Inspirational Animal Rights Activists: Toby Joy Zelt – I Couldn’t Live with Myself if I Remained Silent.

Tell us a little about yourself.

Portland, Oregon is my home now. I’m a transplant from the East Coast after spending years traveling, mostly in the wilderness, with my dogs. I started two of my own businesses in Portland: Wild Pup Adventure, in which I take dogs on off-leash hiking, swimming, and running adventures every day. The other is Wild Spirit Adventure, through which clients experience personal growth and spiritual exploration retreats in the wilderness for 1-5 days at a time. Each retreat is individually designed, based on the particular client’s goals and needs, depending on their recent and upcoming lifecycle events, deep and burning questions, as well as their outdoor experience. Vegan activism is also an important part of my life, and Portland has a growing community of devoted individuals and a wealth of resources for those who wish to get involved.

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What lead you to veganism? How long ago?

I have always cared deeply for animals. As a child, I would pick up worms in the street during rain storms and kiss them before putting them in the grass. I didn’t want them to be run over by cars. Much of my time as a child was spent in the woods, finding frogs, fish, salamanders, and exploring nature. My family lived in a neighborhood that bordered a protected land and my parents allowed me the freedom to roam as I wished. I grew up Jewish and we only ate kosher foods at that time, so there was always a connection for me between ethics, values, and consumption. I began studying religious and secular ethics quite seriously once I got into high school, and at that time started to consider animal welfare, which drove me to vegetarianism. My studies on these topics took me through two masters degrees, for which I deeply examined animal welfare issues in factory farms. I confronted the issue of humane treatment of animals, while examining Jewish laws pertaining to a kosher certification and concluded that the tradition’s ideal was to be vegan. I went vegan after being exposed to these realities of factory farming. It’s been a long journey. For me, there was always thoughtfulness around my food, but more recent activism and journalism has given most of us the information we needed to go vegan.

Tell us about our journey to activism?

First, my activism was through teaching ethics, from the time I was 18. After that, it was through academia and research. Next, I climbed the non-profit ladder and tried to influence communities and organizations. I began doing vegan street activism too and also other social justice issues like women’s rights, anti-war, water rights, oil, politics, police violence, anti-objectification, and pollution. I’ve gone to slaughterhouse vigils, held video footage of animal abuses for passers-by to witness, done speak-outs at restaurants and grocery stores, protested zoos and rodeos, been involved with open rescue, gone to AR conferences, and protested businesses that harm animals, and more. One of my favorite things to do is interview people and try to build bridges of understanding. Now, my work with dogs every day is part of my activism. I feel that it helps me to show the sentience and the personalities of the individual animals I work with through my social media and what I share about my work. The message I try to convey is that every being is worthy and deserving of a happy and fun life.

Why are you an activist?

I believe I have a moral obligation to improve this world; it is one of the reasons I am alive. How could we not help the innocent sentient beings we share this earth with? I couldn’t live with myself if I remained silent.

What type of activism are you involved in? Please feel free to share the groups you participate in.

You name it, I’ve probably had some form of participation at some point.

What were your thoughts and feelings before your first activism event?

The scariest thing I’ve done was one of my first speak-outs and the video I recorded now has over 200,000 views. Sometimes I am totally excited and pumped. Sometimes I am nervous or actually terrified. I just think of the animals and how much they need me. I don’t remember my first activism event because I’ve been involved in different ways for a long time.

How did you feel once the event was over?

Amazing when I saw people were watching it and inspired by it. We have so much power to influence others!

How do you feel you are most effective as an activist?

I’m most effective when I’m very empathetic with the people I’m interacting with. Also, when I have a good life balance and don’t burn myself out. I’m also super effective when I share thoughtful videos or writing with my networks.

What’s been your most memorable moment as an activist? Toughest moment?

There are so many memorable moments so it’s hard to pick one. I have to say that looking the animals in the eyes is the most powerful thing for me because I know them and love them so much, just as I do my own dog. They are victims of human society and I know, whenever I look at their eyes, that my vegan lifestyle is the right choice… and I will keep doing all I can to influence others to choose kindness and compassion.

What is your favorite type of activist event? For example, Cubes of Truth, Marches, disruptions, writing letters, etc.

My favorite events involve virtual reality footage of factory farms and then being able to talk to people about what they think.

Please recommend your favorite activism video/s, book/s or website/s to share?



Forks Over Knives
What The Health
Live and Let Live
Vegan: Everyday Stories


Animal Liberation
Eating Animals

Who are your activism role models? Why?

So many people. I have to give a shout out to my friends in my local Portland community… they have done such an AMAZING job the past few years, devoting their lives to building their organizations and creating a community around the causes they believe in most. I am so incredibly proud of these friends and I am so very thankful that they’ve had the stamina to keep at it.

When you first went vegan how did you phase out your non-vegan food, clothing and other items?

I love the foods that resemble the non-vegan foods I once ate. I’m not a super healthy eater, but I find a good balance for myself. I really enjoy the food I eat and definitely take advantage of the restaurants and prepared vegan foods we have in such abundance here in Portland, OR.

What does being vegan mean to you?

I do my best not to kill or harm any creature. Sometimes I am not perfect. This includes trying to support vegan businesses and friends too. I try to have compassion for all beings.

Is it every vegan’s duty to become an activist? What form of activism do you take part in?

I think every human should live activism through their choices every day… what they do for work, what they buy, what they eat, everything. Our life is our activism. We can also do more to influence our communities and the political system… I think it’s our responsibility as a citizen of this earth.

What is the activism scene like in your city?

We have a vibrant and growing activism scene. All of the major activism organizations exist here now.

What personal recommendations can you make for people to get involved in activism?

Watch the documentaries on animal issues first, do some personal research, decide what kind of outreach or activism inspires you and then attend an event… ask questions, get comfortable, make friends, then take action.

What do you feel is your biggest area of opportunity for growth in your activism?

I don’t often have the best life balance with my activism and had to step away for a time. The human elements of it felt draining for me. I need to be better with my boundaries and not allowing drama that others bring into my experience. It’s hard having your own businesses and also doing activism multiple times a week. Many events happen during work hours, so often I can’t attend. Ideally, I’d find a better balance for myself.

How do you balance your well being and activism?

Lots of dancing, time spent with dogs, quiet alone time, music, retreats, spiritual practice, backpacking, kirtan, motorcycling, and camping.

MooShoes—Cruelty-Free + Animal-Approved

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