The Girl With the Coolest Job at PETA UK
One day, she may be wearing nothing but lettuce leaves in Manchester while encouraging people to turn over a new leaf and go vegan. Another day, she might pop up at an airline conference to speak out against Air France’s shipments of primates to laboratories for cruel experiments. No day is ever the same for Kirsty Henderson, campaign coordinator with PETA UK.
Kirsty organises protests and demonstrations, leads some of our bigger campaigns (such as ensuring that permits are denied to facilities that would breed beagles for experimentation) and puts together hard-hitting videos and ads that expose the suffering of animals on fur farms.
With the influx of questions we’ve been receiving about how to become an animal rights activist, we thought, “Who could offer better advice than a seasoned animal rights crusader like Kirsty?” The following are her answers to our questions:
What made you go vegan?
I took a philosophy class in college, and we had to read famous philosopher Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation. I found myself agreeing with everything he stood for. During a debate about him in class, I was fighting for the rights of animals. I argued that they should have rights and that they should be free from exploitation. Then someone turned to me and said, “Well, do you eat them?” And I had to say yes. I felt like such a hypocrite that I stopped eating meat there and then. I became vegetarian. Then later, I saw a video of what actually happens to cows on dairy farms so that I could eat cheese. Then I decided to go vegan for a week, and it turned into two weeks and then into two months, and I just never stopped. It has been by far the best decision of my life.
How did you end up working in animal rights?
I thought about what I actually wanted to do and what I am sincerely interested in, and it was animal rights. I’m very lucky because I would be doing these things as an activist anyway because I really believe in it, but with PETA, I’m able to do it as a full-time job.
What is the most interesting thing that you’ve done for PETA UK?
I love doing the Pamplona protests! Every year in Pamplona, we do a demonstration against the Running of the Bulls and the bullfights that ensue. I work with a Spanish animal rights group to bring together hundreds of caring people from all around the world. There is such a great atmosphere and a real buzz in the air because you can actually feel the change happening. Just recently, Sant Joan became the 100th Spanish town to ban bullfighting.
Why is being an animal rights activist awesome?
Number one would be saving animals, of course. But I also like meeting people with a similar outlook on life. I get to meet a lot of animal rights activists and a lot of vegans who are so active for animals in their spare time, and they are so inspiring.
What advice would you offer to a person who is looking actively participate in the animal rights movement?
There are so many things that you can do to get active! First of all, I would recommend reading up on the subject. Being able to talk to people about animal rights is very powerful. It’s the difference between just telling someone you support animal rights and being able to explain why.
You can join the PETA Action Team. We let everyone know about our upcoming demonstrations, which are really fun and a great opportunity to meet like-minded individuals.
Speaking of like-minded individuals, if you’re at uni, you can form your own vegan or animal rights society if your school doesn’t already have one. PETA has resources it can offer you to get a society off the ground.
You can write to your local newspaper. A lot of people read those newspapers. If, for example, they run a story about a circus coming to town that has wild animals in it, write in to your local newspaper about what happens to animals in circuses. Explain that the government is actually banning wild animals in circuses because of the abuse they are forced to endure. The paper may print your letter or be inspired to write a story about it.
You can also write to your MP or visit with him or her. MPs take their constituents’ concerns seriously. Talk to them about animal rights and tell them what you think they could be doing to help.
You can start petitions in your local area. For instance, if you see a restaurant selling foie gras, you can start by writing to the owners, explaining to them that you’re a local resident who would like to visit their restaurant but will not because it’s serving foie gras. If that doesn’t work, you can start a petition. Once you’ve gathered a good number of signatures, you can give them to the owners and show them how much business they’re missing out on because they have foie gras on the menu.
The main point I would like to make is that you don’t have to wait for other people to organise things. If there’s nothing going on in your area, make it happen yourself. Animals don’t have the time to wait, so get up and do something cool now!
Here are a few more PETA-recommend ways you can become active for animals:
- Leave a trail of leaflets wherever you go – waiting rooms, launderettes, buses, dressing rooms, etc. —anywhere that allows you to leave literature for the public.
- Take advantage of suggestion boxes and consumer comment cards: praise practices that help animals and criticise those that hurt animals.
- Speak up! Within earshot of the shopper ahead of you in line at the supermarket, talk to a friend about the video about factory farming that you just saw.
- Take part in round-table discussions on the radio. Call a health show with information about a vegan lifestyle. Call a programme on budget cuts to talk about government subsidies for useless vivisection.
- Keep a stack of blank, pre-stamped postcards by your TV along with the addresses of major channels. Whenever you see a programme that promotes or trivialises animal abuse, jot down the station, programme, scene and date. Use a postcard to convey your concerns politely to the network. (Remember also to thank networks for programming that promotes animal rights!)
- Set aside an hour every week to write to elected officials, industry executives and/or newspaper and magazine editors. Sign up for PETA E-News or check our action alerts webpage often. Keeping an eye on the news will also help you identify good topics to address in your letters.
- Call or write to companies that still test their products on animals to tell them that you won’t purchase their products until they declare a permanent ban on animal testing.
- Fight permit applications for new pet shops, unless they sell only supplies. Please see the PETA US site.
- Volunteer at your local animal shelter. Animal shelters always need volunteers to clean cages, walk dogs, play with animals and donate supplies such as blankets, cat litter and food.
- Voice your objection to restaurants and stores that have live-lobster tanks – please see the PETA US site.
- Educate others! Most people don’t know which of their habits cause animal suffering – or how easy it is to change those habits.
Being active for animals is about doing what you can when you can to stand up against the abuse of animals. The actions that you participate in or lead, no matter how small they may seem, can provoke great changes for our animal friends. Animals around the world are in dire need of your help, so lace up your faux-leather boots and start kicking ass today!