This SLO animal rights activist has been arrested twice. She's only 15

Zoe Rosenberg, 15, and her mother Sherstin Rosenberg visit Buddha, who was rescued from a dairy, at their animal sanctuary in San Luis Obispo.
Zoe Rosenberg, 15, and her mother Sherstin Rosenberg visit Buddha, who was rescued from a dairy, at their animal sanctuary in San Luis Obispo. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

San Luis Obispo's Zoe Rosenberg made national news when she and a handful of other animal rights activists ran onto the field of Dodger Stadium during a 2016 Fourth of July weekend game.

Conservative website Breitbart took notice, writing an article headlined: "UnAmerican! Animal rights activists protest Dodger dogs on Fourth of July weekend!" Even legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully had something to say about it.

Rosenberg was just 14 at the time.

"That was a little bit memorable," she said with a laugh.

Now nearly 16, Rosenberg's local activism has made headline after headline in recent months — subjects of her protests have included the Charles Paddock Zoo in Atascadero, a Cal Poly speaking engagement by then-Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb and the Poly Royal Rodeo.

Most recently, the Cal Poly J and G Lau Family Meat Processing Center has been a key target of her activism. Rosenberg has condemned the slaughter of livestock at the facility, as well as the conditions in which they are kept.

Cal Poly has rebuffed those accusations, with spokesman Matt Lazier writing in an email statement that "Cal Poly insists on the humane and ethical treatment of any animals used on campus or by affiliated entities."

Lazier said that the university complies with federal, state, local and institutional laws and employs a staff of veterinarians "throughout the year to ensure all live animals are given the medical care and attention they need."

Rosenberg disagreed with that so emphatically that on Monday, she chained herself inside the slaughter pen at the meat processing plant and refused to leave until Cal Poly allowed her to take with her a cow she had named Justice. The cow had been slated for slaughter.

For her actions, University Police arrested Rosenberg on suspicion of criminal trespass and resisting arrest; her mother, Sherstin Rosenberg, was arrested on suspicion of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney's Office had not received a charging referral from UPD as of Thursday.

Monday's protest was only the latest for the Rosenbergs since they took up the crusade three years ago.

An early activist

While she grew up around traditional pets, when she was 10, Rosenberg — the daughter of veterinarian Sherstin Rosenberg and Silicon Valley CEO and former Cal Poly professor Louis B. Rosenberg — said her family got some chickens.

"I just realized that they were no different than the dogs and cats that so many of us love," she said.

By 11, Zoe Rosenberg went vegan, a lifestyle that abstains from the use of all animal products but especially meat. By 12, she and her mother opened a chicken sanctuary — Happy Hen Chicken Rescue, now called Happy Hen Animal Sanctuary — based on one in New South Wales, Australia.

Zoe Animals061
Zoe Rosenberg, 15, and her mom Sherstin Rosenberg greet Eddie, who was rescued from a slaughterhouse, at their San Luis Obispo animal sanctuary. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

NSW Hen Rescue "exists to give factory farmed hens a second chance," according to the group's website, a credo similarly adopted by the Rosenbergs at Happy Hen.

Then, Zoe Rosenberg learned about Berkeley-based Direct Action Everywhere, an international animal rights group that uses nonviolent direct action tactics toward the cause of "total animal liberation," described on the group's website as the idea "that every sentient being deserves the same safety, happiness, and freedom that we ask for ourselves."

"I was just so inspired. Finally, I felt like I could do something," Rosenberg said of learning about the group.

Direct Action Everywhere, also called DXE, protests have targeted restaurants; companies such as Costco, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods; even countries, such as China.

Those protests have drawn sharp criticism from some, such as Mimi Stein, director of operations for Certified Humane, a nonprofit "dedicated to improving the lives of farm animals in food production from birth through slaughter," according to its website.

Stein told The Washington Post that "DXE is attempting to undermine consumer confidence in products which are in fact ethically produced and businesses working in good faith to reinvigorate a very desirable traditional business model."

A hectic life

Rosenberg said no two days as a young activist are exactly the same, but her schedule generally looks something like this:

At 4-5 a.m., she wakes up and does homework. Rosenberg attends Olive Grove Charter School, which she said gives her flexibility to pursue her activism.

Around 7 a.m., she lets the various animals at the sanctuary out and gives them breakfast. Happy Hen has around 150 animals, including chickens, pigs, turkeys, ducks, geese, goats, cows, sheep and quails; all animals were taken from factory farms, Sherstin Rosenberg said.

Zoe Rosenberg said she spends most of the day "doing animal care or editing videos, organizing protests, it just depends what needs to be done that day."

Around 5 p.m., she brings in all the animals and gives them dinner.

Rosenberg said she's in bed by 9 p.m.

Even when she has downtime, Rosenberg said she spends it with animals, including taking her dogs for hikes on her property.

While many teens her age have yet to begin thinking about life after school, Zoe Rosenberg said she has an ambitious plan: "I would like to try and move to Berkeley, California, where we're trying to ban the sale of meat and the slaughter of animals entirely," she said.

Run-ins with the law

Direct action protesters often find themselves in the crosshairs of the law, and Rosenberg is no exception. She said she was arrested after running onto the field in Dodger Stadium and held in police custody for four hours; she ended up getting community service.

On April 12, Rosenberg and her mother were removed from Cal Poly and issued a seven-day no trespass order after they attempted to remove a pig that was scheduled for slaughter.

When the two returned to Cal Poly on Monday, along with several other protesters, both ended up being arrested.

"Generally, we're taught that police officers are the good guys and they defend those in need. But when the laws aren't in favor of those in need, then suddenly everything turns against those in need," Zoe Rosenberg said.

She quoted Martin Luther King Jr., who said "one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws."

Asked what it's like to watch her daughter confront, and sometimes be arrested by, police, Sherstin Rosenberg said she is proud of her child.

"I don't want my daughter to be arrested, of course; I'm a mom," she said.

She added: "I support her decision to do whatever she needs to do to save (the animals)."

"I would say that we should hope for more people like Zoe," Sherstin Rosenberg said. "She's not going shopping on the weekends and hanging out with her friends and worrying about makeup. She's actually defending the helpless."

An activist duo

It's not just a flexible school schedule that allows her to do what she does; Zoe Rosenberg said her activism wouldn't be possible without the support of her mother, who often holds the camera while she is participating in a direct action protest.

"We're a very close team, we work well together. We're in it together," Sherstin Rosenberg said.

Asked what she would say to people, especially fellow youths, interested in pursuing activism, Zoe Rosenberg encouraged challenging oneself.

"Every social justice movement throughout history has required people to get out of their comfort zone," she said. "No movement has ever helped anybody by sitting home and watching TV."

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