Updated: May 24, 2022
Welcome to the inaugural post of our new Rebels & Recipes series. We interview incredible animal advocates, asking them about their work and themselves, and we get them to share a recipe with us too!
Our first guest is the amazing Doris Lin, Director of Legal and Government Affairs for the Animal Protection League of New Jersey.
Doris Lin is a legend in American animal law circles, and probably beyond, or at least should be. As the attorney for New Jersey's Animal Protection League, she fights for the rights of animals throughout the state. Her nonstop advocacy includes grassroots lobbying, public outreach, veganism, opposing state-sponsored hunting, holding rallies and protests. And her start in the field - more like an initiation - should be the subject of a Hollywood film. TAAP recently had the good fortune to chat with Doris about animal advocacy, veganism, the future of the movement, and much more.
(What follows has been edited.)
Can you briefly explain what you do?
I'm the Director of Legal and Government Affairs for the Animal Protection League of New Jersey -- what that means is, I'm the organisation's attorney. I have to know the law and use the law to help protect animals in the state. New Jersey frequently has state-sponsored deer and bear hunts, so, for example, I file lawsuits to stop the hunts.
(Ed. note for our readers outside of the USA: as hard as it is to believe, the State of New Jersey has held regular annual bear hunts in response to alleged overpopulation. Although the state banned bear hunting in the early 1970s, when the population neared extinction, the government reinstated the hunt in 2003, then again in 2005, in response to nuisance and damage reports from citizens. Then, during Chris Christie’s 8-year governorship beginning in 2010, a hunt was held every year. The hunts are often separated into archery sessions and rifle sessions. Ostensibly, the hunt is used as a management tool to keep the population in check and protect citizens from reported damage, fear of attacks, and various nuisances. However, research shows that these complaints don’t decrease during hunt years. And, of course, the idea that the government asks people to bring dead bears to check stations feels a little dystopian. Republicans, and state wildlife officials, tend to support the hunt, along with hunting groups. Now that the state has a democratic governor who stopped the hunt, supporters fearmonger by saying the population will now quickly rebound to ‘unacceptable’ levels without a hunt. APL and other organisations have previously challenged the validity of the bear management policy in court, with arguments such as: the policy didn’t comply with legal precedent; the state inflated the number of complaints about bears to justify the hunt; the Department of Environmental Protection acted arbitrarily and capriciously and didn’t investigate alternatives sufficiently, &c.)
Another way we have addressed the state-sponsored hunting problems in NJ is to give deer management presentations at town meetings. Where there is a plan in place to cull the deer population via sharpshooting, we share a PowerPoint at town meetings discussing all our reasons for opposing such a decision.
(Ed. note: Like with bear hunts, many American jurisdictions have deer hunts to curb supposed overpopulation of deer. Americans living in NJ and surrounds know well of the reports of nuisance and, most frequently, traffic accidents having to do with deer. Groups like APL push for non-lethal methods of population control, such as fertility control, and the citizenry tend to support such ideas. But community hunts, usually by razor-tipped arrow or shotgun, do not solve the problem. For more see https://aplnj.org/wildlife-advocacy/deer-resources-information/)
In one case, the town had started hunting anew to control the deer and they were violating their own safety regulations for the hunt. I filed a lawsuit. It's crucial to know the relevant laws where you are and make sure authorities are operating within them.
What's something you are currently working on?
Right now we have a lawsuit against New Jersey. We asked the state to reconsider the bear hunt while it was still going on and the state said our request was submitted to the wrong agency, which was not true. They said Fish & Game is separate from the Office of Environmental Protection, but the Fish & Game Council is part of that office. It's like they're trying to give the council more power, which is dangerous since it's a group run by and for hunters. By positioning them as their own authority it's like they are avoiding organizational oversight. We're in the middle of that lawsuit. Even though the bear hunt policy expired, we're continuing the lawsuit because it's dangerous precedent for the state to string us along until the policy just expires on its own. It's dangerous for the public because justice delayed is justice denied. And their attempt at restating the structure is dangerous, since the body that makes decisions about the game code and the hunting regulations is already decided by largely a group of hunters - I think 6 of the 11 members of the council are hunters.
So it's like they are trying to rewrite their own rules. How do you manage the separation of the law vs politics when you are responsible for both the legal aspect of your work and the governmental policy side?
The law is always behind activism -- the law is there to bring up stragglers, and activists are more forward-thinking, more ahead of the game.
How did you start in this field?
