Growing up in rural Delaware in the 1940s, I spent a lot of time hanging out with chickens at my grandfather’s small farm. Each one had a unique personality: Some would settle in my lap, whereas others would hurry to peck my hand aggressively. Friday was slaughter day, and I would become hysterical. I went on many eating strikes and often was sent to my room.

Years later, I was perusing Smithsonian magazine while my children were at school and came across an article about factory farming that included horrific, vivid photos of animals suffering in cramped spaces and locked in crates inside closed barns. I was shocked and immediately went to speak with Michael W. Fox, who was then the vice president of the Humane Society of the United States.

He said that if I wanted to get involved, I should get an advanced degree in animal science or perhaps speak with an “eccentric character who is hard at work to end animal suffering.” The “character” he was referring to was Ingrid E. Newkirk, the remarkable founder of PETA. In 1978, though, PETA had not yet been founded, so I signed up as a volunteer for Farm Animal Rights Movement, an organization in Washington, D.C.

Since then, I have continually been active for animals, whether by demonstrating against the use of veal crates for calves, urging people to consider the source of their foods, spreading the word about pet stores, or just rising to the occasion of dealing with an animal emergency. One of my proudest achievements was when I helped two of my friends in Kittery, Maine, rescue a feral dog who had been carelessly placed with an inexperienced guardian and had run away. It took us a week, and we managed to keep the police mystified!

In recent years, many people have learned about the horrifying bloodsport of organized dogfighting and football player Michael Vick’s arrest and conviction for his involvement in it. Vick had no problem systematically killing dogs by hanging, drowning, and electrocuting them. Given the chance, I believe he would do these things again.

As a lifelong New York Jets fan, I was so outraged when the Jets signed Vick that my family and I immediately canceled our season tickets. Hundreds of other people feel the same way, and petitions have been started to ban Vick from training camp. I plan to collect as many signatures as I can in the New York City area to support this campaign.

I’ve known so many people who have never cared for an animal companion, seen a farm, or considered—even though they are sentient, intelligent humans—helping animals who so desperately need our voice. The general public tends to ignore the great cause of animal rights and rarely speaks of it because it calls attention to suffering and generates feelings such as despair and guilt that make people uncomfortable.

As Walt Whitman wrote in “Song of Myself,” “I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain’d.” Animals feel the full range of emotions that humans do: love, joy, despair, grief, jealousy, and protectiveness—and they even have a sense of humor—but they are powerless to stop the abuses committed against them. They need our help. I urge everyone to find a way—big or small—to help animals today. Take a look at PETA’s website for plenty of great ideas. Animals are counting on us.

Written by Cary Mabley. Cary has been a PETA member for almost 24 years and is a President’s Circle member. One of  her main issues is farm animals. Cary is a competitive dancer and travels the world participating in dance competitions.