Confessions of a card-carrying PETA member
By Lori Lovely
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 vegan journey
By Lori Lovely
It was a lovely spring day many years ago when a teenager was riding in the passenger seat of a racecar hauler that was being driven through rural Iowa on its way to a race. Gazing serenely upon the passing view, she observed pastoral scenes of cows, young calves in tow, grazing tranquilly on fresh green grass.
It was a familiar sight: the backdrop of her life in small-town Midwest America. But suddenly it struck her. Although not familiar with the unbearably gruesome details of the slaughterhouse, she intuitively understood the future that lay ahead of these gentle creatures. The connection between those rest stop burgers and these mothers with their babies, once made, could never be undone. She never ate meat again.
That teenager was me. That was my moment of clarity.
Giving up meat was easy for me—much easier than enduring the questions, jokes, taunts and sneers slung at me due to my choice. Because of the ridicule hurled my way, I was low-key about it, quietly trying to eat vegetarian options without notice or fanfare. I got so tired of answering questions about what I did and didn’t eat and why I did or didn’t eat it. (No, I don’t eat fish. Yes, they are animals.)
Back then I didn’t proselytize. The choice I made was right for me, but I didn’t push my values on anyone else. I just wanted to eat in peace.
It took about ten more years for the next moment of clarity: The animals just wanted to live in peace. At that point I gave up leather. I also began donating to animal rights organizations, adopting pets from shelters and rescues and respectfully talking to friends about eating meat, hunting, fishing and countless other activities that hurt animals.
As my voice became stronger, my use of animal products diminished even further. And then, one day about five years ago, my husband and I decided to go vegan. Overnight. Done. It seemed the natural progression for me: the next step. I thought it would be much easier for me than for my husband, who wasn’t even vegetarian. I had a lot to learn.
The first person I turned to was Ingrid Newkirk, who had become a close friend. She immediately sent us several books by Dr. Neal Barnard, another good friend. They were a tremendous aid—a sort of instruction manual. While they contained some recipes, their value was more in the instructional guidance they offered.
We followed the steps proscribed in one of Neal’s books. First, we cleared the refrigerator and cupboards of everything that wasn’t vegan. Anything unopened was donated, the rest either fed to the dogs or tossed out.
Next, we went to the supermarket to restock the shelves. It took us ages to shop that day because we had to carefully scrutinize the labels on every single item. We were astonished to see how many items were made with milk. We could hardly find a loaf of bread at our regular supermarket. We felt defeated before we’d even begun. This wasn’t going to be as easy as we’d thought.
We persevered. My husband sampled a few brands of faux meat, but after 30 years of a vegetarian diet, that didn’t interest me. We looked through vegan cookbooks for interesting dishes. There were hits and misses. We struggled with the transition for a while.
One night, just as we were finishing chores on the farm, a vegan friend and neighbor who likes to cook brought us a couple servings of the black bean lasagna and Thai salad she had just made. That turned the tide for us. So there were delicious vegan entrees, after all! Modifying her recipe a bit, we’ve made the dish many times, especially when we have guests for dinner. Everyone loves it, whether they’re vegan or not. That led, in turn, to other recipes, more experimentation and additional sharing.
There were setbacks as we learned the vegan lingo that led to us eliminating additional items from our shopping list. I already knew that gelatin and marshmallows are made with beef tallow (although the nutritional label won’t tell you so), but we discovered that casein, a dairy product, is a common ingredient in many foods and some lecithin comes from meat, dairy or eggs. Label reading became trickier.
Vegan items are often stocked in the organic section at the supermarket, but organic doesn’t mean meat- and dairy-free. Nor does vegetarian. Few products carry a vegan label (although I wish the FDA would insist that they did; it would be so much simpler!)
We had to remain vigilant to avoid items with meat and dairy. We became detectives, investigating the food we considered putting in our mouths for hidden animal products. We began eliminating foods when their labels read “may contain milk.” If the producer couldn’t be sure, neither could we.
