If the first thing that pops to mind when you hear “animal rights” isn’t a celebrity-studded party with phenomenal food and a general air of complete fabulousness, perhaps you haven’t met Karen Dawn. The woman who started DawnWatch—an eight-year-old animal rights listserv that keeps subscribers up to date on the media’s coverage of animal issues and encourages feedback in the form of letters to the editor-is on a mission. In her world, animal rights are inextricably linked with non-stop, social-butterfly-style good times, and she’s determined to shed her little ray of sunshine on the movement.
In her first book, Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way We Treat Animals, Dawn takes aim at our culture’s perceptions of animals by going through each and every one of the awful ways in which humans abuse and exploit them. That sounds like a party, right? Well, despite the depressing subject matter and with the help of a heap of cartoons, Dawn manages to make the read both funny and effective. “There’s no reason that animal rights can’t be fun and inviting,” says Dawn of the approach she took to her book. “For heaven’s sake-gin’s vegan!” While ordering her very, very dry martinis and tossing her tresses around, Dawn brings all the bluster and bravado you’d expect to find in a nightclub promoter to her work. It just so happens that her “work” is helping raise media awareness and protecting the lives of animals.
While the party-girl lifestyle used to be her full-time gig, Dawn says that her life changed dramatically when she read Animal Liberation. “When I sort of found out the extent of the institutionalized cruelty I thought, “Okay, I’m going to devote my life to this.” Since her personal transformation from happy-go-lucky singer/songwriter to happy-go-lucky activist, Dawn has worked with many of the major players in the animal-rights movement, from PETA to Peter Singer. During the past eight years, Dawn has seen coverage of animal stories increase dramatically. “Finally, animal news is considered to be news. It’s becoming more a part of mainstream thought, at last. Still not as much as we would like it to, but at least it’s becoming part of the conversation.” Thanking the Monkey is an access point to that conversation for those unfamiliar with animal rights, whether they are newscasters or your family and friends. Once they read it, just try and stop them from joining the party that we call the vegetarian lifestyle.