This is the fourth installment from guest contributor, Sara Franklin. We met in an online Facebook group and have clicked about a lot of things including how we treat our birds and our desire to see more science-based education available to small flock keepers. She and her husband, Jacob, have a Youtube channel Roovolution and a Facebook page Rooster Allies, dedicated to the humane care of roosters.
“Some of my earliest memories are of my animal companions. As a preschooler I loved to sit in our front yard, a handful of sugar paste outstretched for the flies to come and feast on. Within a few years I had developed an intense fondness for grasshoppers, which I would catch in the mint garden and ‘tame’ before moving them to a terrarium in the house. They all had names and would come out to visit regularly, peacefully sitting on my hand. Despite being intensely arachnophobic at the time, I would often rescue them from the tunnel spider webs in the garden.
By age 14, I was a prime candidate to become involved in purposeful activism and eagerly joined PETA’s ranks. I was over the moon to finally have resources, a support network, and plenty of ideas to speak up for my beloved, but silent, animal friends.
If you live outside of the United States, you may be unfamiliar with the organization, so here’s a bit of background. PETA, or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is an animal rights group founded in 1980. Their original aim centered around exposing laboratories conducting inhumane testing on animals, and pushing for welfare legislation for their test subjects. In addition, they hoped to educate and facilitate others who were interested in supporting cruelty-free products, or adopting a vegan lifestyle. All was well for a time, and they did a great deal of good in those early years. However, as time passed, their scope has become increasingly broad, and their methods increasingly extreme.
At the time I was involved with them, they had just started to show signs of becoming radicalized, but I was blinded by my youth and enthusiasm. They happily provided a wide array of print materials; all without charge, and my free time was spent distributing these in office waiting rooms, on store shelves and community bulletin boards.
Some of their tactics clearly pushed boundaries. One highly controversial campaign, that fortunately occurred after I left the group, involved handing out a booklet to children whose parents were seen wearing fur that was titled ‘Your Mommy Kills Animals’. The cartoon cover depicted a woman grinning maniacally while gripping a frightened rabbit by the ears. In her hand was a bloody butcher knife she had just plunged into the animal’s belly. The text below read, “Ask your mommy how many animals she killed to make her fur coat? The sooner she stops wearing fur, the sooner animals will be safe.” Inside were graphic photos of skinned animals and undercover photography taken at fur farms.
PETA themselves have appallingly referred to this as one of their ‘more inspired’ anti-fur pamphlets. A personal example that has always stuck with me was the free stickers I received with the bold letter caption ‘Meat is Murder’ and a graphic photo of a skinned and bloodied cow head hanging from a hook. As I stuck these on various beef packages at our local store, always careful to avoid the view of the security cameras, I felt like I was taking on the world.
I suppose the big idea was, and still is, to force people to see the uncomfortable truth in all its gory detail. The naiveté of youth led me to believe this was a strategy that would work. In truth, it was likely the most damaging approach possible. Instead of the amazing change I had hoped for, I found myself with no positive results and abandoned activism entirely for quite a long time.
My view of PETA today is unfavorable, to say the least. I have never stopped believing that animals need our help and protection, but my time with them resulted in me feeling incredibly discouraged. Nothing was improving on a large scale, and I was left feeling that activism itself was a lost cause. Looking back, I am certain that the activities that were encouraged only created additional animosity and division, and I would be shocked if they swayed public opinion. Instead of bringing about a better mindset, we were simply punishing people for lacking information. We should have realized that humans also deserve that compassionate treatment and understanding we so desperately wanted for animals. This was hypocrisy at its finest, shouting on one side about cruelty to other species, while at the same time engaging in cruelty towards our own.
The modern organization has since taken quite a radical stance on the breeding of animals, and pet ownership in general, labeling it broadly exploitative and pushing for the abolition of the pet industry at large. In 2019, PETA became a Facebook shareholder, a move that granted them rights to sit in at meetings and guide company decision-making. Coincidentally in 2019, Facebook banned the sale of all animal rehoming or sales posts. Given PETA’s firm stance on doing away with breeding, there is no question that it was in line with their goals, as it reduced incentive for individuals to breed animals to sell. Of course, no mention is made of the countless additional unwanted roosters that have been killed simply because their keepers were denied a valuable outlet for finding safe and caring homes. Also ignored is the unintended side effect of forcing keepers to purchase from far less humane hatcheries, rather than a compassionate local breeder.
