Nathan Runkle is the founder and executive director of Mercy For Animals. Raised on a farm in rural Ohio, Nathan has long had a deep connection with farmed animals. After a local farmed animal abuse case involving a piglet slammed headfirst into a concrete floor during an agriculture project at a nearby high school, Nathan founded Mercy For Animals to give "food" animals a much-needed advocate in his local community.
Since founding Mercy For Animals over a decade ago, Nathan has overseen the organization's growth into a leading national force in the prevention of cruelty to farmed animals and promotion of compassionate food choices and policies.
A nationally recognized speaker on animal advocacy, factory farming, and veganism, Nathan has presented at colleges, conferences, and many other forums from coast to coast.
Through his work with MFA, Nathan has been an outspoken advocate for animal rights, featured in hundreds of newspaper, television, and radio interviews, including on ABC’s World News with Diane Sawyer, Nightline, 20/20, CNN, and National Public Radio, and in USA Today, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune.
>>Read more about Nathan
Carrie LeBlanc, M.A.
Director of Operations
Carrie LeBlanc serves as director of operations for Mercy For Animals, overseeing the organizational finance practices and procedures, human resources policies, and fundraising efforts, ensuring that MFA maintains the highest possible standards and efficiency in each of these areas.
Carrie holds an honors degree in cultural anthropology with a minor in art history from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a master’s degree in art history with a concentration in modern and contemporary art also from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she founded the Mark Roskill Graduate Symposium in the History of Art.
Despite her great success in academia, Carrie decided she wanted to engage in work that felt more meaningful to her, so she left England for California, where she began her career in the nonprofit sector. Prior to joining MFA, Carrie spent seven years honing her skills by working for and with local and national nonprofits to improve their efficiency and fundraising strategies. During this period she raised several million dollars, consulted for numerous organizations working on a wide variety of social causes, and became a board member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Santa Barbara/Ventura Counties chapter.
>>Read more about Carrie
Director of Communications
Ari serves as director of communications for Mercy For Animals, overseeing the organization’s impact across all social media platforms. He also serves as the liaison to celebrities and other public figures involved in MFA’s campaigns.
A native of New Jersey, Ari holds a bachelor of fine arts with honors from NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts. After graduating, Ari worked for several years as a stage and screen actor, and was the Hollywood correspondent for Miami’s Y-100FM. For seven years, Ari ran the popular vegan candle company A Scent of Scandal, using his business as a platform to raise funds for various non-profits and to increase awareness of green business practices.
A prolific writer on animal rights, veganism, and human rights, Ari's work appears regularly on the Huffington Post. Many of Ari’s letters have been published in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and the Advocate. Ari has appeared widely on national television and radio to discuss a range of subjects from veganism to civil rights, including appearances on CNN, Reuters TV, NPR, and HuffPost Live. Ari’s YouTube videos on animal rights and veganism have also become viral sensations, including Sh*t Vegans Say, with over 1 million views.>>Read more about Ari
Vandhana Bala, J.D.
Vandhana Bala serves as general counsel for Mercy For Animals and oversees the organization’s legal initiatives, which include working with investigations department staff and local law enforcement for criminal prosecutions of farmed animal abusers, developing lawsuits and initiating complaints to governmental agencies relating to illegal agribusiness operations, assisting with the organization’s corporate governance and administrative issues, ensuring regulatory compliance for MFA’s community outreach activities, lecturing on legal issues relating to farmed animals, and supervising the legal intern program in Los Angeles.
An honors graduate of the Indiana University School of Law in Bloomington, Indiana, Vandhana received her undergraduate degree from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. She became licensed to practice law in 2000, and is currently admitted to practice in Illinois, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.>>Read more about Vandhana
Director of Investigations
Matt Rice serves as director of investigations for Mercy For Animals – working closely with undercover investigators to obtain video footage and other evidence of animal abuse at factory farms, hatcheries and slaughterhouses. Matt also works with attorneys, veterinarians and animal welfare experts to review covert footage and draft criminal complaints, and then with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to secure animal cruelty convictions against individuals and facilities that abuse animals.
Investigations by Mercy For Animals have led to raids on factory farms, rescues of abused and neglected farmed animals, passage of landmark anti-cruelty legislation, corporate animal welfare policy reforms, and opening the hearts and minds of millions of consumers to the power of their food choices.
Matt is a former United States Marine and holds a bachelor's degree in biology and anthropology from the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. For as long as he can remember, Matt has had an affinity for animals and been opposed to more visible forms of cruelty, but he never really considered the plight of farmed animals until he saw the documentary Meet Your Meat. After witnessing the needless suffering endured by cows, pigs, chickens and other farmed animals, he decided to adopt a vegan lifestyle and become a committed animal advocate.>>Read more about Matt
Brigid Sweeney, M.Sc., M.P.A.
