Compassionate Action for Animals

Tribute to Karen Davis… a bellwether in the political storms that animal rights advocates have to face. And Viva, her first rescue who started it all…

A guest blog by Mary Britton Clouse of Chicken Run Rescue

December 5, 2023

Karen, Viva, Pippa. Photo by Mary Britton Clouse, 2023
No pictures of Karen holding Viva exist so we fixed that. The photo of Karen and Pippa was taken at CRR on February 4, 2006 on her 62nd birthday.

The most powerful force in social evolution is to see what needs to be done, act, and by example inspire and motivate others to follow. It takes but one mere mortal to set it in motion. Like a pebble in a pond, the ripple effect is felt by those near the center but radiates outward in the historical context of a movement. An abandoned hen is rescued, named Viva, and so it began…

Karen Davis, PhD, Founder of United Poultry Concerns (UPC), was such a force. She died on November 4, 2023 at the age of 79. This solitary, diminutive powerhouse of a woman leaves a vast void to fill.  She singlehandedly opened the eyes of the world to the boundless joy and abject misery of chickens. Her tireless efforts and breathtaking gifts of language, intellect and empathy created a legacy of accomplishments that lifts chickens from the bottom of the moral heap, to the top of the animal rights agenda. Chickens represent the most visible victims of land animal agriculture in both sheer numbers and in the degree of atrocities. Even animal advocates were overwhelmed by the magnitude of suffering.

Our curse on them isn’t extinction but proliferation.”– Karen Davis

Viva. Photo by Karen Davis, June 1985
A Chicken Named Viva Changed My Life 

The scope of Davis’s work in letters, books, lectures, videos and podcasts is dizzying and well documented in tributes still being published by every animal rights news source. Perhaps most significantly, her obituary appeared in the NYTimes, Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. In her passing, she has given the birds their first worldwide moment in the sun. 

The reaction to her passing is stunning with effusive comments appearing after every obituary.  It is hard to imagine how many people she inspired, activists she taught, organizations she collaborated with, and events she organized, all fastidiously documented on the pages of UPC’s website. Her opinion letters were immediate and relentless. Local publications or huge national ones, all publications received the same impeccable quality of writing and incisive thinking. 

The archive of UPC Action Alerts is so voluminous it needs two web addresses.  It is a virtual history book of where the animal rights movement has been, is now and needs to go. Her influence ranged from internationally recognized advocacy leaders like philosopher Tom Regan, author of The Case for Animal Rights (the most important philosophical contribution to animal rights and is a major work in moral philosophy), to small, misrepresented and marginalized efforts by individuals to help animals.

Life of a McNugget/Hand and Hand. Photo by Mary Britton Clouse, 2008
Promotion for presentation on The Life of a McNugget followed by a book- signing and vegan refreshments. 

“Karen Davis was the embodiment of the essence of animal rights. Philosopher Tom Regan paid her perhaps the highest compliment by referring to her as “my bellwether in the political storms that animal rights advocates have to face.”

She was that for so many of us, with her clear vision and brilliant observations of right and wrong. She was passionate and compassionate, and she elegantly articulated complex issues in ways that made them plainly clear and moved many… United Poultry Concerns was a major inspiration for Fish Feel.”

–Mary Finelli, longtime friend and President/Chairperson of Fish Feel.

Chicken Run Rescue (CRR) had the honor to call her mentor, friend and partner for 23 years from its very inception. Several events in quick succession laid the path for our chicken rescue life ahead. 

We chose to name our rescue Chicken Run Rescue initially because of the movie Chicken Run released in 2000. Creator Nick Parks depicted the personalities of the chicken characters in a way that is valid and recognizable to anyone who has ever known a chicken personally and intimately. 

Karen at book signing, Wings exhibit, Hopkins Center for the Arts.  Photo by Mary Britton Clouse, 2006

However, shortly after its release, UPC posted an Action Alert: “Protest Burger King – Chicken Run Promotion.” It called attention to a collaboration between Aardman Studios and Burger King giving out Chicken Run toys with their kids’ meals. Burger King had a commercial that advertised “Save Chickens, Eat Beef.” 

