I reached my teens right as the campaign to save the whales was beginning to work towards ending whaling. My dad took every opportunity he could, to end factory farming of chickens. He often wrote letters to the editor that were published in newspapers. Already I had animal activist role models in my life, both publicly and privately.
The Vietnam war waged throughout my childhood, politicised our generation early. I was well aware of the act of public protest and that conscientious objectors were people that followed their conscious in relation to refusing to be conscripted into something that violated their belief system.
In Year 7, I volunteered to look after our science lab rats and was responsible for their feed, water and cage cleaning, along with an animal loving friend. We enjoyed our interactions with these small, intelligent animals.
By the time we were in Year 9 we were expected to participate in disections, beginning with kidneys, livers and hearts from a butcher and working towards disecting preserved rats.
I drew the line at disecting a rat and informed the science teacher I was a conscientious objector and was refusing to participate in that activity, the day before the big event. I don't think she took me seriously. Meanwhile, two more students also followed my example and joined my direct action protest.
The following morning was "D Day" the day of the rat disection. Again we informed the science teacher we were not prepared to disect the dead rats. Red-faced and screaming at us, the teacher threw us out of the room. We were to sit out the entire double class in the corridor and told we would be having an appointment with the principal. Clearly, the teacher merely thought we were being rebellious and did not realise how deep our anti-animal cruelty passions flowed.
The appointment with the principal also included our parents being called in to discuss our actions and supposedly make us repent our ways, or so the teacher thought. Instead of being punished, the principal and my parents, realised the motives behind our rat disection boycott were genuine. My parents pointed out we did not buy products tested on animals and that I also had long raised money for thr RSPCA. The other parents follwed suite, supporting our action and convictions.
Our science teacher believed we would be punished with detentions, or maybe even suspensions for disobedience. We were all normally good students. Our act of defience clearly was an act of protest against something we passionately were apalled by and could not, in good conscience participate in.
Instead of punishment, we were given the task of participating in a school debate presenting a case against animal cruelty and exploitation, which could include our stance against animal disection. The opposition would come from students who were less concerned with animal rights and more concerned about human knowledge and safety. Our side won and set me on a path of relishing formal debate and public speaking.
The debate gave us an opportunity to educate the student body about issues of animal rights and welfare. Our act of defiance against that Year 9 rat disection set me up as an activist, willing to take a stance on issues I was passionate about. I had begun my life-long work as an agent of change.
Thesedays, excellent resources are available for students who wish to take a stance boycotting animal disection, at school or university. Animals Australia has materials available on its website.
For my own part, I have continued my work on raising awareness about and promoting animal welfare and rights, using relevant materials as stimulus for both English and Drama classes within my own teaching career and of course through my blogs and involvement in campaigns, such as those to end jumps racing, the live animal export trade and for cage free eggs!