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and Me By Robin Henderson
Robin and Mom at a Fur Protest
While most parents would shun the idea of their child skipping class for
an anti-KFC protest, my mom joined me. She is the reason I’ve been
able to pursue my passion. My mom has always been very proud of the work
I do. There are so many things I know she wished she could have accomplished
when she was younger, but as a poor single mother raising three kids, there
are only so many battles you can fight. This is for her.
Growing up in a crummy neighborhood in urban New Jersey, stray cats were
everywhere. We were on welfare at the time and even though mom had a rough
time saving money to feed us, she would always find a way to get a bag
of kibble for the strays. I was only eight at the time, but can easily
recall all the cats sitting on our window ledges just waiting for mom.
We eventually borrowed a Have-A-Heart trap from the local shelter, and
as best we could, started our very own trap, neuter and release program.
We would often trap a very angry cat, whom we would then drive to the shelter
for the operation. A month later, this fierce feral would be belly-up on
our living room floor purring and playing with string. We saw many cats
transform this way. It was a good feeling.
I also remember one day when walking to the Five & Ten, mom grabbed my brother
and I, covered our eyes and yelled, “Don’t look kids, it’s
a dead animal!” Through splayed fingers covering my eyeballs, I could see
a woman in a full-length fur coat marching by, glaring at the crazy woman and
her two “abused” kids. “Mom get off me!” I yelled. “You’re
so embarrassing!” I walked 20 steps in front of her the rest of the way.
Two years later, mom’s lack of resources met the criteria for a boarding
school for needy children, so off I went to Hershey, PA—dairy country.
While at boarding school, I started volunteering at a nearby dairy barn, where
I would clean out stalls and bottle-feed baby calves. At this young age, I wasn’t
questioning where these calves’ mothers were, or why they needed a bottle
filled with powdered milk. I simply loved spending time with them, struggling
to hold the big plastic bottle as they pushed against it, suckling as much as
they could. I would squat down next to these newborns and scratch their heads
One night at dinnertime, we all got in line for the buffet. Frozen peas and square
carrots, mashed potatoes from a box and a strange breaded meat. I asked my house-parents
what the strange meat was. “It’s veal,” they said. I tried
to recall if I had ever heard of this concoction.
“What’s veal?” I asked, “Is it like hamburger or chicken
“No,” my housemother replied. “It’s baby cow.”
“WHAT!! Baby cow? Like the ones we take care of?”
“No, not them.”
I wish I could tell you that this was my a-ha! moment, that I took the veal off
my plate and stopped consuming meat right then. But I didn’t, I ate the
veal, for two reasons. One, at 10, I didn’t know what else to do, no one
told me I didn’t need to eat meat. Second, there was a big chocolate cake
on the counter, and I knew I couldn’t have any unless I ate everything
on my plate.
My a-ha! moment didn’t hit until one of my vacations back home to New Jersey
and I saw a magazine sitting on mom’s coffee table—PETA’s Animal
Times. I flipped through the pages and saw graphic images I had never seen before:
pigs hanging by their hind legs, laboratory rabbits undergoing the Draize eye
test and elephants being beat by trainers. Little had I known, mostly because
I was away at boarding school, that mom was an animal rights activist. I soon
discovered I was one too.
That year I stopped eating “weird” meat, and slowly began cutting
out everything else.
Like Mother, Like Daughter
Veal came back to haunt me a couple of years later when I was in high school.
I was at the Olive Garden with a group of students, squished in between six people
on a booth seat. I could barely turn my head as the girl sitting next to me ordered
“You can’t eat that!” I yelled at her, “That’s
“So what?” she glared at me, “I like it.”
I stood up, climbed over the three people to my right and moved to the other
end of the table, grumbling the whole time about baby killers. I was beginning
to feel like my mom.
That November, mother-daughter bonding was like never before. The day after our
turkey-free Thanksgiving, mom invited me to come with her to New York City for
her annual festivities—the “Fur Free Friday” protest. I was
nervous, but once in the crowd of folks carrying faux blood-splattered posters
and shouting, I found myself chiming in. “Macy’s, how’d you
get your fur today? Gassing, Trapping and Anal Electrocution!” I’ve
attended almost every fur free Friday since that year, most of them with mom.
I didn’t actually become vegan until my freshman year in college when PETA
intervened once again. I went to the Helping Animals 101 conference in New York
City, and it was there I learned that in every glass of milk or chunk of cheese
is a little dead veal calf. I couldn’t handle the guilt. That weekend I
became vegan—it didn’t hurt that I was also introduced to soy ice
Soon afterward, I transferred to Marist College where I began the task of starting
a new animal rights group—FoxP.A.W., People for Animal Welfare. Before
long, I saw it. Cycling in every two weeks on the college cafeteria menu—veal.
I decided to voice my opinion to the dining committee, explaining thoroughly
the circumstances behind the veal industry. Veal has been off the menu for three
Back on the Farm
In my junior year of college, I was fortunate to find the Woodstock Farm Animal
Sanctuary. On my first trip to the farm, I saw a tiny calf surrounded by people
oohing and aahing, taking pictures, and some even crying. Dylan, a five day-old
calf, had been recently liberated from a dairy farm where he was to be auctioned
off as veal. He was no use to a farmer who dealt in milk and too scrawny to become
meat; he was simply a byproduct.
I began to work on the farm in February of 2006, and actually helped wean Dylan
off the bottle. He has been hand raised, and now is the sweetest steer on the
farm. He recognizes his name, and will follow you around eagerly. Outside of
his pen sits a real wooden veal crate on display. When people see the crate and
the picture of calves on a veal farm beside it, most can’t even believe
it’s legal. “They’re only babies!” some people exclaim.
I hope that the work I’ve done, and will continue to do, will make up for
that day when I was 10 years-old, and chose the chocolate cake over questioning
the breaded meat on my plate. Or for that matter, the day I was too embarrassed
to walk with my mom after her compassionate display of activism.
Robin Henderson is a proud new graduate of Marist College where she headed
the student group Fox P.A.W. (People for Animal Welfare). You’ll find her
and Dylan at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, www.woodstockfas.org.