In 2018, civil rights attorney and animal activist Matthew Strugar received a postcard asking for his help. What makes this story unusual is that it was from a whale.
Over the next three years, almost a dozen similar postcards were delivered to his office.
In an interview for "LA Times Today," staff writer Anita Chabria joined host Lisa McRee to unravel the mystery for us.
As a lawyer, Strugar has his solo practice in Koreatown and has advocated for animal rights for decades.
"At one point in his career, he worked with PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and I think we probably all remember in the '80s and '90s, they did several large campaigns and a lot of media-oriented work," Chabria said. "At one point, Matthew sued SeaWorld on their behalf on a kind of legal challenge that had not been done before. He used the 13th Amendment to say that the whales were being held in slavery. And the Constitution outlawed slavery, so the whales needed to be free."
Even though Strugar did not win the case, he felt like the court didn't ignore his concerns.
"He knew it was quite a long-shot going into it, and it was a very novel legal theory. So I don't think that there was the expectation that the whales would be freed. But Matthew said that he did feel like the judge didn't just laugh it out of court. He went through the arguments; he took it respectfully. And though it was dismissed, Matthew felt that it was a way to sort of raise a point about how the whales were, in his view, capped," Chabria added.
Strugar received his first postcard about eight years after he filed the lawsuit.
"He received a postcard in the mail that had two whales on the front of it; it was one of those kinds of old postcards you buy as a souvenir if you visit SeaWorld. And on the back of it, it was a thank you letter from the whales for fighting for them and a plea that he helped them get their freedom," Chabria said.
Chabria says the postcards came sporadically, from different places, and in different fonts.
"Over the next three years, he kept getting these old SeaWorld postcards, and they came from different cities. They came from New York, Chicago — one even came from Richmond, Virginia, in his hometown. They were written by different people; obviously, one of them was a very feminine script in a red pen. One was a chunky black marker that looked like a Sharpie or something. But they all carried these clever and funny messages that made it seem like the animals wrote them," Chabria said. "But also, because Matthew's a civil rights lawyer, he receives a lot of mail from incarcerated people, and it had that tone too, like the whales and the dolphins were saying they're incarcerated, and they need his help."
Chabria said that Strugar loved receiving postcards from the whales, but recently, the mystery of who really sent them was solved.
"Well, just a few months ago, Matthew was coming home from New York on a train, taking a cross-country trip, and stopped in Chicago to visit his friend. And they were having a plate of vegan nachos before a Bulls game. And this friend, Brad Thompson, pulled out the last postcard and said, 'Hey, can you do me a favor? I'm playing a prank on a friend. Will you mail this on your way home?' And it was the last postcard that he had, and that's how he did the big reveal."
Strugar eventually posted his postcards to Twitter to make people smile and raise awareness of animal rights, and he went viral.
"He posted this whole chain of them on Twitter, and people were just so charmed by the prank. In this time of COVID and isolation, seeing a friendship like that and the dedication it took to pull off a prank like this was really touching to many people. But then, it also made some people stop and think about animal rights in a way that that lawsuit he made a decade ago is perhaps still having a little impact or a moment," Chabria said.
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