Changemakers | Elaine Tasia Maltezos
Who is Elaine and how did we met her?
Animal lover Elaine Tasia Maltezos has been living in Bergen for the last five years, but is originally from Chicago. Me and André met her some years back when we drove five beautiful roosters from Jessheim to come live with her and JD DeLeon at Bergen at Bergen Chicken Sanctuary. We have to say, she is one of the most loving, caring and welcoming people we have ever had the pleasure to met. It’s amazing to see how she spends so much time helping animals and doing an very thorough job to lessen the toll our species has taken on the planet.
What are any passions that drive you?
I have three passions. One is music. I grew up playing viola, guitar, and singing, and went on to study music composition and music recording in college. I’ve been working as a sound engineer in live music and theater, and as a recording engineer for orchestral, choral, and other acoustic music. I love getting to see new places when I get to work abroad or around
Norway, and I love my colleagues and the people in this industry. I feel very fortunate to get to work in sound, something that lights up my curiosity and keeps me learning and growing.
Another passion is extreme sports. Back when I lived in the States, I used to spend a lot of time on my motorbike in the woods. I loved offroading on my motorcycle. But after moving here, where that is not allowed, I came to replace that adrenaline source with downhill longboarding. I feel completely free and sharply in the moment when I’m skating down a hill.
This is a feeling and a practice that is really important for me. It’s something therapeutic, cathartic, empowering, reinvigorating.
The third, and by far most all-encompassing passion that I have, is for animals. Ever since I was a tiny kid, I’ve been completely enamored with them. I have always felt so calm and happy in the presence of animals, both wild and domesticated. And my heart breaks over what we, as a species, have done to them. When I was a teenager, I started to learn about
our impact, and have vowed to live a life that will cause the least harm to others as possible. This has always been my guiding principle.
What do you do today?
JD DeLeon and I run Bergen Chicken Sanctuary, a small initiative where rescued chickens can live their days out peacefully. JD is also a lifelong animal lover, and is the primary caretaker and builder. I am also the chickens’ caregiver, manage vet visits, and run our social media. We both love the chickens dearly, they are our children. We didn’t plan on
becoming a sanctuary! It was something that just happened…
So how did it happened?
One night, we were at a party in the neighborhood. One of the neighbors was in the middle of killing all of her hens and burning their bodies in a pit in the yard, all because they were one and a half years old and not laying as many eggs as she thought was useful to her. I was completely horrified, not to mention a bit drunk. I begged her to let us have the remaining four hens, who they hadn’t had time yet to slaughter that day. She agreed and said if JD and I could build their enclosure in a week, I could have them. So that was what we did.
Neither of us had ever had chickens before, and had no idea what to expect in terms of bonding with them, interacting, their intelligence, behavior–so we went into this experience pretty blind. They needed some time to adjust to their new living situation, and to heal from past trauma of losing their sisters. They previously had no access to grass, as they used to live in a storage container with only a tiny gravel area outside. As they settled
into their new life, we were astounded by their unique, sweet personalities, and sharp minds. We saw that they were lovely individuals who deserved to live happy, healthy lives, just like our dogs and cats.
What have you learned through the process?
I was vegan when we adopted them, but I felt that if I had chickens and treated them well, I wouldn’t have a problem eating their eggs. It only took a couple months to figure out that I was wrong. Their bodies can’t tolerate the way that humans have genetically manipulate them to lay eggs. Instead of laying 10-20 as their ancestors in the wild, these hens were laying upwards of 300 eggs per year.
Nutrients and calcium are just siphoned away from them, and complications like prolapse and infections from eggs leaking inside them are deadly and horribly painful. Cancer is common in these new industrial breeds. They were sick, and even dying, until we were able to stop their egg-laying via hormonal birth control from the vet. It’s a small chip that sits between their wing blades and stops ovulation.
How was it that I, an animal-loving vegan, somehow didn’t know anything about the anatomical sabotage of the modern chicken? And how could it have been such a surprise to me, that these birds could be just as social and lovely as a dog or cat?
Well, we are all shielded from the truth, and no one is born above the conditioning we are subjected to throughout our lives. I realize that I still have a lot of work to do to decondition myself to what industry has instilled in me, to this very day. And I felt very moved by the realization that these birds desperately need our voices, as they are thoughtlessly discarded and abused in common practice.
Through Bergen Chicken Sanctuary, I want to share how amazing, loving, and beautiful they are, and the truth of what happens to them in our society. I think we have a long way to go as a society, and want to be open, inclusive, and non-judgemental in my personal effort to shine light on our problematic relationship with chickens and understanding of them as food animals.
Your best tips for a sustainable lifestyle?
Take only what you will use. Learn about your local environment and incorporate at least a few wild edibles into your diet–interact with nature, become a part of it. Reduce, or better yet cut out, meat and dairy, the largest causes of deforestation. Rid yourself of the consumer culture of holidays.
Make an agreement with friends and families to not buy stuff. Make your own, or buy something used. Unfollow social media accounts that negatively influence you to want material goods, or to feel like you aren’t enough–whether in your possessions, relationships, or yourself as a person.
Be mindful and selective of what you choose to consume in both the real world and in social media. And don’t cut people out of your life if you disagree with them. Listen, converse, learn from each other. I fear for the
sustainability of a society that has splintered into social media-induced tribalism.
