Celebrities have long weighed in on the exploitation and killing of animals for fashion. Since the 1980s, when Olivia Newton-John started her own fake fur line — Koala Blue’s Dare to Fake It — Hollywood has increasingly taken note of the politics of fur.
Yet some celebs turn a cold shoulder to the harm done by parading in pelts. In June, Black Eyed Peas singer Fergie (full name: Stacy Ann Ferguson) wore a fur-and-leather black jacket by Louis Vuitton at the Foundation for AIDS Research Inspiration Gala in Paris. Kate Moss had previously worn the same fur jacket on the runway. Rather than bring out one of those “Who Wore It Best” comparisons, the better question to ask is: Who wore it more callously?
I am an unabashed Full House fan. So it especially saddens me to report that Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen – twins who shared the role of Michelle in the classic 1980s sitcom – have both worn fur out and about numerous times. Each twin sported a fur coat during a recent photo shoot with fashion photographer Terry Richardson. Mary Kate did a cover shoot for the September 2010 issue of Marie Claire, and wore fur and feathers in photos inside the magazine. Both Mary-Kate and Ashley wore black fur coats at the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Awards last November at Skylight Soho in New York City, and the online fashion trend-watching site Pop Sugar captured a photograph of Ashley wearing a fur hat (apparently lynx) earlier this year in Manhattan.
The two have even used fur in their own collaborative luxury fashion line, The Row, whose 2011 collection features fox furs in black, caramel, and turquoise blue. “See, all we do is pet things all day!” joked Mary-Kate to Vogue reporter Sarah Mower.1 Regarding the skins of a python, Ashley said, “I want to make driving gloves out of these, with the knuckles out!”
Last July 21, rapper Snoop Dogg (formal name: Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr.) appeared on “The Wendy Williams Show” wearing a jacket lined with wolf fur. 3 It was not the first time the star has donned fur in public. Oddly enough, he protested the wearing of fur in the fourth episode of his MTV comedy sketch show, “Doggy Fizzle Televizzle.” 4 Apparently, to him, that was simply a joke.
Another repeat offender is Patti LaBelle, who has donned many fur coats through the years, with an attitude of outspoken defiance.2 In April, Mano Swartz reported that it created a full-length chinchilla coat just for her. 6 She’s been seen out and about in full-length furs in all seasons, wearing them to the airport or to special events. 7
Kim Kardashian wore two different fur coats in one day for her reality show, “Kourtney and Kim Take New York.” Kim may want to listen to the wisdom of her younger sister Khloe, who has stated that everyone in her family wears fur except for her. 9 But Kim has taken to her blog to “ to set the record straight” and insist she won’t stop wearing fur garments – at least those which the star has already purchased.
Then there’s the hypocrisy. Naomi Campbell once appeared in an anti-fur campaign, later to show up on the runway wearing a sable-lined Fendi coat. 11 Madonna, who declared a dedication to vegetarianism in the documentary “Truth or Dare,” has nonetheless worn fur on numerous occasions. One of Madonna’s coats comprised the skins of 40 chinchillas; one hat, the skins of five foxes. 12
Celebrities can wise up to the wrong of sacrificing fur-bearers’ lives whether through the enormously painful trapping and the subsequent killing of wildlife or the continuous cruelty perpetuated on fur farms, says Friends of Animals president Priscilla Feral, who recalls the feeling of coming to grips with the reality behind the coats. As a teenager, Priscilla was given a rabbit coat. “My mother knew I liked rabbits, and in some strange way I liked the coat,” remembers Priscilla, “yet something seemed wrong. Did these rabbits all commit suicide? Were they collected after dying of natural causes?”
Priscilla put the coat in the basement and hoped to forget about it. But in November 1974, as a recently hired employee at Friends of Animals, Priscilla received an assignment: come up with an idea to protest the season’s winter fur fashion show, hosted at a Fifth Avenue venue by none other than the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
“I took the large steel-jaw trap from the office, clamped it onto that rabbit-fur coat, smeared red lipstick around the trap and dragged the coat back and forth along Fifth Avenue as people came and went from the luncheon. Finally I’d found a reason to take that coat out. It was my coming-out as well. The ASPCA stopped holding fur promotions from then on.”
The stage was set for the eighties. There is no excuse for any of today’s celebrities to lag three decades behind the times.
Lee Hall contributed to this article.
