The Dogs of Avalon and the Unsinkable Marion Fitzgibbon
A new book details how one woman made a huge difference for rescued greyhounds
Posted Oct 02, 2017
“Every living being has the right to live and die with dignity”
A few months ago I was asked to write an endorsement for a book by Laura Schenone called The Dogs of Avalon: The Race to Save Animals in Peril. The moment I began reading it I was taken in and couldn't put it down. Part of the book's description reads, "After adopting an Irish sight hound, Laura Schenone discovers a remarkable and little-known fight to gain justice for dogs and for all animals. The Dogs of Avalon introduces us to the strong-willed Marion Fitzgibbon, born in rural Ireland, where animals are valued only for their utility. But Fitzgibbon believes that suffering is felt by all creatures, and she champions the cause of strays, baffling those around her―including her family―as she and a group of local women rescue any animal in need and taking on increasingly risky missions." Ms. Fitzgibbon went on to become director of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and was a tireless and selfless fighter for all kinds of animals.
"I hope readers come away from the book inspired by the impact ordinary people can make on the world."
I learned a lot by reading The Dogs of Avalon so I reached out to Ms. Schenone to see if she could answer a few questions about her book. I was thrilled when she said she could. Our interview went as follows.
Why did you write The Dogs of Avalon: The Race to Save Animals in Peril?
I was no great animal lover, but my son was, and he really wanted a dog. A friend was bringing over rescued greyhounds from Ireland and convinced us to take one. She explained that the Irish bred and raced these dogs in vast numbers, but no one over there wanted to adopt them. We fell in love with Lily, our greyhound mix.
A few months later, I had the opportunity to meet Marion Fitzgibbon of Limerick—one of the women behind Lily’s salvation and someone who had dedicated her life to saving animals of all kinds. When we met, she startled me with the way she talked about her work rescuing and advocating for animals. She had a seriousness I’d never considered, like a UN diplomat talking about children in war. She said to me, “Every living being has the right to live and die with dignity.” That idea really struck me. I wanted to know if it could possibly be true. I think I wrote the book to find out.
How does it build on your previous interests and books?
I was known as a food writer. My goal with this book was to not write about food but stretch myself into new territory. But, ironically, the more time I spent with Marion, the more I began to think about the welfare of all animals and the more concerned I became with the billions of animals used in factory farming—because of the suffering they experience, and also the impact on our environment. So there I was back to food again. In the book I describe the moment when I was so upset because I realized I could no longer eat prosciutto. For a cook who loves Italy, it was a loss, but one I knew I had to take.
What are you major messages?
I hope readers come away from the book inspired by the impact ordinary people can make on the world. I also hope they feel, as I did, a new appreciation for animals—who have given us so much—and the value of all life. The book tells of my own slow awakening to see animals as cohabitants of the planet—not things just here for our use. I’d be so happy of people read the book and consider this idea for themselves.
Can you please tell us a bit more about the amazing and inspiring work of Marion Fitzgibbon?
As a young woman in rural Ireland, Marion started picking up homeless and starving dogs that were filling the streets of Limerick. Along the way, she made friends with a group of likeminded women, and they founded Limerick Animal Welfare. Marion’s home phone became the hurt-animal hotline for the county, and she went out all the time to investigate reports of animal abuse, because no one else was doing it.
She and her colleagues rescued everything from hurt swans to abused circus tigers and found homes for countless dogs and cats. They also went into housing projects amid gunfire, and camps of Irish itinerant people, whose cause Marion eventually took on as well. After becoming director of the Irish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, she stood up to the greyhound racing industry—an entrenched business in Ireland and backed by government money and power. So obviously she was incredibly brave and tireless. But she was also human. She had four children and a wonderful husband who had to put up with a lot because of her choices.
What can we learn from her efforts that can be applied today?
Right now there is so much worrying about the state of the world and so much time given to words and social media. Marion and the women of Limerick Animal Welfare rolled up their sleeves and got to work right in their own communities. They didn’t ask permission. They just did it. For most of us, our greatest opportunities to help others are closer than we think.
Who is your intended audience?
Animal lovers of all kinds. Anyone who has ever adopted and loved a dog or other kind of pet. But I also hope the book finds an audience among people who enjoy reading narrative nonfiction—which is to say, it is well reported but I wrote it to read like a novel so that anyone would find it to be a good page-turning story.
What are some of your current and future projects?
This book took many years of research and writing. I am still recovering! Right now I want to write essays and articles for a while. I like new challenges, but I’m sure that no matter what I do in the future, I will be interested in writing about animals for the rest of my life.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell readers?
We are at a crossroads in history. Scientists now tell that animals are smarter than we ever knew, and that they suffer more than we ever knew as well. What’s clear is that the way treat animals cannot be disconnected from climate change, the survival of the planet. Whether it’s through agriculture or habitat loss, our treatment of animals is having huge consequences. We will only make it if we have reverence for all living beings. I believe that we need to listen to scientists and people like Marion who have compassion and vision. They will help lead the way.
Layers of hope offered by the indefatigable and unsinkable Marion Fitzgibbon
Thank you, Laura, for taking the time to answer these questions and to tell us more about Ms. Fitzgibbon and yourself and your own transformation. Your story of her tireless and selfless efforts on behalf of street dogs, and then against the enormous Irish greyhound industry is incredibly moving. Readers likely will be asking themselves over and over again something like, "How can anyone do the horrific things they do to other sentient beings?" However, there's a wonderful upside to your remarkable and passionately inspirational book, because it also offers many different layers of hope. In addition to reading about the remarkable and courageous Marion Fitzgibbon, Ms. Schenone's personal journey also is a most inspirational story about how feeling for and doing something to help other animals who simply are trying to live in an ever-increasing human dominated world can change one's life in many unanticipated and positive ways.
I agree with how your book has been described, namely, "In this potent David and Goliath story, Schenone’s journey helps us understand our deep connection to animals and gives us inspiration in the form of the unforgettable Fitzgibbon, who grapples with compassion and activism and shows the difference we are all capable of making in the world." The life of every single individual matters, and this was so clear in Ms. Fitzgibbon's tireless work.
The take home message from The Dogs of Avalon is very clear, namely, every living being has the right to live and to die with dignity. The Dogs of Avalon is a life enriching game-changer that deserves a broad global audience. It is that good. And, if they could, I'm sure the animals would thank you and the indefatigable and unsinkable Marion Fitzgibbon for your efforts.
Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson); Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation; Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence,Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation; Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence; The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson); and The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age (with Jessica Pierce). Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do will be published in early 2018. Learn more at marcbekoff.com.