Chapter 15: The Campaigning Years

1999 - 2000

Man's inhumanity to man is only exceeded by man's inhumanity to animals.

Norway 1999

Most years there is a gathering of animal activists somewhere in Europe. The idea is to learn from each other. I decided to attend the week long meeting organised by Noah, an Oslo based organisation. I realised most attendees would be European, and perhaps I could enthuse a few of them to become involved against the dolphin shows in their country. That would be preferable, and more feasible, than me travelling all over Europe. I gave workshops on captivity and whaling and they seemed to go down well. One person told me the workshops I gave were the best he had attended during the course of the week. I just hoped that some small seed had been sown, which might bear fruition at some later date. During the week we also held the first national animal rights march in Norway, through the centre of Oslo. It was an enjoyable week, even historic, bearing in mind the nature of the march, which attracted around three hundred people.

Canada 2000; West Edmonton Mall

I had been glad to see the back of the 1990s. My parents died in 1990 and 1991. The horrendous ordeal of the accusation of abusing an animal and the subsequent trial, all of which hung over my head for a year, and had repercussions for many years after. Then in 1999 I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a neurological disorder. I thought the new millennium would be a chance to try and put behind me the bad things that had occurred. Yet 2000 had started as the previous decade ended, with an involvement with a crook in Edmonton, followed in 2001 with a diagnosis of skin cancer. Then, also in 2001, Monica Harvey, a friend disabled by polio, fell out of the wheelchair I was pushing when the wheel caught a raised paving stone, and broke her leg. Sadly Monica never recovered and died about a year later.

I had computer problems for a few months and when I was back online in January 2000, I was contacted by a Canadian woman called Rona Durant. She had organised a July 4th demonstration at West Edmonton Mall in 1999, so she was in my good books. I'd heard about the Mall in the early 1990s. I hadn't even know what a mall was and was flabbergasted to learn that in a shopping mall they had four performing dolphins, Maria, Mavis, Gary and Howard. It struck me as the worst face of capitalism, dolphins entombed in a bastille of shops and shoppers. During the course of a few emails, I mentioned to Durant that I might be interested in going over to aid the efforts to free the dolphins. I was always on the look-out to help dolphins and the mall came into my category of closable.

Durant had been asked by the local group 'Voice For Animals' to revive the campaign to free the dolphins, so she was really pleased about my offer. Before I flew over in April 2000, we worked out a strategy via emails and phone calls. I was to go over there for a month. The idea was to do media interviews, school talks and direct action at the mall. She invariably phoned me and at this point I had no reason to doubt her integrity. I flew over in April. The first big problem was being stopped by immigration officials and being detained for five and a half hours. I got the impression they were waiting for my arrival. During the questioning I admitted to having spent sometime in HMP in the UK. It transpired that because of the maximum term for the offence I was sentenced for, they could exclude me from the country. They could have held me over night and got a judge to sign me out of the country, so I agreed to leave voluntarily. Because of that and the fact I didn't give them much backchat (I told the officer that only a fool doesn't realise when the other side, hasn't just got the four aces, they have the whole pack) they released me. Luckily all the flyers and the banner I had carried from the UK were allowed out too. Durant had arrived to meet me and we drove back to her apartment. I was jet-lagged, hungry and a bit shocked about my treatment. I was hoping immigration might have given me a week or so to leave, however the phone rang the next day and a voice told me they wanted me out of Canada the next day. Durant and I went to the mall to see the dolphin pool. It was as bad as I expected, there was even a sign asking people not to throw things into the pool. I noticed rake marks on one of the dolphins, this is caused by teeth marks of another in a show of aggression. There can be no escape from aggression or dominant behaviour in a tank as there can be in the wild. I noticed one of the dolphins coming up for a breath at the same spot on each circuit of the pool, an indication of stereo-typical behaviour. This type of repeat behaviour is seen regularly in other captive animals. I felt flat and depressed watching all this and seeing the shoppers so oblivious to the plight of these once beautiful animals, and now I had knew that I had to leave the country I felt helpless and even more depressed.

Durant drove me to the airport and just a matter of minutes before saying good-bye, she informed me that the results of her cancer tests had proven positive. It was a horrible few hours flight back to the UK.

