Star activist: Interview with Lynda Stoner
- Published: 16 May 2010
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Australian actor Lynda Stoner starred in hit TV shows in the 1970s and 1980s including Cop Shop, Chances and Prisoner: Cell Block H. But she gave up a career in the limelight to campaign for animal rights. She spoke with Katrina Fox.
You work for Animal Liberation NSW. Tell us about your role.
My role with Animal Liberation is communications manager. Under that descriptor I have the privilege of researching animal rights issues and writing about them for brochures, the website and other avenues.
As with other people here much of the work I do is confined to the office and on other occasions I am involved with direct action. I lobby politicians, generate free promotional opportunities for this organisation such as ADSHEL billboards and free to air commercials and assist in the day to day running of the office.
A large portion of my time in the office is responding to our free call 1800 Cruelty Hotline. This service was set up over three years ago in response to an ever increasing number of calls coming from country and rural areas from people distressed by animal cruelty.
The RSPCA has a policy in NSW and Victoria of not taking anonymous calls which means the plight of many thousands of animals has gone unreported. Animal Liberation takes the case details and then becomes the informant which means the original caller no longer has to be involved.
Due to increasing numbers of calls the 1800 went into Victoria 2 years ago and into Tasmania last year. The RSPCA in
We have a good working relationship with the police, many councils, the DPI and when we can get caller contact details we are able to send through to the RSPCA in NSW.
We have a wonderful person working for us in Victoria who was an RSPCA inspector. He is a one person mover and shaker and did great work to assist animals during the bushfires.
He works tremendously well with official organisations and also knows the law back to front and his experience and can-do attitude ensures he can assist animals in peril rapidly.
When did you first become involved in animal rights?
I began in the animal rights movement in 1978 not long after Peter Singer’s momentous book Animal Liberation was released. Some months prior I had seen coverage of Harp seal pups being slaughtered for their fluffy, baby fur.
It stood to reason that if I hadn’t been aware of this iniquity there must be other areas of animal cruelty unbeknownst to me. I began researching areas of animal exploitation and took up volunteer work with the Wilderness Society.
What they do is terrific but I felt a sense of urgency in wanting to focus on animals that are subjugated in the name of “food,” “clothing” and “entertainment – rodeos, circuses, zoos.”
Someone recommended Peter’s book which I bought the same day and consumed four chapters of in a cab on the way to work.
The book, for me, was an epiphany. It shocked and distressed me but it was as though the book was calling me home. I cannot describe it any other way. I immediately stopped eating meat and over the next couple of days threw out all my leather goods and binned any cosmetics that had been tested on animals. I knew I would spend the rest of my life working for animal rights.
How did your new knowledge impact on your work as a renowned actor?
At the time I read the book I had just started working in a high-profile television show. The show alone should have absorbed all my attention but I was consumed by animal rights.
Friends and colleagues thought/hoped this was whimsy on my part – mostly because I became rabid, loud, judgemental and totally intolerant of anyone eating and wearing animals. I recall more arguments with more people (practically everyone) than at any other time in my life.
I am now of the opinion that I alienated more people during my dictatorial days than ever I persuaded them of the multi benefits of not contributing to the maltreatment of animals.
Back then vegetarianism (much less veganism!) was a relatively unknown phenomenon associated with “hippies” and “communes” – nonverbal descriptions of which included lots of eye rolling and sniggering.
It didn’t matter a whit to me if the entire population of talkback radio railed and belittled, I knew that what I read in Peter Singer’s book is the unarguable truth, we do not have the right to exploit any living creature.
I was pole-axed by the plight of animals and the monumental amount of ways humans use animals. Those concerns and how to stop them took me over more and more and culminated in the privilege of me now working fulltime at Animal Liberation, “at home.”
What are your thoughts on the bond between humans and animals?
Compassion toward animals is a symbiotic relationship. By respecting and nurturing the rights of nonhumans it seems a natural extension to respect and nurture all life.
I continue to be perplexed by people who believe compassion for one needs to be at the exclusion of the other. Surely we have sufficient compassion to encompass caring for all life forms.
