years ago this April, Jill Robinson first walked onto a bear bile farm. On that day in April 1993, Jill could have walked away, but she chose to act and do what she could. Today, you also have a choice. If everyone reading this donated just US$20, it would pay for the care of over 150 bears at our China sanctuary for a full year. Please help us celebrate 20 years of progress. Donate US$20 today (or whatever you can afford).
Part II – Palm Springs, Tampa, Washington / Toronto, Calgary, Banff
After a quick trip to the UK and then a brief stop back home in Asia, Jill returned to the US on 29 September to kick off the second leg of the 2011 North American Roadshow.
Twin Palms event co-chairs Julie Kaye and Betty Nelson Lahti in Palm Springs.
The Roadshow started on a high note with a swingin’ event at Twin Palms, the former home of Frank Sinatra and his first wife, Nancy. We were so fortunate to be offered the use of this incredible home by its owners – and Animals Asia supporters – Marianne and Tom O’Connell. Twin Palms, once the hub of the Palm Springs “Movie Colony,” has been featured in Town and Country Magazine as well as on the Travel Channel. It has also seem some pretty amazing parties in its time with guests the likes of Ava Gardner, Cary Grant – and Jill Robinson!
After touring the historic home, Jill gave a moving presentation to a rapt audience who later dined on fabulous vegan hors d’oeuvres from Carousel Catering and bid on silent auction items including framed photos of Frank and the Rat Pack. The entire event was beautifully coordinated by Julie Kaye, our pro-bono development associate, and her fabulous event co-chair Betty Nelson Lahti. Animals Asia supporter and dear friend Jerry Levin also added much needed support in the Palm Springs area and Wendy Benedict helped in early planning for the event. The gorgeous setting provided the perfect start to a Roadshow that would take Alice, Jill and I from one coast to the other and all the way into Canada over the next ten days.
The next stop was Tampa and after some minor travel mishaps, which resulted in an unexpected but thoroughly enjoyable detour through Dallas, we arrived in the sunshine state where we were met by Diane Koon, a volunteer with Florida Voices for Animals, host organization for our event that evening. Diane whisked us off to The Loving Hut, site of the night’s festivities and always a pleasure to visit both for the wonderful atmosphere and the terrific vegan food. Upon arrival we were greeted by another FVFA volunteer, Isabelle Tassi, who had so kindly arranged the event for us while in the midst of also organizing the Tampa Vegetarian Food Festival just two weeks later! Isabelle introduced Jill to a room full of Animals Asia supporters, some of whom had waited years to meet her, and all of whom were eager to hear updates on our work. It was a truly wonderful evening and we are already looking forward to our next visit to Florida.
Jill with supporter Susan Hechinger and actress Ali MacGraw in DC.
Noted author Jonathan Balcombe joined Jill for a joint presentation at PCRM
After Tampa, we traveled north to Washington, DC for an event we were all looking very much forward to. Our long time supporter, Susan Hechinger, was set to host a gathering at her home and we knew that it would be just incredible. We were all especially excited about the two guests of honor for the evening, supporter Amanda Viragh, who had recently underwritten a substantial portion of our construction budget in Vietnam and actress Ali MacGraw, star of one of Jill’s all-time favorite movies “Love Story” and ardent supporter of many animal welfare causes. Ali did the honors of introducing Jill to the gathered audience of some ninety guests and she did so with such incredible warmth, charm and grace. Next, Jill spoke to the guests about the progress being made in the campaign to end bear farming before presenting Amanda with a framed copy of the blueprints for the bear house she so kindly helped to fund. It was an incredible night made all the more wonderful by the gracious hospitality and meticulous organization of Susan and her lovely husband Ross and by the presence of Ali, a true star and someone who is absolutely beautiful – both inside and out.
We were lucky enough to have a couple of days in DC so the next day Jill gave a presentation at Sidwell Friends School, an acclaimed DC education center. Students at Sidwell are encouraged to become involved in charitable works and we’ve had the great pleasure of hosting some of their students at our Moon Bear Rescue Center in China. We are very thankful to students Alison Frist and Abigail Friedland for arranging the talk at Sidwell and for starting the new Animals Asia Club on campus – way to go with the candy and pizza Alison!
Later that day Jill presented alongside noted author and animal welfare expert Jonathan Balcombe at the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) headquarters. Jonathan, author of many books on animal sentience and rights is also Chair of the Animal Studies Department at the Humane Society University as well as being the former Senior Research Scientist at PCRM. It was wonderful to hear these two leaders of the animal welfare community speaking together about why it is vital for us to do all we can to protect the non-human animals we share this planet with. We were grateful to PCRM for hosting us and to Mallory Huff for going the extra mile – and staying extra late – to ensure the event was a terrific success.
Ali MacGraw introducing Jill at the DC event.
Jill updating supporters on our campaign to end bear farming.
