ANIMAL INSTINCT | Daniel Hauff equates all livestock to the gentlest house pet. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

… but eggs are worse. Mercy for Animals’ Daniel Hauff is among many gay folk passionate about animal rights

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor

In an area of the country where meat consumption and hunting are often equated with American values, taking on an industry can seem like an uphill battle. But it’s one Daniel Hauff is happy to fight.

Last week, Hauff — the national director of investigations for Mercy for Animals, the pro-vegan, animal rights group — held a press conference where he reveals horrendous treatment of catfish in local fisheries. He called on the district attorney to take action, and the Texas Legislature to prohibit the vivisection of animals, including fish, in the state.

It’s just another day at work for Hauff, whose job is to reveal the truth behind how animals are treated in a variety of contexts.

“Absolutely everything that has to do with protecting animals goes back to an undercover investigation,” he says. And he’s the one responsible for getting it done.

Eddie Garza, MFA’s campaign coordinator in Texas, says there are few people in country who do what Hauff does — and he’s probably the only gay person doing it.

“There are a lot of the LGBT community” who are active in protecting animals from cruelty at all levels, Hauff says. MFA itself was founded by a gay 15-year-old, Nathan Runkle, more than a decade ago. Garza is also gay.

“MFA at one point had a campaign coordinator who was transgender. I think a lot of the reason for that is commonality of looking at oppression. I assume a lot has to do with growing up gay and having to deal with people spitting on you for who you are. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes [is common for us], and I am now a lot stronger person for having endured it.”

Hauff certainly has the background to give weight to his cause. He attended DePaul University, where he read international studies with a concentration in human rights and social justice. “I was studying genocide and intending to get my hands dirty in human rights work,” he says. Instead, he shifted his focus to animal rights.

Hauff had been a vegetarian for several years, starting in high school, but eventually abandoned it. Then in 2005, he saw a video that churned his stomach: A raccoon dog being skinned alive.

“That sort of opened my eyes,” he says. “My partner Reeve came home and knew something was wrong. I was actually crying in the alley after I saw that video. I knew that there wasn’t a difference between my dogs and the animals we were eating.”

It so affected him, Hauff decided to do something he hadn’t before: He went completely vegan overnight. Reeve supported his decision and went vegetarian that week, eventually becoming a vegan as well. (Their pets are also vegan.) And he became active volunteering with Mercy for Animals.

“Within a year I had become so involved with MFA I applied for a job. I decided to do my year in-service for animal rights instead of human rights,” Hauff says. He expected the work to be a brief stopover on his path to human genocide studies, but five years later, it’s still his profession.

It’s not easy work, but it is important — to him and the creatures he seeks to protect.

“The first undercover investigation for MFA that we did that was employment-based,” meaning operatives for MFA go undercover in slaughterhouses and other animal-based industries, applying for jobs and then cataloging abuses and law violations. On the last day of the investigation just concluded in Texas, Hauff himself was wired with a hidden camera, interacting with the people in the abattoir (though he admits his duties generally don’t put him undercover).

Hauff also works with veterinarians to improve treatment, as well as with Temple Grandin, the advocate for humane treatment of animals celebrated in a recent TV movie. But in truth, Hauff sees everything short of veganism as half-measures.

“Temple reduces suffering, but it’s not kind in any way. I have never seen an animal going to their death without fighting for their life. We could walk into any slaughterhouse Temple Grandin has designed and still be horrified,” he says. “It’s often standard practice that we’re revealing.”

Hauff says he considers the egg and dairy industry far crueler than meat consumption itself. He doesn’t expect everyone will ever become a vegan like he is, but that’s not really the point.

“There are less cruel ways of doing things,” he says. “It’s about reducing suffering.”

And the more people know, the better they will be about making choices.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 28, 2011.