Animal Advocate Envisions a Vegetarian World

(By Monty Marsh)
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By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 17, 2008

I should've eaten my ham sandwich before picking up Karen Dawn's "Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way We Treat Animals." After reading her description of how the deli meat got to my Tupperware container, I put off lunch until late in the afternoon. But I was so hungry I had to eat the sandwich at some point. With each bite into the ham, I heard the shrieking of pigs in my head.

When will the pigs stop screaming, Karen Dawn? When?

When the world converts to vegetarianism, she writes in the book. This will happen eventually. She's not militant about this point. She's logical. She's levelheaded. She's funny. That's why her message is so . . . darn . . . persuasive.

"Thanking the Monkey" is a glossy, nearly 400-page, eminently readable book that's not just about forgoing meat; it's about fur and animal testing and the merits of hunting and fishing and the badness of pet stores, circuses and the Navy sonar systems that make the ears of gray whales bleed. It celebrates the progress of the animal rights movement. It provides sensible rationales for treating animals with near-absolute equality. It criticizes the National Wildlife Federation (for protecting hunting interests), the organic food fad ("organic" doesn't necessarily mean animals have been treated well) and Jack Hanna (for supporting dove hunting and glossing over problems in horse racing).

Jack Hanna, for crying out loud. The woman's got some nerve.

A native of Australia, Dawn is the founder of DawnWatch, an e-newsletter that calls attention to animal rights coverage in the media. She works from home in Los Angeles and started work on "Thanking the Monkey" ($19.95, Harper Paperbacks) two years ago.

We got her on the phone last week to talk about the book and her connection to Montgomery County's Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary, where she will be appearing Monday.

This book is heavy. What is it, like, three pounds?

[It's] 2.2. The reason it's so big is because it's got so many pictures. Being so heavy makes it scary, but when you open it up and have one fun photo -- celebrity or cartoon -- on every page, it doesn't look so heavy.

You pursued a science degree in Australia that involved experimenting on rats, something you're obviously against now.

I didn't feel good about doing it but didn't let myself think about it. I sort of closed my heart. It never occurred to me how much more badly those rats needed their lives than I needed a degree. It's not a matter of rats versus people. It was a matter of a degree I didn't really need. I really think that it's helped me as an activist. You're not a bad person if you're not thinking about the animals. I don't believe in bad or good people. I think people make choices, and you can always choose again.

You think humanity is evolving toward vegetarianism.

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