Emily Yates speaks to celebrity vet Marc Abraham on the eve of the announcement that his canine welfare event ‘PupAid’ will be going vegan for the first time in its seven year history
For an animal welfare lobbyist who makes his own rules, you can’t find a more colourful personality than Marc Abraham. TV presenter, author and 2014’s ‘Vet of the Year’, Marc was responsible for one of the UK animal welfare movement’s biggest game-changers last year when he succeeded – through sheer persistence – in getting a three hour debate on puppy farming into the main chamber of the House of Commons.
2012 was the year when Marc’s dog show ‘PupAid’ hit the big-time, moving from Brighton to London’s Primrose Hill – the ideal location for its celebrity attendees, and a major coup for the visibility of his campaign against cruel puppy farming. The ‘PupAid’ campaign has since gained over 100,000 signatures on a government e-petition, winning a three-hour House of Commons debate on puppy farming last year (the cruel battery farming of dogs to sell in garden centres, pet shops and online). Through seven years of PupAid, he has built a community – mobilising celebrities, politicians and hundreds of thousands of the general public to support his parliamentary lobbying.
Marc cites the ‘people power’ behind the lobbying campaign as the main reason he was able to push hard enough to get the puppy farming debate into the Commons last year. With his announcement that PupAid is now going vegan for its human visitors, I am interested to learn more about his vision for an integrated animal welfare campaign. I met Marc in Brighton to ask him the reasons behind his decision:
“Last year, I attended an animal welfare event where they served lamb at dinner, and it just didn’t feel right. Since that moment, I have felt that veganism deserves a central place in the conversation. A few months later I attended my first ever ‘VegFest’ here in Brighton, and was overwhelmed by the community spirit as much as the delicious food – an experience that totally swung me.
It’s a moral necessity for animal welfare campaigns to keep the issue of ‘selective compassion’ in the frame, and this is also the way that the cause of veganism can gain momentum. PupAid’s vegan supporters are really passionate individuals who’ve shown amazing dedication to multiple animal welfare campaigns – it’s only right that these campaigns should support vegan interests in return. There’s so much positivity in the vegan/vegetarian community, and plenty of room for coalition – everyone needs to raise their voice if we are going to affect the tide of change.”
Things hit a new level last year when your advocacy brought the issue of cruel puppy farming into the mainstream. You’ve mobilised celebrity patrons, animal welfare campaigners and hundreds of thousands of the general public. Can you give us an insight into your campaign strategy?
“I sometimes joke that PupAid’s strategy is a kind of ‘pyramid selling’. It’s all interconnected – that’s why I’ve focused on popular media and celebrities just as much as parliamentary lobbying. Celebrities can create waves of public opinion, and ‘people power’ can greatly affect legislative action and real change; allowing us to pressure trade bodies and corporations to end their association with cruel animal practices.
If you want to create ‘people power’, you need passion and creativity. Be daring and make up your own rules – especially on social media – that’s the fun of it! You can never entirely predict which idea will change the course of events – it’s all a work in progress really; a living, breathing campaign that’s evolving in every moment.
One major influence on getting puppy farming debated in Parliament was the unconventional way I approached Andrew Neil of BBC’s Daily Politics – I wrote a letter to his dog, Molly, a golden retriever who makes occasional guest appearances on the show. I asked Molly if her guardian was aware of the suffering of her fellow dogs in puppy farms across the UK, and the UK government’s utter hypocrisy in claiming to deal with it effectively. The very next day I received a call from the Daily Politics asking me to appear on the show!”
I’m inspired by the impact you have had in so many different spheres of influence and I’m wondering how much of it is due to social media – is this the glue holding all the interconnected groups together?