Director of Corporate Outreach
Brigid Sweeney serves as director of corporate outreach for Mercy For Animals, working with major food retailers, fast-food chains, grocery stores, and other corporations to implement and improve farmed animal welfare policies and expand cruelty-free food options.
Through her role at Mercy For Animals, Brigid has already garnered some major corporate victories. After months of discussion about gestation crates as one of the worst forms of animal cruelty, Sears/Kmart, the third-largest discount retailer in the World, and Costco Wholesale, the second-largest retailer in the United States, committed to completely eliminating gestation crates from their pork supply chains.
Brigid is also working with major corporations to implement a set of dairy cattle protection standards that she developed. Her first dairy cattle welfare success came with Kraft, the world’s third-largest food and beverage company. Extensive dialog and a viewing of MFA's undercover video of one of its dairy suppliers prompted Kraft to make the historical commitment to require all of its dairy suppliers to phase out the cruel practice of bovine tail docking. More victories are definitely on the horizon. Brigid is currently corresponding with over 100 major corporations not only on the issue of improved dairy cattle welfare, but also on the elimination of cruel gestation crates and veal crates from their US supply chains.
>>Read more about Brigid
Director of Information Technology
Derek Coons serves as director of information technology for Mercy For Animals and is a longtime board member, overseeing the direction, focus, effectiveness, and efficiency of the organization.
A graduate of Miami University with a degree in computer science and systems analysis, Derek actively combines his passions for animals and technology – developing and implementing all of MFA's websites, database systems, web advertising programs, and email communications. Under his direction, MFA's ChooseVeg.com website has become widely recognized as one of the web's most helpful and compelling pro-vegetarian websites, attracting over 2 million visitors annually.
Derek's journey into animal activism began as a teenager while working in the kitchen of a local Red Lobster restaurant. After witnessing lobsters steamed alive and stabbed with knives, Derek pledged never to eat lobster again. Derek quickly began to question the manner in which pigs, chickens, and cows were treated during meat production. Such questioning quickly led Derek toward vegetarianism after he acknowledged that he could not ethically justify causing animals to suffer and die simply for a palate preference.>>Read more about Derek
Video Production Manager
Lee Iovino serves as video production manager for Mercy For Animals, overseeing the creative development of the organization’s documentaries, event reviews, advertisements, and other media-related projects.
A driving force behind MFA’s powerful use of visual media to advocate on behalf of animals, Lee orchestrates film shots, voiceover recordings, music production, and audio and visual setup at special events.
Lee oversaw the creation of Farm to Fridge, MFA’s powerful mini-documentary exposing the horrific conditions of America’s factory farms. The hard-hitting film, narrated by Oscar-nominated actor James Cromwell, has been viewed over 20 million times since its release. Lee was also the editor of the documentary Behind the Orange Curtain, which examines the prescription pill epidemic in Orange County and won the Orange County Filmmaking Award at the Newport Beach Film Festival. Lee has worked with the makers of documentaries Forks Over Knives and Unity (a follow-up to the acclaimed Earthlings), and assisted in the production of MFA advertisements, which have aired on MTV, Animal Planet, Bravo, and other networks.
>>Read more about Lee
Kathleen Cahill serves as development manager for Mercy For Animals, overseeing fundraising and membership development programs, writing grant proposals and inspiring individuals, companies and foundations to support MFA’s mission to prevent cruelty to farmed animals.
Kathleen holds a bachelor of arts in communications and theater from Temple University in Philadelphia, where she first became vegetarian, although she had been concerned about animal welfare throughout her childhood. After graduating, she worked in the hotel and television production industries in New York City and Los Angeles for several years, until making the change to the non-profit sector in 2005.
Kathleen has extensive experience in fundraising, coordinating events and member relations. She has worked as a special events manager and development associate for several animal and ocean advocacy organizations. Her work with environmental organizations has taught her about the devastating impacts of factory farming on the natural world, in addition to the horrific abuses routinely inflicted on the animals. >>Read more about Kathleen
Investigations & Research Associate
Kate Ziegler serves as investigations and research associate for Mercy For Animals. Kate works closely with the director of investigations, reviewing and analyzing evidence documented by MFA’s undercover investigators. She assists MFA’s legal team to determine potential violations of law, and conducts extensive research into agribusiness practices and animal welfare standards.
Kate monitors meat, dairy, and egg industry publications, as well as advancements in the farmed animal advocacy movement. She helps MFA track the impact of factory farming on animal health and behavior, the environment, and food safety, and how these issues relate to MFA’s mission to promote compassionate food choices and policies.
