CEO Blog: More humanity, less hatred: Can we please listen to each other? | Winnipeg Humane Society
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CEO Blog: More humanity, less hatred: Can we please listen to each other?

Dear WHS Supporters and Friends,

This post is lengthy, and it is in many ways deeply personal. As a CEO, my role is to represent the WHS, but certain events this week are prompting me to write to you first as a human and a proud Canadian; and then as the CEO.

When I joined the Winnipeg Humane Society four years ago, I was fairly familiar with the rescue work the WHS performs, and the fact that our shelter and clinic assist over 9,000 pets every year. What I did not know is that advocating for the welfare and dignity of farm animals -and ALL animals in general- would actually be one of the most challenging aspects of the job.

We have said this many times: The WHS is part of the Humane movement, and as such we are opposed to the confinement of animals in large factory-type farms, where animals are denied access to the outdoors and the ability to exhibit and enjoy their natural behaviours. We also understand and denounce the negative impact of large-scale farming on the environment, our soil, and our lakes.

We encourage our supporters to source humanely-certified meat; to try as much as possible to buy from local small-scale producers who follow the most humane practices; and we also encourage everyone to try more plant-based foods and reduce meat consumption as much as each person is comfortable with. If you have not attended VegFest, I can tell you it is a fantastic starting point!

If you are vegan and believe that consuming animal protein is wrong, you are welcome in our organization.

If you are concerned about animal welfare and abusive farming practices and want to make sure your meat comes from a humane place; you are also welcome to be part of the WHS.

We don’t judge either type of WHS supporter because we are a broad tent, and as long as we agree that intensive confinement of animals is morally wrong and environmentally dangerous, we have a common cause and we will not stop until we see change.

As part of our commitment to welcoming all points of view, we have had in the past speakers from Fort Whyte Alive Farms, we have had legal experts talk about the rights of animals within our legal system, and we invited Manitoba Animal Save, a local animal rights group, to present their point of view on farm animals.

We have our disagreements with animal activists’ groups, because they believe that animal welfare organizations such as ours do not go far enough. I have received emails, talked to people at our events, and met with those who believe our support for small-scale local farmers and our acceptance of choice is incompatible with our efforts to rescue pets.

I also met with those who believe animal rights organizations should not have a place with the WHS. “Stick to dogs and cats” is a phrase I also hear.

I have made the conscious decision, with the full support of our Board and our Animal Compassion Team, to place the WHS squarely in the middle. Why? Because this is where we must be. I am determined to have every side of the welfare-activism spectrum talk to each other, and focus together on the bigger picture: let’s stop the intensive confinement of animals; the cruel transportation of farm animals without access to water or any respite, and let’s choose more plant-based foods to help our lands and lakes.

In that spirit of constructive dialogue, we asked Manitoba Animal Save, a group that is naturally suspicious of the “welfarism” the WHS spouses, to present their point of view and engage in dialogue with our supporters.

Let me be clear: animal rights activists are not bad people, they are not “terrorists” or “crazy”. They have moral and ethical grounds to believe in what they do, even when I personally do not think veganism is the only answer to the question regarding farm animals. I have received no information at the time of writing this that any member of Manitoba Animal Save has engaged in violent or illegal behaviour.

Enter social media. When we posted for the first time the upcoming talk by Manitoba Animal Save, almost immediately those who do not agree with them and those who may support them engaged in a war of words and venom that is frankly appalling.

At first we thought that our messaging of inclusiveness and welcoming all points of view was lost, so we tried to clarify that this is one perspective of many more that already presented or will present in the future. But no, that did not stop the hatred.

You may have heard or read that social media platforms have reduced our ability to listen to those who may think differently. I just never thought I will see people who share the passion to make the lives of farm animals better engage in name-calling; insults, online stalking and everything in between.

I am not pointing fingers, although certain individuals from both sides of the welfare-activism spectrum crossed many lines when it came to labelling and name-calling. I am appalled at the level of aggression, and when Manitoba Animal Save representatives told us they felt too disheartened to present, despair truly set in.

We are at a point in history where there is no definitive answer to the question of meat consumption. I remember a professor in University saying that when you have half of your bookcase in favour of a point of view and the other half of the bookshelf against it, we are historically at a crossroads and the only way forward is to continue to debate ideas and research the topic. We should listen to each other more.

Full disclosure: I am not vegan. I have adopted (for the most part, but not always), the WHS approach of reducing the amount of meat I consume, and my family tries to buy humanely-certified meat or meat from small-scale local farms who we trust. But I want to hear from those who think this is not enough, as much as I am fascinated by the stories and approach of these small-scale farmers and their incredible relationship with their animals.

We need, as a community of concerned Canadians who understand the facts and want to end the intensive farming and confinement of animals, to treat each other with the respect everyone deserves. If we tear ourselves apart, if we are not able to present a common front, if we cannot discuss our ideas and positions openly and respectfully… How can we improve the lot of farm animals in general?

While very disturbed and upset about what has happened, I am personally committed to continue to push for an inclusive Winnipeg Humane Society and to ensure everyone feels welcome and respected. The world has become a place of divisiveness, name-calling and violence. The WHS has 125 years of advocacy for a more humane world. We will not give up on our mission.

I beg everyone participating in our social media pages to remember that your WHS is a humane, compassionate place and to be open to other points of view. Time to pause, and to open our ears and our hearts a lot more.

In service,
Javier Schwersensky