Practical Issues > Things To Do > Activism > Army of 1
An animal rights activist in the making

By Rebecca Villaneda, Peninsula News
November 26, 2007

It's the plight of animals that motivated Rancho Palos Verdes resident Sarah Ruttenberg to start an animal club at her school.

"I want to educate as many people as I can get to," Ruttenberg said. "It's not that people don't want to help -- it's that people don't know how or why they should, or how serious some of the problems are."

The Rolling Hills Preparatory School junior experienced a memorable summer that secured the idea, including a two-week educational program at Busch Gardens in Florida and taking a lost dog to a shelter, which was her first visit.

"That really hit me," she said. "I was upset just seeing the animals behind cages."

When an employee noticed her empathy, she asked Ruttenberg if she was interested in volunteering, and right away she said, "yes."

"I knew that I could try and make it a little happier for the animals," Ruttenberg said. "I didn't think I could handle it, but what made me volunteer was I realized that they were just going to stay like that unless I went and helped and did something about it."

Still in its beginning stages, the RH Prep Animal Club meets every Thursday during lunchtime.

To Ruttenberg's surprise, her club members consist mostly of middle school-aged students.

"I think the kids my age are a little busy with school; they don't really want to deal with saving the world right now," Ruttenberg said. "I think I care a little more about it, which I think is kind of sad, but somebody's got to do it."

Linda Tang, RH Prep biology and anatomy teacher, and Animal Club advisor, said she's happy that the club is part of the school and that Ruttenberg is doing this for other kids.

"It's a very important message, especially for kids at this stage of their life where they love animals and they have a genuine heart and they really want to help," Tang said. "[Ruttenberg is] a good teacher -- She's able to express her thoughts about animals and get all the other kids passionate about how she's feeling."

The issues closest to her heart, Ruttenberg said, are animal abuse and the decrease in the gorilla population due to the popularity of bush meat.

"We need to find a way for that to stop," she said. "People are trading gorilla hands and heads and putting them on the black market."

Through her aspirations to become a traveling animal rights activist, Ruttenberg hopes to address this very problem.

"I hope to travel around the world and educate people who don't have education about these things -- like go to Africa and maybe teach the next generation of people, who would be bush meat hunters, to get a new source and come up with new ways," she said.

As for club members, she wants to "show them that these animals can't do anything for themselves in these situations, and not only do we need to speak for them, we need to act for them."

The Animal Club's first project is a bake sale to raise funds for endangered snow leopards. Money raised will be sent to the World Wildlife Federation.

In the future, Ruttenberg wants to organize a club trip to the Los Angeles Zoo, host public forums and hold collection drives for local shelters.

"She initiated this," Tang said. "She wanted to do something about animals at school to raise awareness about animal conservation and things that are going on around the world that require attention.

"Her love for animals is the No. 1 reason why she does this, and that includes saving other animals that are just not her pets," added Tang.

Ruby, Ruttenberg's 10-year-old border terrier, had to learn to share the doggie door when she brought home a Chihuahua from the Harbor Shelter in San Pedro where she volunteers.

Ruttenberg grew attached to him and now calls him a "poster child for foster dogs." A month later, Ruttenberg still is trying to find him a home and put his picture on the Animal Club brochure.

There's a quote that Ruttenberg chose to describe her club and the mission behind it: "The only way to make your dreams come true is to wake up."

"I think that means a lot, because everybody talks that this is awful that this is happening [to animals], but apparently it's not awful enough for them to do anything about it," she said. "I want [people] to realize that they can do something."

Ruttenberg's dream?

"To help as many helpless animals as I can. I don't have a main animal -- As many as I come across."

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