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Interview with Susan Hargreaves: Kids are Heroes in the Eyes of Animals
By Jules Lavallee for Formidable Woman Magazine

Susan Hargreaves is the Founder of Animal Hero Kids, a charity that empowers youth by providing them with school presentations that highlight animal rescue, advocacy, and promotes a cruelty-free existence by youth. She has been an animal advocate for over 40-years and has been revered by World Leaders and Celebrities across the globe.

Susan Hargreaves of Animal Hero Kids

FWM: What does activism mean to you?

Activism runs the gamut of speaking to the person at the grocery store looking for lactose-free milk, why cows milk dairy is the product of animal cruelty, educating at schools, protesting animal abuse, and speaking up at every opportunity you can, where it may make a difference.

FWM: Tell us about your organization, “Animal Hero Kids.”

Empathy is the first building block of kindness. Compassion is fostered in the “Animal Hero Kids Voices for the Voiceless “ book and education programs. I present stories of animal rescue and advocacy by youth. These stories, like all well-told stories, put you in the other’s place; understanding of another’s situation is vital-today more than ever.

Compassion being taught to youth is cruelty prevention, bullying and violence prevention. When empathy and kindness are taught at an early age it has the power to change the world. My life’s challenge is to increase compassion for all beings on a large scale.

When I was 9-years old I was taken to a chicken hatchery by my Aunt who worked as a receptionist. She knew how much I cared for animals. I saw one long conveyor belt where the chicks were just hatching and wriggling out from their eggs, then I saw multiple industrial-sized drum shaped bins full of the male chicks who were being gassed and suffocated. Some were trying to crawl out from underneath the bodies of the dead chicks.

I looked to the adults in the room for help, and it was all just business as usual. This was when I began to realize the scale of animal cruelty existing in the factory farm industries. Animals were being killed right in front of me and I couldn’t save even one. I never want anyone else to feel that way, no matter how old you are you can help to stop animal cruelty. In the “Animal Hero Kids” school assemblies whether I am in Mother Nature, Storyteller mode or not, youth learn that there are others who are like them, rescuing and speaking up and can be an animal hero.

There’s never a charge for any Animal Hero Kids program. I enjoy presenting at school assemblies for elementary grades. We have beautiful, costumed characters to help with the programs including, Rocky Raccoon, Kitty T Cat,  Ronnie V Cow, and Horace B Horse. An Animal Hero Kids Pledge card is given to each child where they print their own name and promise to be kind, and it shows the steps to achieve this.

The middle school and higher grades right up to University have a choice of a number of programs including “Eating as if Animals and the Earth Matter” and the “State of the Animal Nation.”

FWM: Do you consider yourself a hero?

I consider myself to be an activist, an educator, investigator and, a writer. I serve as a communication conduit for the realities of how animals are really treated inside slaughterhouse walls, in their forest homes when being hunted, and held captive in circuses and aquariums. My message is how your informed consumer and entertainment choices can stop animal abuse and misery.

When I was first arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience at a rodeo in 1981 and I heard myself on the news, this nervous little voice was barely making itself heard. I vowed to be a bigger, firmer voice at every opportunity. Animals are suffering -they are suffering as I write this on a global scale, they need all the help and all of the voices they can get. This doesn’t make me a hero just determined and as relentless as I can be. Shall I say, it makes me formidable?

FWM: What challenges have you faced?

The personal, physical and professional challenges I have faced and still face, are really nothing compared to what animals, who are literally fighting for their lives. Having stated that, there are challenges which I have had to and still continue to conquer in order to be effective.

I had leg perthes as a child and spent years in the hospital and in leg braces and crutches. This condition caused an uneven gait and weak, compromised hip joints. Whenever I was arrested or dragged in the middle of a protest, an action or an investigation it caused some real painful, debilitating moments. In 1998, standing outside of Seaworld I had just had one of three hip replacements and was legally protesting on public property, the swat team hauled off all 36 of the protestors to jail for the weekend.

In 1993 when I jumped on the Toronto Skydome stage during the Moscow Circus right after the bear act with a banner saying “Circuses HURT Animals” it took sheer adrenaline and will power to make it, speedily, onto the stage.  I never thought I should succumb to reducing my expectations and determinations due to physical difficulties. The resulting public spotlight on these animal exploitation issues were well worth it. Actions like this are responsible for some of the changes we see today, with Ringling stopping their elephant shows and the public being more aware of wild animals belong in the wild.

In my early teen years and beyond I lived in a depressed public housing project which is rampant with its own kind of challenges. My teachers were not optimistic about my academic future, solely due to the reputation of my neighborhood. I babysat for Addicts and at 13- years old I tried my best to stop domestic crime and cruelty. I ran away from home every few weeks during the 9th grade. This life experience has helped me to be more understanding of the youth I meet and what they may be going through.

The biggest challenge, still,  is to afford the continuation of the youth empowerment education work to help animals as a small, grassroots organization who gives everything away for free. The “Animal Hero Kids Voices for the Voiceless “ book is given to school libraries, school presentations, Animal Hero Kids awards, and Animal Hero pledge cards are all given at no cost to the recipients.

This is fulfilling the Animal Hero Kids mission to empower, inspire, activate and recognize youth to action. Animal Hero Kids is an all-volunteer organization, it’s not like there’s a ready IT department standing by for me to call, just updating the website can take a long time as volunteers have their 9-5 jobs and their families who need their attention.

FWM: What plans do you have for “Animal Hero Kids?”

One of my dreams is to open an “Animal Hero Kids World and Hall of Fame” a place for schools to visit for free, meet rescued animals, hear the stories of how children and teens like themselves rescued them and then learn about vegan fare. The challenge once again is financial.

