Saturday, January 13, 2024

Q&A with Kendra Coulter




Kendra Coulter is the author of the new book Defending Animals: Finding Hope on the Front Lines of Animal Protection. She is Professor in Management and Organizational Studies at Huron University College at Western University.


Q: What inspired you to write Defending Animals


A: Not what but who -- the animals did. Animals’ ability to love, to forgive, to trust, to care and overcome – this book was inspired by them.


It is a powerful expression of solidarity with animals, and with the diverse people doing the difficult work of defending them across the animal protection landscape in communities, courtrooms, and boardrooms.


I wanted to highlight the accomplishments, the challenges, and the areas where we could be doing more to both improve and save animals’ lives in an engaging, thoughtful, and nuanced way.


The truth is that when it comes to animals, people are the problem, and the solutions. So wherever readers are on their educational and career journeys, I hope Defending Animals inspires, too.  


Q: Jane Goodall said of the book, “Defending Animals is a compelling exploration of animal protection, challenging readers to build a more compassionate and equitable world.” What do you think of that description, and what do you hope readers take away from the book? 


A: She sent the quote from the Amazon rainforest; 89 years old and still indefatigable!


Dr. Jane embodies what I call a stubborn commitment to hope, something I also sustain and see in many of the people on the front lines. Her words synthesize one of the central themes of the book: the connections between human and animal wellbeing.


Whether it’s about properly equipping and protecting the people doing the work of investigations and conservation or understanding how people and animals are often both at risk from abuse in the same homes, I hope readers will see how animal protection is central to creating a more humane future for us all.


She also said the book is a powerful call to action – and that’s absolutely crucial.  


Q: How do you think ideas about animal protection have changed over the years, and what do you see looking ahead? 


A: Investigations into illegal cruelty are taken more seriously by law enforcement officers and agencies, lawyers, and judges in many places, for the sake of the animals themselves, and because of growing awareness that animal abuse is often a gateway or window that exposes other kinds of harms to people and/or crimes – this is called the human-animal violence link.


At the same time, many animal protection organizations are emphasizing prevention and solutions, wanting to reserve the serious criminal justice system responses for the most dangerous cases, and better understand the challenges people are facing who want to provide good care for their animals.


There’s more emphasis on working “upstream” as I put it to try and prevent harm before it happens and see how poverty and racism hurt people and animals alike.


This approach applies both to illegal cruelty, and to perfectly legal cruelty which is inflicted by corporations every day in the food system, for example.


Animal protection is about laws and law enforcement, but it’s equally about money and economic decisions – and what we tolerate or reject as consumers.


It’s a significant time for what I call the business of animal protection as more and more companies are creating alternatives to the products that cause violence to animals, from food to fashion to beauty. The impacts this will have for animals are profound and truly world-changing.


Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you? 


A: I conducted years of field research that involved job shadowing and interviews with people on the front lines and other experts which provide a depth and detail of understanding that otherwise would not be possible.


These real-world and inside looks are supplemented by legal, financial, and policy analysis, as well as careful observation at training sessions, conferences, and other animal protection events. This rich combination really brings the individuals, issues, and debates to life with important texture. 


Most surprising were the similarities between the risks for animal welfare officers focused primarily on dogs and cats in countries like the US and Canada, and the rangers protecting highly endangered gorillas and elephants across the African continent.


The work is physically dangerous – much more fatally so in central and southern Africa – and psychologically challenging, but also deeply rewarding and meaningful.  


Q: What are you working on now? 


A: I’m elated to share that my fiction debut, The Tortoise’s Tale, is being published by Simon & Schuster in 2025. It’s the memoir of a giant tortoise and her extraordinary life inside an exclusive California estate that explores the roots and branches of risk, wellbeing, and connection with even more heart and humor.


I have other exciting fiction in the works and am focusing on horses and their future for my next nonfiction book. Horses do more for people than any other kind of animal but are not afforded the degree of moral consideration or the protections they deserve. I’m writing for them. 


Q: Anything else we should know? 


A: At my wonderful university, Huron University College, we are building the world’s first major in Animal Ethics and Sustainability Leadership to equip passionate students with both the knowledge and skills they need to be champions for animals and our shared planet, so they, too, can go out and defend animals in communities, courtrooms, and boardrooms, and write the next chapters in animals’ stories.


These pieces and projects are complementary and deepen and expand the promise of solidarity and hope for a humane future. It’s an extraordinary and urgent time of possibility.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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