ARC (Awakening Respect and Compassion for all Sentient Beings) 

Anjie Gonzalez. Board Member and Co-Founder of ARC. 

Anjie has been an animal lover and budding activist her whole life. Growing up in Panama, her family always had pets. At her grandfather’s farm, she assumed the chickens were pets too, until one day at the age of seven she walked in to find the caretaker in the middle of killing the two chickens who would be served for dinner that night. “That’s how I found out,” Anjie recalls. This was the beginning of her refusal to accept the cruelty that is so commonplace in our world, which would set the tone for her life going forward from that moment on.

That night, at age seven, she says she “threw a fit.” She refused to eat dinner and was sent to bed hungry. This began a decade of struggle with her parents, who worried about her health and thought she needed to eat meat to be heathy. “My dad would make me sit at the table until I ate the meat on the plate… But I was committed. Sometimes, I’d sit at the table until midnight, when he’d go to bed.” This struggle went on for nine years, until her parents made a deal with her. They bought her a book on nutrition and took her to a doctor to have her blood tested. She was allowed to be vegetarian for one year, but at the end of the year, they would re-test her blood, and if she was unhealthy, she’d have to go back to eating meat. After a year on her vegetarian diet, Anjie’s bloodwork was (of course) better than it had been when originally tested, and it was also better than her meat-eating father’s bloodwork.  At that point, even her parents began reducing their own consumption of meat, and went on to become great champions of animal welfare in Panama, opening the country’s first animal shelter. 

Anjie began her activism young, starting a foundation for animals in her early teens. “The Foundation had one member, and that was me!” she says, laughing. She remembers going door to door trying to get people to sign petitions to help the animals and the environment, but no one seemed to share her views. This was a feeling that would be prevalent in Anjie’s life for the next three decades. “I always felt like I had to keep my true feelings to myself…. I tried not to rock the boat.”

Over the years, Anjie learned more about the many ways in which society abuses animals. She recalls writing lots of letters in the early 90s asking companies and legislators to ban animal testing and other cruel practices. She had more and more questions that went beyond what went on her plate. In college, she started looking for non-leather shoes, and remembers a “terrible pair of pleather shoes,” that she wore throughout college. “They were so uncomfortable. They were the worst plastic. But I was so proud they weren’t leather.”

While animal welfare and animal rights had been of primary importance for Anjie's whole life, she says before ARC she “never could get anything going. I always wanted to do more. I was looking for a way to serve our world. I just didn’t know how.” After her two grown daughters moved out of the house four years ago, Anjie and her husband Jeff gave up eggs and dairy and transitioned to a fully vegan diet. When I tell her how great that is and attempt to congratulate her, Anjie’s response is hesitant. “Seems like it should have happened a long time ago.” This echoes the sentiment of so many other vegans. The only thing we ever seem to regret is not becoming vegan earlier. “I would have done it sooner,” Anjie continues, “but I tried to be normal. I wanted to be normal.”

Since helping to found ARC in December, 2015, Anjie feels that for the first time, she has found a community where she fits in. “I am not alone. For almost 50 years, I have felt that I’m the only one.”  For Anjie, ARC is the compassionate community she’s always been looking for. “I’ve been waiting all of my life to express how I feel.”

With the ARC community, Anjie says “I can really be me.” And then she bursts into laughter. “I had no idea that I was funny!” Her laughter is infectious now, and I can affirm the truth of what she says. She is funny! “I was always so serious,” she continues. “Normally I would just sit and listen because I knew others wouldn’t get it. So I had no idea I was funny, and a little quirky too.” (keep reading below...)

Photos by Isabela Sanchez-Navarro

Anjie is finding her voice in many ways. “I’m learning to speak up, and it’s really nice.” Anjie’s family is still in Panama and though they don’t yet understand why she won’t eat the cheese they offer her, she says “This last time when I went home, I was definitely more me, a lot more courageous to be gentler and truer to myself.”

The idea of picketing and other forms of activism were always intimidating to Anjie. But now, she says,  with ARC, she no longer feels that paralyzing fear. “All together, we can do this and make a difference…It’s just wonderful stuff.”

Looking forward, Anjie wants to continue to do more advocacy and outreach, more of the work that gets at the root of the problem. Anjie is a longtime supporter of AVRAL, the only group in Alabama working on humane legilsation in the state, primarily for dogs and cats. She plans to stay involved with AVRAL and will also continue doing the dog and cat rescue work she does with much of her free time. For the immensely deserving individual animals she helps, this is life-saving work. But, Anjie says, she sees the work of ARC and other animal rights groups as having the potential to really get to the roots and actually fix the source of the problem.

We talk a little bit about how big that problem is, with 70 billion land animals and over one trillion aquatic animals killed for food every year, with so many people not even recognizing farmed animals as being the sentient beings they are, not questioning the myriad ways we use and abuse them in society. Anjie sees the present moment in the arc of the vegan movement as being like the preface to a book. “Chapter one is when farmed animals are in high-kill shelters, and we can go and rescue them," like we do now with dogs and cats. But, Anjie says, right now, the vegan movement is "still in the preface. We haven’t even gotten to the first chapter. We have to teach people how to eat, one person at a time. We have to be patient… We are getting there.”

Anjie’s goal is to be able to work for the animals full time. “I want to wake up every morning and say this is what I’m doing until I go to bed….I want to use my life to serve full time… I want to help people wake up.” And it seems clear that this is exactly what she has always been meant to do. 

(Interview conducted and written by Tracey Glover)