In the following weeks, I received anxious phone calls from her, one in the middle of the night, in a flood of tears. I felt I wanted to help her and agreed to loan her £2200 to go to a Mexican clinic for alternative treatment. I transferred that amount by money transfer. Her attitude changed somewhat once she was in possession of the money, seemingly less of a emotional wreck. At this time, I pieced other bits of her story together. There was no doctor at the hospital by the name of the one she told me was treating her. Her previous boy friend was not the thug she said he was, who killed her pet rabbit in front of her, but like me he was the injured party in the relationship with Durant. I found out all her story was untrue, she wasn't ill at all, she was a pathological liar, perhaps with a drug habit, and I had been to trusting, but that is my nature. When I met her in the flesh, her act was as good as it had been on the phone and in emails.

In September 2000, I put out an Internet expose on her to alert other potential animal rights victims. I sent it to her and heard nothing until half a year later. When I got a short email and the second word was "off". It was just before Good Friday and she failed to understand the significance of the date when I replied and called her "Judas", and to remember her gold pieces when the cock crowed! I had been resurrected by the experience. I knew I had done the right thing because how would I have felt if she had really been ill and died and I hadn't tried to help?

I still continued to do what I could for the dolphins in the mall, issuing press releases and organising a few monthly pickets at the Canadian Consulate in London. I also spoke with Raphael Ghremezian twice, one of the owners of the mall, explaining how good it would be for the mall if they were to be involved in a rehabilitation programme. On the second call to him, it proved to me that being a successful business man and having intelligence aren't mutual. One of the things he said to me in a dismissive manner was,"prove to me, the dolphins are unhappy".

I shouldn't have been surprised about the level of Ghremezian'si intelligence, there was evidence of that in the intelligence of the people he employed. This is a reply I received from the mall's manager, Gary Hansen:

"Mr. Cooper, thank you for your interest in WEM. I look forward to the opportunity to dispute the non-facts and propaganda which organizations like yours puts out. Example, the successful release of dolphins in captivity for more than 5 years. I suggest that if you wish to save dolphins, you focus on dolphins with no names rather than dolphins with names, like Gary, Howard, Maria and Mavis. Thousands of thousands of dolphins are slaughtered every year. Your efforts are applauded, but I suggest that you take on a cause which is not as public and more challenging."

In my reply I pointed out to him that before Gary, Howard, Maria and Mavis were abducted from the Atlantic ocean and confined in a shopping area, they too were nameless.

In August not long after the abortive trip, Maria was the first to die. The necropsy showed she had died from the ingestion of foreign objects. Obviously the warning sign at the pool hadn't been read, or couldn't be, by the patrons of the Mall. Gary followed the following year; death by blood poisoning. Then Mavis died. Howard was left alone for some months but even the mall's PR machine couldn't explain this sad situation away, that of one dolphin alone in a tank. Finally Howard was moved to Theater of the Sea in Florida, an outdoor captive facility. The dolphin pool at West Edmonton Mall was now another relegated into the dustbin of history and that was the only consolation for me. Howard lived around a year before dying too in May 2005.

The dolphins and I were badly let down by many people, not least the Cetacean Freedom Network. I resigned due to their lack of support for a North American issue by essentially a consortium dominated by groups and individuals from that continent. I was told by their 'listmom' at the time of my resignation that freeing dolphins from the mall wasn't a priority. Hell what was then - closing down Sea World!? Didn't they see the possibility of closing down this place, which even a die-hard proponent of captivity would be hard-pressed to defend, Judging by the lack of backing, obviously not.

pool at west edmonton mall

My Heart Sank

My heart sank when I saw four dolphins in the tank
Dolphins in a tank, my heart sank
Where were the dolphins in the tank
When my heart sank?
Canada's Edmonton shopping mall

Untouched by nature, people walking by
Consuming, Consumed, but not by guilt
It's so grotesque, I detest, I WILL protest
Shameful people, it's at best, a failed test
Not desisting, resisting or assisting
Four dolphins in the tank
Where my heart sank

For Maria, Mavis, Gary, and Howard et al.