Nonviolence is the highest moral virtue

“Ahimsa paramo dharma” is the fundamental tenet of Humane Long Island and permeates throughout all we do.  

Ahimsa Paramo dharma

Ahimsa paramo dharma

Attributed to various religious teachers, including Mahavira—the 24th Tirthankara or enlightened spiritual master in Jainism—and popularized by Mahatma Gandhi, “ahimsa paramo dharma” is loosely translated to “nonviolence is the highest moral virtue.” Ahimsa—Sanskrit for non-violence or non-injury to life—requires doing the least harm one can to all living beings, not only by action but also by thought and word. An important tenet of many of the Eastern faiths, including Hinduism and Buddhism, Ahimsa is the fundamental tenet of Jainism. Paramo means topmost, ultimate, or supreme. Dharma has no direct translation into English; however, it can be conceptualized as duty, reality, or righteousness in thought, word, and action.

Unlike western conceptions of non-violence, ahimsa is not a passive force, but implies an active expression of compassion. In the same vein, Humane Long Island does not believe it’s enough to simply go vegan but rather believes we must become activists.

the future of Sanctuaries

Humane Long Island is not your typical animal sanctuary. Rescuing hundreds of wild and farmed animals every year, Humane Long Island could easily fill a traditional sanctuary in a matter of months. Instead, we operate as a transitional sanctuaryrescuing, rehabilitating, and rehoming hundreds of farmed animals every single year from abandonment, abuse, and neglect instead of keeping them permanently. Through this model, we rescue exponentially more animals than a traditional sanctuary while also telling their stories via traditional media urging the public to break the cycle of abuse by leaving animals off of their plates.  

While we once rented property with an aviary, Humane Long Island is currently foster-based while we search for a more permanent location where we can not only continue our rescue operations but also launch an Activist Education Center where we can host workshops, trainings, fundraisers, and events to honor the South Asian traditions. If you would like to donate toward this effort, please consider visiting our donation or sponsorship pages. You may also contact for more information or to discuss donation of land or other property. 

Warriors for peace

Taking inspiration from Mahavira, a name meaning “Great Warrior”, Humane Long Island is not your typical animal rights organization. We are strategic campaigners who have shut down petting zoos and illegal backyard butcher operations, stopped massacres of thousands of geese and deer, ended animal circuses and wild animal acts from New York City to Greenport, stopped a slaughterhouse from being built in Islip and a sordid aquarium chain from expanding into Oyster Bay, and done so much more, through the implementation of right thought and action. 

We do not approach animal exploiters with pride or anger, but rather as humane educators with thoughts of consequentialism. We recognize that a person’s every action is the result of the disposition they were born with—whether one calls that a soul, a Jiva, or simply their genetic makeup—and how that disposition is influenced by environmental factors, experiences, or karmas. A wicked person is not someone to be feared or loathed, but rather a broken person who needs to be loved and healed.

Through this mindset, we regularly exchange vegan food for animals at New York City live slaughter markets, have worked with our friends at PETA and Arthur’s Acres Animal Sanctuary to rescue two pigs from an Iowa factory farm, and even worked amicably with Party Pets of New York owner Andre Ricaud to shut down his petting zoo and retire the animals to reputable sanctuaries.  

How ahimsa has shaped humane LI’s leadership

John Di Leonardo

John Di Leonardo

Founder, Executive Director & Anthrozoologist

John always wanted to make the world a better place. Early on, John committed valiant acts of violence in defense of others who could not adequately defend themselves, taking on bullies in the schoolyard as a child and pursuing rapists and violent gangs as a teenager.

As his worldview expanded, John learned that not only were the biggest problems well beyond his fists but that violence only begets more violence. He disbanded his gang of vigilantes and began study in counseling and school psychology with the goal of helping neurologically diverse children when they were young and most malleable.

At Siena College, John learned about Jainism and his life changed forever. John had never met a vegetarian and believed all the typical fallacies, namely that killing animals was a necessary sin and that humans could not survive—much less thrive—without consuming the flesh of animals. Suddenly, John was presented not only with an entire community that had eschewed meat for thousands of years but ascetics who were so dedicated to ahimsa that they waited for berries to fall off the vine so as not to molest the plant.

John felt small and cowardly. How could he claim to be protecting his community while consuming the lives of others? After class, he went to the cafeteria and loaded up a plate full of chickens, but this time—he saw the carcasses as individuals rather than food. He pushed his plate away and never ate meat again. A year later, John learned how infant cows were torn from their mothers so we can consume milk meant for them and how in the egg industry male chicks are killed—suffocated or ground alive—at only one day old because they cannot lay eggs. The weight of the cruelties in this world seemed bigger than John could bear but he knew he could no longer participate in these cruelties himself. 

Shortly thereafter, John received an email from PETA inviting to him to protest Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus during his Spring break. Enclosed were pictures of baby elephants chained and beaten. John made a small vow, or Anuvrat, to dedicate his Spring break to peacefully protesting outside Nassau Coliseum each day. Following these demonstrations, he felt empowered and made another vow, to see the end of Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus’s exploitation of animals before he died.  

Before he knew it, John was an anthrozoologist employed by the largest animal rights organization in the world and leading the last ever Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus protest at Nassau Coliseum where it all began. The circus giant had fallen, and he was not even 30.

John has continued to take small but significant vows, leading the campaign that ended SeaWorld’s sordid orca breeding program and its circus-style dolphin shows, convincing the Iditarod dogsled race’s major sponsorsincluding ExxonMobil and Fiat-Chryslerto pull half a million dollars annually from the dog death race, shutting down Cole Bros. Circus, stopping slaughterhouses and sordid aquarium chains from expanding onto Long Island, and most importantly founding Humane Long Island.

John has since earned a graduate certificate in Jain Studies from the International School of Jain Studies in India and was honored to receive the inaugural Gandhi Award from the Compassion Awards in 2022. He now speaks regularly at events within the South Asian American community, including the Jain Jagruti Centre (JJC USA)’s 2023 Connect-Con, the Shanti Fund’s 2023 celebration of Mahavir Jayanti, and Vegan Vision’s 2022 celebration of Deepawali. John published a professional paper calling on pinjrapoles to challenge zoos in the Indian journal Sramana and has been published in Young Jains UK magazine and A Lotus in the Mud web magazine. He also volunteers for the Shanti Fund to manage a weekly column about Jain Sadhu Acharya Tulsi’s Anuvrat Movement in The South Asian Times. 

Juliana Di Leonardo

Juliana Di Leonardo

Vice President of Arts & Humane Education

Juliana was immensely concerned with human and animal suffering and environmental degradation since she was a child. As a young adult, she joined John’s protests against Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and Cole Bros. Circus before Humane Long Island was even founded. In 2013, she led her own protest against Piccadilly Circus when John was in Detroit and unable to lead a protest himself.

Despite participating in animal rights demonstrations, Juliana did not truly find her community until she studied ahimsa at Yoga Darshana in Babylon in 2014. At Yoga Darshana, Juliana was introduced to Hinduism and became a yoga instructor and a vegetarian. The following year, she was introduced to Jainism and became vegan.

Today, Juliana is a 500 RYT yoga instructor and the owner of Ahimsa Arts LLCwhere she teaches yoga, dance, and kindness, with a portion of proceeds benefiting Humane Long Island.