“I’m a great believer in the power of social media – it’s one of the most effective ways of staying ‘interconnected’ in this day and age. PupAid’s 60,000 Twitter followers are an extremely passionate, close-knit community and I’m very active in that space. Twitter works within the news cycle – it’s the sphere of influencers and a great place to make contact with supporters, celebrities and politicians alike. Facebook has a different kind of function – posts live longer there and often gain greater emotional impact. PupAid’s government e-petition posts got enough longevity on Facebook to help gain over 100,000 signatures, the minimum required to win a debate in Parliament.
When you have these sorts of numbers behind you, you can really start to achieve something. One person’s voice means little, but a mass protest campaign can mean harmful publicity – which we can use to pressure industry to end cruel animal practices. Social media power also gives public figures and politicians an incentive to get on board, knowing they’ll benefit from the praise they’ll get from supporting us. My strategy in social media is to use both ‘the carrot’ and ‘the stick’ to let people know that our animal-loving community is growing – and we are here to stay.”
Your campaign has attracted a number of high profile supporters – Ricky Gervais, Brian May and Elle MacPherson, to name a few. Which vegan personality has impressed you the most?
“I would have to say Meg Mathews. She’s an amazing patron for PupAid and always attends our annual ‘fun dog show’ in Primrose Hill. Meg has incredible commitment to animal welfare and pure passion for the cause – the things I admire most in a person. Anais Gallagher, Meg’s daughter, is following closely in her mother’s footsteps – definitely one to watch for the future. The world needs more people like them!
Celebrities have an amazing power to affect change – imagine what’s possible when they catapult from ‘personality’ to the status of ‘brand’! This is exactly the scale of Ricky Gervais’ popularity – his support has been invaluable to PupAid and our campaign against cruel puppy farming. Ricky’s reach is incredible: eight and a half million Twitter followers and known for his directness and honesty – that’s why people trust him.”
How can vegans contribute to the campaign against puppy farming?
“Firstly, get involved in social media and participate in our campaign. This can be as simple as following @pupaid on Twitter, tweeting about campaigns, signing petitions or writing to your MP. The network is everything – get out there whenever you can to join discussions and events, and empower the alliances you make on social media. Through this strategy we can throw our weight behind campaigns and influence real change, one target at a time.
And, of course – come and join the fun at PupAid on September 5th! It’s going to be another really high profile event this year and we need to make that influence count by promoting its ‘first year of veganism’ alongside our usual message of responsible dog ownership.”
Do you see PupAid’s ‘first year of veganism’ as an opportunity to strengthen the vegan voice within the animal welfare movement?
“Of course! I’d love to have the vegan community become more involved in PupAid – it’s the perfect opportunity to open up the whole spectrum of animal welfare and keep the issue of ‘selective compassion’ in the frame. And – speaking personally – I want lots of passionate vegan activists around me to spread the message of animal welfare for all animals!
In animal welfare, every campaign is important. Public opinion is like a wave – apply enough pressure in enough areas, and we can make it go in a certain direction. We have to open up the whole spectrum of animal welfare and know that all its interactions are useful – everyone has something to bring to the table, so why would we choose to limit ourselves? I’d like to see all animal welfare campaigns equipped with the best knowledge and strategy, so they can ‘go forth and multiply!”
As far as Marc’s preferences for passion and persistence go, it’s clear that he has these qualities in abundance. His determination is clear in the way he lives and breathes his campaigning work – in the space of just two hours at his regular hang out spot, I watch him greet the comedian Seann Walsh and Brighton’s heroine, Green MP Caroline Lucas, who agrees to catch up with him in Parliament later that week. I leave the interview with the feeling that there is very little barrier between his personal beliefs and public persona.
Marc’s campaign picks up many interesting threads, connecting the big players in animal welfare with grass roots campaigns, rescue dog charities and public figures across the spectrum. It seems fitting that PupAid has succeeded so well in balancing the world of celebrity with the fun and eclecticism of Brighton’s animal welfare scene – I’m looking forward to seeing him pull it off again in 2015.
For more information please visit www.pupaid.org
Emily Yates is a writer and yoga therapist.