An interview with Catherine Kelaher, author of SAVING ANIMALS

Q: What inspired you to write this book, and how long did it take you to write it? 

A: I had published my fictional book, Amanda the Teen Activist, in 2006 and began to sell it at markets around Sydney. Whilst the book was well received, people would often say, “Will this tell me how to be an activist?” I would explain it was a fictional story, and many times people said, “I really want to know how to be an activist and to hear your story, too.”

It felt like I had no choice to write Saving Animals. I had met some amazing young people in my own activism, and I thought by sharing my experience and their stories we could give young people who care a way to move forward and bring about change. 

And as soon as I put a call out for young activists to chat to, I began to meet the most amazing people. These young people are doing the most incredible things! I know I have become a bit jaded over the years as we keep fighting for animals and so little changes. To see and hear these young people who had so much enthusiasm and hope was inspiring and something I felt compelled to share. 

Saving Animals provides the tools and inspiration that animal lovers need to take their first actions towards making the world a kinder place. Animals are truly in a state of emergency, and this book will help people feel empowered and know exactly what actions they can take to help them. 

Q: Did you have a special routine or place in which you wrote?

A: Just as when I wrote my first book, Amanda the Teen Activist, I had to make writing a top priority. I had a reception temp job in a hospital that had beautiful grounds. I negotiated my lunch break from thirty minutes up to an hour, and every lunch I would walk to the river, sit down, and get tapping away on my laptop. Whenever I write I am careful not to be a perfectionist. My aim is to just get it down and worry about editing later. Done is better than perfect, as they say. 

On days when I wasn’t working I would go on “walk and write” adventures. I would take my laptop and go on a walk by the river. After a couple of kilometers I would find a quiet place to sit and would get writing. Something about the gentle exercise beforehand seemed to get my brain going and into a more creative state. If I got sick of writing, I would walk another couple of kilometers and then get back to it. 

I really enjoyed the interviews for the book. It was a great chance to have a good chat with fellow activists on Skype. I was so inspired! 

For both books, I also made sure I had an accountability buddy. I sought out a fellow wannabe author for each project. We connected over social media, and then once a week we would get on the phone and chat about our work and whether we had completed what we had set out to do that week. I’d say that was the most helpful thing to keep me on track. It was lovely to connect with someone who was going through the exact same thing.

Q: Why do you feel Saving Animals is needed?

A: I have personally witnessed what happens to animals in agriculture, and I know this is an emergency. There are plenty of people who care about animals and hate to see them in pain, but very few of us who will take action to change things. This book will inspire people who do not want animals to suffer and give them the tools and inspiration they need to make a difference. 

Q: With everything else going on in the world, why focus on animals?

A: When we show kindness and compassion to the most vulnerable in our society, the rest of society inevitably becomes kinder, too. Caring about animals does not mean we don’t care for people. Every time I look into the eyes of a hen whom I have lifted from a cage, I know she matters, and I feel how unfair it is that millions of girls just like her will be killed. It is an easy thing to change, too. A vegan world is entirely possible. We just need to make it happen, and the sooner the better. 

Q: What did you learn when writing the book?

A: I learnt a lot from every activist I spoke to. For example, one activist, thirteen-year-old Gemma Krogh, helped me realize that I should always have a rescue kit in the car in case I find an animal in need. Another activist, twenty-year-old Priscilla Huynh, showed me that even though she is a fellow introvert she has still found ways to speak up for animals and take powerful action. 

Q: What surprised you the most?

A: The power that young people have. For example, at only eleven years old, Zoe Rosenberg founded the Happy Hen Animal Sanctuary and in the years since then has taken part in a huge number of actions to save animals.

Q: Did the book make you rethink your own activism?

A: Whilst speaking to these young activists I realized that there truly is an area of activism for everyone. Just because I don’t feel comfortable with certain kinds of outreach myself doesn’t mean I am less useful; it just means I need to really go for it in the areas I do feel comfortable with. 

Q: How do your own experiences feature in the book?

A: Readers can find out about my own journey into activism and veganism. From an early age I had a strong desire to help animals, and I finally had a chance when, at sixteen, I started helping out at a local animal sanctuary. I had the chance to hang out with some wonderful animals like Annabelle the jersey cow and Ivy and Noel the donkeys. My work at the sanctuary led me to attend my first protest, which was quite an overwhelming experience. My life now revolves around saving animals in running NSW Hen Rescue, and writing the book has been a great chance to share so much of my own massive learning curve as well as photos and stories of animals I have had the joy of meeting. 

Q: How has writing this book affected your own activism?

A: I am more aware of the potential for burnout, so I factor self-care into my activism in a major way. I want to be an activist for my whole life (well, unless we have a vegan world by the time I’m an old lady!). I realize if I always go at a hundred miles an hour I won’t be able to last long. 

I also found myself feeling less jaded and more hopeful. Just knowing there are so many awesome people working so hard to save animals makes me feel more committed to my own work. 

Q: Tell us about one of the outstanding activists you met.

A: There are honestly so many, and every activist in the book left a massive impression on me. Zoe Rosenberg is someone who inspires me every day. She started Happy Hen Animal Sanctuary at the age of eleven, and I remember her emailing me back then for advice. She is now an amazing, strong woman. I follow her on Instagram, and every time she posts she inspires me. Like so many of the people I chatted to, she isn’t afraid be heard and make some serious noise for the animals because she knows this is a true emergency. 

When I saw Zoe chain herself to slaughterhouse to try and save a pig named Dana who was being killed as part of a college agriculture program, I felt so much respect for her. She did what so many of us feel like doing. She puts up with so many online trolls, yet she keeps going. 

Q: Do you think it is appropriate to share upsetting information with young people?

A: The truth about animal agriculture is upsetting, and the book shares the truth in a way that isn’t too overwhelming. I don’t believe it is fair for young people to be lied to. By sharing the truth with them, we can also share actions they can take to bring about change, and in that, we give them incredible power and hope.

SAVING ANIMALS is now available from Ashland Creek Press and wherever books are sold.