An Advocate For All Creatures

Kim Stallwood speaks out globally for animals and locally for his neighbors in Canton.

July 29, 2001|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,Sun Staff

The audience shudders as the brown, hairy face of a Norway rat, the kind scurrying through their alleys, flashes up, larger than life, on the slide-show screen. The good people of Canton have gathered in a neighborhood church to learn how to defeat this enemy. Robert Eades of the city's Rat Rubout program tells them the battle is all about garbage. If you clean up your trash, the rats will go elsewhere. If you don't, the solutions -- poison, deadly gas -- become much nastier.

Kim W. Stallwood listens quietly, his expression difficult to read. As founder and president of the Canton Community Association, the soft-spoken activist has invited the rat-eradication specialist here to speak. But the topic is making his stomach churn.

Stallwood is all for eliminating the trash that attracts the rats. But trashing the innocent rats? Just because people won't pick up after themselves?

It's a moral dilemma that exposes his daily balancing act: On the one hand, Kim Stallwood, community activist, hopes that learning how to control rats will make life better for people in Canton. On the other, Kim Stallwood, animal advocate, is pained by any proposal that harms animals.

"I understand why people are bothered by rats. I don't want to see Canton overrun by them. But the problem with rats is not rats themselves, it's human behavior," he says.

"Animals become expedient resources to solve human problems in which they've played no part. ... When Robert was talking about lethal methods, it sickened me. It was very difficult to sit there without leaping up and saying, 'There are other ways!' "

For almost 30 years, the British-born activist has worked to secure the well-being of animals, whether in the wild, on farms or in laboratories. As an organizer for various animal-rights groups, he has called public attention to widespread abuses and to the benefits of "cruelty-free" vegetarian living. Some years ago, his campaign brought him to Baltimore, where he runs the animal advocacy group Animal Rights Network Inc. and edits its magazine, the Animals' Agenda.

Published bimonthly, the magazine offers articles about society's treatment of animals and the status of the contemporary animal rights movement. The current issue, for instance, considers the likelihood of foot-and-mouth disease occurring in the United States and discusses how it would be handled. Other reports have covered such topics as the decline in dog racing, the proliferation of deer in suburbs and how the manufacture of Premarin, the human estrogen replacement drug made from the urine of pregnant mares, leads to abusive conditions for horses.

Animals' Agenda cuts across ideological barriers within the movement. With a readership of about 60,000, it speaks both to vegans who believe that owning animals is akin to owning slaves and to meat-and-potatoes animal lovers who insist that eating steak doesn't conflict with their efforts to rescue animals from abuse.

"It's one of the most respected publications in the [animal advocacy] movement and frequently has ground-breaking articles," says Howard White, media relations director of the Humane Society of the United States, the nation's largest animal-protection organization. "It's very much a voice and conscience for the movement."

These days, the magazine is keeping particularly close watch on genetic engineering. Like many activists, Stallwood fears gene manipulation may introduce a new wave of animal exploitation.

"I've heard reports of scientists who say that cloned animals are alternatives to using live animals in experiments," he says. "Their idea is, 'They're not real animals, they're manufactured animals.'

"It's truly frightening. There were 30-plus sheep who were born malformed in one way or another before they got Dolly. What happened to those sheep? Those sheep were individual, sentient beings with their own wants and needs and the ability to suffer."

Just like the rats searching for the good life in Canton.

Stallwood's beliefs

It's a good thing Kim Stallwood is a patient man, for he has chosen a life which he must explain over and over:

Yes, he is a vegetarian. Also a vegan, which means he shuns using anything made from an animal. Milk and eggs are taboo because they come from "factory farms" which cruelly confine animals, then slaughter them when they are no longer productive. For the same reasons, he also avoids products made with fur, leather, wool or down. And he will not wear silk: no neckties created from the labor of silk-producing worms.

He says horse racing, rodeos, circuses and zoos should be banned.

He believes no animal should be used to test household or personal care products. Neither should any be used for scientific experiments.

Yes, he does live with companion animals -- the term "pets" makes him wince.

Yes, he does care about people. At least enough to devote huge chunks of his "free" time to organizing and advancing the interests of his neighbors through the community association he helped create.

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