Shari Black Velvet: Ever since you were a child you’ve loved animals and rescued injured and homeless animals. What did your parents think about that and how did they react when you first decided to become vegetarian - before going on to be vegan?
Shannon Keith: I grew up with my mother and I was an only child, so animals were like my siblings in a way. They were always my best friends, someone I could talk to when I was feeling lonely. My mother always encouraged my love of animals and embraced my compassion. She did not think much of me going vegetarian and had to be sensitive and listen a lot when I went vegan because she did not understand it, but now she is supportive of that as well.
SBV: Through being an attorney what are some of the best things you’ve learned to help the plight of animals – and those battling to save their lives and stop cruelty?
SK: I have learned that change cannot happen in one place, in one way; that we are all cogs in the machine. Just being an advocate in the courtroom is not enough, just being a protester is not enough, we need everyone to hone all their skills and everyone is just as important as the other in order to propel change for the animals.
SBV: What and when was your first ever law case, how did it go and how did it make you feel?
SK: My first case was in 1999 when my clients hired me to sue an individual for the killing of their dog. The case was long and arduous and very heated. Being a new attorney, I was very passionate, but inexperienced, so the case was also that much more difficult for me. However, it was my passion for the case that got me through it and got me a great result for my clients. While their loss was palpable, the individual was taught his lesson, so to speak, by having to dish out a lot of money. It was also a lesson to the Judge and the courtroom that animals cannot be treated as property. I felt satisfied, but at the same time, knew I was in for an uphill battle, as this case took its toll both emotionally and intellectually. It was difficult enough dealing with the emotional aspect of the case, i.e. the poor dog being killed, but then to have to fight for his rights in a court system that legalizes animals as property was an entirely different order.
SBV: What do other attorneys think of you as an animal attorney?
SK: Some attorneys are very supportive. Most attorneys haven't ever heard of being an animal rights attorney. Now people have heard about it more because it is getting trendy, which is great! But, when I first started, it was almost unheard of. Other attorneys would mock me by saying things like, "How do you get paid? Dog biscuits?"
SBV: What changes do you think you’ve helped make for the animals so far?
SK: I believe I have made great strides in the legal system towards getting the law to recognize animals as sentient beings worthy of rights beyond inanimate objects. Through my films, I have saved countless animals, as thousands of people have gone vegetarian and vegan after seeing the films, stopped wearing leather and fur, and become vocal activists.
SBV: Regarding your films, what was the hardest or most challenging part of the making of Skin Trade, your most recent movie?
SK: The hardest part of making Skin Trade was watching and editing some of the footage. There was a lot of footage I received for the film that I had never seen before that just about killed me. Not only did I have to watch it once, but I had to watch it over and over and over and over in order to edit it properly. My editor, Gene Blalock of The Faded, who also scored the film, and I would break down at different points while editing and we would support one another which was a great way to get through it all.
SBV: Most people don’t think about what actually happens to the animal that is killed for fur. Can you explain for those that don’t know?
SK: Yes. Animals killed for fur die some of the most horrific deaths one can imagine. Some animals, and most of them used for fur, are ‘raised’ on factory farms. These beautiful creatures have never touched a blade of grass, some have never known the warmth of a sun ray on their bodies, or the touch of their mothers or siblings. They live their lives confined to a tiny cage in which they can barely move, barely fed or given water, only to grow and watch their fellow animals die, until the day their lives are taken. They are usually killed by anal or genital electrocution. This can be extremely painful, because it is not an instant death, and sometimes does not work, and the animal is electrocuted over and over again. Other animals are killed by neck breaking. This is also extremely painful. Many times, the neck breaking does not kill the animal but leads to paralysis where the animal is screaming and squirming in pain on a pile of other dead animals. They suffer until they die of shock. Yet other animals are beaten to death or skinned alive. Finally, animals are also trapped in steel-jaw leg-hold traps. These traps are set in the wild to catch the animals in their habitat. Not only is the trap excruciatingly painful, but the trappers are too lazy to check the traps everyday, so the animals usually bleed to death or chew off their own limbs to get out of the trap, and then die a slow death later.
