News: Animal Rites

A cow gets adopted, and a kid outshines his handlers

 
Jymi Bolden


Ryan Courtade, 16, and already an experienced advocate for animal welfare, is the founder of CompassionFest.



A funny thing happened on the way to interview Ryan Courtade, advocate of animal welfare. Courtade, who founded his own animal-rights group, is 16 years old — a fact that gives him media appeal but apparently makes some older animal-rights activists more than a little nervous. After arranging an interview with Courtade, CityBeat received four phone calls and a fax from organizations that wanted to send representatives to join the interview.

Courtade is the moving force behind CompassionFest, a daylong celebration of music and speakers promoting respect for all sentient creatures. CompassionFest, according to promotional literature, is "a youth-oriented festival."

But Courtade's youth seems to rattle some of the people who helped him plan CompassionFest. Environmental advocate William Messer phoned CityBeat, urging extra care be taken to ensure accuracy when interviewing Courtade. Michelle Tennant, a volunteer publicist for Compassion Fest, faxed a request to the newspaper Sept. 4.

"Ryan is a teen-ager and organizers wish for an adult to be present in all media interviews," she wrote.

Tennant even phoned from North Carolina two days later to urge a reporter to have a third party present.

The grown-ups can relax. Sitting in the dining room of his parents' house in Fort Thomas, Courtade is soft-spoken, not given to making wild claims. A junior at Highlands High School, he's been active for almost seven years in the cause of ending cruelty to animals.

At age 9, Courtade founded Love All Animals in response to a scene he witnessed on a trip to Europe.

"I was in Spain for a school field trip," he says. "I saw a hog being butchered. I was appalled — the smell and the noises. Even if you didn't see it, it's just horrible."

A vegetarian since age 13, Courtade has given talks at school on the benefits of meatless diets.

"There are animals that are carnivores," he says. "Humans are omnivores. We can eat whatever we want. We're asking people to adopt a plant-based diet. Not eating meat's compassionate, it's healthy and it's not supporting an industry that's murdering thousands of animals a day.

"I believe it's murdering, because we're taking an innocent life and using it for our own benefit when that life hasn't done anything to us."

In 2000, Courtade traveled to Las Vegas and Los Angeles for the cause of animals. He protested the influence of 102 Dalmatians, a Disney film that activists blame for a surge in families buying Dalmatians — only to be followed by a surge of Dalmatians being left at animal shelters.

Two years ago, he also organized a protest in downtown Cincinnati against the use of animals in product testing by Procter and Gamble. It was after the protest that Courtade got the idea for Compassion Fest.

"I figured there has to be a better venue for educating people," he says. "I want people to learn that there are other lifestyles out there and learn what's going on with animal experiments and vegetarianism."

CompassionFest — scheduled for 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sept. 22 at Burnet Woods — features live music, speakers, animal adoption, vegan food and information booths. An adoption ceremony during the festival will commit five groups to paying for the care of Freedom, the cow that escaped a Cincinnati slaughterhouse earlier this year and now lives at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, N.Y. (see Porkopolis, issue of Feb. 21-27).

The five groups, calling themselves a "cowalition," are EarthSave Cincinnati, Happy Tails, the Cincinnati Vegetarian Resource Group/Animal Rights Community, Love All Animals and the Coalition for Animal Rights and the Environment.

The American Antivivisection Society has also helped with CompassionFest. As if to prove his media savvy, Courtade knows when not to answer a question. Asked whether he's against vivisection — surgery on live animals for research — he demurs.

"I'm not going to comment on that," Courtade says. "I have my own beliefs, and since they're a sponsor, I'm not going to say anything."

The treatment of animals says much about humanity, according to Courtade.

"It's really an ethical question," he says. "The goal of CompassionFest is to bring people together in a festive atmosphere to bring about respect for life. After acts like 9/11 and Columbine, people are using the word 'compassion' a lot more. We hope to raise awareness of alternatives to violence. That's the lesson we all need to learn in today's world."

Despite their concern, older animal welfare activists stand to learn something about media relations from Courtade. Asked if he felt manipulated or handled by the older activists, he says, "If you don't mind, I'd rather not answer that."

Tennant, on the phone from North Carolina, acknowledges the volume of calls about the interview might have seemed heavy-handed.

"One might look at it as a way to steer the interview," she says. "When you're 16, you might make a blanket statement and it might not really be factual. That's the only thing the committee is concerned about. There's a lot of people who are supporting Ryan. I think he is outstanding and amazing."



COMPASSIONFEST is 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sept. 22 at Burnet Woods. Admission is free. For a schedule of events and other information, call Carolyn Evans at 513-702-7849 or visit www.CompassionFest.org.

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