- 1. Sarah Mower, “Behind The Row: Meet Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen” (March 2011); available with comment section: http :// www . vogue . com / magazine / article / mary – kate – and – ashley – olsen – balancing – act /
- 2. LaBelle told Newsweek in 2007, “I like my coats. I don't want PETA to get mad at me, but I love chinchilla. It's so soft. I love cashmere. They get mad at a little girl like me. But you know I work for it. When they start buying me coats is when I start listening to them.”
I race along sandy beaches, city streets, and mountain paths, encountering many reactions. At 5’0’’ and 282 pounds, I gather attention when I run down the Appalachian Trail.
I’m training for the inaugural Tinker Bell Half Marathon. It’s taking place in Anaheim, California, on Jan. 29. I’m excited about running my first half-marathon. Preparations have been fun and challenging as I increase my endurance and cardiovascular strength.
And I love my short, fat body. It’s not what I’m told typically springs to mind when most people imagine a committed athlete. Yet you don’t have to be thin to run a marathon, just as you don’t have to be thin when moving to an ethical diet.
I’ve actually had someone say, while looking me over, “But I thought vegetarians were supposed to be skinny.” Contrary to popular belief, going vegan does not magically make one thin. People are meant to be a wide variety of shapes and sizes; all are, in my opinion, equally beautiful.
If you’re open-minded enough to believe in the consideration of rights of all persons, human and other, accepting the diversity of Homo sapiens’ body types should come easily. And becoming skinny should not be a selling point of veganism. Not all vegans are thin.
Staring down the face of many widely held yet mistaken beliefs regarding the correlation between weight, running, and health, I get shocked by how many otherwise accepting people have bought into the constant message from the billion-dollar weight loss industry that thin and only thin is healthy. A weight-hate industry is built with the tearing down of self-esteem. The message is ingrained in society: in books, movies, magazines, even in serious news shows.
But the correlation between health risks and weight is not as concrete as the media would have us believe. A thin person who eats unhealthful food incurs more risk than an overweight person who eats healthily. Various factors contribute to our body size, including metabolism, genetics, and personal situations. You can’t look at someone and tell how healthy they are.
One challenge definitely confronts the plus-size runner, however: more weight often means training harder. My muscles, heart strength, and endurance need to be stronger to do the same amount of running as those of average weight. This means a lot of dedicated running each week!
I’m committed to next year’s marathon for a number of reasons. I seek to maintain my health. It’s important to exercise, just as it’s important to be vegan. Regular exercise is important for your health, just as veganism is important if you respect other earthlings.
One motivation is dear to my heart: my love of animals and my respect for the work of Friends of Animals. I was once the human companion of an amazing dog named Marta, and I strive to help animals every day in her memory. I also aim to spread the message of veganism to others who may not have heard the message.
One thing I know for sure is that we should treat one another with respect, no matter what our differences, and I hope to do a small part in spreading the word along as I go. So the next time you see an anti-fat vegan ad or one that attempts to reduce your self-esteem down to a single number on a scale, please think of me, running down rocky paths on steep Tennessee trails with a BMI of 55.
I’m using the experience to raise money for Friends of Animals, and you can help sponsor me at
Deal Struck Between Egg Companies and the Humane Society of the United States
United Egg Producers, the marketing association for the majority of U.S. egg sellers, joined with the Humane Society of the United States in announcing a proposal to adjust the confinement standards for some chickens – specifically, egg-laying hens. The proposal would shift the industry from barren battery cages to a type of enclosure known as the “furnished” or “enriched” colony cage.
In other words, the Humane Society has just reversed its previous assertion that it would only support “cage-free” confinement for egg-laying hens.
Until a month of negotiations ended in July, it seemed far from possible. “I can't believe we're here,” Chad Gregory, senior vice president of United Egg Producers, told the media.1
Are colony cages at least somewhat better than the standard battery cage? Colony cages typically include extra parts, including something to scratch; and any cages with more materials in them are known for increasing the ammonia levels at production sites; the new proposal would involve setting maximum allowable ammonia levels, though the details are as yet unclear. There are to be mutually approved methods to force birds into “molting” (a shedding and replacement of feathers, followed by heightened egg production for an extended period). While the Humane Society claims the agreement would end the practice of starving the birds to induce shedding, the group will evidently accept such methods as cutting the calories in the feed, light deprivation, or administering thyroid hormones to the birds. These practices are approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association, whose recommendations the Humane Society and UEP have agreed to follow.2
The new cages would be designed to permit a semblance of perching and nesting motion, though the fruits of the “nesting” will not belong to the birds.
