Several years ago I wrote an article for a local newspaper about an animal rights issue and was bombarded with brutal attacks from readers deriding me as a “card-carrying PETA member,” as if that designation qualified me as someone not to be trusted or believed … or even heard.
Puzzled by the McCarthey-esque appendage, I checked my wallet to verify. Yes, there it was: my PETA membership card. That surprising fact confirmed, I attempted to figure out why we PETA members are so routinely condemned out of hand.
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) remains one of the most successful animal rights organizations in the world. With more than 2 million members and supporters, it is the world’s largest, but also one of the most controversial — with probably the biggest target on its back. Just the mention of its name can elicit derogatory comments and create silent enemies. So why am I a member and why is it so controversial?
I’m a member because PETA is the most successful animal rights organization in the world and I believe in what they do. Through public education, undercover investigations, research, animal rescue, lobbying for legislation, protests and other campaigns, they seek to improve the lives of animals — all animals. They seek to educate people by changing minds about animals and how we humans treat (and mistreat) them. That is a noble ambition and a worthwhile cause.
They are controversial, I believe, in part because people confuse them with more radical groups such as the Animal Liberation Front, and partly because of their deliberately provocative ad campaigns designed to attract attention and make people rethink their habits and actions.
I tend to ignore the marketing hype — as I do with most things — and focus on the goals and purpose of the organization. Titillating nearly-naked celebrity ads promoting vegetarianism neither convinced me nor dissuaded me from choosing a meatless lifestyle.
In the beginning: 1980
Often, a significant event causes a person to make a drastic change in lifestyle. The same year that Ingrid Newkirk founded PETA, I was a teenager who gave birth to my only child. Having always been an animal lover, my role as parent and protector of this innocent life suddenly changed my perspective on the lives around me. As I drove around the rural Midwest, I noticed four-legged mothers with their babies. It seemed to me those mothers loved their babies every bit as much as I loved mine. It was enough to inspire me to become a vegetarian.
But it wasn’t until years later that PETA began seeping into my vocabulary, and even longer before I became a member. It wasn’t until I moved away from my very small hometown and began to experience a broader world that I realized the actions of a single person could have an impact.
I started sending a small annual amount of money to PETA and a few other organizations, such as the APSCA, HSUS and WWF. I began buying products that weren’t tested on animals. Eventually, I stopped wearing leather — which wasn’t as difficult a transition as I had expected. I adopted animals from shelters and rescues instead of purchasing them from pet stores.
But I remained secretive and almost apologetic about my PETA affiliation, embarrassed by the backlash, the questions and the criticism.
Guilt by association
Conversely, the more I read, saw and experienced, the more committed to PETA I became. When business was good, I increased the size of my donation. When I suffered the loss of a companion animal, I made an extra contribution as a memorial. When business was bad, I eliminated donations to other causes in order to continue being able to afford contributing to PETA. I even became bold enough to put a PETA sticker on my truck window, for all the world to see.
But the only time I attended a PETA protest was as a journalist. I was horrified by the verbal barbs slung at these peaceful protestors. I agreed with everything they stood for that day and was impressed by their cheerful demeanor in the face of verbal assaults.
That doesn’t mean I blindly follow PETA’s dictates, as I have been accused of doing. I don’t agree with every tenet. I challenge all PETA detractors to honestly evaluate their chosen religion, political party or any other organization they support or group they belong to: few outside of the founders will agree with every single line item. And yet, there is enough basic agreement that people continue to support causes and affiliations.
Already a loyal PETA member, it wasn’t until I met Ingrid Newkirk, co-founder and CEO, that my real commitment began. Our initial relationship was professional: an interview in which I asked her the questions that were so frequently hurled at me: why did she kill so many abandoned pets? did she support ALF? was this truly a non-violent organization? Satisfied with her responses, I listened to her talk about animals.
As we became friends, she shared with me some of the horrors of animal abuse and neglect she regularly encountered on her travels and in her investigations. I heard the sorrow and compassion in her voice. When we spent time together, I watched her politely interact with people and gently persuade them to be kinder to animals. This woman didn’t just talk the talk, she walked the walk. Every day and every encounter was an opportunity to change minds, to make life better for all animals.
A question of ethics
I continued learning from Ingrid by reading her books, my favorite of which is Making Kind Choices, an eye-opening guide to easy alternatives for everyday products that don’t involve animal cruelty.
Another simple lesson I learned was to use different language when discussing animals. It makes a difference. I no longer call myself a pet owner; I am an animal guardian, an animal caretaker. A subtle shift like this changes one’s outlook.
Animals have an inherent worth completely independent of their “usefulness” to humans. We have no intrinsic superiority that grants us authority to harm them for our benefit. Instead, we have a moral obligation to protect them.
Legally, the animals who live with me are still considered my property, but by viewing them as living, thinking, feeling beings with unique personalities and individual lives to lead, I treat them differently — and I believe others would treat the animals in their lives differently if they looked at them this way.
A voice for animals
PETA has been enormously influential in introducing such revolutionary, yet basic, ideas to the world. Their credo is simple: animals are not ours to eat, to wear, to experiment on, to use for entertainment or to abuse in any way. Animals have a right to live free from pain and suffering.