I was an animal activist for years. I went to law school and worked in Washington, D.C. for big groups, then moved to New Jersey and got involved with APL as a volunteer. At the time, I was working at a traditional law firm and doing activism on the side, working for APL in their office part-time. In 2003, I quit both jobs when I became a mother. Years later, they were involved in legal work. They filed a lawsuit to stop the bear hunt in New Jersey and filed a motion for emergent relief to try to stop the hunt while the lawsuit was pending. The firm they hired needed lots of money to continue the suit, and APL couldn't afford to move forward with the firm. I thought the suit had merit and it was a great opportunity, so I came out of 'retirement' and took the case pro bono. And we won. The court declared the bear hunt policy was adopted illegally, and they stopped the hunt for several years - until a new governor passed new policies, unfortunately.
let's pause to recognise how incredibly badass and impressive Doris's foray into animal law was
Do you think that's a good way for interested young lawyers to get into this field, by first volunteering?
It's one path. Becoming a lawyer definitely is more interesting, and it helps to have a degree, some credentials. But volunteering is a great way to get involved. Being a lawyer isn't the only way to work for animal rights, but it's a way to get your foot in and volunteering with a group is a great way to get them to recognise you and your work. Then when a position does open up, they think of you.
What are APL's current goals?
The overall strategy of the group is advocating for veganism, directly to the public, and for overall better protection for the state’s animals. Our litigation strategy is case by case. We're right now working on a bill that would close a loophole in the bear-feeding statute. This state statute prohibits feeding black bears in New Jersey. It has bad language about unintentional feeding, saying that storing materials like pet food and garbage in a way that still attracts bears could be considered ‘feeding’ them in violation of the law. People could be punished for overly broad interpretation of this.
We're working with other groups to pass a gestation crate ban; we have another project on to protect swans, one for monk parakeets. There's a bill to prohibit someone convicted of animal cruelty from owning or working with animals.
Stuff like that seems so common sense and people forget how much effort and work is required to get something like that on the books.
What would you say you are most proud of in your time at APL?
Definitely the victory in halting the bear hunt in 2007. It was kind of daunting walking into that courtroom. When I was in a firm, everything was overseen by partners, there was a support structure. For this, I was the sole attorney, against the hunters' and state attorneys. It was all on me. And we won.
What tips do you have for people wanting to work in this area?
Get involved as much as you can, as a volunteer or an employee, just get in there. Educate yourself about different issues and follow all developments in the area. For example my focus is on wildlife, so I make sure I know about those relevant laws, local regulations, and any news or developments. People can get experience tabling and talking to the public, so you hear what the responses are. It can be from people who are antagonistic and you might think you don't want to hear that, but if you hear the retorts they have to your ideas, then you can think of how to counter them. So often I simply hear that opponents are scared of bears. There are other ways to address that than hunting.
How did you find your way to veganism?
I was a vegetarian in college, and I went with a busload of people to this whaling protect in D.C. and I missed the bus back. A friend was trying to help and her ride left, with her purse in his car! o the two of us were stranded - before cell phones. The friend said I guess we can stay with Alex Hershaft (co-founder and president of the Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM), who she knew. I was like, are you kidding? She called him and explained our predicament, and he let us stay over. His house was the office for FARM, so I was surrounded by books and posters for animal rights. And the founder of FARM. I couldn't have left without coming around!
What are your relationships with the animals in your life like?
I have a dog and two rabbits. My relationships with them have informed my work. If you have a dog, a cat, a rabbit, a bird, any animal, you know they have emotions. You know they feel, you know they can suffer. If you ever accidentally stepped on your dog's foot, you know! Having animals in your life can often help people make that connection -- if I love my dog, what am I doing to these cows and pigs and chicken? Mine definitely helped me make the connection.
What are you doing to better communicate with your animals?
My dog is most attached to me, out of all of our family. It's funny, she recognizes my movements, she knows if I'm putting on jewelry that I'm leaving the house. I'm trying to be more aware and sensitive to what they can pick up on.
How have your feelings about and/or relationships with animals changed (or stayed consistent) throughout your life?
I was always an animal lover, but immature about it. I wasn't the best caretaker for dogs as a kid. My parents actually decided that they couldn't keep our dog, when I was a kid, and they gave him away. I am horrified to think of that now, and as a kid I was heartbroken, but my parents said I wasn't doing enough. But as an adult I see, the animal has to be the adults' responsibility. No matter how well meaning, a child does not have the capacity for responsibility or maturity to fully take care of an animal's needs. They need more than that. It has to be a commitment.
