Animal Protection > AR Interviews

Interview with Andrew Knight who has shaken the
foundations of studying veterinary science in Australia.

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 groups.

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: ethicalvet@yahoo.com

Interview by June Bird, September 2000.

Above photo of Andrew Knight with indy (left) and Suzy (right) by Michael Wearne.

"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 animals."

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 vegan?

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 animals?

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 stay healthy?

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 to eat?

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 share-household.

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 McDonalds.

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 received :-)

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 activism?

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 cattle feedlots?

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 after graduation.

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 problems.

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 healthier.

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 take them?

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 Middle East.

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.
Photo: Michael Wearne
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 training.