Spotlight on Animal Heroes:
NYSHA Recognizes John Di Leonardo – Founder and Executive Director of Long Island Orchestrating for Nature (LION)
As discouraging as the struggle for justice for animals is, it is easy to forget about many of the victories and how inspiring some of the people who lead these fights are. One of our Board members adopted some rescued chickens from Long Island Orchestrating for Nature (LION) and put us in touch with its founder and executive director, John Di Leonardo. In addition to a BS in psychology, he holds an MS Science in Anthrozoology from Canisius College, a graduate certificate in Jain Studies from the International School of Jain Studies in India, and he also took graduate courses at the former Humane Society University. His story and work are impressive examples to us all.
For his day job, John manages the Grassroots Campaign of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), arming activists around the world with tools for effective demonstrations. He also heads PETA’s Animals in Entertainment Campaign, coordinating a team against the use and abuse of animals in circuses, dolphinariums, roadside zoos, and dog-sledding operations.
Under his leadership, LION is the foremost animal advocacy organization on Long Island. They stopped the slaughter of thousands of deer and hundreds of geese and eliminated multiple wild animal acts and rodeos from New York City to Suffolk County. He and LION have also been responsible for shutting down puppy and fur stores and extending its activities. In 2019, LION defeated SeaQuest Aquariums’ application to expand to Long Island, sparing untold thousands of animals from death, and eliminated animal acts at a major street festival.
(LION) stopped the slaughter of thousands of deer and hundreds of geese and eliminated multiple wild animal acts and rodeos from New York City to Suffolk County.
Both a direct rescue and animal advocacy organization, LION is the leading domestic fowl rescue in the Northeast, saving hundreds of wild and farmed animals every year from abandonment, neglect, or injury, transporting wild animals to wildlife rehabilitators and treating, fostering, and transporting farmed animals — mostly fowl, who make up 95% of farmed animals in the US — to sanctuaries throughout the U.S. In 2019, LION barred a fowl slaughterhouse from opening, saving about 40,000 ducks and chickens annually.
Currently, they are campaigning to end school hatching projects in New York State. As John explained, “Educators teach children the wrong lessons — not that ducks, chickens and other fowl are feeling individuals, but that they are objects to be thrown out like trash or abandoned when the project is over, which really is no different than abandoning a dog or cat.”
LION is completely funded by private donations, as few grants apply to the work they do. Looking to the future, John said that, “… as one of the most successful grassroots animal rights organizations and one of the only domestic fowl rescues in the country, we are always trying to expand our pool of charitable donors and would welcome any assistance anyone can offer.” When asked about LION’s goals, he quickly responded, “In the immediacy, LION desperately needs to raise funds for a new van to replace our old, broken down vehicle. This is vital for us to continue to answer the calls of animals in need. The messages adorning this vehicle, especially the hatching project messaging, will help us reach our next goal, of ending cruel hatching experiments that leave infant animals crippled, dead, or orphaned in schools throughout New York.”
During his tenure with PETA, he has had the pleasure of seeing Cole Bros. Circus fold its tents for the last time, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus shut down after 146 years, and SeaWorld announce the end of its sordid orca breeding program. Formerly, John managed day programs on Long Island for people with developmental disabilities and drove the Horseless eCarriage campaign, a humane alternative to New York City’s cruel horse-drawn carriage industry. His life’s work clearly is focused on service, change, and the greater good.
He has been honored to be profiled by the Long Island Herald and Long Island Pulse Magazine and has received awards from the Suffolk County SPCA and the Humane Society of the United States, as well as the distinction of being named Mr. February in Rescue Men USA’s 2016 Calendar.
New York State Humane Association Humane Review, Vol.XXXV Spring 2020.