Testing, testing, testing !

100_0214When Dr Christian Barnard, world-famous surgeon who invented the first heart transplant, decided to sue me for libel I was both intimidated and exhilarated.

It wasn’t an easy time for us at that point… after eight years of campaigning by my husband for the release of a man wrongly convicted of a double murder, now that  he was pardoned, we were embroiled in a Royal Commission and another battle with the police. In the previous eight years we had had our phones tapped, had our letters intercepted, and I awoke one night to find a plain clothes policeman in a grey suit and a stocking over his face at the foot of our bed, rummaging for stuff in my husband’s suit jacket.

Until then I had never locked the front door – so the children could always find their way in! My husband also had a price on his head, a lucrative contract put out by a worldwide drug ring he had been exposing in his newspaper for the last year. They too had penetrated our home when we were away on holiday, and switched off every appliance in the house, leaving a rotting deep freeze amongst other things, as a message to show us that they knew where we lived – even in remote country.

I had told my husband my car had a funny rattle, and when he checked he found that all the nuts on the front wheels had been loosened, so as to cause an accident. The children were frightened to answer the phone.  Luckily, the drug barons fell out and ended up murdering each other until the survivors were caught and convicted in England.

During this time I’d resigned from my job as women’s editor through ill health, but had continued to write my weekly column in the newspaper and in a magazine read by over half the (tiny) population. (I only mention this because it was significant)

It was an article about vivisection which had activated Christian Barnard. Among other horrors, I’d quoted his boast about making a two-headed dog to show the Russians he was as clever as them, and the heart-rending shrieks of the baboon when Barnard took his mate to use his heart for an operation. This article resurrected the moribund anti -vivisection society here and my husband and I became president and vice president until it was on its feet again.

The medical establishment were furious, because I’d also called into question every student having their own personal rat to kill by smashing it on the lab desk, and then dissect. A meeting was called at the university where the medical council discussed: “what to do about me”, as someone told me later. They felt that with my wide readership I had too much influence. How to shut me up?  They decided to alert Christian Barnard, with the result that he sent writs to my newspaper, Safe (Save Animals From Experimentation), and me.

When I got over the shock of opening this bullying letter demanding a large sum of money (which I didn’t have), or the ordeal of a court case, I was thrilled. Now we could bring vivisection out into the open. Maybe it would become an international scandal, since it involved the world famous surgeon. But to my chagrin, my newspaper paid up and apologised without even discussing it with me, and Safe – by then in other hands – paid up too – all the money going to the Heart Foundation – for more testing on animals, I supposed.

So that left me. I said to the family I’d rather go to prison than pay up if we lost the case. Two big tears oozed from my son’s eyes, as he contemplated his friends at school knowing his mother was in jail….  My solicitor wrote to Barnard’s men and did an unusual thing. He told them what our defence would be – listing Barnard’s boasts as they came straight from a TV interview and his autobiography. We never heard another word. So the vivisection issue just died.

This all happened thirty years ago, and it still goes on all over the world. I refuse to give to cancer appeals as I know that in this country anyway, their research includes testing on animals. I only buy certain brands of make-up – the ones which proclaim that they haven’t been tested on animals. The problem with vivisection is that no so-called scientist is going to talk himself out of a job, so they go on finding fresh ways of researching on animals, and fresh horrible ideas about how to test, and so it never ends.

We know that chimps have roughly ninety eight per cent of the same DNA as us, and we know that animals have a level of intelligence that ranges between that of a two year old and an eight year old – quite apart from their own special intelligences that we know nothing of.

Darwin himself said that animals have all the same emotions as people – they know joy and fear, depression and boredom, pain and happiness. We would never treat a two year old child the way we do animals, we would never think of torturing an eight year old in the name of science. But we have no compunction about doing this to animals.

Peter Singer, the great philosopher and animal rights campaigner who wrote the influential book:  ‘Animal Liberation’, refers to this treatment of animals as ‘speciesism’, like sexism and racism. He, like many of us, hopes that by the next generation this sort of discrimination will be as un-acceptable as those other forms of intolerance. Even today, so many people, especially the young, find this discrimination abhorrent. People for Ethical Treatment of Animals – Peta – is doing a great job of raising people’s awareness about the way we treat other creatures..