Currently, we are filming two documentary films. One is geared to children and another an adult age group. The adult documentary will cover why animals need help in a more direct manner. both versions will inspire empathy and highlight ways we can all be animal heroes. The earlier film “Be an Animal Hero” was gifted to 430 schools.

FWM: What has surprised you the most over the last 40 years advocating and calling to action for animals?

I have met former trophy hunters who now help other animals by speaking against hunting. I have worked with former slaughterhouse workers and ranchers who are now vegan. One time, when I was rehabilitating and releasing injured wildlife at a wildlife center I met a retired veteran who was missing an arm. He drove for 10 hours to get help for an injured squirrel. I have awarded 5-year olds who turned their family vegan by simply asking them questions about the history of what (or who) was on their plates. I have learned never to expect or stereotype a person.

In the early 1980’s I investigated the Keele and St Clair stockyards in Toronto by posing as an agricultural student. I was shocked to my core to see the utter brutality the animals suffered. Nothing had prepared me for seeing the electro-shock burn marks of the cattle prods, the wounds and in some cases the exposed bones of fractures, boot-marks, and the lack of water for days. It was a living hell for the animals, not only in the transport trucks but also at the stockyards and slaughterhouses.

When I investigated the rodeos in the National Exhibition grounds in Ontario and in South Florida, I saw the same expression of puzzled hurt in the eyes of the horses and cows. The bucking strap tied tight around the lower abdomen, the hot shocking in the stalls before the door was open caused great distress. Today many realize a horse is actually bucking in pain. The good news is that two of the rodeos I investigated and organized protests were closed down due to media covering the issue and ticket sales decreasing.

The elephant abuse I investigated in the mid-1980s in circuses, included one particular cruelty case of an elephant at a flea market in South Florida. He was being shocked in an open wound, it all was exceedingly frustrating since it was not against the law. The first thing we had to do was to make it illegal to electro-shock an elephant in the particular cities and then also work on local exotic captive animal display bans. I spoke to the Hollywood City Commissioners in Hollywood, Florida, along with other activists in 1989, they were the first city to ban the display of exotic animals in the United States.

FWM: Share your book, “Animal Hero Kids Voices for the Voiceless” with us.

“Animal Hero Kids Voices for the Voiceless”  is almost 300 pages of heartwarming photos and stories and illustrations of other animals being rescued by youth. The goal is to gift a copy to each school library after every free presentation. The book won the ”Skipping Stone Honor Book” award” given by the multicultural youth magazine for nature and ecology category. Many teachers are using the book for the Service Learning Projects, classroom activities and ordering it for their local library.

FWM: Celebrities have joined your cause. How important is celebrity support?

The annual “Animal Hero Kids” awards have many celebrities involved to recognize kindness and action for animals in youth. The first one was a sports star, at the time he was an NFL Miami Dolphin player, the Heisman Trophy winner, Ricky Williams, He drove a considerable distance before his practice to cheer on the children and teens.

Since then, Paul McCartney, John Salley the NBA Basketball Champion, Joaquin Phoenix, Jorja Fox, Sierra McCormick and many others have helped Animal Hero Kids mission of recognizing kind youth by attending or even, in some cases, giving permission to use their name like in the case of  the Animal Hero Kids, Paul McCartney “Young Veg Advocate” award. One of the Animal Hero Kids annual awards took place at the first school to become an all plant-based cafeteria in the United States, MUSE school, founded by James Cameron’s wife, Suzy Amis Cameron and her sister, Rebecca Amis.

Ellen Degeneres received the “Animal Hero Kids Mega Kind to All award” in 2013, we weren’t actually able to give her the award in person, often it’s the challenge of actually getting a message to the kind-hearted celebrities and once we do, they want to help.

November 2nd, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is the next “Animal Hero Kids” Awards hosted by Balance for Life. We are asking for celebrities to join us in encouraging youth who are courageous and compassionate.

After 40 years of rescuing and acting for all species of animals not to be harmed, I still feel on some levels like I have just begun, as there are still so many animals in dire situations.

When I became a vegan in the mid-1980’s no-one had heard of the word vegan…now it’s easier than ever to be vegan and everyone knows someone who is a vegan.

Help the “Animal Hero Kids Voices for the Voiceless” book be gifted to every school library at AnimalHeroKids.org.

“Animal Hero Kids Rock. The good news is we can all help animals in need”-Paul McCartney

Susan Hargreaves Bio:

Animal Hero Kids Founder, Author, Humane Educator, Animal Activist
since 1980

About Animal Hero Kids:

Animal Hero Kids is an all-volunteer kindness education charity empowering youth to compassionate action via free school presentations highlighting stories of animal rescue and advocacy and action for other animals.

Susan travels the world celebrating, courageous and compassionate action by kids and teens. She infuses Animal Hero Kids with the passion, wisdom, and determination acquired during a lifetime devoted to animal activism. By zeroing in on kindness education, Susan plays an essential role in supporting, encouraging, and empowering youth to build a more compassionate world for all animals.

Animal Hero Kids’ dynamic founder, Susan creates and presents interactive humane education programs around the globe. Each exciting presentation concludes with cruelty-free vegan fare. Her programs, which often showcase stories of outstanding acts of kindness by youth, have been featured extensively in national and international media.

Jules Lavallee Bio:

Jules Lavallee

Jules Lavallee is a celebrity writer. She is a writer for the Hollywood Times, Magic Image Hollywood magazine, Formidable Woman Magazine, my indie productions among others. She enjoys writing about celebrities, entrepreneurs, and non-profits.

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