By 2029, the new cage standard is to apply nationwide. New cages will nearly double the space allowed to each bird. (How much room do today’s hens occupy inside their cages? For each bird, the blueprint’s no larger than a sheet of office paper.) Labels will identify the type of confinement used to produce a given carton of eggs.
Although this proposal is being vaunted as a victory, the egg producers’ trade group and the Humane Society are really saying they would back a future law setting the new standards. Lawmaking is typically marked by contortions and compromises. And legislation can be repealed.
But let’s assume this proposal is enacted and, 18 years later, takes effect. Could we then call the collaboration a step forward?
First, let’s note that the human body has no nutritional need for the eggs of other animals. And we damage our environment when we take the extra resources required to store and feed animals – chickens included. North Americans who opt out of eggs, dairy, and flesh products cut our yearly individual greenhouse gas emissions by about a ton and a half. Talk about direct action!
But those vital messages are absent in talk of a “step forward” or a “victory” when a new model of birdcage is proposed.
Putting birds in colony cages, taking their eggs away and killing them at the end of their run does not make them happy. It doesn’t even make them more fortunate than they used to be. Birds in cages 18 years from now won’t thank us because we could have made those cages smaller.
The bleak conditions of egg farms lead some birds into what the industry calls “hen hysteria” and desperate attempts to compete over what little space and material they have. (The modified cage’s nesting area – even if it’s just a plastic strip – ups the ante.) Whether the birds are going to battery farms, modified cages, or sheds, the suppliers first sever the beaks of newly hatched chicks, to keep birds from pecking each other. Cannibalism occurs in confinement – whether in barren battery cages or the new, furnished cages.
Also, hundreds of millions of male chicks will still be killed annually at the hatcheries, for male birds are useless in egg production.
Although it might rally the donors to claim United Egg Producers would be stepping forward by following the model proven by European egg companies as they discard cramped battery cages and adopt colony cages, in truth continental Europe’s egg market is a high-volume affair. Producers use a multi-tiered system to fill buildings with cages upon cages of birds under EU regulations allowing up to three tiers.
“Donors Fooled Again”
Those of us who attended the North American Vegetarian Society’s annual Summerfest (a food festival, educational conference and social gathering that attracted 675 people this year) heard an impromptu announcement at the plenary session on Thursday the 7 th of July. A representative of the Humane Society of the United States got onto the stage and – giving no specific details – lauded the group’s agreement with United Egg Producers to reject battery cages as the best day in a whole career of advocacy. The announcer for the regularly scheduled plenary presentations went along with the turn of events, joining in the excitement and going so far as to say chickens who’d died after terrible lives in battery cages were now applauding from heaven.
Bradley Miller of the Humane Farming Association, based in San Rafael, California, sounded an alarm. Quickly after we heard the excited proclamations, Priscilla Feral forwarded Brad’s e-mail on how the donors had just been “fooled again.” Brad pointed out that the proposed law would, if enacted at all, be effective 18 years from now. “Of course,” wrote Brad, “the industry gets what it wants right away.”
Washington and Oregon ballot measures to introduce husbandry improvements for chickens were called off, notwithstanding the many volunteers who had journeyed long distances to those states to collect voters’ signatures. The industry enjoyed an immediate publicity coup, and the United Egg Producers website began showing off the agreement as top news.
Of particular note, Brad added that the agreement “would eliminate any chance of outlawing hen cages (or making other housing or husbandry reforms) in any state of the nation.” State anti-cruelty provisions are already extremely difficult to use in challenging agribusiness. A federal law would render them useless.
What kind of enforcement would the federal government apply, Brad asked, to ensure that the dubious new standards are met? Who would do the investigations? “The industry-controlled U.S. Department of Agriculture? We already know what kind of job they do!”
And in fact, to secure the United Egg Producers’ agreement, the Humane Society has agreed not to conduct exposés at farms belonging to the trade association.
