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Operation Nix-the-Petting-Zoo, Part Deux

Coincidentally, last night was a board meeting for our homeowner's association, and though I wasn't on the agenda there's always time for homeowner comments about, say, the petting zoo and pony rides that are scheduled for the spring "BBQ" (here's part one of this story).

I printed pages of information about petting zoos from the Internet, mostly about health risks but also about animal treatment. Of course none of them come close to the most important reason for my objection: that we have no right to use animals for entertainment or other reasons that are not necessary.

I knew that if I talked about the Center for Disease Control's recommendations about washing stations or proximity to food (which is ironic, considering many of the nonhumans in the petting zoos are also considered "food"), I'd just get a rehearsed statement about the practices of the vendor being in full compliance. And there's not much from the health angle for pony rides. Most important, the event will require scores of dead animals to nosh on, so objecting to using animals for entertainment is a less-than-optimal approach.

The event will also have a bounce house and a handful of other activities for children. Basically, it's for children who eat animals and their parents. There's really nothing there for people like my husband and me; we're not the target market. And realistically, availability of a vegan burger isn't going to make me want to participate.

As for the creation of the picnic, there was no event committee. The board made the decisions based on what other communities have done (uneventfully and successfully, by their standards).

Here's what I learned and will do:

  • Though I recently ended a complete nightmare of an experience on a couple of boards of directors and have sworn off them, I might have to get involved, perhaps at the committee level. At the very least, I can keep informed about the activities that are being chosen and always send a letter or comment at the meeting from the vegan perspective.
  • I touched on all points, focusing on the petting zoo, and will investigate the vendor in case there are any complaints against them. But I should have presented a stronger use argument. When I uttered the words "not everyone in this 350 home community eats and wears animals or believes in using them for entertainment," all board members looked at me as if I was not speaking a language they understand and I think I lost them.
  • I couldn't help but ask what kinds of animals were in the petting zoo, where they came from, where they are housed, and whether the kids would get the opportunity to pet the same kinds of animals they would be eating at the event. Is the point a before and after scenario? The reason they gave for the petting zoo and pony rides was that other communities have done them and seemed to like them. Clearly, not a lot of thought went into this decision and it wasn't by consensus of the community. That's what happens when people don't participate.
  • Our clubhouse is a large house, complete with a kitchen made for entertaining and I'm going to survey the neighborhood for interest in a vegan cooking class.
  • I'm going to send a letter to the board and request that it be added to the minutes, stating my position more clearly.

Did I accomplish anything? That depends. If my goal was to present a perspective the dominant culture isn't used to hearing about, maybe. From the looks on their faces, everything I said was a surprise to them. They should never play poker. If my goal was to nix any part of the event, no chance did I succeed. But at least I showed up and was one tiny voice for the voiceless.

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. This is great Mary. I really appreciate stories like this. You getting out there and speaking up on what may not seem like a big deal….actually has huge ramifications. Allowing children and the adults involved to view animals as nothing more than cute objects for entertainment and snacks will usually go un challenged and have devestating effects in the future.

    If every activist participated in the community and in the world the way you do, this world would be a much better place. Not only are you a voice for the voiceless but you're also a voice for people who count themselves as animal advocates and vegan activists.
    You constantly prove how it's "doing" and "contemplating" the supposed little things which may seem not that important and go unnoticed by many yet in the long run… have the most power. And I don't mean "baby steps" or gradual steps.
    What I mean to say here is…you have real, thought out, everyday solutions to fighting against a speciesist world. You take hold of very emotional issues and help us think them through in calm and mindfully provocative ways that make us all better activists.Yet your actions off the blog are always inspiring as well.
    Thank you.
    If only we had more activists, writer/bloggers and citizens like yourself we would all be better animal persons and the world would be a better place for all the animal persons as well.


    March 24, 2010
  2. That is ironic and sad that the petting zoo will likely have the same animals everyone will be eating.

    I read a story about a woman who "rescued" a silkie chicken… Her children adore "it" and swear to never let "it" become "food". But they are also curious how a "silkie" chicken tastes… So they are getting another "it" to find out.

    You can take this story in a dozen different directions, but none of them makes any sense. Kids certainly aren't born to think this way. They have to be taught. And "petting zoos" are a perfect learning ground. Caged and confined animals, there just for the entertainment of man. The message becomes clear: The purpose of animals is to serve our pleasures… And everyone likes to eat — so what's the problem? 🙁

    Anyway – Hang in there! And good luck on your cooking class!

