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Belinda Carlisle: On the 'Go' for the Animal People Alliance

by Bill Biss
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Feb 12, 2015

Though Belinda Carlisle will always consider herself a 'punk rocker' at heart, Carlisle has much more than music on her mind these days. An animal rights activist since her early days as the lead vocalist for The Go-Go's, this passion for both beasts and children has reached a new plateau in her life.

A frequent traveler to India, she was inspired by the tremendous work being done there by an organization called Animal Aid Unlimited to rescue street animals, providing them care from the on-site hospital and shelter in Udaipur. From there, Carlisle knew she wanted to be involved in this crucial effort to bring a new understanding to the population of India about animal rights while also providing an elevation of education and work to those in need. But... how to do it?

Enter Paul Suit, the managing director of 'Made by Survivors.' The organization has already helped countless children and teenagers learn a skilled trade, receive a top quality education while providing shelters for the victims of human trafficking. His efforts and brainstorming along with Carlisle's renewed sense of purpose led them to create the Animal People Alliance.

Under the umbrella of 'Made by Survivors' this brand new non-profit organization, the Animal People Alliance is everything that Belinda Carlisle had dreamed of. Its mission statement is to provide high quality care to animals in need while also providing high quality employment to survivors of human rights abuses and other vulnerable populations. Their plan is to create national network to train and employ survivors in veterinary nursing and dog handling, offering ongoing training, oversight and resources.

One of the start-up fundraising efforts of Animal People Alliance is an upcoming Rickshaw Ride across India that begins on the first of March. Carlisle and noted videographer Dan Rucks [] will take a 10-day journey to bring awareness to and raise funding for the organization (check out for donations and details).

Belinda Carlisle and Dan Rucks share just how they are making a difference in this exclusive interview for EDGE Media Network. Carlisle's lyrics... 'Baby, do you know what that's worth? ...Love comes first,' still ring loud and clear in every way, because of the work being done in India by Animal People Alliance.

Always loved animals

EDGE: Where did your initial inspiration come from to create the Animal People Alliance?

Belinda Carlisle: Ever since I was a little girl... I have loved animals. About eight years ago, I went to Udaipur, India. I went to this amazing animal hospital that was created by this great American family from Seattle, Jim and Erica Abrams and their daughter, Claire. They created everything that I ever dreamed of. They had an animal hospital and sanctuary for beasts of burden, a spayed and neutering program along with educational programs. They do so much for the animals in that area.

I thought, this is something that I really, really want to do one day and I'll know when the time is right. So, a year ago, a friend of mine, Paul Suit, [the managing director of a non-governmental organization (NGO) called 'Made by Survivors'] and I met in Bangkok with some other friends of ours. Paul said, 'I'm about to do some sort of animal project for Kolkata, West Bengal.' Well, everybody knows I love I thought, 'Hmm, I really want to do this.' I didn't say anything. A few months later, I called, asking him if he was still doing this as I would love to do it with him. He was.

That's how it started and the model that we aspire to is Animal Aid Unlimited in Udaipur, as what they are doing for animals there is incredible.

EDGE: I'm so happy that you have made this happen with the Animal People Alliance and that this means so much to you and everyone involved. I'm glad you're not giving up performing. Yet, the Animal People Alliance is really a phenomenal cause.

Belinda Carlisle: Yeah, I'll always sing and I think I'll always have that opportunity. I have such an amazing back catalogue between The Go Go's and my own stuff. Yet, this is definitely authentic and I've always been about being 'authentic.' Also, I'm a gypsy and I'm not normal... I know that. I may look normal but I'm not normal. I kind of crave adventure and why not combine animals, adventure, service and India? I'm moving to Bangkok in October so this is not like somebody who is calling in to see what's going on or 'yeah, I'll go do a fundraiser.' I tend to be there, on the ground and be pretty much 'hands-on.' As a matter of fact, after the Rickshaw Ride, I'm training to be a dog handler. So, it's a beginning, really, of a new chapter in my life and I'm SO fuckin' excited (laughter).

Dan Rucks: We are also helping the women, who are already a step behind there. They are not supposed to work or have a better life. They are supposed to just have kids. We're trying to change that too, which is unbelievable.

Started small

EDGE: That's the organization created by the Abrams family.

Belinda Carlisle: Yes. We're starting small. We partnered with our animal hospital in Kolkata called Mother's Heart. It's all about education, creating employment for the vulnerable populations, human rights survivors and also, lower caste people... people who have a stigma and it keeps them from getting employment. Establishing a veterinary network through the country with a new middle class emerging, is something that's really important because a lot of people who want pets, really don't know how to treat them.

EDGE: This sounds like a huge endeavor as well as the fundraising effort doing the Animal People Rickshaw Ride.

Dan Rucks: Yeah, we're doing 100 miles a day which isn't a lot but where the streets aren't paved and there's no's a lot. I think it's so great that she took the ball and is figuring out solutions. That's what is so great about it. It's India and I was like, how can I help? There's pollution, overcrowding, there's poverty and the animals. There are so many issues. The first time I visited there, I was shocked.