With Kate’s help, MFA’s investigations have led to landmark cruelty prosecutions, historic corporate policy changes, and increased consumer awareness of the plight of farmed animals. For instance, after MFA uncovered horrific abuse and neglect at Ontario Livestock Sales, law enforcement officials charged the owner and seven employees with a total of twenty-one counts of cruelty to animals. Following MFA’s investigation at Christensen Farms, several of the nation’s leading grocery retailers, including Safeway, Kmart, and Costco, announced plans to phase out gestation crates from their pork supply chains. And after MFA’s investigation at Bettencourt Dairies—a dairy supplier to Kraft Foods, Burger King, and other major fast-food chains—CNN, CBS, ABC, NBC, The Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Miami Herald, and hundreds of other television, print, and online media outlets covered the case, reaching millions of people with the message of compassion.>>Read more about Kate
Eddie Garza serves as campaigns manager for Mercy For Animals, working closely with education department staff in strategizing and implementing outreach campaigns and projects, creating advertising campaigns across a diverse spectrum of media, including television, print, and internet, and serving as MFA’s spokesperson in the New York City area.
Eddie is guided by the peaceful teachings of Jivamukti Yoga, finding inspiration in its motto, "May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all."
A native of Brownsville, Texas, Eddie studied music education and orchestral performance at the University of North Texas, and taught in the Texas public school system for nearly a decade before dedicating his life to animal advocacy.
>>Read more about Eddie
Eastern Outreach Coordinator
Mikael Nielsen serves as eastern outreach coordinator for Mercy For Animals, recruiting and training activists throughout the eastern United States, assisting with the development of MFA’s effective advocacy resources, and serving as MFA’s spokesperson in the greater Chicago area.
Mikael holds a bachelor's degree in economics and mathematics and worked for 13 years in the international for-profit sector, focusing the last two on wind farm development all over the United States and Canada.
Born in Denmark, Mikael moved to the United States when he was 10 years old. While always a lover of animals, it was watching a friendly turkey on TV that was to be killed for Thanksgiving in 1996 that brought animal protection ideals to the forefront for Mikael and motivated him to go vegetarian and then vegan a few years later.
>>Read more about Mikael
Youth Outreach Coordinator
Nora Kramer serves as youth outreach coordinator for Mercy For Animals, developing high school and college outreach programs, including educational materials, presentations, and online advocacy campaigns, and overseeing youth-oriented outreach efforts. As youth outreach coordinator, Nora also works closely with animal rights and vegan student organizations nationwide to provide support and guidance in advocating for farmed animals.
Nora became vegan almost overnight in 1998 upon seeing the documentary Diet for a New America, despite having never heard of soy milk or tasted a veggie burger. She was so shocked to learn about the mistreatment of animals on farms and the environmental impact of livestock production that she soon felt compelled to do more than just change her own diet. Nora got active passing out leaflets, writing letters, organizing events, teaching humane education, and working with many different grassroots and national organizations on behalf of farmed animals. She also played instrumental roles in ballot campaigns in California and Ohio, which resulted in statewide bans on some of the most inhumane confinement systems suffered by tens of millions of farmed animals.
>>Read more about Nora
National Campaign Coordinator
Jeni Haines serves as national campaign coordinator for Mercy For Animals. She organizes and executes coast-to-coast tours and acts as media spokesperson for the purpose of raising public awareness about the plight of farmed animals and achieving corporate policy changes on their behalf.
Since graduating with honors from UC Berkeley with bachelor’s degrees in gender and women’s studies, and peace and conflict studies, she has toured extensively on behalf of farmed animals. Prior to joining the Mercy For Animals team, she toured with both Vegan Outreach and Farm Animal Rights Movement, pioneering the highly successful 10 Billion Lives tour. Her activism has taken her across the United States, Mexico, and Canada to plant seeds of compassion in the minds of the masses and give a voice to non-human animals through leafleting, Paid-Per-View screenings, and media campaigns.
Jeni is deeply interested in untangling the roots of all oppression and understanding and shedding light on their intrinsic interconnectedness. An avid writer, she explores and expresses these ideas through poetry and lyricism. She passionately devours copious amounts of fruit and enjoys exploring the cities to which she travels by way of a skateboard.
>>Read more about Jeni
Sarah Von Alt
Western Outreach Coordinator
Sarah Von Alt serves as western outreach coordinator for Mercy For Animals, recruiting and training activists throughout the western United States, assisting with the development of MFA’s effective advocacy resources, and serving as MFA’s spokesperson in the greater Los Angeles area.
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Sarah first became interested in animal rights and veganism in high school, and quickly became inspired to end the needless suffering of animals raised for food. With MFA founded in her hometown, Sarah began participating in local MFA events and activities. Sarah was also an integral part of the ballot initiative to ban some of the most abusive factory farming practices in Ohio. Before long, she joined the MFA team as Ohio campaign coordinator.
