by Melissa Andrews

Awakening to My Love of All Animals

As a child growing up on a farm in rural Maine, it was abundantly clear to me, from very early on, that the animals who lived in our house and the animals who lived in our barn were, in all the ways that truly matter, the same.

They all wanted to live their lives in peace, free from fear and pain; they wanted to feel safe and loved.

While I shared my childhood with many types of farmed animals, sheep were always a constant. Almost every winter one of the mother ewes would have twins and not be able to care for both lambs.

Her instincts would lead her to pick the strongest and shun the weakest, who would always become “mine.”

I would lovingly and carefully bottle feed these tiny, sweet babies and watch them grow into playful, strong lambs. But those blissful winters would turn to spring and inevitably a teary goodbye as they were sent away.

In many ways, I was like E.B. White’s Charlotte, although I never outgrew my love for these sweet lambs, and they never got the reprieve that Wilbur enjoyed.

And while I was told this was just the way things were, I could not come to terms with it. And so year after year my heart filled with joy in the winter only to be broken again in the spring.

Then one day an amazing thing happened.

I remember vividly an afternoon in the second grade when we were learning about omnivores, herbivores, and carnivores, and hearing our teacher say humans were omnivores, but could eat like herbivores and that vegetarians were people who didn’t eat meat.

It was thrilling to learn people could live without eating animals; that we didn’t need to take lives to live.

And while there was initial resistance to my requests to stop eating animals, I was persistent and was eventually permitted to become a vegetarian. Years later I learned about the atrocities of the dairy and egg industries and became a vegan.

I often wish I had learned these truths sooner, and that is one of the reasons that I have come to see education as so important; the realities of modern animal agriculture remain comfortably hidden from most, and we need education to expose these realities.

As Maya Angelou once said, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

I see veganism as an intention to live as kindly as possible; a process of evolution where we constantly learn how to “do better” and live more gently.

Finding a Deeper Purpose

My undergraduate degree is in architecture, and I have spent the last decade working in my chosen career. I love the problem solving aspects, but I have been left searching for deeper purpose, for finding a way to leave a more meaningful impact.

In my quest to find deeper purpose, I learned about farmed animal sanctuaries: places for animals like those I had loved so dearly growing up, but where they are free to live out their lives as cherished individuals.

I scheduled a trip to see a couple different sanctuaries, and as I suspected, they are heaven on earth.

My husband, who had initially become vegan out of a deep concern for the environment and the crushing toll that animal agriculture has on our planet, came along on this pilgrimage to meet rescued farm animals with me.

He understood the moral reasoning and compassion for animals that guided me, but as a child growing up in the city, he didn’t have any experience with companion animals, let alone farmed animals.

There is something about a sweet, trusting turkey falling asleep in your lap that can do more to change you than seeing photos and videos of the horrific factory farm she escaped. Being able to form a connection with one of these survivors and see her/him as an individual is powerful.

My husband’s experience was transformative, and watching his transformation was profound for me.

On our way home we stopped for lunch, and he saw a sign about turkey soup while walking down the street. He stopped in his tracks, overwhelmed by the reality that the turkey in that soup was like the turkey who had, only hours earlier, sat in his lap.

The only difference was that one got lucky and escaped the system alive.

That was the first time I truly understood the power of this type of advocacy, and I knew that I wanted to be involved in the farmed animal sanctuary movement.

These animals were survivors of some of the most horrific abuses one could imagine, and yet somehow they could find it in their hearts to trust, even to love humans. So upon returning home, I did some research and was excited to find that our little state of Maine had its own farmed animal sanctuary.

And thus started my involvement with Peace Ridge Sanctuary, where I spent a couple years on the board of directors, volunteering with animal care, barn cleaning, going on rescues, transporting dogs, tabling at public events, and giving sanctuary tours. While no longer on the board, I still volunteer there.

Loving Isaac

After some time at Peace Ridge, I saw a video online by ARME (Animal Rescue, Media & Education) of two “experimentally spent” laboratory Beagles they had rescued. The dogs were cautiously taking their first steps into freedom.

These dogs might as well have been walking on the moon, because feeling the earth on their feet, seeing the sun for the first time, was just as foreign.

This bittersweet video went viral and educated the public about the realities and the living, feeling victims of vivisection.

This rescue launched ARME’s incredible campaign: Beagle Freedom Project.

BFP advocates for all animals suffering in laboratories with the hope to free those whom they can, to educate the public, and to work toward ending animal testing.

Similar to my experience visiting farmed animal sanctuaries, as soon as I learned about Beagle Freedom Project and their mission, I knew it was something I needed to be involved with.

Even though they are located in California, I filled out an adoption application with a message that if ever they were in the position to rescue a laboratory animal in the Northeast, I was available to help in any way they needed. And then one day I got a call with the question I had been waiting to hear… BFP was doing their first east coast rescue of two dogs, and they wanted to know if we could give one a home.

Two days later I was traveling to pick up a sweet little Beagle we named Isaac who has forever changed my life and my heart.

Isaac spent four and a half years living in a laboratory cage, never going outside, never feeling the sun on his face. He was tattooed with a federal ID number, had his vocal cords surgically removed, a device implanted in his heart, and endured years of experiments.

When the laboratory no longer needed him, they sold him to a veterinary school where we was used for a semester to “practice” different surgeries and procedures.

His whole left side is filled with non-absorbable sutures, left behind, as they likely intended to euthanize him at the end of his stay, like almost all victims of vivisection.

When Isaac came to us, he suffered from PTSD and was fearful as he tried to figure out how to live as a dog, out in a beautiful world that was so much bigger, and often so overwhelming compared to the tiny cage he had lived in.

Nearly three years later he still suffers from occasional night terrors, but he has made such incredible progress.

Isaac knows more about forgiveness, loving unconditionally, and living bravely than any human I have ever met. He is living proof in the transformative power of love.

Isaac’s story was told and shared, and I often think about how he spent so many years unloved and nameless in a scary laboratory, thinking he didn’t matter to anyone and then contrasting that with his life after the laboratory where he has so much love, and matters so much to not only us but his friends around the world (Isaac has his own Facebook page to help advocate against animal testing).

Not only does he have a name now, but his name and his story are known by so many.

That is amazing. Isaac is amazing.

Sharing our hearts and our home with Isaac has been one of the most rewarding and transformative experiences of my life.


Following the Path to Humane Education

I am not sure what the future holds, but there are some things I do know.

I know I want to help educate people about the choices they make and the effects they have on human and non-human animals and the planet that we all call home.

One of the many things I love about IHE’s social justice graduate programs is the balance of environmental ethics, animal protection, and human rights.

I truly believe that all types of oppression and exploitation are connected and rooted in the problematic notion that some lives matter more than others.

I know that I feel the most energized and hopeful when I am tabling at an event for PRS or BFP, or engaging college students handing out Vegan Outreach flyers, or doing other interactive advocacy.

I know I want to introduce people to survivors like my sweet Isaac, and all my furry and feathered friends at Peace Ridge Sanctuary, because their ability to open hearts and minds is more powerful than any words I could ever speak or write.

In a lot of ways, I feel like my life has been leading me on a path toward humane education. While the realities and challenges we face are heartbreaking and daunting, Joan Baez was right when she said that “Action is the antidote to despair.”

Life is calling me to find a way to help solve these challenges.

It feels a bit like the complex architectural problems I love, but with animals, humans, and the environment… what could be more exciting, meaningful or important?

IHE guest blogger Melissa Andrews is graduate student in IHE’s M.A. in Humane Education program. Melissa lives on a small pond in the beautiful woods of Maine with her husband, rescued dogs, and cat.