Had it not been for the Action Alert, we might have overlooked an NPR/WHYY/Fresh Air 2000 interview in which Parks said he had no problem eating chickens and boasted he actually ate even more after the movie was made. CRR could not be aligned with such a spokesperson. Parks’ opportunistic betrayal was a disappointment but we decided to use the name Chicken Run Rescue for our non-profit anyway. If challenged, we would use the platform to advance public awareness about the horrific realities chickens face and promote animal-free food. With the pending release of the sequel, that could still happen.

Wings exhibit, Hopkins Center for the Arts.  Photo by Mary Britton Clouse, 2006

CRR’s first direct contact with Davis concerned a 2000 exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts where two chickens, Mabel and Scout, were confined to a cage nailed to a wall in the show An Acre of Art, motivated by the emerging locavore trend. UPC posted an Action Alert that caught our attention. Prior to our animal advocacy work, Bert and I were practicing artists, familiar with the politics of art criticism and with exhibition policies. Davis connected us with Frank Erickson, the local artist who first reported the exhibit to UPC. 

Henmaid’s Tale. Photo by Mary Britton Clouse, 2018
The work is titled as a tribute to the book Henmaid’s Tale by Karen Davis, PhD.

Thanks to the UPC Alert, there was a huge public reaction to the exhibit and the chickens were removed. A small group of Twin Cities artists/animal activists (Mary Britton Clouse, Albert Clouse, Frank Erickson, Susan Roverud, and Ann Follett, with artist/author Steve Baker and artist Sue Coe as advisors) tried to initiate a dialogue and discovered that our ethical and philosophical objections were brushed aside by the artists, curators and the local arts media. The criticism instead was disingenuously
 characterized as “censorship” and anyone who objected was labeled a terrorist. The group organized as Justice for Animals Arts Guild (JAAG) with enthusiastic encouragement from Davis. JAAG exists to support artists whose art and actions advance the rights of animals and oppose the harm and exploitation of animals in the making of art. 

That’s what we strive for, agriculture without animals… Empty cages and no animals having to sit there and rot for cuisine. Now the exhibition really does mean something — empty cages. That’s the best use of land that there could be.”– Karen Davis

That same year, Davis organized UPC’s Forum on the Role of Farmed Animal Sanctuaries. Always precise with her language, she insisted on “farmed” and not “farm” animal to emphasize the fact that this is how these animals are used, not who they are. Presentations from nationally known sanctuary activists addressed issues that are still critically relevant today: 

  • How is the farmed animal sanctuary different from a petting zoo?
  • Is rescuing and giving a permanent shelter to farmed animals “enough”?
  • What is the role of public education in the life of the sanctuary?
  • How does the farmed animal sanctuary obtain respectful media attention?
  • Do the physical labor and veterinary care the sanctuary demands use resources that could be better spent on other projects to help farmed animals?
  • Are “facts” enough? Are graphics enough to educate the public?
  • How does the farmed animal sanctuary deal with the deluge of animals at the door?
  • Is it right or wrong to rescue farmed animals illegally?
  • Where do food choices fit into the farmed animal sanctuary program?
  • How do farmed animal sanctuaries get funding?

With prescient clarity, she provoked the critical thinking we needed to use in establishing how Chicken Run Rescue would conduct its business of rescue, care and advocacy. Founded in 2001, Chicken Run Rescue was the first U.S. urban chicken rescue of its kind working small and local. The tenet at the core of both UPC and CRR is that truly knowing an animal comes with the daily intimacy of living with them, caring for them in sickness and in health, and showing others how to love them for who they are, not for what can be taken from them. 

Davis had a strong connection to Minnesota. Utne magazine chose UPC’s quarterly publication Poultry Press as one of the ten best newsletters out of “Hundreds [that] come to the Utne library, an array extending far beyond the world of nonprofits and non-government organizations.” She participated in many Minnesota events hosted by Chicken Run Rescue, Justice for Animals Arts Guild, Compassionate Action for Animals TLOV conferences, Animal Rights Coalition, U of M at Mankato and Macalester College.

CRR and JAAG continued to collaborate with UPC on other campaigns involving art and animals. In 2006, the Hopkins Center for the Arts featured an exhibit titled “Wings” organized by three Minnesota artists who were committed animal activists involved in bird rescue and advocacy. Davis was a featured speaker and stayed with us at CRR—our first face to face meeting. Bert’s fondest memory is Karen’s delivery of a lecture about Procrustean Solutions to Animal Identity Problems- which described how, throughout history, animals have been represented as willing collaborators in their own destruction in order to benefit “higher” forms of life over our morning coffee. Mythology, history and literature were woven into the very fabric of her existence. 