It’s easy enough to prepare vegan meals at home. However, it’s been tougher on my husband when he travels with the race team, often stuck at a race track until late at night, or stranded at some hotel in a foreign city—or country—with limited options and no transportation. Then there are the countless late nights at the race shop, when they order pizza that he can’t eat. I’m proud of him for sticking to it, taking his lunch to the shop, stashing granola bars in his backpack to nosh while the rest of the team is dining on take-out.
Despite some bumps and detours, the road has become easier with time as new habits develop. We’ve made new vegan friends and found out that a few we already had are now vegan too. Everyone has a favorite dish or recipe or restaurant they’re eager to share. Ingrid sends us vegan care packages every year with new yummies to tempt us and teach us that eating a plant-based diet is healthy, tasty and completely doable. As my neighbor said, it can be a fun challenge to figure out how to “veganize” a recipe.
It’s certainly easier—and more acceptable—to be vegan these days than it was when I first gave up meat 35 years ago. I no longer have to hide my dinner plate or feel like an imposition at the company Christmas party. I’m no longer embarrassed to inquire about the ingredients, or to politely decline if they include animal products.
Now I’m more apt to ask others why they eat meat when there is so much documentation of its adverse health effects and the devastating impact of animal agriculture on our environment … and, of course, for me perhaps the most important aspect of it all: the suffering it causes animals.
Reading labels has become second nature. Neal was right about retraining taste buds. I don’t miss Parmesan cheese. (Yes, we eat pizza without cheese and we like it.) I know I’m healthier since I gave up candy. I also know I feel better about us because we are not contributing to animal cruelty or global warming. There is no cruelty on our plates.
I ask everyone to join us—for your own health, for the future of our planet and for the innocent animals whose lives are so unjustly stolen in the name of cuisine.
Following reports that thumbtacks have been found all across the Ohlone Dog Park in the past several weeks and that at least two dogs have been injured by them, PETA is sending a letter to the local police chief offering $1,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible—and another $1,000 toward the installation of security cameras at the park.
“All dogs desire and deserve a safe, protected space in which to run, explore, and interact with other dogs,” says PETA President Ingrid Newkirk. “PETA hopes the police will install cameras and that anyone who can help nab the person or persons responsible for trying to harm dogs will come forward right away.”
PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to abuse in any way”—advises families to keep their animal companions safely indoors and never leave them unattended outside. When taken to dog parks, they should be watched closely, and dogs should always be accompanied in the backyard and escorted on walks on a comfortable, secure harness and leash.
For more information, please visit PETA.org.
PETA’s letter to Bill Goswick, police chief of Hercules, follows.
February 12, 2016
City of Hercules
Dear Mr. Goswick:
I’m writing on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and our more than 3 million members and supporters, including hundreds of thousands across California, regarding the thumbtacks strewn throughout the Ohlone Dog Park and to make an offer that would benefit the residents of your community, human and canine alike: We’d like to contribute $1,000 toward the installation of CCTV cameras at the Ohlone Dog Park and a $1,000 reward to encourage someone to come forward with any information that may lead to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for this cruel act.
All dogs desire and deserve a safe, protected space in which to run, explore, and interact with other dogs, and this designated dog park should, of course, offer a safe way for responsible guardians to meet their animals’ needs. Cruelty to animals is always a community concern. People who abuse animals rarely do so only once and often go on to harm humans as well. According to the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, 76 percent of people who abuse animals also abuse a family member, and the American Psychiatric Association identifies cruelty to animals as one of the diagnostic criteria for conduct disorders.
Our offer would help protect all Ohlone Dog Park visitors—both people and dogs. We would love to work with you and the police department to make this happen. Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing back.
Very truly yours,
Ingrid E. Newkirk
By Lori Lovely
Some of you may remember reading about the dreadful fish massacre that took place a few years ago while my husband and I were in transition, moving from the suburbs to our farm. Our house was pretty much vacant, but when I stopped by to pick up another load of “stuff,” I went to check on our beautiful koi pond. What I found was a bloody scene of terror, with dead, brutally beaten koi strewn about our patio and yard.
Despite the generous reward PETA offered for information leading to an arrest, the neighborhood punks who perpetrated this senseless violence eluded the law.
