Today, I sat down with Beth Shaw, president and founder of YogaFit Training Systems Inc., to talk pets, politics, and the yogi’s role in protecting animal rights.
Shaw, a renowned fitness entrepreneur and sought after mind-body wellness expert, is perhaps less known among her fans for her passionate and long-term involvement in animal rights advocacy.
To Shaw, yoga practice isn’t just physical, it’s about giving back to the environment and the community.
“I think it’s very important for people who are practicing yoga and meditation and aiming to gain higher consciousness to contribute to the care and wellness of animals,” she explains, “first and foremost by helping the pet overpopulation problem.”
Shaw, who has actively supported animal rights for many years, is thrilled about her new role as executive board member of the National Museum of Animals & Society, America’s first animal rights museum.
“A group of friends began strategizing about putting the museum together in late 2011 while staying in my home in Palm Springs. The meetings were happening in my house! I loved their cause and ideas, so naturally I became involved. I was put on the museum’s honorary board from the beginning, and later placed on the Board of Directors. I’m very excited to be part of the museum. My work fundraising, planning, and reaching out to politicians on the museum’s behalf has been a delight because I believe so deeply in this organization’s power to improve animal lives.”
Shaw has always believed that Yoga teachers have a special opportunity to encourage others to adopt, not buy, animals, and to host pet adoptions. “I used to host very successful pet adoptions at my yoga studio once a month. There are already so many animals out there who need homes—we need to honor them first and never indulge the crooked business of pet breeders.” Shaw owns a rescue laberdoodle named Bentley. “He’s an absolute love. Pet adoption has been an extremely rewarding experience for me.”
Shaw’s interest in animal rights also has to do with protecting the many valuable life lessons our furry companions have to teach us. “In the company of animals, you learn a level of unconditional love that isn’t quite possible in human relationships,” says Shaw. “Animals teach us about non-verbal communication and subtle meanings of behavior. With a pet, you learn a lot about how to read energy, which makes you more sensitive and empathetic.”
Shaw believes that the sense of compassion we develop in animal friendships has great potential to carry over into other areas of life. She wishes that more people would opt to own pets, but she draws the line at those who choose to buy as opposed to adopt. “Honestly, it’s hard for me to walk past a store selling puppies and not want to burn it down. Just go on petfinder.com and see how many animals are up for adoption!”
Shaw passionately believes that no one should be allowed to sell or purchase pets in this country for the next 10 years. “That way people would finally become aware of the animals already in need of care and shelter—they would cease to be the disposable, commodity items they have become.”
Shaw is deeply saddened and angered by pet breeders’ exploitation of animals, and wants the practice completely eradicated. “Making money off of a dog’s uterus is one of the most pathetic ways someone could make a living,” she reflects, “Pet breeders should be shot and puppy mills should be blown up.”
During Shaw’s time serving on the National Council Board of the Humane Society, it became apparent to her how little this and other organizations like the ASPCA do to correct the central issues of animal rights. “They run heart-wrenching commercials encouraging people to adopt,” she explains, “without running free spay and neuter campaigns or lobbying for spay and neuter laws in Washington.”
Her colleagues at the Humane Society were not as responsive as she would have hoped to requests for funding spay and neuter vans. Ultimately, she resigned from her position because she didn’t want to be part of an organization that was doing so little to better a crucial situation.
To Shaw, the root of the animal welfare problem in this country is overpopulation. “We need to fix it!” she says, “and if you donate a single dollar of your money to support something animal related, it should be to making spay and neuter available, free, and mandatory.”
Shaw lobbied in Sacramento for the passage of AB-1634 and SB250, which would require all pet owners in the state of California to spay and neuter their animals. Both appeals were voted down. “Unfortunately, spay and neuter policy has become a bipartisan issue,” she explains, “Conservatives want to protect the rights of pet owners. What they don’t realize is how well this law would serve the conservative fiscal agenda.”
It currently costs the state of California alone $280 million per year to shelter and euthanize companion animals. According to Shaw, enacting spay-neuter policy would reward the state with huge savings and save all of us tax dollars.
Shaw’s vision for the National Museum of Animals & Society is to initiate excellent programs for the education of children and adults about the importance of caring for pets and animals.
Starting with improved education and awareness about pet overpopulation, the museum aims to help the community and the government see the importance of taking an active role in animal protection. “We want to show people that getting involved can be not only fun but incredibly rewarding!”
Shaw’s mision as museum board member and activist ultimately circles back to yogic principles: “Yoga teaches us to strip away illusion and see truth, and this Museum is very aligned with that wisdom.”
Shaw, who aims to continue her animal rights work for as long as possible, identifies as a crusader against big companies and pet breeders that continue to reap profit from animal suffering. “Our programs will help end animal exploitation through education and increased clarity about the issues we face. Eventually, I’d like to see a company on the scale of the ASPCA that is completely devoted to free spay and neuter.”
With Beth Shaw at work, rest assured that your next trip to the pound will include happier, healthier and hopefully fewer animals. Pet breeders, on the other hand, beware.
Author: Emelyn Daly
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Wikimedia Commons