Other collaborations between UPC have been observances of International Respect for Chickens Day, a designation Karen created, and promotion of Chicken Run Rescue/UPC’s yearly calendar, now in its 18th edition. The 2024 CRR Calendar is in production and will be dedicated to Karen Davis.

How Karen Davis wants to be remembered:

In the Introduction to her last book, For the Birds, she wrote: “Poring over some papers recently, I came across the introduction to a speaking engagement composed by my friend and fellow animal rights advocate, Susan Roghair, at a Florida Voices for Animals dinner in Tampa, Florida. Susan told the crowd: ‘Karen Davis is the founder of United Poultry Concerns. Speaking candidly and forthrightly, she makes no apologies. Her crusade exposes the cruel realities of the poultry industry. She reveals the suffering of the defenseless birds. This is Karen’s mission. It will not end until every chicken is freed from the jaws of mankind.

I found this intro touching—and true, even though I will be long gone if the day ever comes when chickens are free from the jaws of humanity. “Freed from the jaws of mankind” conjures up themes of mine going back to the 1980s, when I joined the animal rights movement, which was just then forming in Washington, DC, to the very moment I sit here writing this Introduction in 2019. — Karen Davis

I wish she could have felt the world’s respect and support while she was with us. Maybe she can now? I am still talking to her just in case. Only good can come from the powerful reactions and focus on the birds her passing is sparking. I know she is thrilled, and I imagine her joking she would have died sooner and more often, had she known.


“AVOIDING BURNOUT: How Does One Survive Dealing Day After Day with a Cruel Industry? We should rage against the dying of the light in every animal’s eyes that results from human cruelty and abuse. The thing is to transform that pity and rage into one’s case for animal rights. It’s hard to burn out once we see ourselves as advocates with a case to put before the public. What matters is making the most of the opportunity of being on the right side, win or lose, while we are living.”–Karen Davis

A feast of gratitude: Recapping the 2023 ThankLiving potluck at UMN

November 27, 2023

On November 18, 2023, the University of Minnesota St. Paul Student Union was filled with the tantalizing aroma of delicious vegan dishes as over 100 people gathered for our annual ThanksLiving potluck event. The diverse spread included an array of mouthwatering treats, from sides and drinks to hearty mains and decadent desserts. Among the culinary stars were the delectable vegan turkey and gluten-free meatloaf generously donated by The Herbivorous Butcher. These were cornerstones of the feast that left taste buds filled with appreciation. Check out this article in University of Minnesota daily online newspaper about the event!

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Faunalytics: Guiding Effective Animal Advocacy Through Research Insights

November 21, 2023

Faunalytics: Guiding Effective Animal Advocacy Through Research Insights

We are delighted to highlight the impactful work of Faunalytics. This nonprofit provides insights and resources to help guide positive change for animals. Staff and board members recently participated in an orientation to their free services. The presentation included some key insights that may help us be more effective.

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Get to know Ryan Sauers, CAA Volunteer

November, 21, 2023

Ryan moved here to attend the University of Minnesota in the fall of 2021. He looked for a community of people as passionate about animal rights and activism as he is. The student chapter of CAA appealed to him. He got involved with them because of  the group’s outreach opportunities and community.

At this point, Ryan has been volunteering with CAA for two and a half years. Most of his work has been with the U of MN CAA student chapter, where he is now the President. His volunteer activities have been many and varied. They include video outreach events, food giveaways, movie screenings, and more. He recently took on a larger volunteer role by signing up for the Twin Cities Vegan Chili Cook-Off committee.

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Wholesome Minnesota is on a roll! Presentations to Green Club youth and FACs classes plant seeds of change

November 10, 2023

A WM FACS class lesson on the healthfulness and tastiness of Tofu Mouse!

In October, Wholesome returned to meet with the Hopkins Green Club again. The teacher at Hopkins has been incredibly supportive, making it a seamless collaboration. Jodi shared her information on the interconnectedness of climate and our food choices. She introduced the hot topic of the Colorado River. Jodi shared: “if we break it down, we can very clearly see the pattern of destruction and overconsumption from animal agriculture. This subject seems to be resonating.”