SBV: How do you plan on getting the movie out there to those that really need to see it? Do you send many free copies out – to fur designers etc?
SK: I am trying to get the film distributed right now, so if there are any distributors reading this, please contact me. I hope that it will be shown on major cable outlets as well. It is also just starting to make the film festival circuit. I give out lots of copies for free to people who need to see it: fur designers, editors, people wearing fur, and more.
SBV: How hard is it to get a documentary like Skin Trade onto a TV channel?
SK: It's pretty hard. Most stations are reluctant to show the footage they feel is ‘too graphic’. However, I was just watching an HBO documentary the other day that showed dead naked children in a forest, yet for some reason, people can not stomach watching animals being killed for fur. It makes no sense to me.
SBV: Do you see yourself making other movies/documentaries in the future? Which other animal rights related subjects do you think we need movies made about?
SK: Yes, it is my life's goal to make animal rights documentaries. I am already in pre-production on the next two films. We need documentaries about every aspect of animal exploitation, but I particularly would like to see some on animals used for ‘entertainment’, i.e. animals in circuses, rodeos, marine parks, etc. We don't have any comprehensive documentaries on that issue that I know of.
SBV: Why do you think the government doesn’t ban the fur trade? Couldn’t those that make money from fur just make money making faux-fur garments or items using other material instead?
SK: Yes! But those who profit from killing animals are psychopaths and megalomaniacs and won’t give it up and admit defeat. The various governments will not give up the fur trade because the various fur councils have their hands in the government's pockets; it's all political.
SBV: Jorja Fox, Alexandra Paul, John Salley, James Cromwell, Rikki Rockett of Poison and more are featured in Skin Trade. Do you have any cool/interesting stories involving any of the guest stars?
SK: Haha, yes! They are all amazing and awesome people first of all. Jorja is so down to earth and so down to always help the animals. I absolutely adore her. Alexandra Paul has such a beauty and warmth to her. John Salley is simply hilarious and an advocate for health and veganism as well. James Cromwell is an amazing activist on lots of issues and so well spoken. Rikki Rockett is the best! I first met Rikki when I was 16 years old and a MAJOR Poison fan! Fast forward to one of my first cases against the City of Los Angeles for the beating death of my clients' dog by an animal control officer, and there I saw Rikki protesting in support of my clients! I was in shock and so excited! He helped make a website for the case and we have been friends ever since. He is truly inspirational because he uses his celebrity to help the animals and will put himself out to help them whenever he can. I love that man!
SBV: You also have your own non-profit organisation, ARME (Animal Rescue, Media & Education). One of your missions is to help rescue unwanted and homeless animals. How hard is it to find all the animals that you rescue new homes?
SK: It really depends on the animal and the time of year. It can take anywhere from a few days to a few months. My longest foster was almost a year, and then it's just really hard because I have grown so attached, but I know I cannot keep them all because then I couldn't save more. ARME has directly saved over 1,000 animals since its inception and I hope we keep going for many, many years to come. There is nothing like rescuing an animal who has been abandoned, abused, left for dead, and then rejuvenated and given a loving home!
SBV: With you doing so much for the animals – everything from rescuing/rehoming, making movies to being an attorney, what’s your opinion on what others do? Are you let down by the general public’s apathy when it comes to animal cruelty, or does the odd person doing a little bit here and there give you hope? And alternatively are there any celebrities other than those that appear in Skin Trade that you admire for what they’ve done for animals?
SK: I do find myself upset at most of the world's human race, but there are glimmers of hope here and there. I do get excited when I meet a new activist or someone who changes their viewpoint. There are many celebrities who speak out for animals that I admire that are not featured in Skin Trade, like Alicia Silverstone, Paul McCartney, Geezer Butler, and Joaquin Phoenix.
SBV: What words of advice do you have for people that believe in animal rights and want to see the world become a kinder place?
SK: I would tell people to keep fighting for what is right and for what they believe in! Change never comes easy, especially when it involves money. Big business and politics will always be barriers, but we can make this world better for the animals! Don't give up!
Visit www.skintradethemovie.com and www.arme.tv for more info.