No Voice Unheard

An Interview with Animal Rights Activist Diane Leigh

Diane Leigh is the co-author of the book One at a Time: A Week in an American Animal Shelter, a book Derrick Jensen says, “Reveals both the tragedy of our relationships with nonhumans and the triumphs that these relationships can be.” She is also co-founder of the non-profit organization No Voice Unheard (NVU), which is “dedicated to promoting compassion and respect for all living beings and the planet we share.” That mission has led to NVU publishing “beautiful and creative books that give animals a unique voice.”

“Currently,” says Diane, “I work a day job to pay the rent—computer programming at the University of California—but my heart and soul belong to the work of fighting for the beings who have no power, or no voice, in our society.”

Here’s my recent e-mail conversation with Diane:

Mickey Z.: Tell us about No Voice Unheard (NVU).

Diane Leigh: My co-author and I are former shelter workers. We wrote One at a Time as a way to personalize the homeless animal tragedy to the public: using photos and short vignettes, the book tells the stories of 75 dogs and cats who passed thru a typical U.S. shelter during 7 days we witnessed and documented. Literary agents and commercial publishers told us it too “sad” and “graphic” to be marketable, so we formed NVU to publish it ourselves. Despite their predictions, the book is now in its 4th printing, has won national awards, and is used by hundreds of shelters and rescues across the country to educate their communities. After learning so much about publishing, we decided there was a niche we needed to fill: creating books commercial publishers are too conservative to take on. We have just released a second title: Derrick Jensen’s Thought to Exist in the Wild: Awakening from the Nightmare of Zoos.

MZ: As a kindred spirit, I view these “sad” and “graphics” images as an epiphany of sorts.

DL: Yes, seeing the ways in which humans exploit animals changes your life, and there is no going back. We hear from many people who are changed, and moved to action, by those “graphic” images.

MZ: I can really relate to the concept of “there is no going back.” Remind me of the Holmes quote: “The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size.” Do you ever get the feeling that many Americans consciously or subconsciously avoid having their minds expanded for precisely that reason?

DL: Oh yes, absolutely. And it’s more than that, I think. For me, the only relief (and it’s a small one) in the face of all the horror, is doing something about it. And so I think people avoid learning or knowing, not only because what they learn will be painful, but because then, to deal with that pain, they’d have to do something about it. And that could mean sacrificing their time, or sacrificing their lifestyle, or sacrificing some pleasure, and because of either fear or selfishness, they don’t want to do that, they don’t want to sacrifice. What they don’t realize is that a life being used in service of others is infinitely more joyful and deep and satisfying than anything you’d give up to do it.

MZ: As you well know, Diane, even activists don’t always get animal issues. They are too busy working on “real” issues and look down their noses at those who work tirelessly for non-human justice.

DL: I don’t want to knock anyone who’s giving of themselves and their life to build a better world. But I think it’s all connected. Pick an important issue and work on it; but realize that the same dynamic underlies all the various manifestations of injustice—those who have power draw a line, and declare that those on the other side of it are somehow “different,” therefore exploitable, therefore not worthy of the same consideration and rights we have. At one time, slaves were on that side of the line. Women were too. Prisoners in Guantanamo find themselves on the wrong side of the line. Farmed animals are there, therefore can be made to endure horrific suffering. Dogs and cats are on that side of the line, therefore disposable. Rivers and mountains are so far on that side of the line: “things” that can be destroyed. The line separating the “different” from ourselves has moved around throughout history, but as long as that attitude of power exists, there will be injustice. Working on any manifestation of it is chipping away at the roots and trying to bring it down.

MZ: How do you feel your book can contribute to the global wake-up call that is so desperately needed?

DL: In this country, 6 to 8 million animals end up in animal shelters each year. Half of them do not leave alive; an animal is killed in a shelter once every 9 seconds. It’s a form of institutionalized violence to other living beings. And when killing those who are closest to, and most dependent upon us becomes an unquestioned fact of our society’s daily life, it sets precedents for what else we are willing to accept. Dogs and cats are the closest most people ever get to other species and the natural world. If we can find our way to solving the homeless animal problem, to treating our so-called “best friends” with justice and compassion and dignity, perhaps that can be a first step to healing our relationship with other species and the natural world – a stepping stone to a widening circle of compassion and action, toward creating a society that values all beings, beginning with the precious ones “right in our own backyards.”

Mickey Z. is the creator of a podcast called Post-Woke. You can subscribe here. He is also the founder of Helping Homeless Women - NYC, offering direct relief to women on New York City streets. Spread the word. Read other articles by Mickey.

2 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. David Gaines said on November 21st, 2007 at 10:58am #

    It’s sad that, even in a book like this, the word “animal” is apparently simply a synonym for “cats and dogs.” Yet there are millions of other domestic companion animals who are even more neglected and unspoken for in shelters around the country than dogs and cats are — rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, chinchillas, hamsters, rats, mice, and gerbils. I’ve worked with small animals in shelters for several years and if you thought raising consciousness about the plight of dogs & cats is tough, try selling the concept of cruelty to ferrets, or getting a police officer to be as compassionate to an unwanted hamster as he would be to an old cat.

  2. Binh said on November 30th, 2007 at 10:46am #

    What about all the conditions the pigs, chickens, and cows go through to become our food?