    March 25, 2010
  3. jnte #

    If they go ahead with the petting zoo, it might be interesting to consider hiring a leafleter to distribute some "food for thought." Just a 1/4 page flyer or something to get people thinking. I like your "Before and After" theme…

    March 25, 2010
  4. jnte #

    P.S. Mary – I have been dealing with a similar situation. I belong to a Stop Puppy Mills group in my town and recently met to discuss the upcoming fundraiser/fair at the common. They wanted to have a petting zoo…"you know, for the kids!" and I said, "I think it's very disturbing to raise funds for some animals while actively exploiting others." I got a bit of an argument about how petting zoos weren't harming animals, and then a bit of sullen silence. I'm sure I didn't make any new friends that night, but I'm also pretty sure they won't "do the zoo."

    March 25, 2010
  5. Olivia #

    Ditto the above. I think the vegan cooking class is a brilliant idea. There are bound to be neighbors curious about what the food is and how to cook it — and then when they find out how scrumptious it is, how easy it is to make, how few calories it has, etc…… they might begin to see your out-of-orbit comments as, well, a little bit normal. I'm proud (if that's the right word) of you for putting your all into defending animals this way, and every other way.

    March 25, 2010
  6. A vegan cooking class is definitely an effective use of advocacy time and energy. One hour of vegan cooking class is likely equal to 1,000 hours of fighting the petting zoo.

    March 25, 2010
  7. Lou #

    Well done Mary, I find what you're doing very inspirational, thank you. It's not easy to stand up in front of that many dumbstruck faces and say what you know is true. I think the cookery class is a fantastic idea, please keep us updated, we're all rooting for you 🙂

    March 25, 2010
  8. Red #

    So, people were like "OMG we should have a petting zoo, some other group had one and people like petting animals!" and you were like "OMG BUT NOT EVERYONE EATS MEAT, WEARS FUR AND LEATHER!" and then people looked at you like "WTF", so you concluded they were stupid and didn't understand your point?

    Seriously, I'm an animal right activist too, but you should just stop.

    June 4, 2010
  9. Red,
    I will respond to this because you claim to be an animal rights activist.

    There were no Valley Girls in the room, and I wrote a letter explaining my position. There were no OMG or WTF or likes said during the meeting or written in the letter.

    This is a perfect example of comments that make vegans and animal rights activists look bad. You came here to insult me. You added nothing to the conversation. And, you misinterpreted what occurred so that you could insult me.

    Finally, you've done it all anonymously and with a phony e-mail address. How very brave.

    You're supposed to be on my team, as we are both on the side of the animals. Why on earth would you submit a comment like this?

    Maybe it is you who "should just stop."

    June 4, 2010
  10. MyCal #

    I am a 23 yr old veterinary assistant student, who has had a life time dream of having my own petting farm. However my reasons are slightly different than the exploitation and mistreatment of animals. I actually would like to turn around the whole spectrum of these types of operations. Animal cruelty, negligence, and ingnorance disgusts me as well. I hope to raise awareness and show children the proper care for all species I am able to provide care for. Sometimes I feel the bigger issue is not that people still eat animals or use them in entertainment, it is more the means of arriving at these conclusions. The care of these animals during the processes. Instead of decideing that all petting farms are horrible, we should investigate they're background information. Make people aware of establishments that are violating animal rights, and praise the ones who actually have a love for the animals and want to see them happy and cared for. I really offer you praises for being someone who wants to help those who cannot speak for themselves; I just also wanted to let you see that there is some silver lining even in something that may have been presented previously to you as something terrible.

    November 22, 2010
  11. MyCal,
    I'm confused about what a "petting farm" is. If you're talking about a sanctuary for animals, where they will live their natural lives and people will come to visit and learn about the kinds of lives they *could have had*, and you'll care for them for their natural lives, great!

    As far as transporting them around for the entertainment of others (like the petting zoos I'm referring to), that's not acceptable in the realm of animal rights. Does that help clarify?

    November 22, 2010
  12. MyCal #

    It does a bit, I am still a bit confused myself. I just feel the need to give them something better than what I have seen. I am in the process of completing a presentation for my class on animal cruelty in zoos and exotic farms. When I complete this I will post the link so anyone who wants to can check it out.

    December 5, 2010

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