Cross-Generational Animal Advocacy
Nick is a 44-year-old entrepreneur and Kathy is his 72-year-old mom. They recently worked together to produce a children’s story series called We’re All Animals. When asked what sparked this mother-son collaboration, they had to stop and think: how did their respective life currents, after flowing independently for many years, finally converge in this one stream? Here’s their story of cross-generational advocacy
The Source — Kathy’s View
The chicken I saw when I looked into the pot of soup I was preparing one day had likely lived on a factory farm. I was an occasional vegetarian, but for some reason I didn’t just see the beginning of a meal. I saw a formerly living creature who had had a short, miserable life. Ironically, that deceased bird was the start of a new life for my family and me.
Obviously, subconscious guilt and leanings had come together in that epiphany of mine. I had been preparing occasional meatless meals, with the full approval of my husband Mike, for years. But the chicken-in-a-pot incident pushed me over the edge: in that moment, I pledged no more animals would die to feed my family. But how would this go over with our three elementary-aged kids?
To be sure, they loved animals. Our family companion animals were always well cared for. Our subscription to Animals’ Agenda magazine had even sparked some activism in Nick, our youngest. Still, we felt that to impose a sudden and strict policy of no meat would incite rebellion in still-immature children, even though none were fussy eaters. We decided we would serve no meat at home, but outside of our home, they could eat whatever they chose. This led to a few cases of embarrassment at family gatherings, when relatives noted how enthusiastically the kids enjoyed Grandma’s Christmas turkey or Easter ham.
We were proud, however, when we realized that somewhere during their middle school years, they were adhering to a vegetarian diet on their own, whether they were at home or not.
The Source — Nick’s View
I was a kid who loved animals, but that didn’t make me particularly special. I had lots of friends who were also not only fascinated by the different creatures of the world, but wanted to hang out with them at home. In fact, one study found that essentially all (99.3%) children between the ages of 3 and 13 want to have companion animals.
Thanksgiving came late in November of 1981, and at six years of age I couldn’t have weighed more than 40 pounds. I was always a skinny kid, and my thick blonde hair made my head look a little too big for my slender body. I stood, big round plate held firmly between my two hands, surveying the bounty before me. Mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, casseroles, salads, dinner rolls, jello, pumpkin and pecan pies, and of course, a shiny, golden turkey half-carved.
I’d become accustomed to hearing adults say my eyes were bigger than my stomach, but I was out to prove them wrong. I loaded my plate with as much food as it would hold and made my way to the kids’ table.
As I sunk my fork into the juicy pile of turkey, my brother John turned to me and said, “Nick, if you love animals so much, then why do you keep eating them?”
I chewed in silence. It’s a question I couldn’t answer. And it was then, back in 1981, that I decided I didn’t want to eat animals anymore.
Of course, my brother didn’t ask that question in a vacuum. Our parents had always encouraged us to consider how our actions might affect others, and it didn’t matter whether we were talking about a person, a dog, or an ant. We were encouraged to think, from a young age, about where our food came from.
Tributaries — Kathy’s View
Years passed, our kids grew up, and we all continued our separate life journeys. Mike had fallen in love with Lake Superior, so when we burnt out on city living, we moved to the shore of that inland sea and built a new home. It was a beautiful spot which the kids loved to visit, but the visits were few and far between. It was not a particularly easy four-hour drive from the Twin Cities, where they lived.
As an empty-nester with only occasional part time jobs in our somewhat isolated home, I had time to reinvigorate some old interests. I had always gotten great satisfaction from writing, and I began to do more of it. I rarely wrote about animals—outside of our dog Selby—but I thought about them. That’s because all three of our adult kids had become serious animal advocates back in the Twin Cities.
They were protesting the circus and working to enact a wild animal circus ban in Minneapolis. They founded an organization for this work, and our daughter Christy became the president. I was incredibly proud of them and very frustrated that I wasn’t able to join them.
Meanwhile, Nick went to Farm Sanctuary in northern California as an intern. He was required to live a vegan lifestyle while there, and when he returned home, he immediately began working to guide the rest of the family to veganism. There were arguments and protests, but he eventually convinced us of the correlation between all animal products—not just meat—and animal suffering.
The tables had turned: our kids had taken the lead in widening our circle of compassion around animals.
Tributaries — Nick’s View
From that moment in 1981 when I decided I didn’t want to eat meat anymore, I felt an obligation to speak up for animals. I dove deeply into those issues of Animals’ Agenda and learned that humans were tormenting creatures not only for food, but also for science, entertainment, and fashion.