A group working directly with farm animals ought to know better than to publish such a statement. No kind of commercial confinement should be praised by a sanctuary. Battery cages, colony cages and free-range arrangements (whether sheds or ranges) all have their detriments; by changing the enclosure type, one kind of suffering is traded for another. Free-range birds are more susceptible than caged hens to both bone breakage and cannibalism. Birds kept in colony cages, in comparison with battery birds, show a heightened vulnerability to bumblefoot, an infection of the skin and tissues of the foot. The “bumbles” are abscesses caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. Bumblefoot has been shown to be correlated to the use of wet or non-optimally designed perches or flooring in colony cages. And birds in colony cages will never see or feel the light and warmth of the sun. In the end, all birds who survive their 70 weeks of captive existence will be slaughtered as – to use the industrial terminology – spent hens.
In short, the proposed legal arrangement accepts and involves breeding, killing and keeping birds in cages through the year 2029 – and well beyond.
As United Poultry Concerns (a Virginia based non-profit that often supports husbandry reform for birds in animal agribusiness) stated the day after the announcement, “An additional reasonable fear in this particular case is that, should a federal law be enacted, it will be a diluted version of the initial proposals, and the cage, albeit ‘enriched’ with tiny furniture including nestboxes that are actually just plastic strips, will be established for decades to come.”
No animal advocate need agree to this. And certainly no advocate ought to mislead their donors – and allow the egg industry to mislead its adherents – into thinking they have transformed the bleak conditions of egg factories into something to celebrate.
Some of the proponents of the proposed law have been saying that the media exposure that comes from campaigns to regulate the industry’s “worst abuses” tend to reduce demand for the products of animal agribusiness such as eggs. But if that is so, wouldn’t media coverage of a “groundbreaking victory for hens” counteract that effect? Wouldn’t it be better for advocates of birds to ask that birds not be bred, caged, bought, sold, mutilated, killed and consumed? Wouldn’t it be better to focus on showing the public just how beautiful and refreshing pure vegetarian offerings can be?
Accustomed to our advantages, human beings, activists included, rarely pose a straightforward challenge to human domination and control. But when we do, animal rights become a reality.
Can it happen culture-wide? Consider this: Five hundred years ago, Europeans thought Earth was central in the cosmos; everything revolved around us. New knowledge came as a shock; then a culture’s perspective shifted. What had seemed obvious and eternal was something else entirely: an error of the past. Similarly, the animal-rights position challenges an old view that we’re central and everyone, everything, revolves around us. It questions the notion that Homo sapiens alone merit serious moral consideration, and can enslave all others or uproot and pave over their habitats, their homes.
Another humanity is possible. Many advocates believe in pursuing it in incremental steps. And that might well be the way forward, but the first step is from the egg and dairy aisle to the vegan cookbook.
- 1. See Jayme Fraser, “Traditional Opponents Support Nationwide Ban on Battery Cages for Egg-Laying Hens” – The Oregonian (7 Jul. 2011); available: http://bit.ly/ChadGregory
- 2. American Veterinary Medical Association, “Welfare Implications of Induced Molting of Layer Chickens” (Feb. 2010); available: http://bit.ly/AVMAeggs
The Puppy at Om Beach
I’ve returned from a month-long journey to India, and all I can think about is one puppy. Three days into my trip, I stepped onto the golden curve of Om Beach and into an issue that festers across this colorful, chaotic and complex country.
As I sat by the Indian Ocean with Hillary, my roommate on a two-week yoga retreat, a small black puppy padded by. The puppy picked up a dead crab, and settled onto my towel to eat it. She was so gentle and playful that the next morning, when six of us walked the beach, we were delighted to see her again.
But just as she approached in a tail-wagging greeting, five snarling, growling, snapping dogs ran up and attacked her. Most of us backed away, but Hillary and I stood clapping our hands and yelling. The pile dispersed; the pup struggled up, yelping, and ran into the surf.
I rushed to pick her up just as the dogs circled again. Standing in the surf, holding this pup up until the frenzied pack dispersed and we could safely let her go again, I remembered my travel doctor’s warnings to not touch dogs here.
The number of stray dogs in India is anyone’s guess; one report estimates 22 million. What most worries people — and why my doctor didn’t want me touching dogs — are attacks and rabies. Rabies kills about 20,000 people every year in India, accounting for 36% of worldwide rabies fatalities. In the last decade, 523,000 dog bites have been reported in Mumbai, resulting in the deaths of 196 people.
There were dogs everywhere I went in India — from the bustling streets of Jaipur to the tiny village of Tala on the edge of Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve. But these dogs didn’t act dangerous. They were mild-mannered, even friendly; they didn’t beg for food, but they didn’t run away, either.