Who inspires you?
There have been some episodes in my life that I’ve looked back on as fundamental blocks to where I am today, and where I will continue to go. Having pets in my childhood was really important in establishing an empathetic relationship to animals.
Though my parents were never consciously active in this idea, our cats and dog all came from rescues, or adopted. So the thought of buying an animal always felt strange to me, even if I hadn’t yet worked out why. In college, I adopted a senior cat who I loved very much. It really hit me then, that there were so many cats and dogs just like him who needed a home, but would struggle finding one, through no fault of their own.
Burt – The most wonderful dog I ever met
Some years later, I graduated from college and met JD, who also has a deep love for animals. We adopted a four year old dog who had been severely neglected and exposed to domestic violence. He had food aggression problems, and was huge… so dogs like him are usually euthanized. But he was the sweetest, smartest, most wonderful dog I’ve ever met. He was my biggest inspiration. Burt came from a highly traumatic past, and was scarred from that. But given a chance at recovery and a life of love, he blossomed into the most amazing, confident companion. He was my soulmate. And I will always fight for the dogs like him, who are regarded as too far gone to save.
The Amanda foundation
I went on to spend a year working as a kennel attendant at The Amanda Foundation, a no-kill shelter in Los Angeles for dogs and cats. Many of them come from the street, and some are pitbulls rescued from dogfighting rings. These dogs were some of the most beautiful, sensitive, gentle, misunderstood beings I have ever met. And the people running the rescue inspired me to be a voice for the forgotten and unwanted.
I moved to Norway and wanted to continue my work with animals, alongside my audio career, but was shocked to find that there were no organizations run purely for the sake of protecting animal rights (I was later thrilled to find FugleAdvokatene, and volunteer with
them today). I volunteered at a local shelter, but that didn’t last long, as I was frustrated at the lack of initiative there, and the idea of acting as a storage facility for dogs just like my Burt who were to be destroyed by the police. So it felt right and important to start my own animal sanctuary, where I could uphold a set of ethics and morals that were crucial to me.
People I look up to
I look up to many people I’ve met both in person and on forums online in my quest to become a better animal caretaker. There are several Norway-based activists and environmentalists that I admire, both in and out of the animal community. Jenny Micko of Askøy Dyrefristed, Nina Katrine Klepsvik of Hen Haven Frigård, Dale Store Gård, Samuel Røstol, Norun Haugen, all of the folks that run and volunteer for FugleAdvokatene.
I am also inspired by a few friends who are knowledgeable about the flora and fauna of our ecosystem in western Norway. One person in particular, Tina Bøe Buer, is a farmer, mushroom expert, and environmental activist who inspires me to learn more about wild edibles, and live in greater harmony with nature.
Some institutions that inspire me
- United Poultry Concerns
- Free from Harm
- Striving with Systems
- Vegan Voices of Color
- Microsanctuary Resource Center
- Eggs Hurt
If you could give one advice right now, what would that be?
Be open to the idea that you might need to retrain your thinking. Don’t let pride or stubbornness get in the way. We are fallible individuals born into a very persuasive, highly powerful marketing machine that has influenced our every action and thought–so we need to reject consumer-driven agendas, and assimilate information from valid, accredited, non-commercial sources.
Be selective of what you spend your time doing. And who you spend your time with. Be wary of social media. Don’t lose time scrolling. Don’t ingest media that makes you lose touch with reality. Don’t spend time lusting over impossible images and fake people, you are perfect and real. As a vegan or animal activist, don’t judge others. We were all born under the same consumerist conditioning, and all had to start somewhere. You’re not going to win anyone over to your ideas by being harsh or condescending.
What do you think is lacking in our communities and commercial markets today?
When answering this question, I think of myself, and my childhood. I loved animals. And I loved nature. Simultaneously, I grew up in a country whose government approved health models were built on studies funded by big agriculture. I was drinking my milk, eating lots of meat, to be healthy and strong, and–incongruously–loving animals.
I was directly responsible for their suffering without even really understanding it, because I was raised
with a cartoon-like understanding of happy animals on farms, and a disconnect to the way they live and die there. I know I am not an exception, I feel that many children and adults alike would not want to hurt animals.
But in our age of industrialization and advertising, the meat and dairy giants have circumvented human empathy. The biggest problem in commercial markets today is cognitive dissonance. We are marketed products that are derived from animals who suffer in incomprehensible ways and staggering numbers. These farms and the ones providing their feed destroy entire ecosystems.
We buy products made with ingredients harvested from farms that raze forest systems across the globe, that exploit the labor of marginalized communities, and we feel not even a fraction of this impact in our sterile transaction at the store. Or even at the click
of a button, shopping online.
We are lacking truth regarding the cruelty of animal agriculture, and the science of nutrition–although this is changing. We are lacking governments that do not bow down to financial overlords of agriculture and dairy industries. We subsidize industries that contribute to climate change. Just as many societal problems nowadays are linked to the ever-growing chasm between elite wealthy and common class people, we are victims of the
information and products that industries in charge choose to feed us.
But now, the world is starting to buckle, and it’s growing clearer that we cannot continue on the same consumer-driven model if we want to survive as a species. I think what we are lacking is a set of regulations unmotivated by agricultural interests. And we are lacking a clear view into the lives of the animals we exploit.