New York City activist & Cleveland weather forecaster were each legends in their spheres
NEW YORK CITY, CLEVELAND––One of the youngest prominent animal advocates in the Northeastern U.S., Shimon Shuchat, 22, and one of the oldest, Dick Goddard, 89, died a week apart, on July 28 and August 2, 2020, in New York City and Cleveland, respectively.
Shuchat, whom friends said had long suffered from chronic depression, died by suicide only six days after In Defense of Animals, of San Rafael, California, introduced him in a media release as lead contact for Respect for Fish Day, August 1, 2020.
Respect for Fish Day was marked by “a diverse group of more than 250 organizations” to “address many concerns about the exploitation of fish species, the dangers of aquaculture, and animal cruelty,” intended to effect “changes in consumption and policy.”
“Most impressed by his kindness & acumen”
“I was just talking and emailing with Shimon about his initiative to launch Respect for Fish Day,” posted Farm Animal Rights Movement [FARM] founder Alex Hershaft. “I was most impressed by his kindness and acumen. He sent me his senior thesis about the history of FARM.”
Hershaft called Shuchat’s death “A huge loss to our movement,” a perspective immediately echoed by many other longtime grassroot animal rights activists and movement leaders.
Said United Poultry Concerns founder Karen Davis, “Shimon was a completely serious, sensitive person and, as someone else who knew him said today, perhaps too sensitive to cruel and unjust suffering to be able to live in the world as it is.”
Agreed Humane Society of the U.S. special assistant to the president Bernard Unti, “He interned with HSUS and I spent several hours speaking with him. He was an intelligent, inquisitive and serious young man. May his memory be for a blessing.”
From “ultra-Orthodox” home to animal advocacy
Shuchat “was raised in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish home in Brooklyn,” recalled Their Turn blogger Donny Moss. “According to his Uncle Golan, he learned how to read when he was two years old, and he showed unusual signs of empathy when he was a little boy. For instance, he somehow figured out that a leather jacket was made from a cow, and he asked his parents why people would wear that. When he was a teenager, he came across animal cruelty videos that shook him to the core. He became an atheist, and he made the decision to chart his own course in life,” despite having had a close relationship with his father, who was supportive of his animal advocacy.
“Leaving the insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish community is not easy for anyone, especially a teenager,” Moss continued, “but Shimon found the courage to transfer from his yeshiva, which was familiar, to secular high school, where he didn’t know anyone. He also immersed himself in the New York City animal rights community, participating in multiple events every week.
“Ironically, among the first acts of cruelty that he protested was Kaporos, a ritual animal sacrifice performed by the very community in which he was raised,” Moss mentioned.
“To practice Kaporos,” a Hasidic Jewish rite “begun in the Middle Ages,” Karen Davis explains, “adherents swing chickens, held by the legs or by pinning the birds’ wings backward, around their heads. While swinging the birds the practitioners of Kaporos chant about transferring their sins and punishment onto the birds. The birds are then slaughtered. The remains are supposed to be given to the poor.”
Posted fellow New York City activist Vincent Di Santo, “I was honored to meet Shimon when he was just around 15 years old, at a Kaporos demo in Brooklyn. I’ve been doing animal rights activism for decades, but nobody has ever made a first impression on me the way he did. I vividly remember being in a group holding signs defending the chickens behind the barricade and suddenly this enigma appeared who was calmly speaking Hebrew with the offenders.”
“Grabbed the megaphone”
Continued Moss, “Shimon was a quiet, shy, and anxious person, but according to his fellow activists, he stepped far outside of his comfort zone in order to advocate for animals. Rina Deych, an activist in NYC who mentored Shimon when he joined the movement, fondly recalled a Kaporos protest [possibly the same one that Di Santo mentioned] during which she offered Shimon a bullhorn to lead the chants.”
