Monday, December 2, 2013

Bleating Hearts will touch your heart and leave you a stronger advocate for animals



You know how when you watch a movie or read a book that you want others to watch, you want to talk all about it? Well, that is what I am about to do. I have never written a book review before, but I had to tell everyone about Bleating Hearts by Mark Hawthorne* (author of Striking at the Roots:  A Practical Guide to Animal Activism).

As someone who has been working for more than 25 years on various animal issues — from hunting, to fur, to animals in marine parks, to circuses, etc. — and someone who, of course, spent a significant amount of my activist history working to help animals raised and killed for food and those used in experiments, I learned a lot from this book.

Bleating Hearts, covers many issues, including ones familiar to most activists as well as others that do not get a lot of exposure. But even for those issues you think you know a lot about, you might be surprised (and, yes, shocked) that you will learn even more.

Of course, that means it is a tough read. However, during the whole process Mark is with you and relates to your pain and what you are feeling. And, of course, if you have ever read Mark’s writing, you know what an incredible writer he is. Even some of the most horrible instances that he details are told with eloquence.

For me, his ability to say more eloquently what I feel like saying (and do it without profanity) is truly helpful. You have a warm blanket with you throughout the process, reminding you it is okay to feel outrage and sadness over the treatment of animals.

For activists like me, being left with resources on how you can get involved to help change things was both helpful and hopeful. 

Simple steps – not going to circuses that use animals, learning how to identify paint brushes that do not use animal hair, etc. – are part of the solution.

Another bonus about the book is that it includes the voices of many advocates working on these issues, just like Striking at the Roots. There is no single organization behind the book, so many voices from around the world, including those of grassroots activists, can be heard and learned from.

The book also contains information about many different animals; people who are possibly concerned about one issue are drawn in, and yet they will learn so much more.

It is hard to be an expert on every issue, but the fully referenced Bleating Hearts helps gives you the tools to know a bit more about all of them.

Okay, so let’s talk about what the book covers:

Chapter 1 deals with animals who are raised and killed for food.
Even though I work on issues of animals killed for food, what I learned can only help my advocacy.

When I talk about farmed salmon, it is second nature to make sure that people understand that salmon flesh was dyed. But how do these fish get that paint tint in the wild? It is a matter of what THEY eat.

You get to hear from Randall Arauz, a marine biologist in Costa Rica (winner of the Goldman Prize), about shark populations. 

There are some really painful pieces to read in the book, and for those Mark reminds us on Vegan Break that they are written in short sections, so do feel free to skip and/or save to read for later.

Chapter 2 deals with animals who are used for fashion.
It tackles more recent issues, such as the greenwashing that the fur industry is pushing and the myth of “ethical” ivory.
He gets us up to speed on these issues that we have heard about for decades and where they are now.

Chapter 3 is the one closest to my heart, as it is about animals used for experiments.

This chapter, like all of them, is well-researched and gives you a truly intimate, inside look at animals used in laboratories, while taking to task not only the ethical issues but the logic of animal experimentation. And sadly it shows us how far we still have to go when a test like the Lethal Dose-50 (LD-50) is still being used. 

This test was considered outdated when I first got involved in animal rights activism in the ‘80s, and the reality that the LD-50  is still in use should jolt us all into doing whatever we can to end it.
And learning that “[S]ome experts estimate that as much as 90 percent of the animals used for dissection are wild-caught” shows us why those in the conservation arena should be lockstep with us in opposing dissection.

Chapter 4 looks at the fate of wild-caught animals from bears to seahorses and groups working on these issues from Australia to the USA. Listed as a reference is our favorite Southern Cross Wildlife Care!

Chapter 5 covers animals used in sports, including rodeos, hunting, fishing, and racing (hares, horses, and dogs).

Although I felt like I knew the basics of animals used in sports, I learned more than I could have ever imagined. Mostly because my imagination couldn’t really prepare me to come up with some of these atrocities. 

Chapter 6 in some ways was one of the hardest for me to read. I have worked on issues of animals in entertainment and have always known my outrage is justified. But I was saddened and horrified to know there was more. I did not know, for example, what the captivity industry does to killer whales, including tearing them away from their families and from the wild…hold on to your heart, there is more. Sigh…

Toward the end of the book, we come to big areas that I knew very little about, such as animals used as sacrifices (detailed in Chapter 7). Not only does he fully inform us about the different religious practices involving animal sacrifice and the places around the globe where it continues to occur, but Mark also helps readers connect the issues across cultural and geographical lines. For example, he tellingly draws attention to how animals used in experiments are often referred to as “sacrifices” for the greater good as well.

Chapter 8 deals with issues of so-called artists’ uses of animals.

The chapter gives us names of artists to stay away from -- “[T]hose who feel they must destroy in order to create” — and those animal-friendly artists we should promote!

Chapter 9 starts with a powerful story of Nietzsche’s reaction to a horse being whipped. But it is not just Nietzsche who we learn was moved to action at such a scene, but also English abolitionist William Wilberforce.  This chapter deals with animals who are forced to work for humans, including donkeys, mules, elephants, dolphins, and sea lions. And we meet Thailand’s elephant defender Lek Chailert!

Probably one of the hardest chapters to get your head around is that of the sexual assault on animals in Chapter 10. Covering issues of bestiality and zoophilia, as well as the mistreatment of animals as a form of domestic battery, Mark addresses the subjects on an institutional level: “In many ways, the rape rack is the crucible on which all who consume meat or dairy products must weigh their collective conscience, the place where we must surely agree that society’s abuse of animals has exceeded any reasonable measure of sanity.”

In Chapter 11, we see Mark turn to others to find out their thoughts, including well-known writers such as Carol Adams and Richard Ryder, who coined the term “speciesism.”

The book is written as if you are learning from a reporter giving you facts, figures, and some history so you understand the issues. But the bonus is that he understands your heart and that it is impossible to read some of it without grieving. And he understands you must be thinking to yourself, “What can I do to change things?” He gives you tips how.

If you want to be an informed and powerful advocate for the animals, then read this book!

*Full disclosure: Mark Hawthorne (Twitter @markhawthorne) is my husband, though I am not writing this as his partner, but more as an activist for the animals since 1987. If I were writing it as his partner, the blog would be about how he took five years to write this book alongside his full-time job while still volunteering for other animal causes. And, well, what it is like to watch a thoughtful, gentle, sensitive soul read, research, watch and write about all of these atrocities and then write a book to inform others. Just like investigators who go behind closed of labs and factory farms, he did it to inform people and create change.