Christine Loughead saved her first being at the age of 10, a small, bothersome bug she’d prepared to smack very dead — but couldn’t.
Profound thoughts brewed inside her head — notions of life and death, freedom and captivity, and what made her, or really any human, worthy of the job of judge.
In that moment, with just a decade of life behind her, the small girl from Canada lowered her hand.
Then she became a vegetarian.
In the 33 years since, Loughead has evolved to veganism and launched a host of other animal rescues: the small mouse she spent two hours saving from a trap, its tiny paws stuck to the deadly sticky pad; the fox, sick with mange, that she nursed back to health; and the curious skunk whose head she pried from a disposable coffee cup after he wedged himself inside.
Each save took dedicated time and effort, but nothing compared to the great lengths to which she went last month when she used $300, a UPS plane and a vegan Facebook group to accomplish her latest pet project: the rescue from a grocery story of a captive lobster destined for someone’s plate.
Among those who care, Loughead and lobster have earned international attention since a vegan journalist first reported the crustacean’s journey from supermarket back to the sea. Loughead has spoken to publications in Canada and the United Kingdom, posted a documentary-style video of the ordeal to YouTube and tried to pimp her story to “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”
Someone even offered her a deal to write a children’s book about the lobster rescue.
Loughead’s hopes for the reach of her animal activism are simple: She wants Disney to make a movie starring lobsters, and she wants the act of saving them to become “the new twerking.”
The saga began May 15, about seven months after Loughead pledged herself to the vegan lifestyle. The 43-year-old professional house painter was drifting through her local supermarket in the tiny mining town of Red Lake, Ontario, when she came upon the deli aisle — and the large fish tank there holding one lonesome lobster.
She’d seen him before and done nothing.
“It was upsetting me more and more every time I went there,” Loughead told The Washington Post in a phone interview Thursday night.
So this time, amid her search for soy milk, the vegan took a stand.
“There’s hope,” she said she thought at that moment. “There’s hope for him.”
She decided she’d fork over the $15 he cost if it meant securing his fate. But her rescue attempt was thwarted when store employees told her there was nobody at the deli who could properly weigh the lobster and complete the sale.
She returned the next day, undeterred.
“I was quite relieved to find him still there,” she said.
She and her boyfriend, Dean Neniska, 46, filled a plastic bucket with salt water from the lobster’s tank and lowered the creature inside. Loughead feared the supermarket would refuse to sell her the lobster if they learned her intentions, so she kept a low profile until they made it into the parking lot.
There, a video shows she whispered: “‘You are now not dinner.’ ”
Then she named the sea creature Lobby Joe.
At home, the couple made a habitat for their new friend in an old fish tank and clipped away the rubber bands binding its pincers. They took to Google, deducing that Lobby Joe was likely plucked from the waters off Novia Scotia before landing in their grocery store.
He wouldn’t make a good pet, Loughead decided, especially since lobsters must be kept cold and feed on other fish. She hated the idea of prioritizing the life of one animal over another.
“He really should just go home,” she said she thought.
The drive to Halifax, a fishing hub off Canada’s east coast, would take 37 hours one way. Loughead needed another plan. She turned to a Facebook group for the vegan community, where she found Beth Kent, the founder of an animal shelter in a small town one hour from Halifax.
Kent agreed to help, but Loughead still had to get Lobby Joe there — a 2,000-mile journey.
She eventually found a UPS store that would ship animals in Winnipeg, a six-hour drive from her Ontario home. Before they departed, the couple packed a Styrofoam box with ice packs and damp newspaper and put Lobby Joe inside. To keep their new friend safe, they strapped the lobster’s box into the back seat.
In total, the trip — including gas, shipping and the cost of Lobby Joe at the supermarket — cost Loughead more than $300. During the lobster’s 24-hour journey to Halifax, she was anxious. Then her phone buzzed May 26 with a new text message from Kent, a video of her greeting Lobby Joe in the Halifax UPS parking lot.
“Hi, honey!” Kent can be heard saying to the lobster as she pulls him from a box labeled “PET.” “Life’s going to get better, okay?”
When she watched the video, Loughead said, she cried.
“It just put me over the moon,” she said.
Kent drove an hour to the coast, Loughead said, where she’d scouted out a nice release point for Lobby Joe. But when she arrived, fishermen lurked nearby. Kent recalibrated, finally deciding upon a quiet spot where kayaks launch into the sea. A video of the release shows Kent leaning over the water and dropping the lobster between patches of seaweed. The creature hesitates for a moment on the surface, then dives down deep.
“There he goes! There he goes!” Kent cheers. “Woo! Good boy.”
Back in Red Lake, Loughead compiled the footage from Lobby Joe’s cross-country journey and posted a clip to her YouTube channel, Canadian Girl, which also features videos of her skunk and fox rescues. Soon, reporters were calling.
Loughead said she feels proud of what they accomplished for Lobby Joe.
“He has his life,” she said. “He had his own life before they caught him, and now he has his life again.”