Animal Protection >
Interview with Andrew Knight – who has
foundations of studying veterinary science in
Andrew Knight is a veterinary science
student at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia –
currently in the 4th year of 5-year course. He has become well known
for his high-profile and successful campaign for the introduction of
humane alternatives to harmful animal use in tertiary life and
health sciences education.
His campaign began in 1997 when he first boycotted a laboratory
class in which the still-living intestinal segments were removed
from freshly-killed rats and experimented on by students. Since then
Andrew has been successful in prompting Murdoch University to become
the first Australian university to formally allow conscientious
objection by students to animal experimentation or other areas of
their coursework. Andrew has also been successful in promoting the
introduction of alternatives at Murdoch, with a 1999 University
report concluding that, "... Murdoch was in a position to, and
should aim to, conduct teaching that does not require animals to be
killed specifically for this purpose by 2005." Most recently Andrew
has become one of Australia's first veterinary students to be given
permission to learn surgery without participating in terminal
surgeries. He has successfully made arrangements with local animal
shelters to assist with sterilisations of homeless dogs and cats as
part of the deal.
Andrew is the Australian contact for InterNICHE, the
International Network of Individuals and Campaigns for Humane
Education, with contacts in some 30 countries to date. He is also a
member of the Executive Committee of the Australian and New Zealand
Federation of Animal Societies (Animals Australia), which embraces
around 40 Australian and New Zealand member societies, and he is a
member of Animal Liberation (NSW) and various other animal rights
He is an experienced speaker, having received extensive media
coverage and having spoken on humane alternatives at the University
of Sydney in 1999 and the Australian Veterinary Association annual
conference in Perth in 2000. In May 2000 Andrew jointly received
(along with University of Sydney veterinary student Lucy Fish) the
inaugural World League for the Protection of Animals Award for the
Promotion of Compassion for Animals, in recognition of his work in
promoting humane alternatives in tertiary education.
He can be contacted at:
Interview by June Bird, September 2000.
Above photo of Andrew Knight with indy (left) and Suzy (right) by
"They questioned how they, as future veterinarians,
could justify participating in procedures that conflict with the
veterinarian's goal of caring for the health and well-being of
– Dean of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in 1988,
Loew, F., (1989), "Tufts develops an alternative program for
teaching surgery", JAVMA, 195, 868-870.
|JUNE: Hi Andrew, I believe you're a
vegetarian ..... when did this come about?
ANDREW: When I got a book on "Baby Animals" when I
was eight. I had always cared about animals and had been
considering becoming vego for some time. After looking at the
pictures of big-eyed fawns and other baby animals in that book
I announced to my mother that I'd no longer be eating meat.
Fortunately she was supportive, being nearly vegetarian
anyway. My father, unfortunately, was less supportive, but I
think he figured it'd wear off in a week. 22 years later I'm
still vego, and in fact became a vegan seven years ago.
|JUNE: Have you ever found that it's
difficult being vego/vegan?
ANDREW: Not really, although it can sometimes be a
bit of a pain when there are no decent dishes on a restaurant
menu. I only frequent such antiquated establishments when
absolutely forced to.
|JUNE: What's the best part of being
ANDREW: Knowing that nothing dies just for me. In
general, anyway. I know we can't live without killing things –
even breathing kills millions of microbes. I just try to
ensure that the amount of good I do outweighs the harm I must
do by being on this planet.
|JUNE: You've been vego/vegan for
quite a while, but do some people think that this is just a
fad - that you'll change your mind and go back to eating
ANDREW: Huh! I'd like to meet them if there were
any. Doubtless they'd also have fascinating insights into
flying pigs, good men, and other mythical creatures.
|JUNE: What does your spouse,
parents or your siblings think about you being vegan?
ANDREW: I'm presently spouseless. One of my two
brothers became vego around the same time I did, and my mother
has been a vego for years. My father and other brother have
unfortunately proven immune to sanity so I don't bug them and
they don't bug me.
|JUNE: Were people a bit shocked
when they found out you were one of those weird vegos?!
ANDREW: To most of my friends and acquaintances I've
always been one and I don't have enough of a normal social
life for this to be an issue with new people that I meet.
