When 95-year-old Anna Catherine Briggs talks about her late husband, James Phillip Briggs, she has the glow of a 16-year-old. Anna remains very much in love with ‘Briggsie,’ as she calls him, despite the fact that he died in 1945. And it was Briggsie—a vegetarian, IRS attorney, and founder of the Be Kind to Animals Rest Farm in Potomac, Maryland—who inspired her vegetarianism and lifelong advocacy for animals.
The fact that she met her husband over a stray animal is truly poetic. Anna recalls, “I saw a dog walking aimlessly down the street, and I started talking to it. Just then, this man came down the street. He tipped his hat and said, ‘Is that a stray dog you want to give up?’” The man was Briggsie, and he asked Anna to visit the Rest Farm. “It just grew on me how kind he was,” she says. “And I loved to spend time with him.” They married on December 9, 1927, Anna’s 18th birthday.
Though Briggsie was a major influence in Anna’s adoption of a vegetarian lifestyle nearly 80 years ago, she had her own, personal affirmations about keeping animals out of her diet. She remembers a visit to a slaughterhouse: “When I saw the animals going up the ramp and they got to the top, they turned around to try to get away… The man hit them in the head to make them go back to get their necks cut off… It was something I didn’t want to participate in, not even for feeding the dogs.”
She and Briggsie had to close down the Rest Farm because of difficult economic conditions after the Great Depression, but, with significant financial backing from vegetarian sculptor and suffragist Alice Morgan Wright, Anna opened the National Humane Education Society (NHES), a no-kill animal shelter, in 1948. Wright, a talented and influential public speaker, even represented NHES at the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Today, the NHES is thriving alongside its affiliates—the Briggs Animal Adoption Center and Spay Today—all of which are on a modern, 24-acre property in Charles Town, West Virginia. The Peace Plantation Animal Sanctuary, also an NHES affiliate primarily serving cats, operates on a 100-acre farm in Walton, New York. Anna’s grandson, Jim Taylor, is president of the NHES board of directors. Her daughter, Ginger Dungan, is the organization’s treasurer.
NHES promotes vegetarianism as part of its overall mission:
“NHES advocates a vegetarian lifestyle for both humane and health considerations. By choosing vegetarianism, more animals will be spared the cruel rigors of factory farming and inhumane slaughter.”
Taylor has fond memories of growing up with his vegetarian grandmother and recalls the meals she prepared, including vegetarian ‘turkeys’ for Thanksgiving. He adds, “She made great cauliflower soufflés.”
And though Anna is nationally recognized for her decades of work at the no-kill shelter, her animal rescue missions are legendary. In the early 1960s, she rescued 50 animals from the construction site for Dulles Airport in northern Virginia. During the 1970s and 1980s, Anna went underground at Grand Central Station to save 300 cats. The New York Times even called her “The Pied Piper of Grand Central Station.”
Remarkably, though not surprisingly, Anna still keeps regular hours at NHES—it’s tough to keep her away from the animals.
Ben A. Shaberman is a professional writer
and a frequent volunteer for VRG outreach activities.
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