To visitors, they look like strays we might rescue and place in loving homes. But they’re not abandoned or lost, and they’re not wild. Many in India’s animal-rights community call them community dogs.
Some are kept as free-ranging pets by street dwellers, slum dwellers, and rag pickers. The dogs might get fed scraps, they might get some attention, but mostly they fend for themselves. Their life expectancy is only three to four years.
Dogs have lived in India this way for thousands of years. On the surface, it’s reminiscent of a primitive scene, where dogs and humans coexist, the dogs eating humans’ garbage and providing protection. But India’s original street dogs, of a breed of dog considered one of the world’s first, are called pariahs. The same term is used for the lowest level of India’s caste system: the untouchables, the outcasts.
In the 1800s, during British rule, when the link between rabies and dogs was discovered, a massive eradication program began. Millions, if not billions, of street dogs were systematically poisoned, suffering tortuous deaths at the dark hands of strychnine.
As most brutal efforts do, this backfired. Dogs who escaped poisoning multiplied and reoccupied and attempted eradication caused an intensification of the problem: more dog fights, more accidental dog bites, more rabies.
The only thing that works to reduce rabies happens to be the most humane and responsible action toward the dogs themselves: sterilization and vaccination. Sterilizing these dogs and then returning them to their territories reduces the two things that cause dogs to bark, fight, and create situations where people are accidently bitten: mating and territory. In addition, sterilization will reduce the population of unwanted dogs.
A Land of Contradictions
What creates and sustains this large population of street dogs? In a country where garbage collection is rare, enough scraps line every neighborhood to keep the dogs well fed. Researchers into community dog ecology label this relationship symbiotic. The dogs are the garbage collectors.
They also protect the community from thievery and from other animals: monkeys, wild pigs, cats, or rats. In 1994, the municipality of Surat decided to eradicate dogs, and slaughtered thousands. With more garbage and fewer predators, the rat population exploded, followed by an explosion of bubonic plague. Hundreds of people became infected. Fifty-seven died.
The law of the land sides with the dogs. The Constitution of India states it is the duty of every citizen is to be kind and compassionate to all creatures, and it’s against the beliefs of both Hinduism and Buddhism to harm animals. Killing street dogs has been explicitly illegal in India since the passage of the 1960 Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, which states “street dogs shall be sterilised and immunized by participation of animal welfare organisations, private individuals and the local authority.”
Also in the 1960s, the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) was established to regulate and fund Animal Birth Control (ABC) projects. But it wasn’t until the 1990s that programs began, primarily in larger cities. Some are conducted by municipalities and some by nonprofits, with varying success. Where at least 70 percent of the dogs are vaccinated and sterilized during a six-month breeding season, rabies has disappeared.1
Jaipur’s ABC program, run by Help in Suffering (HIS), started in 1993. The results: between 1992 and 2002, the dog population dropped by 28 percent, and human rabies cases dropped to zero, with no cases for a decade.
But in Gokarna, where the beach puppy lives, there’s no program. And some efforts, explains Honorable Secretary of In Defence of Animals Sudnya R. Patkar, have been subverted by corruption and greed, with the numbers of sterilized dogs fabricated in order to obtain more funding.
In Mumbai, a city of 18 million people and some of the world’s largest slums, results have been mixed. Five nonprofits and the municipality sterilize an estimated 30,000 dogs every year, and the dog population has declined by 70 percent in ten years, but with rabies and dog bites still high, many are unconvinced the program works and continue to clamor for eradication.
Most animal-welfare groups say it’s a matter of methodology. Unlike the nonprofits, the municipality in Mumbai picks up strays randomly, rather than using the “clean sweep method” of vaccinating and sterilizing at least 70% of the dogs in one area at a time.
Some groups address this problem. “We have an ABC Extension Project which gives training to staff from other groups undertaking such work,” writes Dr. Jack Reece, head veterinarian at Help in Suffering. “We also generate information on street dog behaviour and ecology and the effects of ABC programmes in order that such work can be led by the best available information.”
The most recent outbreak of rabies deaths in North Andhra Pradesh illustrates the importance of doing it right. For years the Visakha SPCA successfully ran an ABC program in the region, but when a new party came into power, they lost their
animal-control contract and the municipality took over. Within a year, the street dog population had increased from 7,000 to 10,000, and 700 people have died from rabies.2
Visakha SPCA transformed into ABC India, a pan-Indian organization devoted to rabies eradication and the control of street dog populations through sterilization and vaccination. They released a report concluding the rabies outbreak resulted from the municipality’s practice of capturing dogs from the cities and dumping them into rural areas.