As Ohio campaign coordinator, Sarah worked with activists across the state to achieve meaningful change for farmed animals, and coordinated and oversaw hundreds of events. A believer in the power of humane education, Sarah has worked with teachers throughout Ohio, and in just the last year, has spoken before over 2,000 students on factory farming and compassion for animals.
>>Read more about Sarah
Chicago Outreach Coordinator
Mickey Kudia serves as Chicago outreach coordinator for Mercy For Animals, organizing and executing leafleting events and feed-ins throughout the greater Chicagoland area.
It was a close friend in high school that inspired Mickey to go vegetarian. The more his friend told him about how animals are raised and killed on modern factory farms, Mickey could no longer justify eating them, and ever since then he has been working diligently on behalf of farmed animals.
Born and raised in Schaumburg, IL, Mickey moved to Champaign, IL, to pursue a bachelor’s degree in environmental communications and education at the University of Illinois-Champaign. During his college years, Mickey transitioned to a vegan diet and became the vice-president of the Campus Vegetarian Society, helping to organize vegan potlucks, dining events, cooking classes and more.
When not speaking up on behalf of farmed animals, Mickey enjoys reading, riding his bike, listening to music, and grabbing a bite at Chicago’s very own Canary Confectionery.>>Read more about Mickey
Chicago Leafleting Coordinator
Leslie Patterson serves as Chicago leafleting coordinator for Mercy For Animals, organizing outreach events around the city and at local colleges since 2007. Leslie also uses time off from her full-time job as a public librarian to leaflet at colleges across Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio, and has reached over 50,000 students as part of Vegan Outreach's Adopt-a-College program.
A native of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, she became vegetarian after growing up in a liberal family with many beloved companion animals. She went vegan and committed her life to animal rights after attending a Mercy For Animals screening of Peaceable Kingdom in January of 2007. Leslie began volunteering for Mercy For Animals because of our focus on farmed animals and public outreach, as she reasoned that by promoting plant-based diets activists can help spare the largest number of animals from some of the worst abuse, and change how animals are viewed in our society.>>Read more about Leslie
New York City Outreach Coordinator
Jim Scotto serves as New York City outreach coordinator for Mercy For Animals, organizing volunteers and directing leafleting events throughout New York City’s five boroughs.
It was after a long winter of reflection in 2009 that Jim developed a strong consciousness of animal suffering and quickly adopted a vegan diet. Jim credits his awakening to a series of articles and videos detailing the plight animals face on modern day farms. Jim now spends the majority of his free time speaking up for farmed animals and encouraging New Yorkers to transition toward a more compassionate lifestyle.
Aside from being an avid advocate for farmed animals, Jim teaches physical education and coaches three sports at The Churchill School in Manhattan, where he is a mentor and living example for student athletes interested in vegan living.>>Read more about James
Dallas Special Projects Coordinator
Lisa Lipton serves as Dallas special projects coordinator for Mercy For Animals, using her love for education to coordinate MFA's compelling library displays on factory farming and vegetarian eating.
A New Jersey native, Lisa studied English at the University of Michigan before earning her master's degree in library science from Columbia University. Lisa is a longtime animal advocate who first became involved in animal protection by rescuing and fostering homeless animals. The proud guardian of six dogs and one cat, she adopted a vegan diet after watching MFA's investigative videos and becoming aware of the suffering routinely inflicted on farmed animals.
Lisa currently works as a librarian at the Dallas Central Library and supports MFA's "incredible work to uncover and ameliorate abuse on the farm." She enjoys planting the seeds of compassion by distributing leaflets to concert-goers and by participating in peaceful demonstrations for a wide variety of animal-related causes.>>Read more about Lisa
Cincinnati Outreach Coordinator
Kevin O'Connor serves as Cincinnati outreach coordinator for Mercy For Animals, organizing events, coordinating volunteers, and building community throughout Cincinnati.
Kevin is a transplanted New Yorker, who has lived in the Cincinnati area for the last 30 years. In 2006, he became fully aware of the needless suffering involved in animal agriculture, decided that he could no longer contribute to that violence, and adopted a vegan lifestyle. Ohio’s Issue 2, which sought to create an industry-slanted Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board in 2009, was the impetus that convinced Kevin to make the leap into active animal advocacy.
In 2010, Kevin became completely committed to fighting for the voiceless victims of factory farming when Ohioans for Humane Farms launched a ballot initiative campaign to ensure cows, pigs and chickens had at least enough space to stand up, turn around, extend their limbs, and lie down. During the campaign, he served as a county coordinator for Ohioans for Humane Farms, and later became MFA's Cincinnati leafleting coordinator, before taking over as an MFA outreach coordinator.>>Read more about Kevin