I tend still towards impatience with people who say, “you should be working to help humans, not animals,” (this usually from people who are doing nothing to help anyone) and those who say they “only” love animals.
It’s as though we have all been born with a limited amount of empathy and if too much if used up we’ll be emptied out. If you eat meat and dairy products and wear animal skins you are directly responsible for the ongoing suffering of animals. The bonus of opting out of this misery is that your health will improve and so will our environment.
It is widely known now that the production of meat, dairy and leather are toxic to this planet. Compassion for all animals will generate a healthier planet and a healthier you and you will no longer be causing suffering to animals.
How do animals enrich our lives?
Animals enrich our lives by just being. Doing whatever they enjoy doing without intervention from humans wherever possible.
Having said that, many people’s lives are deepened by the company of a dog, cat, horse, rabbit, guinea pig, rat and others. For many their companion animal is their dearest friend, someone who loves them unconditionally. Animals don’t give a toss about what you are wearing, your profession or where you live.
If you are good to them they will reciprocate with trust and love. Children who have been taught healthy interaction with animals have a greater sense of empathy and through living with animals also learn responsibility for the welfare of others. Animals in a healthy environment are also just lots of fun.
We can learn so many things from animals. Depending on which species you care to study they all have unique capabilities and strengths. A good way to learn from animals is to go to their country of origin or absorb documentaries and read about them.
Never, ever go to a zoo or a circus because all you will see are animals that have been sublimated into what humans have done to them. Any time you go to anything other than a free-range zoo (and Animal Liberation would endorse these places only as a desperate measure) you will see stereotypic behaviour and animals that are as physiologically damaged as any human would be who was kept confined and deprived of normal behaviour and environment.
How has the animal rights movement impacted on your life?
The animal rights movement changed my life completely. I was on a life path I thought meant a great deal to me only to have it turn in a totally different direction. I am grateful to my old life though as it gave me the opportunity to get animal rights issues into the public forum in a way I could not otherwise have done.
Do you live with any companion animals?
My family and I have always had companion animals and I am happy my son has been around dogs since he was born up until age eighteen when our last beloved dog died.
Before my son was born I had three little dogs who were vegetarian (during my dictatorial years) and I must say they bloomed and flourished. However with our last dog I revised my views on denying him his natural carnivorous state.
And dogs and cats are carnivores. Check their fangs for one thing, their digestive tracts, a dog’s tendency to gulp and rip just as they’ve done for thousands of years. For our dog I subjected myself to walking into the butchers to get our boy his bones (or rather, someone else’s bones) and scalded myself for hypocrisy.
Vowed I would not get another companion animal if it meant another animal had to die to feed my chosen one/s. Besides, the grief we went through when Lobo died was it for me. So my life has been blessed with the company of animals but I doubt I will go there again. Perhaps a rabbit…or two…
What changes have you seen in the animal rights movement over the years?
The animal rights movement has grown rapidly since I first came into it, and it’s growing around the world. Minority countries tend still to pamper a chosen few species and close their eyes to the suffering of animals that make up their dinner and handbags.
Of-course having abattoirs, battery hen sheds, sow stalls and broiler (chicken meat) sheds behind closed doors far removed from the majority of the population means humans can more easily ignore suffering.
Tragically majority countries are tending to pick up minority countries intensive systems - tragically for the animals, human health and the environment. If everyone went vegan there would be sufficient food to feed the entire human population. And incidents of heart disease and cancer would plummet. If this sounds like Shangri-la then I am all for reaching for the best that we can be.
You’ve written a book containing vegan recipes – tell us about that.
It’s called Now Vegan! It was enjoyable to write and I co-opted friends and family into sharing their favourite dish.
Not surprisingly much of the book is taken up with chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate. I wanted the book to reflect the richness and variety of vegan food, to illustrate that vegans enjoy an abundance of inexpensive, nutritious, easy to prepare and holistically good cuisine.
Image of Lynda Stoner courtesy of Animal Liberation NSW.