were and how loved they will always be by us.

My Boys

On a slightly lighter note, I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and all got to forget about the mess that 2020 has been. It is suffice to say that I very much spent Christmas eating my feelings, so I have a lot of good stuff for you guys moving forward.

T xxx

Merry Christmas!

A slightly earlier post than normal, but as it is Christmas tomorrow I intend to spend all day tomorrow in my Pjs, watching Christmas movies and eating my body weight in food.

This year has been a manic one and I know I am not alone in feeling like this madness is unlikely to end anytime soon. But in all of this madness, this little blog has been so helpful for me – something to focus my attention on and to keep me busy on these now empty weekends. I hope that me stuffing my face has helped bring at least a tiny bit of joy into your day.

Thank you all so much for being here and for being apart of this little project with me. I can’t wait to see what 2021 brings to us all. Please also know that my blog is a totally open and safe place, and if you ever feel alone or stuck or just want to chat about life, I will always want to hear it. So comment away and I will make sure you respond.

Merry Christmas everyone. Have a wonderful day tomorrow and I shall see you all very soon!

Lots of love, Taylor xxx