On September 12, I attended the annual Gala celebration for Animal Acres which proved to be both fun and inspirational.
Animal Acres is a non-profit animal advocacy organization started in 2004 and dedicated to promoting farmed animal protection through direct rescue and shelter efforts, humane education, public outreach, and investigative actions to prevent cruelty to farmed animals.
If Animal Acres is a “paradise for farmed animals,” it is because of the angels who support them there. Animal Acres is directed by Farm Sanctuary co-founder Lorri Houston, who opened the first shelter in the country for farmed animals in 1986. At that time there was no other organization in the country looking out for the billions of farm animals who are slaughtered every year in this country for food. It is a daunting and courageous mission: 16 billion suffering and dying animals versus the thousand or so that have been able to be rescued so far. She and her staff have been able to find 460 of them loving “forever” homes. Through her efforts she has brought nationwide attention to the plight of animals used for “food production” and trained dozens of individuals who have opened more than 25 farm animal shelters around the world.
The sanctuary is an effort that is well supported by the animal-loving and vegan community. On Sept. 12 the annual Gala for Animal Acres, postponed from an earlier date this year because of the devastating fires nearby, was held at the glamorous Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, rather than at the farm itself in Acton, California. This year the party/fundraiser was even more important than usual. It is here that Animal Acres generally raises half its yearly expense revenue. And this year, all the animals had to be evacuated due to the fires, a challenge that brought its own set of hard work and moving expenses. Luckily, the well organized director and staff had the foresight to have procured an evacuation center long ago in the event of just such an emergency.
A host of celebrities were in attendance, including Ed Begley, Jr., Emily Deschanel, Joely Fisher, Fred Willard and many others. Vegan hors d’oeuvres and dinner were outrageously good, served up by caterers from Madeleine’s Bistro in Tarzana. I had never seen the likes of their scrumptious "little Big Macs" which are tiny buns with that look like tiny hamburgers and cheese (and of course no animals are harmed), but your taste buds are thrilled. These and other delights were served to participants as we perused the silent auction prizes, which included artwork by Monet, Chagall, Dali, Picasso, and Marilyn Monroe photographs by George Barris.
Three hundred and fifty animal lovers (fully packed!) enjoyed the presentations in the dining room. The Gandhi Award was presented to Shelley Morrison, best known for her work on "Will and Grace" (who couldn’t make it but was represented by her husband Walter Domingus). Shelley was responsible for bringing Huell Howser and his “California Gold” crew on PBS to Animal Acres, thus opening the eyes of hundreds of thousands of viewers to the sanctuary and its raison d’etre. On the video we see Huell saying, “I feel something here…these animals are happy.”
Compassion into Action award was presented to Bobby Rock, renowned drummer and author, who serves as Animal Acres’ key humane education presenter. We got to see him in action with kids at the farm through a video presentation. He educates everyone from five years old to college. He spoke about “the moment” when everything changes, that moment when people suddenly open their hearts to the suffering of animals and it changes their lives. Before that moment, he says, there are other steps leading up to it which he hopes to help implant. “It’s not easy, since the average kid gets 10,000 hits of animal agriculture through the media from hamburger commercials, to cheese from happy cows ads, to give eggs a break and we only get them for three hours.”
Kathy Freston, best-selling author and health and wellness expert, was on hand to receive the Vegetarian Vision Award. She spoke eloquently and moved the audience. You could see how she inspired Oprah to try a three-week vegan regime. She said that being with the farm animals was a joyful, heartwarming experience. When you look in their eyes, she said, you feel the spark of life. They feel pain and pleasure and are bonded to their families just as we are. This makes them good ambassadors for all animals. It helps bring consciousness into our homes, a desire to be peaceful and kind. She said we don’t have to “do” anything, just keep our minds open.
She also recommended that people new to the consciousness don’t necessarily try to change all at once, but to “lean” into it, perhaps gradually giving up one animal at a time on our plate.
Lorrie returned to the stage and shared, “It’s really hard for people who know what we know, but it’s even harder if you don’t act on it.” One person who certainly acts on her passion for animals is Patty Shenker. I have met her before giving fundraisers for elephants. She is a significant donor to the P.A.W.S. sanctuary and active animal advocate. Here I learned that she was also financially very instrumental in getting Animal Acres started. She was an honoree last year. And at this gala she generously opened up a $50,000 matching fund (which was quickly met by the audience). Patty was also personally responsible for lining up the Riviera Country Club as the alternative venue for the gala.
The charming Fred Willard showed us a clip of this year’s first annual Veggie Pride Parade sponsored by Animal Acres. Ed Begley, Jr. also graced the stage when he introduced Ms. Freston. There were other entertainers as well including Scott Sorrentino on piano, vocalists Gina la Piana and Donna DeLory whose music was transformational as she sang her song, “Sanctuary.” Hal Sparks was a charming host for the festivities. Out on the greens there was a “Putting for Pigs” contest going on.
Many other people I met who just came to enjoy the gala and support Animal Acres were inspirational too. There was entrepreneur Risa Freeman, who started Vegan Traders. She picks up lots of mom-and-pop vegan items, many of them raw items, and delivers them to the big stores. Megan Blake flew in from Florida. Her show “Animal Attractions” is the most popular animal show on PBS. Melissa Baular, horror film star, has rescued hundreds of animals. She became vegan after shooting a horror film in an abandoned slaughterhouse and saw the hooks firsthand. Lenka Fill has coordinated a “Walk for Farm Animals” on October 18 in downtown Long Beach. Joely Fisher has not eaten meat for 30 years. Her husband became a vegan after the two of them had a fabulous catered vegan meal at the home of Ellen DeGeneris and her spouse Portia. In the words of Aaron Leider, who is on the Board of Animal Acres, "some of the greatest people in the world come to the event."
I was very glad I attended and was able to make a contribution to this very worthy cause, and I can't wait to go to the farm and rub a pig's belly.
Animal Acres is located on a 26-acre farm, just 45 minutes from Los Angeles in Acton, California. It is open for visitors every Sunday, and school and group tours are available by appointment. Visit the website www.AnimalAcres.org for a list of their many sponsored events.
Georja Umano is an actress/comedienne and animal advocate.
Photos by Nick Somers
5200 Escondido Canyon Road
Acton, CA 93510