Our local animal rights group, Animal Rights & Rescue of North Texas, is always looking for opportunities for outreach. At the same time that we were searching for our next event, it became apparent to me that there are opportunities for education all around us, if only we learn to recognize them. The week that school started back in session was a good example of how many opportunties we may miss if we are not actively looking for them.
Back to School
I take my five year old grandson to school. Before the kindergarten teacher arrives, the children are to sit in the hallway until the bell rings and she opens the door. While waiting with my grandson, the little boy next to him raised his heel to squash a tiny bug that was crawling across the floor. My grandson, ever alert, stopped the little boy in mid-squash as I kindly admonished the potential bug-killer and suggested we escort the bug outside the double glass doors. I carefully scooped up the little guy or gal, took him/her to the other side of the doors, and completed my direct rescue for the morning. Suddenly, all the kids were at the doors, peering at the bug. “Oh, look, he has wings!” one of the children proclaimed. They were all engrossed in watching the small insect and every young face was pressed to the glass. I asked my grandson to return to his place on the side of the hallway to wait for the bell when he explained, “I have to protect him. He (the bug-squasher) still wants to squash him!”
The day before, as I waited for the final bell to ring, I sat with another grandparent and discussed the heat spell that has engulfed Texas for much of the summer. I mentioned the horses that were having a rough time with the heat, and he told me about the nine found dead in this part of north Texas — they had been on an automatic watering system while the owner was absent and, with no one checking on them, the well ran dry and the horses perished. I had received a call only last week about another group of horses that a woman was frantically trying to save -she feared one foal was already dead. They were tied with no shelter and no water. The only water on the place was dried over with scum and appeared to be filled with snakes. She had reportedly contacted the police but they said there was nothing they could do. (The animals were removed before our plan could be implemented.) Chatting with this other grandparent was a small opportunity to discuss the importance of respecting all forms of life and the dreadful consequences of not doing so.
Banking on Education
Only last week, as two technicians were working in my garage, one approached me after seeing the sign on my car for our rescue group. His dog had been recently killed by another, aggressive dog who was then returned to his owner. This young man was concerned the dog would kill again, and he wanted to know of an animal-friendly attorney he might contact. I was able to link him to a rescue group that maintained that information and the two workers began discussing how much they care about animals. Like many Texans, they had not yet drawn the connection between what they eat,wear and use, and that concern for others. I ran in the house and came out with some information about animal rights, wrote down the number of the referral, and talked with them for about five or ten minutes about animals and veganism.
Then, only yesterday, I opened up a bank account for ARRNT, and the account executive began asking me about the work that we do. He was interested in veganism for health reasons and was quite receptive to the information I gave, most from my personal experiences. He was hung up on one aspect of animal rights though – rats. He said he did not like rats and could not accept that they had any significance whatsoever. I asked him if he had ever spent any time with rats or been around a pet rat, and we talked about how familiarity sometimes changes our opinions of others. I promised to drop by some information about veganism and he seemed very appreciative.
Bringing Down Defenses
Last week, in preparing for the upcoming ARRNT meeting, I was discussing with a city employee the possibility of our tabling at the local Farmers Market. I had spoken to this woman last year, before our group was started, and she was quite interested, stating she would like to learn more about veganism herself. This year, however, the market is bustling, and she thought maybe we could see if Prairie Paws, our local animal shelter, might give us some space on their table. She was alarmed at the word “advocate” and seemed to hear “activist,” which she said concerned her – they did not want any trouble. Also, she balked at our name — animal rights — wouldn’t that stir up trouble, too? I assured her that we were all about peace and only wanted to provide educational materials for those that might be interested. “I don’t know; you are against what some of our vendors are selling as they sell meat.” True, I said, but we would be promoting the produce vendors. She agreed that many folks need to change their dietary habits, but seemed to feel our group might not be a good addition. We are part of the community, too, I said – only last week it was announced that UNT (University of North Texas) had opened one of their cafeterias as an all-vegan cafeteria, open to the public. And Loving Hut, the international vegan chain, was opened in Arlington, a town next to our town. Things are changing, people are interested and very receptive to the information we have, I said. She equivocated, and said she would speak to her superior, but she really was not comfortable with our group. (I admit to feeling a flash of frustration – the flesh peddlers are welcome but those providing free services are excluded because the truth must not be told?) She gave me the phone number of the new administrator at Prairie Paws and also the name and number of someone hosting a tasting event where vegan food might be welcome. I thanked her for her time and decided this was an opportunity, too – she mentioned not knowing the difference between a vegan and a vegetarian, so I will follow up with more information for her and write a letter of thanks for her time. As I mentioned earlier, familiarity sometimes brings down defenses.
I have taken to wearing a vegan button when I do not have a vegan message shirt on. The sign on my car sometimes draws people to dialogue, and I now keep literature in my car and in my purse, available to disseminate at the smallest opportunity. While our young group lacks the funds to participate in many civic events, we can always find little opportunities that may have a larger impact. Witnessing my grandson protecting a small fellow creature, watching how the other children changed their interest (save for one) in the bug towards a positive and engaging one, was inspirational to me. That little boy was unconcerned what any of the other children thought – he was going to protect the bug. It was proof positive that education works, and for me, that is all it takes to encourage me to continue on, one opportunity at a time.