But there are, of course, a million other ways that man has devised to kill, maim, exploit, work to death and torture most varieties of creatures on this planet, including cutting off the fins of sharks, thus crippling them, and then dropping them back in the sea to drown; destroying the habitats of hundreds of species so they die out anyway, and perpetrating factory farming to name a few.

If we care, we can ‘put our money where our mouth is’ as they say in this country, and find ways of not using anything which is the result of animal testing. There is plenty of research these days to show that there are other effective ways of testing drugs rather than on animals, which is not fail-safe anyway. Thalidomide famously was tested on rabbits and found to be safe for them. But that didn’t make it safe for humans.

A year or so after my brush with Dr Barnard, a South African newspaper quoted him as saying he had given up vivisection. Asked why, he said he had heard the grief in the cries of a baboon for his mate who he had taken for an operation. There are some limits beyond which no civilised human being can go, he said.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

This sauce served with vegetables is one of my favourite meals. I thinly slice a selection of vegetables – pumpkin, kumara/sweet potato, red and yellow peppers,  mushrooms, carrots, and either fry them in an electric fry pan, or bake them with olive oil drizzled over them. Meanwhile in a blender I put two cups of good pea-nut butter, a cup of olive oil, two whole lemons, four cloves of garlic , two teasp fish oil, a dessertsp or more of dried thyme, and a tablsp or more of brown sugar, plenty of freshly ground black pepper, and salt.

Whizz everything together, and add more thyme and sugar or salt to taste. If it’s too thick, add some water. I pile the vegetables onto a serving dish, and hand round the sauce. It keeps for a few days in the fridge. It’s delicious with crusty rolls and wine for lunch with the (metaphorical) girls, or for supper for the two of us.

Food for Thought

All of the larger- than-life questions about our presence here on earth and what gifts we have to offer are spiritual questions. To seek answers to these questions is to seek a sacred path.

Lauren Artress, Episcopal priest, counsellor, writer and founder of the Labyrinth spiritual movement. Walking the labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral has led to the building and walking of labyrinths all over the world.

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62 Comments

Filed under animals/pets, cookery/recipes, food, great days, philosophy, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

62 responses to “Testing, testing, testing !

  1. Dear Valerie,

    Another chapter in your life opened for us to marvel at. Most amazing life you’ve got going on.

    Aloha,

    Doug

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    • Good to know you’re there /here, Doug!
      Well, I always think what an amazing life you’ve led…nice to think it’s still going on for both of us ! Hope the writing is going well,
      love Valerie

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  2. If more people stood up for what they truly believed in like you and your husband, the world would be a better place. Great post Valerie 🙂

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  3. I suppose, from your life experiences, you will be feeling wary of the nonsense happening with the GCSB. It’s always worrying when ‘spy’ agencies take on a life of their own. Re the animal testing, am I right in thinking that NZ is one of the few countries that has officially recognised the personhood of the great apes? In practical terms, I don’t know what that means since we are not flush with apes in this country 🙂 But it seems a step in the right direction. Speaking of steps, I have not been to Chartres but you may like to see my post on the labyrinth in Christchurch http://silkannthreades.wordpress.com/2012/12/24/continuity/ I didn’t know until today who founded the Labyrinth movement. Thank you.

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    • Yes, I am suspicious, and so is my husband who is still writing, and intending to say something about it…
      I wasn’t aware that NZ had any protection for great apes…I think Sweden has, and by law every pig there has to have a friend and room to browse and move around. We on the other hand use more and more animals for experimentation every year – always ethically we are assured -( sigh) while the US medical research groups oppose any protection for ages and chimps.( even bigger sign)
      Delighted to see your signpost to your labyrinth post, and will be there as soon as I’ve answered all the comments!

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      • http://www.animallaw.info/journals/jo_pdf/lralvol_7p35.pdf Just having a quick read of this but I think it does not go as far as Personhood. I know in Sweden, dogs may not be left alone in a house for longer than 4 hours. And in Switzerland they recently changed the constitution to ensure the protection of the “dignity” of plant life and passed a law guaranteeing rights for all creatures – from guinea pigs to goldfish. They also tried, but failed, to guarantee that every animal would have the right to a lawyer in court. Which reminds me of the long ago times of animal trials.

