With Drawn Butter, There's No Dignity

COMMENT

July 24, 1994|By ELISE ARMACOST

Charlotte Sullivan wouldn't hurt a fly.

Really.

She catches them in a cup and takes them outside.

The same with rats, creatures which deserve no mercy, as far as I'm concerned. She "rescues" them in humane traps, drives them to a field and sets them free.

I call rats disgusting vermin; she calls them "little guys."

If rats and flies get this kind of treatment, then it's no wonder Ms. Sullivan tried last week to save a lobster, destined to be served up with drawn butter and beer at Middleton's Tavern in Annapolis. She staged a small protest, hoping to move Middleton's owner Jerry Hardesty to shame for profiting from putting "a living being to death in steam."

Her fledgling animal rights group, Protect Animal Life of Annapolis, was ready in case Mr. Hardesty's heart softened. They were prepared to put Mr. Lobster in an ice chest, rush him to Dulles airport and fly him to Maine, where fellow lobster lovers would return him to the Atlantic.

Alas, their chants of "A lobster's pain is not a game" went unheeded. The lobster ended up in somebody's stomach, and Ms. Sullivan ended up looking like a fanatic.

This was a lobster, for heaven's sake! Lobsters aren't cute like baby seals. They aren't smart like dolphins. They aren't graceful like deer. They eat dead things on the bottom of the ocean. And when they're really famished, they eat little baby lobsters.

It takes a pretty radical animal lover to fight for a lobster.

Charlotte Sullivan is pretty radical.

"I don't want to say [animals and human beings] are equal, though in my heart I do believe it," she says.

She's also sweet, soft-spoken and sincere.

That's why I listened when she explained what she believes and how she got to the point of rescuing rats and lobbying for lobsters.

She grew up in a home full of cats, birds, mice, gerbils, fish, etc., but a few pets do not an animal rights activist make.

She even ate meat until 13 years ago, when she was 20 and working as a waitress.

She swears she heard a lobster "screeching" as the chef chopped off its head and threw it in the pot.

"That was what made me realize animals can feel pain and people don't care. We used to think that way about Jews, blacks, women and children. Now we do it to animals."

Vegetarianism was as far as Ms. Sullivan, an electrical engineer, went for a long time. Then 18 months ago she saw the movie "True Colors," which shows a baby shark being clubbed to death, and was disturbed enough to write letters of protest to Paramount Pictures (they never wrote back).

That was also when she started Protect Animal Life.

Last January, she became a "vegan" -- someone who neither eats nor uses any animal products. That means no milk, no eggs, no butter, no leather pocketbooks, no feather dusters.

Becoming a vegan "was actually a very spiritual thing," she says. "I started thinking . . . am I doing anything in my life that requires these animals to be where they are? If I drink a glass of milk, I am requiring a cow to be in a pen."

Unlike many belonging to the national group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Ms. Sullivan is not a militant. If I had lunch with her and ordered a hamburger and a milk shake, she says she wouldn't lecture me, "though if you ordered anything too graphic, like steak or chicken, I would have a hard time watching you eat."

In fact, she says, the lobster protest was not designed to tell people what they can eat so much as to oppose Middleton's tradition of awarding the lobster as a prize to whoever guesses its weight.

"It's giving away a living being to promote a bar" that she found particularly heinous -- even if the living being is a lowly lobster.

If you think that is extreme, consider this: there's a group out there called "fruitarians."

They won't even eat vegetables if eating them means the base plant has to die. That means apples and nuts are OK, but carrots are off-limits.

Imagine: protestors carrying placards proclaiming, "A carrot's pain is not a game," and "Carrots are people, too."

Think about that, and Ms. Sullivan and her lobster people almost look mainstream.

Elise Armacost is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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