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Humane food policies aren’t just for vegans

Stephanie Shain explains how her D.C. shelter puts its menus where its heart is

WHS-WARL rescues chickens and other farmed animals routinely and wanted their food policy to be consistent with their mission to save animals.

Our organization adopted a vegan policy—and one of its biggest supporters is someone who eats animals every day.

The Washington Humane Society (which recently merged with the Washington Animal Rescue League) has long had a vegetarian/vegan-leaning food policy. It wasn’t specifically written as a policy, but when the organization bought food for major events, it was always vegetarian and often vegan. Smaller events were consistently vegetarian, but spontaneous food purchases (think “staff has to work double shifts because a hoarding case came in”) would often be pizza, usually with some nonvegetarian options selected.

In spring 2015, the organization’s leadership decided to make the vegan food policy official. While most agreed theoretically with making this unofficial policy truly official, it was the reason behind the policy, and the language that would be used, that prompted lots of discussion.

Some (OK, me) wanted the policy to detail the cruelty of how animals are “farmed” today. I wanted to make a statement that if cats and dogs were subjected to the same abuse as cows and pigs are on factory farms, our Humane Law Enforcement team would be investigating the acts as blatant cruelty cases. Others felt a different (perhaps softer) approach was needed. We worked together to focus the policy language on the animals we help in our organization every day. It’s not often we get pigs or goats, and we’ve not yet had a cow in my tenure, but the day will come! We rescue chickens pretty routinely and have many rabbits available for adoption. We wanted our policy to be consistent with our mission to care for and save animals and not to serve those same animals on plates to people.

One of the greatest supporters for making the policy official was an animal-eating co-worker. He spoke passionately and eloquently, explaining that while his personal food choices included eating animals, he felt it was wrong for an organization—funded by donations from people who want to end harm to animals—to serve some animals to help other animals.

Do some people get annoyed that they don’t have animals on their plate at events? Sure, but not too many. Usually those who do complain understand when we explain that we help ALL animals in our shelters, and serving them for dinner is inconsistent with our mission to treat animals humanely.

Just like we aren’t here to judge pet owners, we aren’t here to judge pet lovers who eat animals. Rather, we are here to share information and to lead. To make a path toward a more humane future for animals. That’s our job.

Our policy is below. We were proud to join other shelters by using our policy to make the Food for Thought pledge, a project of Animal Place. I encourage all shelters and rescue groups to review their own policies and consider the messages they send. And to remember that many acts of humane leadership seem hard at first, and people get annoyed. But as humane leaders we need to show the way, and not be deterred by those who feel differently. Remember when we started requiring spaying and neutering? When we started trap-neuter-return programs? Stopped routinely killing “nuisance” wildlife? Started treating customers with compassion and not judgement? A humane food policy is just one step on the road of the leadership our groups should be building.

The Washington Humane Society-Washington Animal Rescue League (WHS-WARL) believes all animals deserve humane treatment.

As part of our mission, WHS-WARL provides care to animals of all species, including animals commonly raised for food. WHS-WARL believes it would be inconsistent and hypocritical for an organization dedicated to saving animals to serve animal products as food for people.

All food purchased by WHS-WARL for events and meetings will be vegan. Additionally, for events featuring or connected to WHS-WARL where food is funded by another party, all efforts will be made to have humane food choices, and WHS-WARL will recommend vegan food.

Does your organization have a humane food policy in place? Do you think it’s important for animal shelters and rescues to have a humane food policy?

About the Author

Stephanie Shain is the Chief Operating Officer of the Humane Rescue Alliance, in Washington, DC. Prior to joining the Humane Rescue Alliance, Stephanie served as a Senior Director at The Humane Society of the United States where she led efforts including investigations, legislative actions, public education and coordination with law enforcement to rescue animals from puppy mills. Stephanie currently serves on the Board of Leadership Greater Washington (LGW), and was a member of the LGW class of 2015.