“Contrary to popular belief, it is actually the presence of vaccinated, healthy dogs that helps to keep rabies out,” says ABC India managing director Dr. Lisa Warden. “Sterilized, vaccinated, and left to live in peace in their areas, these dogs are our partners in the fight against rabies. Because they are territorial, they will not let new, unfamiliar, unvaccinated dogs into their areas.”
But India is a land of contradictions. Here, where Jain monks sweep the ground in front of them lest they inadvertently step on an insect, are some of the cruelest practices towards animals in the world: tigers killed with insecticide, cobras defanged and starved for snake charming, sloth bears tortured into dancing, and even sacred cows, foraging the streets like beggars, dead from eating plastic.
And so dog massacres continue. Whenever tragedy involving a street dog strikes, says Dr. Reece, “Municipalities seem to resort to inhumane culling as the knee-jerk response.”
From 1939 to 1999, the government of Bangalore electrocuted millions of dogs, with no decrease in dog populations, attacks, or rabies. Finally, they instituted one of the most successful sterilization programs in the country. But in March 2007, after a stray dog fatally mauled a four-year-old child, citizens went on a rampage, and the municipality, fully knowing such actions were futile, joined in — with thousands of dogs the victims.3
What’s to be done? Certainly, improving the effectiveness of ABC programs would help the public recognize the benefits. All agree that a “zero-garbage-India” would be the most effective long-term situation. “If municipalities were to control rubbish, slaughterhouse waste and al fresco defecation then the food source for the dogs would largely dry up and the population decline,” says Dr. Reece. After door-to-door garbage collection began in some regions of Tamil Nadu, the dog population drastically declined.4 Meanwhile, the animal cruelty act is being updated to increase penalties for injuring or killing animals.
Vets Beyond Borders
The fate of that black puppy got me thinking about Doctors Without Borders. Why couldn’t veterinarians around the world take a few months to volunteer in places like India? Sending one veterinary team to Gokarna for a few months would solve the problem there.
Some organizations do this type of work, but none on the scale of Doctors Without Borders. Some, like Sudnya Patkar’s In Defence of Animals, have mobile units which travel to smaller villages for the few months it takes to get 70% of the community dogs vaccinated and sterilized. And Vets Beyond Borders, a charity based in Australia, works in Sikkim and Ladakh.5
On the last morning of our yoga retreat, Hillary, walking the beach alone, saw the little black puppy nestled in the arms of a little girl sitting outside the beach shack. Given all I’ve learned, I know the chances of a good life for that puppy are slim. Still, I like to think of her that way, cared for and caring for a little girl, both of them finding love and compassion, joy and safety, with each other.
Marybeth Holleman is the author of The Heart of the Sound: An Alaskan Paradise Found and Nearly Lost and co-editor of Crosscurrents North: Alaskans on the Environment. Marybeth’s essays, poetry, and articles have appeared in dozens of periodicals and anthologies, including Orion, Christian Science Monitor, Sierra, Solo and The Future of Nature. See www.marybethholleman.com .
- 1. See Dr. Ilona Otter , DVM, “Rabies and Street Dog Population Control in India in 2010: Problems and Solutions” – Jaagruti (posted 30 Aug. 2010); available: http://bit.ly/jskxcY (visited 29 Jun. 2011).
- 2. “Dumping of Dogs to Blame for Rabies: ABC India” – The Hindu (1 Jun. 2011); available: http://bit.ly/muzfYe (visited 29 Jun. 2011) . See also Sumit Bhattacharjee, “From Best Friend to Hostile Foe” – The Hindu (4 Jun. 2011); available: http://bit.ly/iNHQb9 (visited 29 Jun. 2011) .
- 3. Amy Yee, “ Bangalore on Dog-Killing Drive” – Financial Times (12 Mar. 2007); available: http://on.ft.com/kmrcdI (visited 29 Jun. 2011).
- 4. See “Rabies and Street dog population control in India in 2010: Problems and Solutions” at note 1 above.