“He shyly refused,” Deych told Moss. “But when he didn’t like the accent I used to pronounce a Hebrew phrase, he grabbed the megaphone from me and led the chants for the duration of the protest. His willingness to prioritize the animals over his anxiety demonstrated just how committed and compassionate he was.”
“No interest in the material world”
Moss remembered Shuchat as “singularly focused on reducing animal suffering,” having “no interest in the material world or even the basic comforts that most of us take for granted.
Entering Cornell University in Ithaca, 220 miles upstate, in 2015, “Shimon brought NYC-style activism to a reserved animal rights club on campus,” Moss said.
Animal advocacy was not Shuchat’s only cause at Cornell.
“Cornell Student Abandons House, Sleeps in Library After Months Long Dispute With Landlord,” headlined Cornell Daily Sun writer Matthew McGowen on November 25, 2018.
“Water flooded out of the toilet in the bathroom of Shimon Shuchat, class of 2019, and Mei Zheng, class of 2018, on September 24,” McGowen reported, “collapsing a section of the ceiling in the apartment below them. The students had disabled all of the apartment’s carbon monoxide alarms and smoke detectors, and the gas oven was left on to heat the apartment while they slept.
“Yes, it was suicide”
“The tenants’ months-long back-and-forth with landlords David and Barbara Lower would eventually lead to multiple housing inspections, a threat of a lawsuit from the city, and withheld rent. The stress of the situation would cause Shuchat to abandon living in the house entirely, leaving many of his possessions and the food in the fridge behind.”
Inasmuch as the second sentence of McGowen’s article alone described three high-risk behaviors, and many others who knew Shuchat described extreme disregard for his personal well-being, ANIMALS 24-7 inquired as to whether his suicide might actually have been an accident.
Donny Moss, however, confirmed that “Yes, it was suicide.”
Moss further confirmed that Shuchat had a long history of intense emotional responses to animal suffering, and of self-denial while working himself past the point of exhaustion as an activist, traits also evident among some of his close associates.
“If I didn’t force him, he would not have eaten”
“One summer during college, Shimon asked if he could do an internship with Their Turn. He worked so efficiently,” Moss said, “that he completed his assignments more quickly than I could create them. If I didn’t force him to take a break for lunch by putting the food on top of his keyboard, he would not have eaten.”
Observed Nadia Schilling, identified by Moss as another mentor to Shuchat, “It’s easy to lose hope and feel defeated in this line of work, but I honestly believed that with Shimon by my side, we could make this world a better place.”
“Unaware of Shimon’s anxiety,” continued Moss, “Nadia asked him to testify in front of the New York City Council in support of legislation to ban the sale of ban foie gras.”
Recounted Schilling, “He intentionally waited until after he delivered his remarks to confess that public speaking exasperated his anxiety. He knew I wouldn’t have asked if I had been aware of his fear, and he didn’t want to let me down or the animals.”
Posted Voters For Animal Rights, “During the 2017 campaign to ban wild animals in circuses, Shimon showed up to phone bank every single night — even though he hated phone banking — because he knew it worked and he would do anything for animal liberation.”
But Voters For Animal Rights added a cautionary note to the many words of memorial praise.
Shuchat was the second New York City animal rights activists “to have died by suicide in the past year,” Voters For Animal Rights reminded via social media.
“If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) is available 24/7 across the United States,” Voters For Animal Rights posted.
Friends and family of Shuchat sought to suppress word that he had killed himself.
Voters For Animal Rights and ANIMALS 24-7, however, deem taking the opportunity to warn activists against burnout, and to share word of how to get help, to outweigh anyone’s embarrassment that Schuchat made a life-ending decision that was, in the end, his alone to make, yet with appropriate emphasis on rest, recreation, and recovery between campaigning, should have been avoidable.
“If Dick Goddard on TV said ‘adopt this dog'”
Dick Goddard, a Cleveland television weather broadcaster for more than 60 years, “was known as much for his devotion to the care and humane treatment of animals, as he was for his weather forecasting,” recalled Jack Shea of WJW, Goddard’s longtime host station.
