Activist Profile: Rick Hershey
October 13, 2010
Where are you from; where do you live now?
Chicago. St. Louis.
What are your favorite things to do outside of leafleting?
Swim, snow ski, scuba dive, create and prepare original vegan recipes.
How long have you been involved in animal rights and how did you get interested?
I never really considered myself an animal rights activist, more someone who advocates for and attempts to treat animals with compassion and to reduce their suffering. This month marks the 40th anniversary of my decision to become vegetarian but for as long as I can remember, as a small child I would bring home injured or sick animals for my father, an MD, to help. He in turn would take them to a lab to run tests for contagions and then euthanize them, not quite what I had in mind at the time.
As an undergrad at Washington University in the 70s, I did my honors project researching echolocation in bats. Since bats frequent caves which are totally dark, their visual system is of no value in this environment; however, by using their sonar, they can fly between fine wires and catch insects in flight in these zero-light conditions. I devised a method to train a bat to discriminate and communicate to me the closer of two targets one meter from each other and three meters away from the bat; the targets varied in their distance from the bat at three meters slightly by two centimeters which I’d alternate randomly. We also had artificial echo equipment which we needed to use with the bats in order to study Doppler shifts and other aspects of their echolocation. This equipment was not functioning properly and the professor I was working for announced one day in our monthly lab meeting that we were experiencing a problem with our data so to resolve this problem we were going to enucleate (remove the eyes of) all the bats in the lab because their visual system was interfering with obtaining accurate data. Without pause, I jumped up out of my chair and yelled, “Their visual system is not interfering with the data; the data is bad because you haven’t fixed the artificial echo equipment! You’re not going to enucleate these bats; fix the equipment!” Well, we had a brief heated dispute and I put my honors project on the line without consideration, but he realized that I was correct; he spared the bats’ eyes and I graduated with honors. His graduate student later told me that she had never known anyone to advocate for a lab animal.
What made you decide to start leafleting?
CVA encouraged me; at the time I was president of the St. Louis Vegetarian Society and this was another way to both promote a plant-based diet and bring in revenue for the Society because CVA makes a donation to AR or veggie groups on one’s behalf for leafleting.
What was your most positive leafleting experience?
When I reached my 100,000th booklet last April. Other positive experiences include the many people I have reached out to who later tell me they have become vegetarian as a result of my influence, or even simply that they have reduced their meat consumption.
Also, it is always a treat for me on those infrequent occasions to leaflet with another VO leafleter, like Leah, James, and Jon.
As a Washington U freshman, I took an ethics course in the Philosophy department, “Present Moral Problems.” I wrote my paper on the ethics of vegetarianism. However, this was before Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation, and the grader wrote that he thought the subject of my paper was a joke. When leafleting there recently, a vegetarian freshman told me he was taking that very same course, taught currently by the son of my professor, and now animal rights is a regular component of the course. That, too, was one of my better leafleting experiences!
Last, it is always nice when someone stops to shake my hand and say that they appreciate what I am doing.
What aspect of your leafleting would you like to improve?
I find it especially challenging attempting to overcome people’s hostilities that are regularly expressed to me when leafleting. Often I ignore them because it is easier but on infrequent occasion, I am able to turn them around. I think that is a real test of an advocate’s abilities, something that I’d like to succeed at more often.
What would you say to individuals hesitant about leafleting?
You will likely remain hesitant until you try it a couple times.