- 5. See the group’s website at http://www.vetsbeyondborders.org/our-projects/ (visite d 29 Jun. 2011)
Randall: A Fierce (and Funny) Voice for Animals
If you aren’t one of the 10 million-plus people who’ve watched “The Crazy, Nasty-Ass Honey Badger” on YouTube, you really don’t know what you’re missing. Randall is the drop-dead funny narrator who manages to meld hysterical humor and quirkiness with a sprinkle of zoology. Some of Randall’s other videos include, “The Miracle of the Daffy Jesus Lizard,” “The Gross and Disgusting American Bullfrog” and “The Intoxicating Marula Trees of South Africa”— plus many more. Randall was not only gracious enough to be interviewed by Friends of Animals, but he’s narrating a surprise video, which features residents of Primarily Primates — our fabulous sanctuary in San Antonio, Texas. Stay tuned!
Randall’s videos can be viewed on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/user/czg123
Primarily Primates videos can be viewed at: http://www.primarilyprimates.org/videos/index.html
FoA: I want you to know: if anyone ever tells you vegans don't have a sense of humor, your videos almost shut down Friends of Animals headquarters. We got addicted immediately and couldn't stop laughing.
Randall: [laughing] Oh, I think vegans have a sense of humor…and when it turns out humans have been killing themselves by eating processed meats and chickens with chemicals? Vegans’ll have the last laugh. I’m so thrilled you enjoy my videos!
When did you know that you might have a natural talent for narration? Was this a talent you've had your whole life? I can only imagine Randall's family movies…
Oh my God — our family home movies are outrageous! High production values! Ever since I was very little, I knew I had a talent for narration. First off, since my father was Marlon Perkins’ cameraman, on “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” I was obsessed with animals, wildlife and nature. Yet always terrified of it. Being a “city boy,” I always had this admiration and love for jungles, deserts and basically anything non-urban. Simply because I wasn’t familiar with those environments. But I always felt so teased by them whenever I went to the zoo or watched “ Wild Kingdom.” Since my folks were rarely around, my grandmother and all of her friends would take me to see animals and nature. They really were the ones who encouraged me to narrate everything. And I did! I was literally like, “this…is the mailman. Watch as he delivers the mail.” I would always make them laugh and then I’d go home and share my ramblings with the parentals. It’s always been something I’ve done and comes naturally. It got me into a lot of trouble at schools. I could just never shut up; and teachers and professors would get so angry! So, what can you do?
You obviously have a fondness for animals. What gave you the idea to narrate wildlife videos?
Yes. I have a deep, deep love for animals! Humanity included. I am just blown away by the drama of it all — life itself is the greatest stage and we never know who’s writing this week’s show, you know? The idea wasn’t mine. It was my friend and assistant’s, Christopher Gordon’s idea. He was sent the original honey badger video by his friend and he came running over with it saying, “I got it! I got the video for you to narrate!” And the rest is history! He recorded me and yeah…that was that!
Where does the actual footage from these videos come from?
Well, the honey badger and some other animals’ videos come from National Geographic. We never got permission really to use them, but they seem happy we’re using it all! It’s a “win” for them as it’s a new way to use their old footage. Keeps it fresh, you know? Plus, let’s face it: those narrators are so drab and boring!
The honey badger video, especially, is both hilarious and horrifying. I swear I lost my appetite for a week after seeing the honey badger eat the cobra…
Oh please, do not get me started! I had no clue what to expect when I was first shown that honey badger video! It scared the shit outta me! I thought it was cute and then it starts doing all that nastyass stuff and I was like, “oh boy, this lil’ guy is so fierce!” You lost your appetite and I lost sleep!
The honey badger is surely one of the toughest, most badass animals on earth. Surely you'd run for the hills if you ever encountered one?
Yes. Although a part of me would want to try and get along with it. I am convinced I am capable of getting along with every animal. Maybe that’s stupid? But I honestly feel that way. I have this feeling though, I don’t know what it is, but I’m convinced if I met a honey badger, I could calmly put my hand out and get it to relax…again, as I say this aloud, it sounds stupid! [laughter]
Whether it is intentional or not, some of your videos highlight issues of endangerment and other human-imposed problems. What are your thoughts on respecting the other animals with which we share the planet? In other words, how can we all get along? (Not everyone acts like the honey badger, after all).