Said Cleveland Animal Protective League president Sharon Harvey, “If Dick Goddard on TV said ‘you need to adopt this dog,’ our phones would ring off the hook.”
Goddard died a little more than a month before the 6th Annual Dick Goddard Telethon, held to raise funds for the Cleveland Animal Protective League. The first five Dick Goddard Telethons cumulatively “helped us to raise more than three quarters of a million dollars to help the animals,” Harvey told Shea.
Agreed Joey Morona of Cleveland.com, “Dick Goddard is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest career as a weather forecaster. But his lasting legacy will always be the advocacy work he did on behalf of animals.
“He saw all animals as loving, giving creatures,” PAWS Ohio executive director Amy Beichler told Morona, citing the 2016 passage of “Goddard’s Law” by the Ohio state legislature.
Summarized Morona, “The law made acts of cruelty against a companion animal a fifth-degree felony, punishable by six months to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. That includes depriving a pet of food, water or shelter.”
“Until 2016, Ohio did not have a felony for a first offense,” Beichler explained, identified by Morona “as the driving force behind the legislation,” adopted with Goddard’s help.
“So, you got a pass on the first offense,” Beichler said. “You could have done the most egregious things in the world to any animal and you would still be charged with a simple misdemeanor.”
Beichler is now “trying to get a tougher version of Goddard’s Law through the Ohio legislature,” Morona mentioned, which make “causing serious physical harm to animal a third-degree felony,” and add a fourth-degree felony penalty for accessories to a felony cruelty offense.
“Pet Parade, where local rescue groups appeared on-air with their adoptable cats and dogs, became a popular regular feature” at WJW, Morona remembered, while Goddard’s weather forecasts “always ended with a reminder for people watching at home to spay or neuter their pets.”
Born in February 1931, in the depths of the Great Depression, “Dick grew up in what was then known as Greenberg, now the city of Green in Summit County,” Ohio, wrote WJW news anchor Bill Sheil.
Goddard’s parents––railroad mechanic Vachel Goddard and the former Doris Dickerhoof––encouraged young Dick Goddard in early animal rescues.
“Any animal who showed up on our farm there near Greenberg, I said, ‘Mom, can we keep it?’ and usually it was yes,” Goddard often remembered, “but the cow I had to give back.”
Goddard became a meteorologist in the Air Force, but also took up cartooning.
“He was talented enough that Disney asked him to come to Hollywood to interview for a job as an artist,” Sheil recalled, but Goddard in the same week was offered his first television job.
“He left Cleveland only once,” Sheil remembered, “following his employer at the time, Westinghouse, to a bigger job at a station in Philadelphia. He soon had offers to come home to Cleveland from all three local stations that were on the air at that time.
“As a self-proclaimed ‘sports nut,’ Dick was most intrigued by the offer from Channel 8 because it broadcast the Cleveland Browns football games,” Sheil said. “He would then become the statistician for the Browns radio broadcasts – a position he loved and held for 43 years.”
Goddard in 1973 created an event in Vermillion, Ohio, that he called the Woollybear Parade, as a Parent Teacher Association fundraiser.
“Fast forward more than forty years,” Sheil added, “and today, over 100,000 people travel to Vermilion each fall for what is now an iconic event,” except that it will not be held in 2020 due to COVID-19 social distancing restrictions.
“His concept,” Sheil explained, was that the woollybear, a caterpillar, “could predict the mildness or severity of the coming winter in the fall––rather than having people wait on a groundhog to make a similar prediction in early February of the following year. The theory,” which Goddard did not claim to be scientifically verified, “is that the width of the woollybear’s stripes indicate whether the winter will be mild or severe.”
Concluded Plain Dealer reporter Mark Dawidziak, “The Cleveland forecast calls for a 100% chance of sadness.”