Belinda Carlisle: This project is many, many different things. Working with Paul and the creators of 'Made by Survivors,' who are very successful in what they do...with these girls who are basically rescued from the cycle of slavery, to create this new animal project. It's really exciting and it's what I want to do for the rest of my life. I'll always sing but this is what I want to do. I want to have an exciting life and I also want to be of service. It's something that is a dream come true.

Dogs considered pariahs

EDGE: Your enthusiasm is excellent. How long has the Animal People Alliance been operating now?

Belinda Carlisle: Pretty much off the ground about eight months now. So, it's really new but in these past months, we partnered with Mother's Heart Animal Hospital in Kolkata and Animal Aid, who are partnering with us as far as training the women to be veterinarians and dog handlers. In India as in a lot of third world countries, you'll see dogs roaming the streets in packs. It's a big part of society. The dogs love being on the street. They don't really care about being warm and cuddly and fuzzy in somebody's house. Some of them are very friendly to people...some of them aren't.

The attitude towards dogs for most people in India is very, very different. They're considered pariahs, they're dirty, dangerous and full of disease. They don't have feelings... they're thought of being just...

EDGE: Like rodents.

Belinda Carlisle: Exactly. So, going into the schools with education with the kids is a really bigger part of it. Teaching them that animals can be happy, they can be sad and they feel pain. It's making a difference in that way, which is one of the great things that Animal Aid does and one of the things that we intend to do.

Dan Rucks: That's exactly why we're stepping in and helping with this. It's out of control. The street dogs are out of control. Something needs to be done as it's like a free-for-all there as far as animal control.

Belinda Carlisle: We've already received a big grant from LUSH Cosmetics. They're really big on animal rights projects. They were really kind and we got a big jumpstart from them, besides the donations which are coming in. We already have an office and an animal hospital and things are really moving along really quickly. There aren't that many animal services in India. They do exist... but a lot of them exist on practically nothing and need help. I think Animal Aid is probably the most respected animal hospital in India.

Rickshaw idea

EDGE: Who came up with the idea for this major journey in the auto-rickshaw?

Belinda Carlisle: Oh, I didn't (laughter). But, it's so up-my-alley. I like adventure travel and extreme travel and Paul Suit has done a lot of charity runs across India in the rickshaw. He suggested it and I thought it sounds like a really amazing time. It's pretty hardcore. But, I'm spent so much time in India myself and you see weird things every day. We're going through back roads and to places where tourists never go... we're going to see even weirder things. It's really exciting.

EDGE: Dan, will you describe some of your emotions when you were asked to join Belinda for this Animal People Alliance trip?

Dan Rucks: I was completely over the moon when I found out. I get to collaborate yet again with my idol, muse and friend. Now we have a mission. A cause that's bigger than us. Doing entertainment gigs with Belinda is always special but now with APA we have a message to get out and a journey to film. It's very important to her.

EDGE: What are some of your goals for photographing this trip, Dan?

Dan Rucks: Besides capturing the hi-jinx and shenanigans of spending ten days in an auto rickshaw with Belinda, I want to capture how Animal People Alliance brings people in need and animals in need together; how victims of human trafficking are being trained to help street dogs and how Animal People Alliance is facilitating this.

Some of this will not be easy to look at and if you've been to India you know a lot will write (film) itself. Belinda calls it 'divine chaos.' The footage will be seen on 'CBS Insider' in March when Belinda appears and OWN's 'Where Are They Now?' this summer. I will also be entering it as a documentary into film festivals.

Meeting Dan

EDGE: With Dan as videographer on this fundraising trip from Kolkata, West Bengal to Udaipur, Rajasthan where Animal Aid is located, how did you two meet and how did he end up being a part of this?

Belinda Carlisle: I met Dan before my 'Runaway Horses' album. He used to come to my shows and throw these really hideous, artificial rice cakes on stage that I was obsessed with. That's all I would eat, because I wanted to be skinny... at the expense of my gums bleeding, by the way. He would throw these on stage and I was like, 'Who is this kid that knows I like these?' That's how I met him.

I know he was working towards being a filmmaker and he'd never done a video before. I had just had my son and the record company needed a video for a song I did called 'Little Black Book.' Dan sent me an idea for it as I only wanted to be shot from the neck up, because I had just given birth (laughter). He came up with this great concept. As you probably know, he's a real genius editor. That's when I first worked with him. I pretty much gave him his start, of working with all these grand divas like Cher and Madonna and so on and so forth.

Dan Rucks: She honestly opened a lot of doors for me.

Belinda Carlisle: He came to India with me about six years ago and we did a lot of filming then and it was used for Animal Aid. We always knew that we would do something together, eventually. I think that this is truly important. I know Dan is going to get some great footage. I wanted to do something I've never, never done before. Doing something good for the world and I think this could be really interesting for some people and inspirational. I can drive past a pack of dogs in Thailand, for example and I'm like, 'Don't worry. I'm going to make a difference somehow.' I really have the potential to make a difference.

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