Giving voice to the voiceless: Animal advocacy in WNC

(photo courtesy of AHS)

The piercing glare of a red-shouldered hawk; the regal trot of a burnished stallion; the silent grace of a moonlit wolf; the reassuring purr of a well-loved tabby; the furry muzzle of a family dog. Animals console us; they dazzle us and, in some cases, they love us unconditionally. But however impressive their prowess — in the wild or beside the hearth — there’s one thing that animals can’t do: They cannot speak for themselves.

Animal advocates give voice to the creatures that share this world with us, while offering them protection, comfort and aid. And this considerable task is born more of love than of material reward. Western North Carolina is home to an abundance of both animals and animal lovers. The volunteers, organizers and visionaries who found, fund and operate Asheville’s many animal advocacy groups are passionate, devoted people — and they all have stories to tell. Here are a few of them.

Asheville Voice for Animals

Founded in August of 2012, Asheville Voice for Animals, an informal, grassroots advocacy group led by Lafayette Prescott, hosted an Oct. 14 talk by Julie Lewin at Metro Wines on Charlotte Street. Lewin, who is president of the National Institute for Animal Advocacy and the author of Get Political for Animals and Win the Laws They Need, spelled out her approach to securing animal rights.

“Without political organization for animals, every election is a waste,” Lewin declared. Drawing on her years working for pro-animal legislation in Connecticut, she first gave her take on the nature of the political game. For politicians, said Lewin, “The most important part of an election is to be re-elected,” adding, “Lawmakers know even small political lobbyist groups can change an election.”

Those crucial points, she continued, are especially important in local elections, which typically see low voter turnout. The key, argued Lewin, is to recruit as many people as possible and keep them informed. “You’re always in an aggressive recruitment campaign, and it’s all about the numbers,” she said. “Lawmakers only care about those constituents who are informed and who vote.”

But Lewin also maintained that animal advocates should work to be “problem solvers rather than troublemakers,” because “Love for animals crosses party lines.”

Full Moon Farm

“I have always been an animal advocate — even when there wasn’t a term for it!” says Nancy LaPorta Brown. Full Moon Farm in Black Mountain, she explains, is a sanctuary for wolfdogs — which she calls a tragically misunderstood creature. “Wolfdogs,” she explains, “are not dangerous, not half wolf/half dog, and 85 percent of the wolfdogs in this country are three to five generations removed from the pure, captive raised wolf.” Brown’s group rescues these animals from all over the country and also works to educate people about the differences between wolves and wolfdogs.

On Saturday, Nov. 8, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit will host Howl for the Holidays, a fundraiser to support its work. “Our Wish list includes several big ticket items, which would ease the life of our animals greatly,” she explains, adding, “Our goal is always about the animals, whether it’s providing excellent care for our residents or educating the public.”

Brown also stresses the positive impact she’s seen River, Full Moon’s “ambassadog,” have on a broad range of people, from nursing home residents to autistic children. In one case, she recalls, River provided a “near-wolf” experience to a terminally ill patient who’d always dreamed of petting a wolf. “Animals — whether dogs, wolves, wolfdogs, cats, horses or hamsters — are sentient beings, with unconditional love that humans often do not have,” Brown points out. “For me, animals calm my very being.”

Brother Wolf Animal Rescue

“Originally I was an RN, so I have cared for both humans and animals,” says Denise Bitz, Brother Wolf’s founder and president. “But I’ve always been a person who cares about animals.” One of her organization’s primary goals, she notes, is creating a no-kill community here in Asheville. To achieve that, Bitz maintains, will require “a grassroots effort — going neighborhood to neighborhood to talk to people about what we can do to keep animals out of shelters — because they’re so overloaded.”

Founded in 2007 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Brother Wolf (so named because it originally rescued only dogs, which are “brothers” to the wolf) operates the large Joyce B. Cambron Adoption Center. The group has been in the news recently for its role in an Oct. 3 multiagency puppy mill raid in Rutherford County that rescued 23 animals — 18 dogs and five cats. The organization has since launched a Facebook campaign (facebook.com/athenathepissykitty) pushing for puppy mill legislation in North Carolina, which currently has no such regulations on the books.

In addition to its adoption and foster care programs, Brother Wolf also takes in animals whose owners can no longer care for them. “Last February, two dogs were brought to us. Spaghetti and Meatball were just skeletons,” Bitz recalls. “They couldn’t even stand, they were so weak. But we nursed them back to health.”

“When we place an animal into a home, people’s lives are being changed,” she notes. “When we remove animals from homes where the owners can’t care for them anymore, we’re also helping people. On the other side of every animal, there’s a human involved.”