Jodi has also been visiting FACS classes to introduce youth to plant-based foods and how healthy and tasty they can be. On November 7, she visited a Bloomington Kennedy class. The students got hands-on, making tofu mousse.  This interactive approach helped them develop an appreciation for plant-based alternatives.  It was an invaluable opportunity for Jodi to build rapport and gather insights. The teacher was so impressed that she is connecting Jodi with other FACS teachers she knows.

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Get to know Timmy:  First rooster resident at Spring Farm Sanctuary!

A guest blog from Spring Farm Sanctuary

November 9, 2023

Meet Timmy, a young white leghorn rooster whose exact age remains a mystery. Timmy’s journey to Spring Farm Sanctuary began when he was discovered wandering in a Bloomington, MN neighborhood this past May. Concerned neighbors came to the rescue, and Timmy found his way to our sanctuary. His arrival marked a significant first for us, as he became our first-ever rooster resident.

Over time, we carefully introduced Timmy to Hank, our turkey, and an extraordinary friendship blossomed between them. Timmy’s intelligence shines through as he responds to his name and eagerly comes when called. He’s not only clever but also incredibly agile and vocal. His protective nature extends to his dear friend Hank, and they share a special bond.

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Planting seeds for a healthier, more compassionate future: CAA’s work with north Minneapolis youth

October 5, 2023


Chocolate chip cookie hummus ingredients—one of the dishes Tamuno cooked up for the youth!

We’re excited to share about a recent project with young people in the Shingle Creek area of north Minneapolis. Tamuno Imbu, our community organizer, held a series of classes aimed at engaging youth in Creekview Park. This project is a collaboration with the Park District. It aims to introduce youth to the idea of a plant-based diet and help them develop their leadership skills.

Over the course of three Thursdays, Tamuno met with young people aged 12-17 who often spend time at the park. He engaged them in conversations about the benefits of eating plant-based foods and shared delicious vegan foods. At the same time, the park district had a leadership initiative, and we joined forces to incorporate leadership training into our classes.

During these sessions, the young participants enjoyed such vegan treats as vegan shakes and spaghetti. (Check out our information below for some of the recipes he used). This not only satisfied their taste buds but also showed them that plant-based meals can be tasty. It opened their eyes that it is possible to eat a diet that is kinder to the planet and their own health.

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 Strategic Planning: Shaping CAA’s Future Together

 October 27, 2023

CAA board and staff are engaged in a Strategic Planning process to guide our work for the next three years. Specific goals will be set including targets to measure progress and success in each area of our work. Our first step was to hear from key stakeholders in the organization: that includes staff, board, donors, volunteers and those who read our weekly emails and attend events. That means you! 

You might remember that in the past few months, we asked you to fill out a survey. We wanted to know more about how you’re involved with our organization, what you think of the work we do, and your ideas for what we should do in the future. Over 130 of you generously took the time to respond! Your input was invaluable – thank you!

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BIPGM Summit: making connections and empowering change in the plant-based community

October 26, 2023

The Jump Off: Life and Liberation Summit for Black, Indigenous, and People of the Global Majority (BIPGM) was held on October 23rd. CAA’s Community Organizer, Tamuno Imbu, arranged the event to create a space to celebrate and uplift underrepresented voices in the plant-based community. It brought together inspiring individuals who are passionate about social justice and plant-based living.

The Summit aimed to:

  • Strengthen collective power by voicing passions
  • Organize to support issues affecting Twin Cities BIPGM neighbors
  • Identify next steps for action

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Get to know Dexter Thomas, CAA Volunteer

October 19, 2023

In 2005, Dexter read ‘Strategic Nonviolence for Animal Liberation’ by Freeman Wicklund. This book introduced him to CAA and the philosophy of strategic nonviolence which was our focus at that time. 

This approach inspired his activism in Utah, where he lived. Implementing CAA’s approach helped  bring about  tangible transformations and measurable progress for animal rights there. He is proud of the changes he helped facilitate and attributes much of that to the principles he learned from CAA.

In April 2021, Dexter moved to Minnesota from Utah with his partner and their four adopted cats. They have embraced the vibrant local culture and are exploring all the Twin Cities has to offer.  Contributing to CAA’s mission is high on his list of priorities. Most recently, he volunteered on the Twin Cities Vegan Chef Challenge Committee.  He enjoyed supporting its work to promote vegan cuisine and bring it into the mainstream.

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