These days most of the friends I make are from the animal
rights movement the world over anyway.
|JUNE: Do you hope that everyone
else will soon realise that there's no need to eat animals to
ANDREW: Unfortunately there is hope and then there's
reality. To my detriment, perhaps, I'm a realist. I know that
the world as we know it (the good bits, I mean) is a goner if
people don't change. The only solution I see is to somehow
awaken people's compassion so that they will act more
considerately towards the rest of the creatures, human or
otherwise, with which they must share the planet. The single
most important thing people can do for themselves and the
world around them is to go vegetarian. I continue to strive to
awaken people's compassion not because I think we'll win in
the next 5 years but because I haven't been able to figure out
a better way to spend my time yet.
|JUNE: So, exactly what sort of things do you like
ANDREW: Anything that's not my cooking! Seriously
though, my favourite main course is Mexican burritos with
delicious vegan cheese melted all over them. I have about 10
favourite desserts including vegan blueberry cheesecake,
semolina halva, coconut cream pie with whipped tofu cream and
strawberries, ice berry delight, and raspberry sorbet,
preferably all at once.
|JUNE: Are you a good cook?
ANDREW: Well, I don't like to blow my own trumpet,
but since you did ask ... I've won an AWARD for my culinary
skills I'll have you know. It was the semester I, 1998
'Disgusting Cooking Award', of my student
I really don't know why they chose me. The award was for
"attempting suicide via an overdose of cold baked beans, toast
and peas". Clearly perfectly wholesome fare. Heathens, the lot
of 'em. I had to take them all out to dinner as my "prize".
Should've chosen the sewers or someplace worse – perhaps
Regrettably I haven't had time to cook for myself more than
once or twice since about 1997. I believe, if my memory serves
me correctly, that I was actually able to cook back then.
Regrettably, the privations of living on Austudy alone have
since reduced me to bread, water and a few other morsels.
Donations of burritos and vegan cheesecake can be sent to 12A
Green Court, Kardinya 6163, Australia, and would be gratefully
Despite such privations I have, however, managed to retain
one essential cooking skill. From time to time someone who
makes an outstanding contribution towards my activist campaign
will receive a home-made boiled fruitcake with extra cherries,
almonds and pineapple.
|JUNE: Have you had the usual hilarious crowd of
people making fun of your beliefs? Do you laugh along with
them, ignore them or get totally cheesed off?
ANDREW: I'm stuck in vet school presently – the
horrors of which I won't begin to describe. Suffice to say
that I'm one of the very few radicals in an ultra-conservative
crowd. However, being conservative, few of them are able to
really think for themselves or show any other substantial
signs of initiative. Consequently, although many don't
hesitate to do so in my absence, none have so far had the
courage to make fun of my beliefs in my presence. Pity really.
|JUNE: With your friends at
barbecues do you find that your hosts are sympathetic to your
beliefs, and cater for you, or do you just end up eating fried
onions on a plain bread roll?!
ANDREW: Fortunately I can't say I've frequented more
than about two barbecues in the last 10 years. The closest I
probably get is the Hash House at rogaines. Rogaining, for the
uninitiated, is the sport of long distance cross-country
navigation on foot, and the best feature of rogaining is
unarguably the Hash House, from which volunteers dispense hot
food day and night to weary and not-so-weary rogainers.
Fortunately there are enough vego rogainers to ensure that
vego food is on every Hash House menu now, and it's not so
hard to find vegan fare as well.
|JUNE: What about wearing leather? Or having
feathers in your doona? To what extent do you take your animal
ANDREW: I'm a vegan – which means I won't eat, use
or wear any products derived from animals. Having said that I
must admit that my one pair of good shoes is leather. I got
them from an op-shop about 10 years ago and will be replacing
them with a vegan pair from Vegan Wares as soon as I can
afford them. My quest for vegan boots for large animal work in
vet school was given added impetus by a horse who decided to
tread on my foot, so I now have a pair of excellent
steel-capped Vegan Wares boots. My "leather" jacket is fake
and was bought from an op-shop. There seem to be quite a few
of them around, sometimes for as little as $10 or so, at least
in Perth. The sleeping bag which keeps me warm at night is
synthetic – I won't use a down (plucked feathers) bag. I'm too
impoverished to own a doona but it sounds really nice – vegan
doona donations can be sent to 12A Green Court, Kardinya 6163,
Australia, along with the burritos :-)
|JUNE: What are your feelings about
zoos, circuses with animals, and rodeos?
ANDREW: Rodeos are a cross between the dark ages and
the wild west in which testosterone-charged yobbos publicly
attempt to prove their manhood by the amount of suffering they
can inflict on innocent creatures. They should be banned.