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      • Not sure whether my first reply reached you… how wonderful that dogs in Sweden can’t be left alone for too long. And how amazing that Switzerland cares! I had no idea they were so committed to animals rights… ah well, step by step… Your research is very impressive!!!

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      • I am fascinated by the subject.

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  4. That post has left me almost speechless. You have had such an interesting life and I love that you make a stand for what you believe in. We, too, ensure that stuff we use has not been tested on animals and hope speciesism will become a thing of the past.
    I was glad that your recipe was (almost) vegetarian after reading that! I am not a veggie but it seemed right today. I’m going to try that sauce. When you say two whole lemons, do you mean exactly that? Peel, to middle?
    We’ve walked the Labyrinth in Chartres and one in San Francisco. There has been a movement to draw labyrinths in the sand on the beaches here in Cornwall – and then the incoming tide washes them away…….
    All the best, Sally 🙂

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    • Hello Sally, thank you so much for such an interesting and generous comment… I envy you having been to Chartres, and what a lovely idea creating Labyrinths in the sand…
      Lemons – no they go in whole. I once had a recipe, which I’ve lost, for a lemon cake to mix in the blender including the whole lemon….
      It’s wonderful to find like minds in our blogging circle about animals… it’s such a comfort to know how many people like you are plugging away…

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  5. Bravo, Valerie. Animals can’t limit nor avoid their suffering, so we have to become vegans/vegetarian, choose our make-up carefully, and preferably use natural medicine.
    Keep up the good work.

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    • Thank you Paula, so good to hear from you… though I’m not sure that writing for all the like minds in our little blogging world will make a difference! But at least we kindred spirits can encourage each other….

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  6. Speechless, I am. What an amazing life you have led, and how lucky we are that your are taking the time to share your experiences.

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    • Thank you Kathie for your lovely comments… but really, like you I’m sure – I just do what’s under my nose, and it never feels amazing !
      But I’m so grateful that you enjoy my stories, thank you…

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  7. lucewriter

    Oh my goodness, what an incredible person you are, Valerie! I am in tears. I’m so glad that you fought for the animals. It’s heart-breaking to me. When I was 15 my life was re-routed away from science because I refused to take biology class where they dissected animals. I was the first person at that school to do so, and I hope I was not the last! But you put your whole life into this cause. You are my absolute hero.

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    • Dear friend, thank you so much for your lovely generous comments, it’s such a comfort to find so many kindred spirits in our blogging world, and to know that we all care… I think there are lots of us who try to do the little we can, and people like Jane Goodall inspire the whole world… it amazes me how many people are doing wonderful work in their own way, like the woman I saw on a blog yesterday who has a ranch where unwanted animals and people live – from horses to cats, the homeless and the handicapped; and other women here in NZ who raise money to rescue and buy moon bears in China who have their bile drained all the time.
      So many inspirational people..

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  8. You are a real fireball Valerie. Go get ’em girl !! 😀

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  9. You have an Absolutely amazing life…stunning really. And all just ordinary for you! I give you a standing ovation for all you have done — for us and for animals!

    As Jane Goodall says– ‘someone once wondered why it is that if a work of man is destroyed it is called vandalism, but if a work of nature, or God , is destroyed it is so often called progress”

    I salute you!

    Linda
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com
    http://deltacountyhistoricalsociety.wordpress.com

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    • Dear Linda,
      full of encouragement as ever, thank you good friend… I don’t really feel I’ve done anything very much…not strong enough to help at shelter centres for unwanted dogs like you do… and would love to be younger to DO something instead of just writing…
      What a wonderful quote from that inspiring woman Jane Goodall – what a heroine…So good to hear from you, as ever, love Valerie

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  10. I am so impressed with you and your life! As Jane Goodall once said: “Someone once wondered why it is that if a work of man is destroyed it is called vandalism, but if a work of nature of God, is destroyed it so often called progress.”

    You are my hero!

    Linda
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com
    http://deltacountyhistoricalsociety.wordpress.com

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  11. You are wonderful, Valerie. I have been working for animal rights since I was 14 years old but haven’t had to face challenges as big as these.

    And the first line of your post- fantastic writing!