Conservation and a deep understanding of these animals is a must. Humans are too “whatever” these days. It worries me. The human race needs to be more aware of the dwindling numbers of animals. I mean, there are something like only five white rhinos left in the world…in the WORLD. Staggering. How did we get to this point? Does this truly mean future generations and the children of tomato, er — I mean “tomorrow,” won’t even know what the hell a white rhino is? Will they know what a cheetah is? There aren’t many of them left either. It’s pathetic. This planet is as much theirs as it ours. Period. We share this planet with other species and it’s time humans quit this “we’re the only ones here” ‘tude. I’m grateful my videos have generated a lot of attention ‘cause it’s a platform for me to educate and wake people up. So, it is completely intentional — the messages in my work. And if I can make someone laugh while absorbing wildlife facts, my mission is accomplished. I feel nothing else is working…so why not use humor to educate and get the point across, you know? At the end of the day, people aren’t stupid, they’re just self-absorbed and misinformed. We’re animals too. No different than the honey badger, the blue whale or meerkat. We’re all just trying to survive and create these lives for ourselves. When we start loving ourselves, we can learn to love everything and everyone else around us.
You obviously put a lot of effortinto learning about the actual animals in your videos. I like how they're peppered with actual facts.
Thank you! I take pride in getting my facts straight and, you know, conductin’ research. I may get a name of an animal wrong here and there, but I am honestly doing my best to present facts so people take these animals seriously!
Rumor has it that you live with a few so called pampered kitties. Can you tell us about them? Do they offer creative ideas for your videos?
Yes! The rumors are true (I love rumors and gossip)! I had four fur angels, sadly, my little Minnie recently passed away. She was amazing — such personality. She was a sweet rescue from the streets of Brooklyn. I adopted her from my assistant who made a music video with her (“Yo What’s Up Dog? (Chill I’ma Cat)”). She always used her paws to do things—so smart and loving. I miss her like crazy. I have Mona, who is 15 years old (bless her), and has a wonderful history of snuggling, killing birds and travelling. She’s like my own little, furry Betty White-cat! Then there’s Lionel — he’s a gigantic, Maine Coon feline. Very handsome. He can sit on command like a little dog! He’s amazingly bright and sensitive. What an angel. And last but not least, little Metsy Slippers. He’s a tux. Also a rescue cat from Slope Street Cats — he’s def the alpha cat — he’s aggressive, but when he wants to be, so affectionate and loving. I can coax him to walk on his hind legs! I love my babies sooooooooooooooo much. They offer some creative input, but I can never understand exactly what they mean to meow!
Who is Randall? What do you do when you aren't making awesome videos?
Who am I. Who am I? Oh my God, this is like the Breakfast Club! I am a loving, caring, sensational, fabulous, smartypants animal lover…a lover too of humanity and life itself. That’s who I am! When I’m not narrating, I enjoy dancing and writing plays. Back in the old days, I would act, write and produce plays. I miss it, but am beyond grateful and happy with what I’m doing these days. I like to shop, gossip and walk all over the place, is that so wrong?!
Has the fame gone to your head?
[laughing] Oh dear. Maybe? Just a little? No. No it hasn’t…just yet. Ask me that again when I’m tipsy!
I hope we can expect more videos. Do you have any animals you hold near and dear to your heart, -that you'd like to educate people about?
Absolutely — expect more more more! I’m also trying to get myself a network show, so stay tuned! It’s been quite a process but I’m hopeful something’s bound to bust! Yes — the elephant. I LOVE elephants and would love to educate peeps about them. I think the grand elephant might be one of my next videos. I just think they’re so sweet and I feel badly for them these days as their room and space within their environments is shrinking rapidly. Buffalos also. I love buffalos and must share this love with peeps…there’s a lot to learn ‘bout them too.
I don't know if you know: Friends of Animals manages a sanctuary in Texas that provides a home for about 400 primates and other animals who've been rescued from animal experimentation, the exotic pet trade, circuses and zoos, etc. We also have some videos of our amazing residents–and I can't tell you how much we'd love to have you narrate a video.
Oh shit! Done! Puh-lease — I would be honored…seriously I’ll make magic happen. Friends of Animals is doing what needs to be done and I’m so grateful for that. Anything I can do to help spread FoA’s word and mission, I will do in a heartbeat, love!
One last thing: everyone wants to know what you look like. Why are there no pictures of Randall?
I live by the motto, “A good narrator should be heard and never seen!”
Thanks so much for your time. We love you, and can't wait for more videos.
[confused] Is that it? [laughing] Thank YOU! Thank YOU! The pleasure was all mine, and for this reason, I now feel such guilt! Love to you, Friends of Animals and all of your awesome readers!