Asheville Humane Society

In one way or another, Heather Hayes, the marketing and design manager for the Asheville Humane Society, has been advocating for animals for as long as she can remember. “When I was 4 years old, I brought home my first stray,” she recalls. “Throughout my childhood, my mom and I rescued lost pets, re-homed cats and dogs with the help of a local shelter, drove turtles with cracked shells to wildlife rehabbers, bottle-fed neonates and more. I’ve always been on the lookout for any animal in need.”

Since its inception in 1984, the Humane Society has launched a panoply of advocacy programs. Today, the group’s primary operations include an Adoption and Education Center and the Buncombe County Animal Shelter (the only such facility in the county that won’t turn away any animal). The agency also offers a variety of other programs designed to save animals’ lives, Hayes explains. In its last fiscal year, she reports, the Humane Society saved 5,599 animals in Buncombe County, whether by adoption, reunion with owners, transport to other facilities or placement in foster homes.

There’s also a substantial therapeutic aspect to animal adoption, particularly for people with PTSD or other psychological issues. “Adopting a companion animal has very literally changed and maybe even saved their lives,” says Hayes. “Helping those who cannot help themselves is what it’s all about.”

ChainFree Asheville

This group’s name sums up its work pretty well. “ChainFree Asheville was founded by my late wife, Peggy Irwin, in 2008 to educate people about public safety and the inhumane treatment of dogs that are chained,” explains Patrick Irwin, the group’s current president. “Since that time, we’ve built fences for over 125 dogs, helped create and enact an anti-tethering ordinance in the city of Asheville, tabled at countless public events with educational material, spent thousands of dollars on public service announcements, and received numerous articles in print and TV about our efforts.”

In 2011, ChainFree launched its “Unchain Buncombe County” campaign, a collaborative effort aimed at giving dogs more room to roam. In between erecting fences for local families, notes Irwin, ChainFree has repeatedly lobbied the Buncombe County commissioners to ban the tethering of dogs. In 2009, the Asheville City Council amended its existing ordinance to prohibit tethering unattended dogs outdoors. To date, however, the commissioners have declined to take up the issue, despite support for it from the Humane Society, Brother Wolf and the American Veterinary Medical Association. Irwin says he’s seen firsthand how replacing chains with fences results in healthier, happier, more companionable animals.

“When a dog is set free into a fenced area, it’s one of the most heartwarming scenes you will ever witness,” he declares. “Sparked by the compassion and leadership of Peggy, I’ve been inspired to carry on the CFA mission: to build a safer, more animal-friendly community.”

Full Circle Farm Sanctuary

“Farmed animals are every bit as deserving of our love and respect as cats and dogs,” Kayla Worden maintains. “They too possess rich emotional and social lives and impressive intellectual capacities, and they are every bit as capable of feeling pain and suffering. They too are capable of feeling joy and sorrow. Like each of us, farmed animals are interested in living out their lives free of unnecessary suffering.”

Farmed animals, says Worden, the founder and executive director of Full Circle Farm Sanctuary, “are among the most abused beings on the planet.” Besides providing permanent homes for them at their Yancey County facility, Full Circle also networks with other groups to find placements for as many animals as possible. In addition, Worden advocates a vegan lifestyle, blaming “species-ism” for much of the suffering the animals Full Circle helps have had to endure.

Founded in 2010, the nonprofit is home to a diverse group of residents, including pigs, goats, chickens, guinea fowl, ducks, a llama, cats, dogs, geese and an emu. Although much of their current work involves improving their Yancey County facility, acquiring a larger tract of land stands at the top of Full Circle’s wish list. Meanwhile, the group also encourages public interaction with those animals.

“Helping animals can definitely be therapeutic,” she reports. “We become better people by extending our circle of compassion to include all sentient beings. It’s only natural.”

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About Erik Peake
Writing is my craft, my passion, my solace - and my livelihood. As a professional writer, I have worked in an array of venues and filled a variety of roles. Since I moved to Asheville, NC, I have enjoyed a freelance career as a grant writer, a technical writer, a Web-content writer, a copy editor, and an English tutor. I am currently specializing in web-content writing, blogging, and tutoring. Although an obsessive-compulsive nature inclines me toward proselytizing on behalf of English grammar, I also pursue forays into creative writing (as a balance, I suppose). Creative non-fiction is a field of particular interest to me, and I hope someday to publish a collection of short stories that circumnavigates the vicissitudes of my unorthodox youth.

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3 thoughts on “Giving voice to the voiceless: Animal advocacy in WNC

  1. Karen Phillips

    I have a new horse that i am breaking for barrels. Do you think he is enjoying?

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