Hanging with The Humane League

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.

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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?

HB: Great question! Unfortunately The Humane League isn’t international yet, though hopefully with enough interest and support, we can spread our mission across the border. If Canadians want to get involved, we suggest contacting THL to find out about Humane Ed opportunities, or campaigns such as Meatless Mondays. We currently have ten offices across the US and are growing each year, so I hope to see a Canada chapter of The Humane League soon!
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TCC: In the short term, the Humane League seems focused on outreach and education. What is the long term vision for the Humane League?
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HB: The Humane League’s goal is to decrease the amount of animal suffering, and our national campaigns work to end the worst factory farming practices. So we’ll continue with the grassroots work for as long as it takes to pressure national corporations to switch their purchasing policies. And when alternatives to meat, dairy and eggs become less expensive, then market trends should follows suit, and move further away from animal products.
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TCC: What is your favourite part of working for The Humane League?
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HB: My favorite part of working with The Humane League is getting to know the community I live in, and meeting people who are interested in making a change in the world. I love how my job lets me communicate my passion and gives me a platform to organize others with the same passions to get involved and take action.
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TCC: Do you have any particular crazy or irregular stories you can share from your time traveling around doing outreach?
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HB: Yes! Actually, probably one of the most unique stories was at University of Victoria on the last day of our BC leafleting tour. We had already given out over 2,000 leaflets at UVic on Thursday, but returned for a few hours on Friday to get out a few hundred more. We received lots of support for being there, however, one frustrated student approached us during lunchtime to ask if we could stand further away from the Student Union building. She proceeded to explain that she worked at a pub in the SUB and that people were no longer buying their food because of the information we were handing out. It was probably the best (accidental) feedback I’ve ever received about the immediate effectiveness of leafleting!
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TCC: What is the biggest criticism you’ve heard of The Humane League and what is your answer to it?
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HB: The only criticism we receive is that our campaigns focus too much on welfare tactics. Some opponents believe that this only makes people feel less guilty about eating animal products, as opposed to wanting to stop eating these products altogether. But the way I see it, is that many people are simply unaware of where their food comes from, so our outreach efforts bring these practices to light and make people think about the consequences of their eating choices. Some people make the connection right away, but others usually need to transition out of their current habits. We always promote veganism, and based on research conducted by our Humane League Labs, we practice the best tactics for directing people to make that decision.
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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

The Humane League
The Humane League (THL) works to reduce suffering of farm animals through conducting online advertising, organizing grassroots outreach, instigating cage-free and Meatless Monday campaigns, giving presentations, and engaging in corporate outreach. THL shows exceptional strength in their desire to test for effectiveness, as evidenced by their efforts with Humane League Labs, a program designed to evaluate advocacy presentation and methods. They also use the evidence they find to guide their efforts.
1601 Walnut St. Ste 502
Philadelphia, P.A.
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