By Nicole Rivard

Friends of Animals just got back from the 2015 national Animal Rights conference in Alexandria, Va., which attracted a record breaking 1600 attendees this year! 

Attendees lauded FoA’s presentations “Saving Wild Horses from Extinction” and the “Challenging the Humane Hoax” for spreading the message that not only farm animals suffer from animal agriculture, but wild horses and other wildlife species on public lands are being harassed, rounded up and slaughtered as a result of cattle and sheep ranching too. 

Numerous sessions on animal abuse, organizing and outreach provided information and inspiration to be active in the animal rights movement, and perhaps nothing embodied the spirit of the conference more than 18-year-old Abby Serfilippi, who received the Lisa Shapiro Youth Activist Award. 

“Eight years ago I never would have imagined this journey would take me to this moment,” Serfilippi said when she received her award. 

Her journey began when she got a guinea pig from a pet store in her hometown of Delmar, N.Y. When she learned from her vet about dirty, crowded guinea pig “mills” and that other guinea pigs just like hers are often left abandoned at local shelters, she was horrified. She took it upon herself to create a small campaign aiming to re-home those at the local shelter. 

Knowing there were countless others without homes, she got permission to sell crafts at her school’s fair to benefit various animal sanctuaries and shelters. While the fundraisers started as a booth at the fair, they have become “Dust Bunny’s Boutique,” a traveling store that offers crafts made by her and members of her family. Through the success of Dust Bunny Boutique at local businesses in the Albany area and at local craft fairs, Serfilippi is now contributing to eight rescue organizations and sanctuaries. 

Another aspect of Serfilippi’s journey is that in seventh grade, she was surfing the Internet and came across the information about the horrors of fur farms and factory farming. That led her and her older sister to adopt a vegan diet, and she began educating people about the benefits of a plant-based diet. She set up a display at the local library and created and hosted an event at her school called “A Feast for St. Francis,” where vegan chef Kevin Archer and education coordinator Betsy Farrell-Messenger, from the Catskill Animal Sanctuary, came to the school and gave lessons in vegan cooking, talked about the health benefits of a plant-based diet and also shared stories of the rescued farmed animals at the sanctuary.

Her journey has not been without challenges. During her senior year of high school, a change in the school service policy said a student’s service work could only benefit the lives of humans. She felt her past work had been belittled and disregarded. 

But with the help of a teacher, Serfilippi figured out a way to stay true to her mission and meet policy requirements. She raised money through Dust Bunny Boutique for an underprivileged student to attend Camp Kindness at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary. She also attended the camp and spoke about the work she does.

“My school was just one small example of the difficulties animal rights activists face due to the invalidation of their work on a daily basis,” Serfilippi said. “I learned that even though it’s difficult, sometimes you end up making an even bigger difference after facing an unexpected obstacle.”

The Henry Spira Grassroots Activist Award went to the late Lisa Shapiro, founder of All Things Vegan; and Josh Balk, founder of Hampton Creek, which makes vegan Just Mayo, Just Cookie Dough and Just Cookies, was inducted into the U.S. Animal Rights Hall of Fame. 

Check out some of our pics of more of our favorite conference attendees below!