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Xavier Magazine | September 23, 2017

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Passionate for Pets

Felix Winternitz

Just a few days after their wedding, Karen and Michael Budkie noticed a sick puppy abandoned on the side of the road.

Touched, the newlyweds picked the dog up and took it to a nearby no-kill pet shelter where the dog got food, treatment and a new lease on life. But the biggest impact may have been on the Budkies.

The couple began volunteering at the shelter, a simple move that opened a door to them leaving their jobs and creating a nonprofit animal rights agency, SAEN—Stop Animal Exploitation Now. From their modest headquarters in Milford, Ohio, the couple rigidly defends the “implicit rights” of laboratory chimps, sheep, cats, dogs and other creatures used at medical research clinics.

Unlike their better-known big brother, PETA, which draws attention for its over-the-top behavior, the Budkies tend to stay more to the straight and narrow. They dutifully compile watch lists, serve as a clearinghouse of information, dig for buried USDA documents and other obscure federal reports, track mishaps at animal labs, coordinate petition drives and launch protest campaigns. Still, their daily charge against antagonists to the animal kingdom has garnered national attention, glowing press and, yes, some harsh critics.

One wag, in an essay titled “Animal Crackers,” rebuked the duo as misguided if not malicious. Another targeted them as a pawn of their primary funder, the Hoffman Foundation, “which has the stated goal to restore God’s original creation intent of a plant-based diet.” The Budkies brush off such criticism, saving their ire for what they see as a shadowy world of negligent medical bureaucracies and elusive pharmaceutical corporations, questionable pseudo-scientists and vivisectionist villainy. If torturing a single animal in your own home is considered cruelty, they ask rhetorically, how can abusing many species at once be truly called science?

“With the help of grassroots activists, we’ve ended pound seizure—the sale of former pets from animal shelters to labs—in Nashville,” says Michael. “We also ended abusive experiments on primates in San Diego. Our recent investigations revealed abuses within labs from Boston to California and from Florida to Washington.”

For his part, Michael, a 1981 theology graduate, maintains that his life’s work began in the classroom. “Xavier gave me my grounding in ethics and the belief that animals have an intrinsic, God-given value. They shouldn’t be abused.” Karen, a 1985 computer science major, handles the data mining, bookkeeping and business side

“We are very different,” says Michael, “but we work well together and complement each other with our different approaches to the cause.”

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