People often ask why animals should have rights, using exaggerated arguments against animal rights by bringing up ridiculous notions of animals voting or humans marrying animals. According to Peter Singer in his ground-breaking book Animal Liberation, the basic principle of equality doesn’t require identical (equal) treatment; it requires equal consideration. Animals have the same ability to suffer as humans do. They feel pain, fear, loneliness, happiness and love, just as we do. We have no right to inflict pain or neglect their needs.
No longer afraid of the reaction to my support of PETA, I now distribute their Vegetarian Starter Kits and express my opinion, publicly and privately but always politely, about hunting, fishing, circuses and zoos, laboratory testing, hoarding in the name of rescue and animal rights as well as animal welfare. In the end, my rebuttal to all those who question my PETA affiliation is: what do you have against treating animals ethically?
A distraught whistleblower from Shin Nippon Biomedical Laboratories (SNBL), a notorious Everett, Washington-based animal testing conglomerate, contacted PETA to reveal shocking allegations of mistreatment of animals used in painful and lethal experiments. The whistleblower weighed her concerns for her job and fear of retaliation against the suffering and deaths of animals that she witnessed every day at SNBL and repeatedly appealed to SNBL managers and supervisors to improve conditions for animals in the company’s laboratories. After those pleas were ignored, she felt compelled to contact PETA.
SNBL torments tens of thousands of primates, dogs, rabbits, and other animals every year to test products for other companies. It force-feeds animals experimental chemicals to intentionally sicken and kill them and infects them with debilitating diseases.
SNBL is the third-largest importer of primates in the U.S., purchasing nearly 3,000 monkeys every year from China, Cambodia, Israel, and Indonesia—some snatched from their homes and families in the wild—for use in experiments.
According to the whistleblower, in one experiment at SNBL, monkeys were hooked to their cages with a metal tether through which ice-cold saline solution and test compounds were continuously dripped into their veins. The monkeys were kept like this for many months and reportedly were so cold that they shivered and their teeth chattered non-stop. Monkeys had blood drawn from their arms many times a day, resulting in swelling, redness, and bruising of their limbs. These wounds were considered “routine” and were never treated. After the first few blood draws, the monkeys’ veins were damaged, and workers would poke and dig around in the limb to find others. The monkeys winced, screamed, trembled, and shook, and tried to defend themselves. The whistleblower said, “Eventually, many of the monkeys stop fighting and reacting … it is like the life is gone from them.”
While working at SNBL, the whistleblower observed workers handling the monkeys so violently that the animals suffered bloodied noses, broken fingers and toes, and bruises to their bodies. Their tails were bent or deformed because workers slammed cage doors on them. The employees also allegedly banged loudly on the monkeys’ cages to frighten and intimidate them into being quiet. Managers and supervisors apparently knew of this ongoing physical and psychological abuse of monkeys but refused to stop it.
The whistleblower also reported that monkeys were tied for many hours in restraint chairs with their arms and legs kept entirely immobile as drugs were injected intravenously over the course of a day. The whistleblower said, “The monkeys fight continuously for hours to loosen the ropes … it is just too much for them.” Some monkeys collapsed in the restraint chairs and never recovered.
A USDA report from 2011 documented that 78 percent of the monkeys at SNBL are caged alone—in violation of federal law—unable to touch or interact in any way with other monkeys. This is so distressing to monkeys that they develop stress-induced abnormal behaviors such as self-mutilation, incessant rocking, and hair-pulling.
Like the whistleblower, federal inspectors have also found cruelty and neglect inside SNBL’s laboratories. U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection and investigation reports reveal hundredsof violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act. The company was recently assessed fines of $31,000 and $12,900 for denying veterinary care and adequate pain relief to suffering animals and failing to ensure that experiments were not duplicated. SNBL also made headlines in 2008 after a whistleblower revealed that a monkey had been boiled to death when her cage was put into a high-temperature cage-washing machine while she was still in it. In 2010, the FDA cited SNBL for failing to ensure that employees charged with providing care for the thousands of animals at SNBL were properly trained.
SNBL’s customers—the companies for which it conducts tests on animals—include Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, Eli Lilly, AstraZeneca, Genentech, and Seattle Genetics. Several government agencies—including the Department of Defense, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Health and Human Services—have signed contracts with SNBL worth more than $1 million. And, SNBL profits from the importation and sales of monkeys for use in experimentation.
Please take a stand for the monkeys imprisoned at SNBL by calling on airlines to stop transporting primates destined for laboratorie
Actors’ Partnerships With Revlon Net Them ‘Kind Choices’ Award
Los Angeles, CA — When actors Emma Stone and Olivia Wilde chose to partner with Revlon, they were signing on to represent one of the country’s first mainstream cruelty-free cosmetics companies. In 1990—more than 10 years before either Stone or Wilde landed her first acting role—Revlon agreed to PETA’s request to permanently ban all product testing on animals. In the intervening decades, it has held fast to that pledge. And for choosing to promote only cruelty-free cosmetics, Emma Stone and Olivia Wilde have both earned a Kind Choices Award from PETA. They will each receive a framed certificate and a card signed by PETA staffers.
