One thing I have learned the hard way is that people do have their own agenda sometimes. You think they’re there to help when they are there to steal from your work, resources, time. I have come across this in the Animal Hero Kids org with people wanting to contact celebrities through us and also epic “stage mother” type battles that deserve their own reality show. I have learned to recognize the red flags and act accordingly.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Susan Hargreaves.
Susan Hargreaves was empowered at a young age to stop animal suffering after witnessing industrialized factory farming cruelty firsthand. Susan educates, activates and inspires all ages to be heroes to all animals with her charity Animal Hero Kids and her books, Animal Hero Kids Voices for the Voiceless and the Veganza Animal Heroes books. Her over four decade mission to push the boundaries of our compassion is the subject of a new documentary by Hollywood filmmaker, Shaun Monson, called The Heart Whisperer.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I had a massive wakeup call as a child. My Aunt Olwyn took me to a chicken hatchery when I was 9 years of age. Imagine my shock and seeing all of the male chicks being gassed and suffocated, it is still standard practice today in the US to kill all male chicks after they hatch on the conveyor belts as the hatchery has no “use” for them. This teaching moment launched my determination to stop suffering of other animals.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I am a long-term activist for animals not to be harmed, when I lived in Toronto about 30 years ago I was challenged to get the word out on a large scale about how cruel trapping and fur farming is. The only way to succeed in my mission was to grab the attention of the news media as paying for advertising was definitely out. This was pre-social media age. I hatched an idea which resulted in massive global headlines reach. We were all volunteers (I still am) and as all nonprofits know volunteers come and go. There was this one fur store where the owner displayed a chained Canada lynx cat in front of all the fur coats made of wolves, lynx, chinchilla’s, foxes….for his commercials. I staged a protest outside a nude man and woman running through the store with a banner saying “I’d rather go bare than wear fur” it was the first of its kind in the world and the public discussion around the cruelty of fur it multiplied was gold. Here’s an old news article where I repeated it as it was so successful and Peta liked it and repeated it all over the world. Hey, whatever works to get attention on how we can halt the suffering of animals! The funny thing was the volunteer get away driver for the nudes that had fresh clothes waiting for them to get into never volunteered again.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was speaking at a Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting and was impressed with the children who spoke out to stop trophy hunting in Florida of bears. We had planned a three story long banner hanging which said “STOP KILLING “ and a bears face drawn on it by the wonderful artist, Keenie Valega. I strategically timed two surprises, the one on the side of the building where the meeting took place went off without a hitch and was filmed even though it was raining. The one on the bridge facing the meeting the banner was blowing so much in the wind you couldn’t read it, it was starting to be a little embarrassing as reporters were filming saying “what does it say?” and one of the banner hangers had the bright idea of taking his shoes off and tying the laces around the bottom of each side and the shoes weighted enough for us to get the visual message across. It ended up in the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel with these shoes flying in the breeze. The following year the FWC decided to stop trophy bear hunts. So, what I learned was always sew weight at the bottom corners of banners. see before the shoes were tied to the bottom news article here.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
The “Be an Animal Hero” Interactive, fun, kindness education programs I give during school assemblies have impacted thousands and thousands of students of all ages over the years. Fostering empathy and encouraging critical thinking makes a real difference, the audience is so sincere in wanting to help animals and are eager to learn how to be heroes to animals. I had to wrote two volumes of a 300 page book to contain all of the true stories of animal rescue and advocacy by youth, called “Animal Hero Kids Voices for the Voiceless” the book is left behind after each program and Montessori schools and libraries across the world use the book to encourage compassionate action.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
There is an Animal Hero Crew force supported and united by our org https://www.animalherokids.org/animal-hero-crew/ so many individuals. At the summit in Fort Lauderdale we flew in kind youth from around the world to meet others, many were teased at school, or felt alone in their sympathy for all species. It was life changing meeting each other. One young teen told me it was the best day of his entire life. The individuals, both two-legged and four who have been helped are uncountable. It’s vital to prevent harm through uniting, educating and inspiring to kindness.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Educate yourself on what is really happening to animals on factory farms, slaughterhouses, puppy mills, zoos, aquariums.
