I lost my mother this week. She was 92 years old, and she packed most of those years with a remarkable compassion for animals – a compassion she cultivated in my sisters and me as well as in countless other people she encountered.
My mother taught me that it wasn’t enough to just love animals – she showed me how to get off the sidelines and advocate for them. And I’ve been doing as she taught me ever since. I’m involved in humane work today because of her, and I could not feel more grateful or blessed than I do by her influence in my life.
Both my parents loved and cared for animals, and took steps to include them in our family life. My two sisters and I grew up with a cat (who adopted us), a small pack of rescued dogs, a number of injured birds (including a large duck), and the occasional squirrel who would just stop by for food.
My mother, who named me after the daughter of a prominent humane advocate of the 1960s, often took me to anti-fur rallies and other events, sometimes even against my instinct and whim as a teenager with wishes of my own. Over time, it began to feel both natural and right to me, and we often spent weekends leafleting together. She also set an early example for me and my sisters by calling Members of Congress to demand stronger animal protection laws and other measures of social value.
Some of my favorite memories of her come from the time when I first moved to D.C. as a law student, when she would send me new clothes. On a tight budget, I couldn’t have been more thrilled when the packages arrived. Inevitably, every package of new clothes included a button on each item with an animal protection slogan of some kind.
I was very proud of her when, in 1996, my mother turned over her home in Boston to HSUS staff members and volunteers who came to town to gather signatures for the ballot measure to ban leg hold traps. I was told she left notes of encouragement around the house and bags of popcorn for all to enjoy. She also put in a lot of hours outside a popular mall collecting signatures, and she was persistent in her efforts to corral individuals who passed by without stopping to sign.
While my father was less vocal about his love of animals, at age 60, he became a vegetarian. As he explained it, the change happened one hot day in Florida when he stopped at a railroad crossing. My father was Jewish and a teenager during the Holocaust. As he watched that long, slow train pass he peered into the cars and was startled to see eyes staring back at him: they were cows being transported across state lines to slaughter. He never ate meat again.
Like every mother, mine took pride in the achievements of her children, but in my case it also extended to the entire HSUS family. She was an avid reader of our publications and stayed current with the issues, right to the end. She was incredibly proud of all we do at the HSUS, Humane Society International and our related organizations, and she never stopped telling me that. She told me just last week that she felt her own work for animals was done because she knew that a new generation of advocates at the Humane Society of the United States and its affiliates have it well in hand.
And she was right, we do.
The beautiful thing about our work is that it is founded upon an extraordinary legacy entrusted to us by past advocates, one that stretches back decades and one that encompasses the scope of our work worldwide. We’re all a part of something much larger than ourselves, and in our work to build a more humane society, we honor the spirit of my mom and hundreds of thousands of other good people who have carried the banner for animals, each and every day, throughout their lives. In a moment of deep personal loss and grief, that legacy comforts me, and it makes me all the more grateful to supporters past and present who have joined our fight to protect animals here and around the world.