Hanging with The Humane League
Recently, we had the pleasure of hosting Heather Bolint and Jonathan Rosenberry of The Humane League while they were finishing their tour through Vancouver Island campuses handing out pamphlets on healthy (vegan) living. Heather is the Seattle director of The Humane League and Jonathan is a volunteer with their outreach team. We didn’t know what to expect of our guests or The Humane League in general, so it was an absolute pleasure and relief when they turned out to be down to earth vegans that were passionate about animal advocacy.
Our new friends Jonathan and Heather
The Humane League is a unique and independent entity whose focus is squarely on minimizing animal suffering and reducing the number of lives taken each year by animal use industries. Formed in 2005 and based in Philadelphia, it now has offices in 11 cities, but is a still a modest sized organization with only 19 staff. Their advocacy is informed by research to make cost-effective campaigns based on social psychology to motivate people to adopt a vegan diet. Their work does not end at the individual level though, they also dedicate a large portion of their energy and funding on campaigns at an institutional level, often challenging large animal use industries to implement better animal welfare policies and advocating educational and governmental institutions to promote meat free options on their menus. They have also been ranked as one of the most cost-effective animal organizations in the world by Animal Charity Evaluators for the past several years.
When we first met Heather, the Seattle director of The Humane League, she presented as professional and un-pretentious. Dressed in jeans and a hoodie with a welcoming smile, she was here to get work done and that meant being approachable to the students she was hoping to engage with. When talking about her work, she was to the point and knowledgeable about the many achievements of The Humane League and the depth of the issues that currently plague non-human animals. Having chickens as pets when she was a young girl and making the connection at age ten that there was no difference between the moral value of these chickens that many people ate and cats or dogs people lavish with love and kindness, she became vegetarian for ethical reasons. Jump ahead to 4-5 years ago and her experiences at national animal rights conferences revealed to her the systemic abuse and exploitation of cows in the dairy industry. That awareness manifested into her taking further action and adopting a vegan lifestyle. For the last 8 months she has been working for The Humane League and that experience appears to be once again changing her from an empowered individual who holds herself accountable to her values, to a leader in the animal advocacy community.
Our time with Heather and Jonathan was short, but left a big impression on us. The Humane league distributes over 1 million booklets on the benefits of a vegan diet to students all over the United States and Canada each year. Heather and Jonathan alone on this trip in B.C. have distributed over 10,000 booklets with over 4,000 being distributed in Victoria over two days at UVic and Camosun College. That is an impressive feat and much of it is due to their unassuming approach to communication and engagement, they are also just really good at putting those booklets in people’s hands.
With approximately 54% of The Humane Leagues budget spent on online advertising which in the digital age is invaluable, they still commit approx. 15% of their budget to leafleting. They report that over one million people click on their online education and awareness ads yearly and clearly this is the future of how much animal advocacy will be done. However, as mentioned earlier, they are also able to distribute over one million booklets yearly to students. It is hard to determine which is more effective, but one has to imagine that face to face engagement and outreach can still have a huge impact on those willing to consider a switch to veganism. Considering the difference in cost and the similar attach rate of being able to grab someone’s attention with educational material, this kind of grassroots advocacy appears to still have an important place and a profound impact for vegan outreach.
A little Q and A with Heather Bolint, Seattle Director, The Humane League:
TCC: People probably sometimes have trouble making the distinction between The Humane League and The Humane Society. How do you communicate the differences between these organizations to people?
HB: This is definitely a common confusion! The Humane League (THL) is a much smaller organization than the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and much newer as well. HSUS started in 1954 and works on many different animal protection issues, whereas THL started in 2005 and solely focuses on farm animal protection. We do agree with many of each other’s outreach tactics, and even share resources for our Meatless Monday campaigns. But The Humane League doesn’t conduct undercover investigations like HSUS does, and instead does more grassroots outreach, including leafleting and offering classroom presentations.
TCC: Is there a way for people to get involved with The Humane League in Canada?
It is always great to learn more about the work of other animal organizations, but it is even better learning more about the people behind the work. While we learned lots about The Humane League and have a great appreciation for their dedication to vegan outreach, spending time with Heather and Jonathan was also about enjoying great food, sharing stories, and playing Wii U. This is because the work we do as animal activists and advocates is not just about our work, it is about our relationships. Heather, Jonathan, and The Humane League appear to have a strong commitment to building positive relationships with the people in their communities and beyond. Coupled with their self-assessment model of campaigning they are poised for ongoing success as a voice for change for non-human animals for many years to come. It was an absolute pleasure hosting Heather and Jonathan and we wish them both great success in their animal activist endeavors.
The Critical Cat