PETA’s euthanasia rate for animals in their own shelters is reported to be at least 75% of animals taken in, with 90% of that group euthanized within 24 hours of arrival. Their staff has also been prosecuted for the theft, and subsequent euthanasia, of companion animals taken from their keepers’ property more than once. Their aim seems to be to do away with the animals they feel should not be in human care to begin with, while simultaneously eliminating avenues for future acquisition.
There are a few critical factors here that are worth considering. First is the mistake of believing that outrage is an indicator of how deeply we care. This is something that is visible in virtually all of PETA’s campaigns, and many conducted by other similar organizations. There is always judgment and contempt at the root of them, a desire to hurt back rather than educate. It took me years to recognize that those radical stunts I participated in as a teen were exciting, not because of the change they would bring, but because of a subconscious desire to get even. This is the danger of allowing anger to drive action; it is all too easy to find ourselves losing sight of the goal and simply engaging in self-righteous battle instead.
Second is the failure to consider the negative impacts of these extreme demands and approach. For instance, the well-placed criticism of treatment of animals in the meat industry has unintentionally created numerous obstacles for backyard keepers who are caring for their flocks compassionately.
This leads to the final major issue with these organizations. Because they push for a total solution, rather than targeted progress, they often fail to recognize nuance and instead opt for sweeping change that winds up impacting everything in the category they have focused on. In attempting to shut down puppy mills, they have brought about changes that have made it incredibly difficult for those who are attempting to find a good home for an animal in need to do so. The puppy mills are still running of course. They have the leverage, finances and legal team to work around the roadblocks. It is the sincere and compassionate individual that has been hindered the most. This type of broad activism always winds up disproportionately impacting the innocent, with those negative impacts falling where they are needed the least.
As I said, my time with PETA proved to be so disheartening that I abandoned activism entirely for decades. That is until recently, when my newfound relationship with my incredible flocks catapulted me back into pushing for change, but this time with greater maturity and a far better strategy than I had when I was young.
I will leave you with a heartfelt petition. As compassionate keepers, I know we all want to see better practices and greater consideration for the animals we have grown to love. Groups like PETA have made it incredibly hard to speak up without being labeled an extremist and laughed out of the room. But the problem with PETA is not in the issues they speak about; indeed, many of those are serious problems and change is truly needed. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. PETA has made many harmful missteps along the way, but legitimate issues should not be dismissed simply because of a bad spokesperson. We can learn from their mistakes and be empowered to advocate without the collateral damage. Having spent time on both sides of this issue, I assure you that there are kind and effective ways to bring about change, and I will be discussing these in part two of this article.
So from one compassionate keeper to another, please don’t let the deserving issues be tainted by the bad approaches out there. Be empowered to speak up, continue sharing important information, and know that with the correct approach you can do a world of good. Together, we can create a new and respected face for the compassionate mindset.”
Sara Franklin is a mother of two and a lifelong animal lover. Since she was a child, she has been fascinated by behavioral psychology and its applications. In college, her studies were tailored around subjects such as child development, early education, philosophy, psychology and critical thinking. As a firm believer that understanding was key to navigating the challenges of parenthood, she often joked that she was studying to “be a mom.” When she set off on her chicken keeping journey, it was only natural to approach it from this same perspective. It quickly became clear how heavily simple tradition, rather than analysis, guided discussion. She has since developed a psychology rooted system for effectively and compassionately working through challenging behaviors in flocks, with a special focus on rooster care. An outspoken advocate, she now volunteers her time educating and coaching other keepers in order to foster healthier relationships between chickens and their guardians.
Many thanks to Sara Franklin of Roovolution for sharing her sharing her insights into, and experience with PETA. All animal rights images credit to PETA.