“Emma, Olivia, and Revlon have our thanks for encouraging millions of fashion-forward young women to choose makeup that’s luxurious, not lethal,” says PETA Vice President of Laboratory Investigations Kathy Guillermo. “Cruelty-free companies such as Revlon make it easy for all of us to get a glamorous look without harming a hair on a bunny’s head.”
Some companies, such as L’Oreal and Johnson & Johnson, still test their personal-care and household products on animals despite the availability of more sophisticated methods. No law requires that cosmetics be tested on animals in the U.S., and modern non-animal methods are available to assess product safety.
MCA Denver’s “Thinking About Flying” exhibit is doing wrong by pigeons. They are
sending these extraordinary, intelligent, and highly social birds—who mate for
life and form strong bonds with other pigeons—home with any visitor to the
museum who asks, on the premise that the people will release the birds and see
if they can find their way back to a rooftop loft. Will anyone eat a pigeon?
Keep them in a tiny box for life as a “pet”? Or, if released, will the birds be
at risk, as “racing pigeons” always are, of running into power lines, getting
lost, and not knowing how to feed themselves—of being picked off by a hawk or
running into bad weather that downs them, among other hazards?
pigeons’ remarkable navigation abilities and intelligence, many birds die when
they fly into unexpected bad weather, are poisoned, or are attacked by predators
while trying to return to their lofts. If they must land because of injury,
exhaustion, or high winds, they will often starve to death because they were
born in captivity and haven’t a clue how to fend for themselves out there. The
decision by the artist and MCA Denver to encourage that the birds be taken to
strangers’ homes in crates, with the strangers then trusted to release them from
unfamiliar locations up to 100 miles away, only compounds these risks.
Pigeons also have complex and fragile social relationships. This
exhibition exploits these bonds by intentionally separating pigeons from their
mates, babies, and eggs; allowing them to be transported to the visitors’ homes;
and placing them in the care of people with whom they’re not familiar, which
creates intense anxiety for the birds. It is also irresponsible to trust museum
visitors who have no experience with pigeons to provide the proper concern and
care. This misguided endeavor, tragically, will result in incidents of abuse and
neglect, whether deliberate or not. This would be analogous to the museum
lending out dogs to visitors and then having these people release them in the
neighborhood in the hope that the dogs, who often have a keen ability to find
their way home, will find their way back to the museum.
The pigeons are
not another inanimate medium to be manipulated or voluntary participants in this
experimental installation but are sentient beings who are desperate to return
home to their mates, eggs, and offspring—and often don’t make it. Contact Adam Lerner, director of MCA Denver, and urge the museum to
cancel this exhibition immediately and adopt a policy that prohibits the
exhibition of artwork that includes the use of live animals, the killing of
animals, or the bodies of animals killed specifically for the production of a
work of art.
Dover, Del. — After filing two complaints with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regarding the physical safety and psychological well-being of two elephants, PETA has learned that the agency has now filed formal charges against the Cole Bros. Circus. The circus is scheduled to perform in Dover from August 31 to September 1. PETA had pointed out that two elephants, Tina and Jewell, were forced to travel and perform despite being hundreds of pounds underweight and were sent to an unlicensed exhibitor with a long history of violating the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The more than 10 charges filed against Cole Bros. by the USDA include failure to provide adequate veterinary care to the elephants and failure to hire personnel capable of caring for them.
In 2009, the USDA felt that the case was so serious that the agency confiscated Jewell and also removed Tina. However, Cole Bros. continues to use other elephants in old-fashioned circus acts, and PETA recently sent the USDA alarming video footage taken at the Cole Bros. Circus in Lanesboro, Mass., on June 17 that shows a handler who repeatedly struck an elephant using a bullhook (a rod with a solid steel-pointed end that resembles a fireplace poker), including forcefully hitting the animal twice in the face. Also in June, the USDA cited an elephant exhibitor with Cole Bros. for multiple violations of the AWA, including the use of “excessive force while tugging at” an elephant by digging a bullhook into her flesh.
“We hope that the USDA’s action against Cole Bros. puts circuses on notice that if they treat animals cruelly, justice will be sought,” says PETA Director Delcianna Winders. “We ask the public not to take children to animal circuses because attendance supports suffering.”
Despite knowing about the suffering that goes into every fur-trimmed coat,
hat, and bag, Donna Karan has made the cruel decision to use the skins of dead
rabbits in her clothing lines.
Animals on fur farms spend their entire lives confined to cramped, filthy
wire cages, and fur farmers use the cheapest and cruelest killing methods
available. Foxes, minks, coyotes, and rabbits—and even dogs and cats—are
bludgeoned, genitally electrocuted, and often skinned alive for their fur.
One of the best ways that you can help animals who are beaten and tortured
for their fur is to tell Donna Karan executives that you’ll boycott the
designer’s collections until she stops using fur. Many top designers—including
Stella McCartney, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Liz
Claiborne—have chosen to create wonderful work without using animal fur.