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  12. I think you’re wonderful Letizia, to have committed yourself to animal rights when you were so young… I was too busy just trying to survive myself in those days, and took years to become aware of what needed to be done beyond that!!!
    In those days it was a case, of ‘ not waving, but drowning’…
    I really valued your appreciation of the writing, thank you good friend…

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  13. Dear Valerie, who knew? Your love for animals is clear in everything you write, yet I wasn’t aware your commitment went so deep. How wonderful – as a vegetarian Buddhist, my sentiments are the same. In fact it is a common practise for Buddhist’s to buy up animals meant for slaughter or experimentation, and release, or ‘liberate’ them, all the while whispering mantras in their ears! All living beings have feelings and want to be happy, in this we are united. Well done for standing up for animals rights to be so!

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    • Dear Michele, Thank you for your thoughtful comments…it’s interesting that the beliefs of Buddhism spill into the consciousness of so many people who care about the planet… it seems like the natural way to be, somehow… even though we are not practising Buddhists…
      It feels so good to know that so many of us in our little blogging world feel the same…

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  14. You are courageous, smart, funny and have right on your side. Humanity owes a debt of gratitude to our fellow creatures. Your work and efforts leave a legacy and a challenge to all who would do harm to animals.

    “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
    ― Mahatma Gandhi

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    • Thank you Rebecca for your comments… I always feel rather sad when I read that quote of Gandhi’s because there are so few nations who do seem to care about the welfare of animals when it’s a question of profits and exports. I think maybe Sweden and Switzerland are the only nations who do have humane laws to protect all animals not just pets…
      Lovely to hear from you as always…

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  15. I so love to read your stories, Valerie. You are such a brave woman!! I was just reading an article that was discussing why elephants cry. And it’s hard to believe that not so long ago humans had to be convinced that animals even have feelings. What an indictment on us humans that is… Thanks for being such an inspiration, Valerie.

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    • Hello Alarna,
      I don’t think I’m brave enough to read an article like that… I had Geoffrey Masson;s book ” Why Elephants Weep’ on my bookshelf for years before I could bring myself to quickly look at it !
      The trouble is that as far as I can see, most farmers and people who use animals, don’t think that they do have feelings.. and I won’t list all the miseries around the world because of that !!!
      Lovely to hear from you, and thank you for your generous, but not really deserved bouquet !!!

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  16. My dear Valerie, what an amazing and wonderful life you have led. Would that more men and women would stand up to the bullies of the world. What a world we would have today and to pass on.

    Thank you for sharing this with all of us. Just one more reason to love you.

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    • Dear Val,
      How typically generous and loving your words are – and what a world we would have if we all communicated the way you do …
      I’m finding it amazing that everyone sees what I’ve written about my life in such glowing terms.. I simply wrote about it as a peg to discuss vivisection which never seems to go away. it didn’t seem amazing or wonderful at the time ! – more like one challenge after another !!!! – and just doing the thing that was under one’s nose !!! …with love, Valerie

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  17. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, anyone who works in animal welfare, in any capacity, is a very special person. You are a special person.

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  18. Kate, I absolutely agree with you about people who work with animals.
    I couldn’t do what they do, and feel very humble when I see what they do to alleviate the suffering of so many creatures.
    I’m just a gad-fly hovering around on the surface, but thank you for your more than generous bouquet.
    Your new little rescued kitty-kat must feel the same about you…

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  19. No more words … it’s magnificent!! ty

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  20. Marvelous, simply marvelous. I do wish we could be neighbors Valerie.

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  21. One thing is for sure, Valerie. No one can ever attest to the fact you have had a dull life! Yes, it is so sad what happens to the animals in the name of progress and humanity. Nothing humane about the treatment they receive and too often for naught. You are a beautiful person and very staunch in your beliefs. Something to be admired! It certainly is by me ❤

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  22. Dear Valerie, You are an amazing and brave woman with such a rich personal history. I have now caught up on your last four posts. Reading your words take me to places so easily. I have been in your garden, your home, your mind and your heart. What a gift you have.
    *About the Stats* – Some of the people who blog also have large Twitter accounts or Facebook or Tumblr or any other social sites, so when it is said that 18,000 people are `following`a blog, it is a bit of a stretch 🙂
    Have a wonderful day xx

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  23. Amy

    It is heartbreaking to read the story and imagining what you had to go through…. Thank you so much for bringing up the awareness of animal’s emotions and their rights. I agree, it’d be a better world if more people believe in like you do…

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  24. What an extraordinary story! 🙂

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