I’m going to open this post with a photo of beautiful Annie that I just took:
It’s a rainy day at the sanctuary and the chimpanzees have been pretty low-key. Katelyn entertained a few folks in the green house with the iPad this afternoon while Jamie decided to take a nap with some boots. In the photo above, Annie had just come in to the front rooms and sat down on the bench. She looked so incredibly beautiful, I had to ask her if it was okay if I took a photo or two. She obliged.
We are nearing the fifth anniversary of the chimpanzees’ arrival to Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest. Some of the very first photos that we shared of the chimps were of them at the same spot Annie was sitting in today, looking out the window just to the right of Annie and the source of the great lighting for the photo (despite the rain). Anniversaries always bring about a good bit of reflection – thinking of the past and how far the sanctuary and the chimps have come over the last few years. Appropriately, Annie strikes me as the most reflective of the Cle Elum Seven – the look in her eyes in the photo above reinforces that impression.
This past weekend volunteer Katie, J.B. and I staffed a table at Vegan Vida Con in Portland, OR. The conference was geared towards vegan bloggers and was sold out. They chose the sanctuary to receive proceeds from the silent auction at their Galarama on Saturday. The Galarama silent auction was terrific and they raised $4,000 for the chimpanzees!! We are beyond thrilled and grateful.
Seeing so many people at the conference caused me to do some more reflection.
It was in 1997, when I was living in Portland, that I made two big decisions – I decided to stop eating meat and I decided to follow my interest in great apes. I had always been what people call an “animal lover,” but before 1997, I hadn’t really thought about all of the issues facing these animals that I loved. The next year, I entered a master’s program at Central Washington University in Ellensburg and began working at the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute (CHCI). It was physically the closest I had ever been to any primates other than humans, and I knew right away my life would never be the same. I thought more and more about the uneven and often brutal relationships that humans have with other animals. In 1999, J.B. entered the same program. We quickly became friends, and, with one conversation about the egg and dairy industries, he convinced me to become vegan.
J.B. and I were, naturally, always looking for new vegan food to try. One day we found a cheese substitute in the health food store in Ellensburg. It was a powder that you added oil to, creating what I can only guess was supposed to be a cheese spread. It was possibly the most vile thing I have ever eaten in my life.
Fast forward to 2013, and here J.B. and I were at a conference full of vegans and full of amazing vegan food. The Galarama not only featured a So Delicious non-diary ice cream sundae bar, but also plates of delicious and quickly devoured vegan cheese made by Artisan Vegan Cheese author Miyoko Schinner. I never would have predicted that conference or Miyoko’s cheese while I was desperately trying to get the taste of the oily, powdered vegan cheese disaster out of my mouth.
And I never would have predicted that 15 years later I would be just up the road from CHCI taking care of seven chimpanzees released from a private biomedical laboratory.
And I never would have predicted that the United States would be on the threshold of a decision that could mean the end of the use of chimpanzees in biomedical testing in the United States (just fyi if you go to that link – the time for public comments has expired, and we are now awaiting the official decision from the NIH).
I wrote down a few words for the attendees at the Galarama on Saturday. It was a super fun party, so it wasn’t really the venue for making heartfelt speeches, but I saved what I scribbled down, just in case there was an appropriate moment. I won’t type out everything, but the main gist of it was that each and every day is a gift to see the chimpanzees exploring new things about their environment and learning new things about themselves at the sanctuary. I’m amazed at how much they’ve changed and grown. And the only thing that comes close to seeing their transformations is to share their stories and daily lives with other people.
Thank you Michele, Janessa, and Jess of Vida Vegan Con for giving us the opportunity to not only help raise needed funds for the sanctuary, but for allowing us to introduce some new awesome people to the chimpanzees.