Choose to fund kind choices, cruelty free vegan food and entertainment.
Support the grassroots working in the front lines people who are doing the work and are challenged to continue.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Always re-evaluate your effectiveness and be willing to pivot at increased opportunities. Changing when needed, so, not doing the same thing by habit.
You can’t be that concerned with the negative voices, the critical many, who may be jealous, or have their own agenda, keep your eyes on the prize.
Be grateful for how far you have come including the help from others and try your best not to be disheartened when you fail. The only person who hasn’t failed is the person who hasn’t tried.
Don’t sacrifice the truth of what’s really happening to other animals because you don’t want to make people “uncomfortable “ the fact is we can’t change behavior that’s harming unless we know about it. People need to know if they’re financially rewarding animal abusive bullies.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Many lessons I have learned are also written in the last question.
- One thing I have learned the hard way is that people do have their own agenda sometimes. You think they’re there to help when they are there to steal from your work, resources, time. I have come across this in the Animal Hero Kids org with people wanting to contact celebrities through us and also epic “stage mother” type battles that deserve their own reality show. I have learned to recognize the red flags and act accordingly.
- Another thing my naive self has learned is to get contracts and when work has been paid for get the work from the person right then, don’t wait as who knows what may happen. This was a valuable lesson.
- Don’t let your previous experiences limit the scope of your next project. I never would have expected that the renowned filmmaker Shaun Monson, the Earthlings filmmaker would spend his time on a documentary film project to focus on my lifelong struggle to push the boundaries of compassion. Now I need to learn how to promote the film, “The Heart Whisperer” this next step, is an entire other world for me. Yet, I remain optimistic and determined to make the best use of this latest tool.
- When planning the launch of my latest book, “Veganza Animal Heroes” I was determined to really make it a global success. So, I arrived at the World Tour stops in costume of Veganza and Freedom and Courage, too, the three vegan super hero characters. At first, I was searching for volunteers in Ireland and England who would be Veganza and meet me at the tour stops and someone said, “why wouldn’t you be the red haired Veganza instead of looking for someone else to do it?” Truthfully, I was thinking we need someone younger than this 63-year-old, then I thought, why not? I created the character why would I buy in to the world’s age restrictions? Korin Sutton as Freedom, and Mitali Deypurkaystha were fabulous in their roles. See them here https://www.animalherokids.org/worlds-first-veganza-animal-heroes-novel-tour/ Imagine my surprise when the book debuted number 1 in new releases on Amazon in the young adults and ecology category.
- A hard lesson to learn was how to self-promote, I mean I don’t even like writing the term, it feels a little seedy. However, how can your mission be supported if people don’t know about you? My mum came back from an animal protection fundraiser one day in the next county over, and she said, “they knew Animal Hero Kids they never heard of you”. This was a moment which made me realize all of the explaining I had to do in order to get my foot in the door of granting agency. I was not letting people know who I am and it’s important. In my English/Irish upbringing you could not seem like you’re “bragging or being big-headed” Now, I do put myself forward more and when I contact granting agencies and they say “oh, yes, I have heard of you and your work” what a great first step that is.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Help everyone, animals, the earth, your own health.
It’s so easy today to replace animal products with the vegan version.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It’s not over until you give up
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Billie Eilish and her mum, Maggie Baird, Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara, Jessica Chastain and Lewis Hamilton. Hey why limit myself? They have all helped so many others to consider going vegan they are thoughtful and considerate and effective. They have also helped me achieve my mission of empowering others yo compassionate action with their quotes, their examples, their videos. I can thank them, and you know the vegan lunch would be fantastic with that bunch!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Follow our Instagram and social media which are all on our website animalherokids.org Please, also buy our books on Amazon All profits go to the kindness education programs
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Susan Hargreaves of Animal Hero Kids Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.