Our time in DC was brief but incredibly productive and we owe a huge debt of gratitude to everyone involved in making the visit so special. Many, many thanks go to Susan and Ross Hechinger for their steadfast support and for their friendship - and to Ali MacGraw for traveling to DC to share in the fun. Thanks also to Alison Frist, Abigail Friedland, Jonathan Balcombe and Yuna Peng, leader of the new Animals Asia Volunteer Group and a source of incredible support at several of the events. And none of the DC events would have been possible without our very own Alice Ng working tirelessly behind the scenes for months on end to make sure that everything went off without a hitch. You are a star Alice!
The following day it was time to leave DC, and the states, to head north to Canada. But we couldn’t leave without first bidding farewell to new Animals Asia US staff member Maya Gottfried. Maya came on board as Communications Manager just a week before this leg of the Roadshow started and we were so thrilled that she was able to join us at the DC events.
All smiles after the wildly successful Toronto event where Jill was joined by noted ethologist Marc Bekoff.
Jill’s first ever visit to Canada started off with a bang at an action packed event organized by the Animals Asia Toronto Volunteer Group. The group, led by the wonderful Nina Muller, really outdid itself putting on an incredible event at the fabulous Lula’s Lounge complete with wonderful food and silent auction and a vegan bake sale too! Noted wildlife photographer JoAnne MacArthur was even on hand selling her gorgeous prints of moon bears and sun bears with all proceeds very generously going to Animals Asia. Jill was joined on stage at this event by her dear friend Marc Bekoff. Marc is a professor emeritus of ethology and an ambassador for Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots program. He is also the author of over twenty books on animal welfare and behavior including The Ten Trusts, which he co-authored with Goodall. In addition to all of these noble achievements, he also happens to be Jasper’s very best friend – with the two of them appearing virtually inseparable each time Marc visits our Chengdu rescue center!
Our Toronto Volunteer Group leader, Nina Muller, with Jill.
Alice and Morgan with Colleen Burns, leader of the Southwestern Ontario Volunteer Group.
Nina and her team really went big for this, their first ever fundraiser, and the results were amazing! We are so thankful to her, the entire Toronto Volunteer Group and to Colleen Burns, the leader of our Southwestern Ontario Volunteer Group who, along with her husband Tim, really pitched in to help make the evening a tremendous success.
Long time Canadian supporter Ann Horrill with Jill and Alice.
From Toronto it was on to Calgary and another opportunity to finally meet in person steadfast supporters who we have been talking with for years by phone and email! At an intimate gathering at the lovely vegan restaurant MEET, Jill, Alice and I enjoyed talking with supporters, answering questions about our programs and sharing stories of the amazing changes that we are witnessing in China. Never before have so many people in that country been so willing to speak up for animals and speak out against cruelty. It was so nice to meet Canadian animal advocates and let them know that their Chinese counterparts were starting to win the war for hearts and minds in Asia. Our hats are off to the folks at MEET for creating such an inviting atmosphere and an entirely vegan menu – with items we are still craving now! And many thanks to our lovely, lovely supporter Ann Horrill of the Okotoks Community Animals Asia Volunteer Group for those terrific flower pens (sold to raise honey money for our bears)!
The next morning was a bittersweet one as we knew it was the last official day of a Roadshow which had begun in earnest nearly two months before! Jill’s final stop was a lecture at the University of Calgary Veterinary School. After lunch with Dr. Nigel Caulkett, head of the Veterinary Anesthesiology Department and Dr. Asa Fahlman, visiting researcher from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, we headed over to the university where Dr. Caulkett, who we’ve had the pleasure of hosting on-site in Chengdu, introduced Jill to a group of students who are the future of animal care and welfare. Jill always loves speaking with veterinary students and we were thrilled that many in the audience approached us afterwards to learn how they could help. We had a wonderful time at the university and are incredibly grateful to Drs. Caulkett and Fahlman for their hospitality.
The 2011 North American Roadshow ended on 6 October but it wasn’t time for Jill, Alice and I to go home just yet! We had the good fortune to attend the Advancing Bear Care Conference in spectacular Banff, Canada for the next four days. The conference, organized by the unstoppable Else Poulsen, is the place to be for anyone involved in bear care and conservation and we were so thrilled to be joined there by Animals Asia’s Vietnam Bear Care Manager, Annemarie Weegenaar, China Bear Care Manager Nicola Field and Dr. Heather Bacon who heads up our Veterinary Welfare Education and Outreach program out of the UK. Its always fun when Animals Asia staff members get together as we are all so spread out geographically and there’s usually lots to catch up on! Nic, Heather and Jill were all presenters at the conference and Jill received a standing ovation from the audience at the end of her presentation. It was a fitting finale to a journey that had taken her from coast to coast, through two countries and ten cities to meet the supporters who allow her to continue doing what she’s been called to do; build the dream of a better future for all animals in Asia and never stop until every cage stands empty.