My dad agreed to drive me to a fur protest outside an upscale retailer in downtown Minneapolis over the holiday season. As an anarchist, he was always looking for opportunities to illustrate the value of standing up for what we believed in, even if our ideas were wildly unpopular. While he was surely proud that I wanted to speak up for animals, he also must have quivered at the thought of his youngest child holding a sign in the face of confrontational winter weather shoppers that day.
Throughout the 1980’s and early 90’s, I spoke to classmates and teachers at length about animal rights, wrote papers about the ethics of using animals in scientific research, and gave my senior speech about being vegetarian. It was a full-on obsession. Nothing seemed to matter more.
During college, I read what would become two of the most influential books in my life; How To Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie, and How To Argue and Win Every Time, by Gerry Spence. They both deal with the psychology of persuasion, and I can’t help but notice similarities between some of the lessons I learned in those books and the decision my parents had made years before: to talk openly about why we didn’t eat animals, but then giving me and my siblings the freedom to make our own decisions about the food we ate outside the home.
The Confluence — Kathy’s View
Several disparate factors led Mike and me back to the Twin Cities in 2013. Animal advocacy had become a big part of our family identity, and I could now join the others as a volunteer for The Humane Society of the United States.
I joined another writers group. Somewhere along the way, I wrote a short children’s story about a little girl whose theft of a cookie was no different, as her mother pointed out, than the backyard squirrel’s theft of seed from the bird feeder. Mother good-naturedly and succinctly states the theme at the end of the story: “We’re all animals!”
I shared the story with Nick. He said he loved it, so when I wrote a second story with the same theme, I shared that one as well. He liked the second story, too, and that is probably when an idea began percolating in his head.
When he approached me with his idea to teach compassion to kids through a set of animal stories, I hardly needed time to think about it. I loved to write, and this assignment would give me a purpose, a way to advocate for animals. I agreed.
For the better part of the next several months, I wrote stories. We critiqued them together and brainstormed more story ideas. While I was writing, Nick was envisioning We’re All Animals as part of a bigger picture—only the first product in a business he was about to create, called The Good Kid Project. Its birthing process is still barely complete, but we’re very encouraged by the reception of the story series so far.
We’re also enjoying great satisfaction in what we’ve created—this confluence of shared interests and different skill sets—because we’re confident that the world not only needs it, but is ready for it. The byproduct of a mother-son relationship turned business partnership is pretty satisfying, too.
The Confluence — Nick’s View
I jumped around from job to job for years after college, never in search of making more money, but always with an eye toward doing something meaningful with my life. That’s exactly what I found in 2003 when I landed an internship, then a job as Education Coordinator for Farm Sanctuary in northern California. The experience further solidified my commitment to making the world a better place for animals.
My degree in graphic design came in handy wherever I went, but the desire to be my own boss grew. I started a handful of side hustles over the years that fizzled, but with each attempt I learned a bit more about being an entrepreneur.
I learned about a concept called ‘transference’ in The Status of Animals: Ethics, Education, and Welfare (D. A. Paterson & Mary Palmer) which suggests that teaching children to be attentive to animal needs and to treat animals with kindness, compassion, and care will, in turn, affect the way children will treat each other.
With that in mind, in 2018 I came up with an idea for a business that could both satisfy my desire to work for myself and follow my lifelong passion to help animals. A Faunalytics study found that more than 90% of people feel it’s important for parents and children to discuss respect for all living creatures. Given my own experience growing up with parents who prioritized those lessons, I created The Good Kid Project, which is built upon the belief that children taught to extend kindness and mercy toward animals are more likely to become good kids who are kind and considerate in their relations to one another.
What parent doesn’t want that?
Working with my mom to co-create We’re All Animals feels right. She and my dad set out in the 70’s and 80’s to teach me and my siblings the importance of treating all beings with respect, and this story series brings those lessons to life once more.
Now it’s time for me to pass them on to the next generation.
Lessons in cross-generational advocacy
We’ve both explored several different approaches throughout our lives in an attempt to figure out how we could be the most effective animal advocates. The beautiful truth is that all of us bring different strengths and talents to the table, and when you consider that different arguments and approaches appeal to different people, the diversity within our movement works in the animals’ favor.
People have generally responded postivitely to our mother-son collaboration. We have found that our cross-generational advocacy helps us reach a broader audience while showing people that treating animals with kindness is not the sole domain of any one age demographic. It might be worth looking for ways you can collaborate with someone from a different walk of life, or a different age group, in your own efforts. Let your differences help break down stereotypes and show the world that treating animals with kindness is a universal value with broad appeal.