MFING TRUTH BOMB
What other communities are you a part of, and how do they treat animals/veganism? Have you had disagreements?
One great community I'm involved with is the Jersey Shore Food Not Bombs. Luckily, it's a vegan chapter, so when we share groceries and a hot meal with the public, it aligns with my values.
I'm also a member of our State Bar Association Animal Law Committee, a group of lawyers and paralegals who are interested in animal law. Not all of them are interested in animal rights; some are more welfare. So that means it's definitely not a vegan organisation. Some attorneys on the committee represent industry, so that can lead to friction. The committee gets to issue majority and minority statements on different issues, so that helps so we can make sure not just one position is expressed.
As for family events, there's always someone who means well but makes something that isn't actually vegan. I have a relative who was so excited about finding cage-free eggs thinking she could share with me, because I had informed her about egg-laying chicken conditions! I had to explain that aside from conditions, it's about the baseline that chickens and animals aren't ours to use.
Do you have recommended reading or listening for animal advocates?
I recommend signing up for newsletters from organisations (LIKE TAAP'S!) to keep track of what's going on, what people are working on, and keep tabs on upcoming protests and events. As for listening, I actually recommend talking to people and listening to them instead of something one-sided like podcasts -- join local meet-up groups or Facebook groups and talk to local activists, meet people. Go to vegan potlucks! Meet other like-minded people that way. And you also get to learn about vegan food. It's a great education to meet and spend time with other activists and share ideas.
I do recommend watching 'Earthlings', though. It's kind of old but it's still so relevant. It's very hard to watch - there's lots of footage of exploitation that you don't really need to see if you're already vegan and an activist, but it's very influential and powerful. So many activists credit 'Earthlings' with changing their lives. If you aren't vegan, it can help to understand what activists are protesting. And if you are interested in animal rights, it's definitely a must-watch.
Doris's Hummus Toast
Professional activists and lawyers often have very little time to make great meals. This hummus toast is so easy and it’s one of my favorite lunches. Whenever I made this I get a lot of positive feedback and reactions if I share a picture on social media, it looks so nice! And it's quick, it's so simple and so delicious.
I take a piece of toast, nice thick bread. The bread is very important! You toast the bread and spread hummus on both pieces.
Chop on some chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onion, and toss the vegetables with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper.
Then spoon the vegetables over the hummus layer.
I know it sounds so simple, but you cannot beat it. (ed note: I believe it!)
You can customize it in so many different ways - add avocado, carrots, alfalfa sprouts, of your favorite herbs. You can use lemon juice instead of balsamic vinegar. You can add toasted pumpkin seeds or sesame seeds on top. So many options!
THE TAAP TEN
The TAAP TEN are fun, more personal questions we ask every Rebel to end our time together!
1. What's the best advice you've ever been given?
I learned from FlyLady.net to always get dressed in the morning, even if you’re not planning on going anywhere. I have been working at home for over 15 years, and in the early days, I would often spend the entire day in my pajamas. But then there would be awkward moments when I would have to sign for a delivery and I would have to answer the door in my pajamas! Getting dressed also puts me in a different mindset, and it makes me feel like I’m ready to work.
2. What's your favorite food to cook?
Sushi! It takes a long time so when I have the time, I really enjoy going through that process. I love simple rolls like avocado and cucumber. And I love making inari tofu! So delicious.
3. Would you rather order in or go out to eat, and if so what/where? (Non-pandemic world)
Go out! Especially to avoid accumulating all those plastic to go containers. In my area, I love a place called Baklava Lady, it's a Turkish all-vegan place. I love Kiya's Kitchen in Belmar. Oh and I love Luna Verde!
4. Cake or pie?
5. What never fails to make you laugh?
Watching The Office! (Ed. note: American version, obvs)
6. What's your favourite book or movie?
Help! The Beatles movie
7. What's your biggest pet peeve?
8. What is one ability that you believe everybody should possess?
Being able to give an elevator speech for something you believe in. It means you can make your point in the short amount of time it would take to ride an elevator with someone. It's a really important skill.
9. What is a song that make you sing along whenever you hear it?
Bang Bang - it's Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj, and Jessie J.
10. Were Ross & Rachel on a break?
They were on a break but she still is entitled to feel like he slept with the other girl too soon! (Ed. note HARD AGREE!)
Thank you so much for joining us, Doris!
For more on The Animal Protection League of New Jersey, please visit: https://aplnj.org/