And as for circuses with animals, may all whom profit from
them be required to spend their next lifetime confined in
small spaces far from their natural world, and let out only to
perform stupid tricks in front of crowds of the culturally
challenged, or to be trained using pain or other forms of
cruelty to similarly perform. The situation is worst for
exotic animals, but even for most domestic animals a life of
constant travel, training and performing is inimical to their
welfare. Circuses using animals should be banned.
Zoos are the most justifiable of the three. The best of
those in the developed world have come a long way since the
pitiful prisons of 100 years ago, with large, naturalistic
enclosures for at least some of their inmates, public
education programs about conservation objectives, and captive
breeding programs aimed at restoring endangered animals to the
wild. However no enclosure can remotely approach the natural
wilderness of most animals, and the sum total of animals
successfully returned to the wild from captive breeding
programs is pitiful in comparison to the vast amounts of money
sunk into them. Unquestionably a far more effective way to
preserve the rapidly diminishing numbers of the other species
with which we share this planet would be to redirect the huge
operating budgets of zoos into wilderness conservation. And
that's just the good side of zoos ... Yup, you guessed it,
zoos should also be banned.
|JUNE: What's your point of view on factory farming:
such as hens in battery cages, pigs in cramped stalls, and
ANDREW: Factory farming is the most outstanding
example of cruelty the world has ever seen. It has managed to
beat all opposition both because of the vast numbers of
sentient creatures abused and because of the severity of the
abuses inflicted upon them. And I'm not talking about the
abnormal abuses that occur all too often, I'm talking about
the day-to-day misery of the insanely overcrowded, surgically
mutilated billions that supply most of the eggs and much of
the meat that we consume.
Within factory farming the pinnacle of cruelty is
undoubtedly the battery cage, with intensive piggeries
claiming second place. I entered vet school to increase my
ability to effectively fight these industries, and look
forward to developing a more intimate relationship with them
|JUNE: Is there one particular area
of animal exploitation that you find particularly disturbing?
ANDREW: As stated, the very worst form of animal
exploitation just has to be the battery cage. This is both
because of the vast numbers of battery hens confined – some 11
million presently in Australia, and billions worldwide – and
because of the severity of the abuses inflicted on them. The
appallingly overcrowded hens are unable to satisfy many of
their most basic behavioural needs, such as nest-building,
preening, dust bathing, and scratching in the dirt. With less
than an A4 sheet of space each, they can't even spread their
wings. The severely stressed hens are prevented from
excessively pecking each other by slicing off the end of their
beaks with a hot blade, which causes severe and lasting pain
and an (economically acceptable) percentage of deaths. The
practice of forced moulting, which involves the withholding of
food and water in order to shock the hens back into production
after their natural end-of-season rest period, is another
charming feature of this delightful industry. There is clearly
nothing human beings won't manage to convince themselves it's
OK to do if money is involved.
|JUNE: Do you know many other vegetarian vets?
ANDREW: Not many. It's a very conservative
profession, with many students coming from farming
backgrounds. However not all are lost souls and there are a
surprising number of vego vet students in my class. This has
doubtless been aided by the increasing proportion of women in
the course – about 70-80% are now female – a reversal of the
situation 10 years ago, doubtless due to the increased
intellectual competition for entry to the course. Overall
women are far more compassionate than men, and this gender
shift will hopefully only help my sadly lost profession to see
the light sometime in the future.
There is another piece of brightness in the gloom – the
Australian Association of Holistic Veterinarians – who
practice holistic and alternative veterinary medicine. This is
growing in popularity, as people increasingly seek out
holistic solutions to both their own and their pets' health
In the US there is even an Association of Veterinarians for
Animal Rights, who act as veterinary advocates on all of the
animal rights and welfare issues. Doubtless most of
Australia's veterinary profession would be appalled if such a
group was started up here. I'll see what I can do about that
once I graduate.
|JUNE: How have you felt since you
became vego? Healthier ... or on your last legs?!
ANDREW: I don't really recall any changes. But then
I was only eight! However sometimes people around me turn
vego, at least for a while. They usually report feeling
|JUNE: Would you/have you encouraged your partner or
children to eat a vegan diet?
ANDREW: I'm too ugly to have a partner, not to
mention stupid, and the thought of children terrifies me! I'm
trying hard not to grow up – and succeeding fairly well, as
far as I can tell.
