Wendy Verhezen set up a Foundation for Animals

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My parents made me eat meat, because I would surely get ill otherwise. When I was six years old I could no longer stomach it. As I spent hours behind the window observing birds and feeding them in the wintertime together with my parents, I started wondering as a 6-year old "why you would eat other animals". But my parents made me, so I swallowed it, severely stressed. In the old days in towns you used to have a house pig. This animal had a fairly good life (I think now), it had space, an inside and outside pen. But October was a nightmare for me, because that was the slaughter month. Everywhere in town the fearful mortal cries of pigs were heard when the butcher appeared, and everywhere you could see butchered pigs hanging up side down from ladders, sliced open top to bottom. When they were slaughtering a chicken at my grandmother's house just as I walked into the backyard, the decision was made. I became a vegetarian at six or seven years of age. I just didn't know then that that's what it was called. My father used to fish in the Meuse river. As children, we had to come along, because we always used to picnic in the pasture. I would ruin the entire day by sitting a long way off from the rest, far away from my father's fishing. I couldn't bear to watch it. My parents didn't understand at all. In spring, my father used to be very annoyed at certain people from our town who destroyed bird's nests. Every day he went into the forests and fields to catch those who did it, and to "bless the worm". He removed the snares our neighbor put out for rabbits, and scolded the pigeon hunters when he spotted them in action. I respected my father a lot for that, but I couldn't understand that he still went fishing. I didn't know a lot about animals, or nothing at all really. I never had a pet because my parents were against keeping animals in cages. So I was too, I was raised that way. Once I was married, many years later, I took my son into the park to feed the ducks. He loved ducks when he was five years old. He always wanted picture books with ducks in them. And so we have them. Of course I also fed plenty of ducks during the summer, because my son enjoyed it, and because I had no idea that it wasn't good for them. When he turned eighteen, my son suddenly took up fishing. At that time I didn't know that fish can feel pain, it hadn't gotten through to my provincial brain yet, and ducks and fishing lines never entered my mind. Still I was furious when my son went fishing. Once I went to the river, ripped my adult son's fishing rods out of his hands and destroyed them on the spot. I didn't know exactly why I didn't want him to fish. In 1995 I found a duck near the road across from my apartment building. The duck woke me up. I thought it was odd that the duck looked healthy but didn't move. I'd never held a bird, never mind a fat duck. But I felt that something was wrong, and I found the fishhook that was stuck into it and the fishing line that had wrapped around its tongue. I looked around me, and as if in sudden inspiration I saw that the waterfront was full of fishing kids. I saw a heron take off with a fishing rod, saw a duck hanging upside-down from a bush, and found out that all this was caused by fishing lines. I watched and watched and I saw more and more. I started 'guarding' the ponds, and kept freeing water birds from fishing lines. When one day I found fifteen birds caught in lines I wrote a letter. Three sheets. I paid to have it copied and spread it all through Venlo. I also sent it to local TV, the police, the council, the press and everybody else I could think of. I got press coverage, appeared on TV and received a veritable avalanche of responses from - it appeared - frustrated people in Venlo, who had lost courage themselves. I found out that this had been gone on for a long time, but I had totally failed to see it. The Animal Protection Society wouldn't play ball and continued to refuse to play ball. Something had to be done, so it had to be done by me. But the expectations of the people in Venlo were so high that it became a burden and I became very afraid. I couldn't do this, why was everybody suddenly looking at me? I got anxious. With five other people I started a workgroup. We advertised in the paper that there was an emergency line, my phone number of course. That's how it started. In the first year we got 3000 phone calls, and not just from inside Venlo. There was no way back. We needed money and a legal position so we HAD to become a foundation, very reluctantly. All this has changed me enormously. I used to be very precise, a scaredy-cat and extremely shy. I was afraid to speak in public, and of what people wouldn't think of me. I used to love to go out, and visited every hardrock festival there was, I liked to hang out in bars and liked to drink. I think that I changed and have become more aware of animals, after I got seriously ill. I fell off my bike on the way to work, and never saw my workplace again. For six years I lay in bed paralyzed, and underwent thirteen major back surgeries and about 46 minor ones. These operations and the ever-present hellish pains that I will have to learn to live with for the rest of my life have changed me (I think). Sometimes it's hard on people I work with for our foundation. When I'm in a lot of pain I can be very cranky! That's very hard to explain when you can't see anything just by looking at me. I hope they will bear with me, because there's a lot of work still to be done to give animals their rights.
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