We mourned the loss of our cherished friends and began the gruesome cleanup. As we sorted through the devastation and destruction in our pond, we discovered one injured baby and a few fry hiding in the rocks. We immediately set up a “temporary” tank in our new garage and brought them to the farm. Our plan was to build a bigger, better koi pond in our back yard as soon as possible.
As soon as possible turned out to be seven years, but we were finally able to accomplish that goal. Unfortunately, the new pond was too late for most of the survivors of that shockingly horrible atrocity.
When we were down to one 20-inch orange koi earlier this year, my husband suggested finding him a new home. Instead, true to my motto “Where we go one, we go all,” this spring we headed to a pond store to purchase a few friends for Fishie.
The spectacular display ponds on the premises inspired us. My husband, who was struggling through chemotherapy, lit up. I hadn’t seen him that happy in months. He chatted with other customers and employees. We lingered, looking at waterscapes and fish. We were, to use a hilariously appropriate metaphor, hooked.
Chris tried to be sensible: we need to spend the money on medical bills. I concluded that the pond would be better medicine than many of his prescriptions, so I scheduled an appointment for an estimate.
After three estimates, we chose a pond builder. We had to wait all summer, but the pond was installed at last. Even before it was finished, I began looking for more fish. Fishie and the two fry we purchased that auspicious day would hardly fill this 11,000-gallon pond.
I saw a post on a local koi and pond page on Facebook: someone wanted to find a new home for two large koi because he was moving and needed to tear down his pond. I contacted him, but when he explained that he was selling, not re-homing, them and that each was priced around $100, I politely declined. My budget was busted on the pond.
I thought that was the end of that transaction, so I kept looking. But I heard back from this man a week later. He had sold one and wanted me to make an offer on the other, his last fish. Because our pond, which was supposed to have been completed by then, still wasn’t finished, I declined to make an offer. But he and I started talking “koi.” I shared photos and details of our pond. A week later, this kind man offered me his fish for free.
It turns out that Chou, a beautiful orange and white 12-inch Hariwake koi, was so lonely and depressed, he was in danger. He wasn’t eating. He wasn’t swimming around. He had lost almost all his color. Fortunately, this man put his fish’s well-being ahead of his bank account. He liked the looks of our pond and thought it would be a good home for Chou.
Over the years, I have rescued dogs, cats and even chickens. This would be my first fish rescue.
As soon as the pond was finished, filled and ready for fish, we drove up to get Chou. We also picked up some colorful fry: the more the merrier, right? We took steps to acclimate them and finally released everyone into the new pond on a warm, sunny afternoon. It was a blissful moment: the culmination of a long-planned dream.
For the first few days we noticed that Chou stayed close to Fishie, maintaining physical contact nearly every minute of the day. It was difficult to see where one fish ended and the other began. After a few days, as all the fish settled in and became familiar with their new surroundings, Chou established a bit of independence, but was usually found near either Fishie or the group of fry. Chou liked to be with his new friends.
We noticed something else, too. His color was returning. He was eating. He was swimming in patterns that I can only guess were joyous.
Not many people take time to think about the mental well-being of fish. Few consider the emotional health of their pets, and fewer still contemplate the happiness of wild or farmed animals. When we told visitors this tale, they were stunned that a fish could feel loneliness, that a fish might have emotions and yearn to be with others of his own kind.
I knew. It’s why I’ve been vegetarian for more than 30 years – and yes, that includes fish. (Why do people think vegetarians eat fish, anyway?) It’s why I’ve been against fishing since I was a little girl, watching in disgust as my uncle cleaned his catch. Fishing isn’t a sport and is not allowed on our farm pond. People ask. If they find out I’m vegetarian, they explain that it’s “only” catch and release – fear and torture, but not death.
The answer has always been and will always be no. No fishing allowed. I believe humans should be caretakers, not killers. We strive to give all the animals on our farm a safe environment where they can live a happy, healthy life with others of their kind. We know every animal experiences fear, sorrow, grief and loneliness. But they also feel joy, happiness, love and pleasure.
That’s why we are so elated to have been able to rescue Chou and offer him what we believe will be a happy home for him – a large pond with waterfalls to play in with plenty of friends. He won’t be lonely ever again.