September 13, 2010
Kids With A Cause: Ben Byrom
Young advocates channel their love of animals into making a difference
by Arna Cohen
Ben Byrom, 15
Ending factory farming; protecting seals
Why We Love Him:
Civic-minded since he crawled out of the crib, Ben has already set his sights on running for office in 2030. “We are going to change the way America treats its animals,” he says.
He’s not old enough to vote, but that hasn’t kept Ben Byrom from throwing himself into the political arena. In 2008, he hit the campaign trail hard in California to gather support for the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, a citizen-powered ballot initiative to release the state’s egg-laying hens, pigs, and veal calves from extreme confinement.
By then this dedicated advocate was already a seasoned veteran, having started his campaigning at age 8 as a volunteer for the Animal Protection and Rescue League. Working to protect a harbor seal rookery slated to be removed from a beach in La Jolla, Calif., Ben manned the group’s table at the Casa Beach Children’s Pool every weekend, distributing information and gathering petition signatures. Six years later, Ben saw his dedication pay off when the California legislature passed a law allowing the seals to stay.
When he was 13, Ben heard a DJ talking about the farm animal ballot measure on the radio. Though a vegetarian, he knew nothing about factory farming. “I had thought that cows came from farms with the red barn, silo, rooster, and stuff,” he says. When he learned what the farms were really like, he felt compelled to help registered voters gather signatures at Casa Beach and at events like Oktoberfest and an Earth Day festival. Once the measure was placed on the ballot, he moved on to getting out the vote.
Ben’s favorite moment of the campaign occurred during a honk-and-wave event at a major intersection in La Mesa. His group held up signs urging drivers to show their support. “At the red light, all the cars were honking. It was extremely loud!” he says. He was “gloriously happy” when that sentiment was backed by 63 percent of voters.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Ben uses the power of the pen in his advocacy efforts, and he’s not shy about letting lawmakers know what he thinks. Last fall, he wrote to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger about a bill that would outlaw docking the tails of dairy cows, making this heartfelt plea: “As my Governor, you have the ability right now to help a lot of animals. … I don’t understand why anyone would want to cut a cow’s tail off, but they shouldn’t be allowed to do it. Not only does it hurt a lot to have part of your body cut off without any painkiller, but these cows need their tails to prevent attacks from biting flies. It’s just wrong to take their tails away from them.” The governor signed the bill and sent the teen a letter thanking him for his input and encouraging him to continue his political involvement.
Though a demanding school schedule curtailed Ben’s advocacy efforts this year, he continues to monitor HSUS action alerts, regularly firing off e-mails to his legislators in support of the organization’s campaigns and standing ready to do “whatever they need me to.” Last spring, his eighth grade classmates honored Ben’s energy and potential, voting him “most likely to create change in the world.”