Q+A with Pooja Dutt, Animal Welfare Activist + Challenger of Conventions

Meet Pooja Dutt. Although born and raised in India, Pooja has taken the phrase “citizen of the world” as literally as one possibly could. She has traveled extensively worldwide on her own, attended college in the United States at Ohio Wesleyan, and now works for nonprofit efforts in Australia. She hopes to improve animal welfare and wildlife conservation through open, respectful conversations, mutual understanding and empathy, and directed action. As former Muse Stacey Venzel describes her, “Pooja speaks her mind, isn’t afraid to take risks, and is incredibly well-informed.” Basically, she is an extremely strong, knowledgable, and compassionate woman whom we are so honored to introduce to the growing Be Your Own Muse community.

The Basics

  • Age: 28
  • Location: Melbourne, Australia
  • Education: Bachelor’s in Zoology + Psychology; Master’s in Wildlife Conservation
  • Field of Interest: Travel, food, good writing + animal welfare
  • What Is Your Favorite Thing About Yourself? I am always up for challenging convention.
  • What Are You Currently Listening To On Repeat? Stolen Dance by Milky Chance…because how can you not dance to it?
  • What Are You Currently Reading That You Can’t Put Down? The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton. It is unlike most travel books that address the how and where and instead he addresses the why. 

Mount Royal Park, Montreal

Questions + Answers

You are known to quit your job and move based solely on the realization that you would be more useful there, even if you have nothing lined up. Where do you find the faith and confidence to take these risks? How have your international experiences influenced who you are as a person and shaped your worldview?

One of the most exhilarating feelings in the world is to arrive in a new city/country/continent where you know no one and nothing and build a life from scratch. I’ve relocated three times now, each time arriving with my entire life packed in two bags, with nowhere to stay and no friend to call upon. I’ve relied on the kindness of strangers, who showed me which bus to take, pointed me towards the nearest shopping center, indulged me in conversation as I sat alone in a pub or a cafe and introduced me to their city.

Most people who know me wouldn’t believe that I am a lifelong introvert. My travels have forced me out of my comfort zone and urged me to make new connections. And each time it has reinforced my belief that we are more alike than different. I have learnt to ask for help, to offer help when I can, to trust people but also listen to my instincts.

Dharamkot, India

You have devoted your career to assisting non-profits and you are also a huge advocate for animal welfare, both pursuits which are grounded in compassion and selflessness. How do you cultivate these qualities? Are they innate or something that you are working on?

I think at a very basic level, these qualities have to be innate. You can teach someone about an issue but you can’t teach passion for something that isn’t there.

I’ve loved animals from a very young age, even though we never had any pets growing up. So I spent my time volunteering at shelters and rescues, interning at wildlife rehabilitation sanctuaries, campaigning against puppy mills and factory farms. I’m constantly learning about the issues and educating myself on what the challenges are, while trying to figure out the best way to have a conversation about these in the real world.

Vegan Day Out, Melbourne

You’ve worked for a variety of nonprofits across the globe. Of all your nonprofit experiences, which felt the most significant to you and why?

Funnily enough, it is all the unpaid internships with animal welfare organisations around the world that have left the most impact on me personally. I spent a summer interning at Pasado’s Safe Haven just outside Seattle, WA with animals rescued from factory farms and shelters; another summer interning at Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary in Gainesville, FL working with monkeys who were ex-research animals or ex-pets. It teaches you to stop and think about the impact of your actions or inactions.

Elephant Valley Project, Cambodia

More recently I volunteered at the Elephant Valley Project in Cambodia, where working elephants get to take time out to heal from injuries and hang out in the jungle, swim in the river and just be free. Literally everyone I know who has visited South East Asia (Thailand, Cambodia etc) has gone on an elephant ride because it is such a bucket list item.

What people don’t realise is how damaging it is to the elephant’s spine. Chair or no chair, it is literally back-breaking work. Similarly, posing with a tiger might make for a great profile picture, but it is a horribly cruel practice where the animals are drugged and chained down for your photo op. If you’re thinking of visiting Asia, spend a day volunteering at a genuine rescue sanctuary (that doesn’t allow you to ride the elephants or pose with tigers). I promise you it will be a much more fulfilling experience.

It is a commonly held belief that in order to lead a life of service, one needs to be willing to make some pretty significant lifestyle sacrifices. Do you agree with this? When did you realize that you wanted to lead a life of service?

I think it would be unfair to suggest that I’ve made sacrifices for a life of service. I live in Melbourne – the most livable city in the world. I’m a major gift fundraiser for non-profit causes very close to me and I’d be lying if I said I don’t enjoy creature comforts.

I’m extremely grateful to have a career I can fall back on when I feel the urge to set down roots for a while and I’m lucky to have worked at some great organisations and crossed paths with some inspirational individuals. But I’ve never worked a day in my life to make money so I can get a mortgage and buy a house in the suburbs. To quote Anaïs Nin, “ordinary life does not interest me.”

Lanta Animal Welfare, Thailand

How have your passions transformed your daily life? Do you find yourself having to constantly defend your lifestyle choices and decisions to others? For example, your dedication to the vegan diet. How do you cope with that?

I’ve learnt that the majority of people don’t quite understand or appreciate why you would want to break away from long accepted conventions. Most people have grown up eating meat and dairy and are convinced that you need it for sufficient protein or calcium or nutrients (not true) and that if we stop eating animals, the planet will be overrun with rogue cows and chickens (also not true but how cool would that be!)

I’ve been vegan for about 8 years now so I’ve heard just about every question associated with my lifestyle. Earlier, I felt the need to educate everyone. Now I know not to waste my energy on everyone. I’ve learnt that the best way to address any concerns is to invite them to share a meal. It’s really hard to argue with your mouth full of delicious vegan food!

Vegan hotdogs, Copenhagen

Who inspires you?

In alphabetical order, because each of these lovely ladies are equally amazing in their own unique way 🙂

Julia Earley: When she’s not biking along the Pacific Coast, participating in annual hitchhiking races around Australia or sewing cotton mittens for koalas injured in bushfire, she’s helping enable a network of passionate individuals from all walks of life, campaign for better climate protection as the Community Organiser for The Climate Reality Project started by Al Gore.

Kristina Baer: The only person I know who’s visited both poles more than once, Kristina is communications extraordinaire at the Alfred Wegener Institute of Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany. She is probably the most driven person I’ve ever met and inspires me daily as a stark example of how you can relentlessly pursue a passion and convert it into a career.

Poushali Maji: Fellow solo female traveler, Maji has lived, studied, worked and played all over the world. She is an avid couchsurfer, choosing to stay with locals wherever she can, and always up for hosting travelers no matter where she’s currently living. Currently pursuing her PhD in urban energy security in developing countries, Maji somehow manages to find time to hike the North Coast Trail, run the Mumbai marathon and bake vegan muffins.

Bronte Beach, Sydney

+ Do You Know Any Women Who Are Challenging Conventions and Changing the World? Let Us Know!

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