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David Meadows: A Friend of Farm Animals

David Meadows gathered more than 3,000 signatures on behalf of animals in Ohio's factory farms

All Animals magazine, September/October 2010

  • David Meadows turned the downswing in the economy into an upswing for farm animals. Shanna Ramsey

by James Hettinger

On a lunch break from his job as a tech support manager in 1999, David Meadows fed his french fries to a starving stray. Soon enough Mewton staked her claim as the company cat, roaming the office by day and returning to the streets at night. But when Meadows found his frightened friend wandering one weekend, he decided enough was enough. “You know what?” he thought. “You’re coming home with me. I don’t want you to have to stay here this whole weekend all scared like that.”

Though he’s always loved animals, Meadows’ lunch-break encounter and ensuing rescue was the extent of his animal activism for a decade. But last year, when he got a much longer break after being laid off from his job in web design sales, the Dayton man turned the downswing in the economy into an upswing for farm animals.

With time on his hands and dismay in his heart about their ill treatment, Meadows began collecting donations of silent auction items for the advocacy organization Mercy For Animals. Less than a year later, he had become the top signature gatherer for a campaign to end extreme confinement of pigs, chickens, and veal calves in the state.

Led by Ohioans for Humane Farms—an HSUS-backed coalition of family farmers, environmentalists, and animal welfare organizations—the campaign sought to put the issue to voters in November through a citizen ballot initiative. But Meadows was overjoyed when, just after volunteers had collected about half a million signatures, Ohio officials and humane and agribusiness leaders came to a preemptive agreement in June “that few people would have thought possible for Ohio even just a couple years ago,” says Paul Shapiro, senior director of The HSUS’s Factory Farming Campaign.

Negotiations among HSUS president and CEO Wayne Pacelle, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, and industry representatives led to the agreement to phase out crates for veal calves and gestation crates for pigs, as well as a moratorium on permits for new battery-cage facilities that confine egg-laying hens. Other provisions aim to crack down on puppy mills, cockfighting, the acquisition of exotic animals as pets, inhumane euthanasia methods for sick farm animals, and the transport of “downer” cattle.

In a state with historically weak protections for animals, the collection of so many signatures signaled mass support for reform—and served as a testament to the commitment of volunteers like Meadows. Spending up to 60 hours a week changing hearts and minds could have been taxing for some, but Meadows is far from the introverted computer nerd his background might imply, says the one-time wannabe standup comic. At times, he faced skeptics, but mostly Meadows was surprised by the number of people already angry about farm animal suffering.

An interest in health, fitness, and nonviolence had led Meadows to become more involved in battling practices he’d long opposed but, “like a lot of people, I think I just put on my blinders” when it came to acting upon his disgust. He has farmers in his family tree—his great-grandfather was so adept at smoking meat that local Amish people would bring him their turkeys and hogs—and believes those ancestors would be appalled by the abuse of farm animals. “The more I thought about that, the more it really just became part of my awakening process,” says Meadows.

When the elements of the agreement are enacted, Ohio will join seven other states—Florida, Arizona, California, Oregon, Colorado, Maine, and Michigan—that have cracked down on inhumane confinement practices. The early progress is good news for animals in other states, where The HSUS can now turn its attention to promoting further reforms.

As for Meadows, the experience has been so invigorating that he’s looking for a job that involves working with people and advocating for animals. “My goal now is to get out from behind the desk,” he says.

While he downplays his achievements, Mercy For Animals’ Corey Roscoe notes that his signature-gathering was no small feat for a new advocate: “David’s story should serve as inspiration to anyone who doesn’t think one person can make a difference to help animals.” 

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