I'd never have a partner who'd been unable to figure out
the need to be vegan. To me it's a basic step. If (God
forbid!) I had kids I wouldn't force my dietary or other
decisions upon them once they became old enough to make their
own decisions, but I'd certainly do my best to educate them
from the beginning!
|JUNE: Vitamin supplements – do you
ANDREW: I've never had the time, money or interest
to worry about vitamin supplements, apart from Vitamin C when
faced with the occasional cold. But I never eat junk food and
have a randomly balanced and wholesome diet. This gives me all
the vitamins I need, with the possible exception of B12. A
recent blood test revealed low B12 levels (along with a
cholesterol level most meat eaters would die for!) so I'll
probably start taking vitamin B tablets or guzzling more B12
fortified soya milk.
|JUNE: Do you have a companion animal that you own –
or that owns you!
ANDREW: Sadly I don't have any companion animals.
I'm not allowed any in my student share-household and it would
be unfair to inflict my lifestyle on one. Unfortunately I
don't have any time for them.
|JUNE: Have you been involved in any
animal rights protests?
ANDREW: Errrr – has a fish been underwater? I've
been an active member of the Western Australian animal rights
movement since the early 1990s. I've been on numerous
protests. The best was in 1996 when about 1,000 people marched
through the streets of Perth to demand an end to the live
sheep trade shortly after 67,000 sheep drowned or burnt to
death after the 'Uniceb' caught fire and sank en route to the
|JUNE: Are there many people you think you've
influenced towards a cruelty-free lifestyle since 'coming out'
and informing people of your beliefs?
ANDREW: Throughout my activist career I've always
made extensive use of the media, which has hopefully gotten
the message out to large numbers of people. Whether or not
they listen is, of course, another matter. Prior to vet school
my major issue was the live sheep trade; now it's alternatives
to harmful animal usage in tertiary education. I've made
extensive use of the media to publicise both of these issues.
Since my successes at Murdoch University I've tried to set
myself up as a support person for students at other campuses
both within Australia and overseas, and I now regularly get
requests for help from students worldwide, usually by email. I
send them advice on how to go about conscientiously objecting
to harmful animal usage in their coursework and on campaigning
for the introduction of humane alternatives on their own
campuses. So far I've been privileged to have supported
students involved in stunningly successful campaigns at both
the University of Sydney and the University of Illinois.
In order to assist such students both now and in the
future, when I'll have largely moved on to factory farming
issues, in 1999 I started up my Australian & New Zealand
Tertiary Libraries Donation Project. This has involved
acquiring and donating world's best books, booklets and videos
on conscientious objection and humane alternatives to tertiary
libraries throughout Australian and New Zealand. To date I've
donated several outstanding resources to 79 Australian and 10
New Zealand campus libraries, effectively covering every
campus in those countries offering either life or health
sciences courses – the courses in which animal usage is
primarily found. My objective is to ensure that students have
the resources they need to bring in humane alternatives
readily accessible in their own campus libraries. I'm deeply
grateful to the numerous groups and individuals around the
world who have donated towards this project, and am presently
seeking further funding for the continuation of this project.
In 2001 I hope to add my own booklet on conscientious
objection to my list of resources available to students. I
plan to include detailed arguments in favour of alternatives,
sources of information on alternatives, a summary of the legal
grounds Australian students can use to uphold their rights to
conscientiously object, advice for students on the steps to
follow when tackling their universities, contact details of
groups that can help them, and some success stories to prove
it can be done!
|JUNE: What do you want people to
know about vegetarianism and animal rights?
ANDREW: Simple. The solution to the world's problems
lies in showing some consideration for the world around us. We
must change from exploiting our world to caring for it, from
being selfish to being selfless. Developing some compassion
for the rest of the animals with whom we share our planet is
basic to this, and not eating them is basic to that.
We must change from being destroyers to being healers, and
from being scumbags to being good girls and guys! Scumbags and
destroyers are mostly unhappy types anyway.
|Click on an image to view a larger
version in a new window.|
|Andrew with a cast of the blood vessels
of the canine head.
Photo: Michael Wearne
|With a plastinated cat dissection,
Murdoch Anatomy Museum. Preservation techniques such as
plastination permanently preserve body parts and
minimise the numbers of animals killed.
|Students in alternative veterinary
surgical programs learn by assisting with beneficial
surgery on real patients. Here a student (left) assists
with a spinal surgery on a dog.
Photo: Andrew Knight
|Andrew demonstrates his 'Rescue
Critters' at the Australian Veterinary Association
Annual Conference, Perth June 2000. These are animal
mannequins designed for veterinary