TURN OFF A MAIN THOROUGHFARE INTO A SMALL, GRAVEL PARKING lot and there it is, an ark in the suburbs, a wooded eight-acre sanctuary known as Aspin Hill that is home to more than 150 animals--from parakeets to 350-pound pigs--nearly all of them rescued from slaughterhouses or other grim fates by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
"Hi, girls. Hi, everybody," Ingrid Newkirk, PETA co-founder and national director, greets six sheep as she strolls the grounds, surrounded on three sides by a middle-class residential tract in Silver Spring, Md. Bill the goat, a former animal-shelter occupant, watches Newkirk as she strokes a sheep. Jeffrey the pig, who was abandoned by a breeder, naps nearby. And trailing visitors across the soft ground like pet beagles are Fred and Sammy, two large turkeys found beside a road after they had fallen from a truck. Newkirk points to a duck. "He flew in yesterday."
Set among dogwood, cherry and apple trees are three structures, the largest a rustic old two-story office-residence that four unpaid PETA interns, Aspin Hill manager Sharon Honnell and her 9-year-old daughter share with scores of birds that screech and chatter from their large aviary. Until recently, Newkirk lived at Aspin Hill, which was given to PETA in 1988 by an anonymous donor who had purchased the land from a developer. Four and a half acres of the property are an animal cemetery where 70,000 animals are buried, including three dogs (Spee De Bozo, Cindy and G-Boy) owned by J. Edgar Hoover. A cat named Peter Pan was the first to be interred there, in 1920, but burials are now limited to the animals of PETA members who, if they wish, can be buried alongside their pets.
Animals beside humans is the appropriate metaphor for Newkirk. "Why should it be," she asks in the car on the way back to PETA headquarters, a few miles away, "that discrimination on the basis of class or gender or nationality or religion is wrong, but it's OK for us to exploit the other animals?"
Her passionate declarations that animals are the moral equivalent of humans have helped to make Newkirk the most visible and controversial figure in the American animal-rights movement. Nurtured by a decade of her promotional stunts and provocative public pronouncements--equating, for example, animals with slaves and concentration-camp internees--PETA (pronounced PEE - ta ) has grown from humble origins to an 800-pound gorilla. Newkirk's pugnacious activism has built it into the largest organization of its kind in the country, claiming more than 350,000 members, and narrowed the gap separating animal rights from the mainstream of American morality.
To her devout followers, who share PETA's philosophy that "Animals are not ours to eat, wear or experiment on," Newkirk is an admired and beloved leader. To others, however, the stubborn, combative, sharp-tongued, media-manipulating, headline-grabbing Newkirk and her tenacious organization are something else--something akin to the Antichrist.
"These are evil, horrible people, fanatics like Saddam Hussein and Hitler and the Ku Klux Klan," charges Bobby Berosini, the Las Vegas showman who in 1990 won a devastating $2-million defamation judgment, since reduced to $1.5 million, against PETA, which had accused him of mistreating the orangutans in his act. "Anti-God, anti-American fanatics--that's what they are!" adds Berosini, almost shouting into the telephone.
PETA also gets under the skins of the fur trade, the meat industry and medical and scientific research laboratories that experiment on animals--all of which it has targeted for extinction. Representatives of those groups paint PETA members as uncompromising extremists. Says Stephen Pretanik, director of science and technology for a broiler-chicken trade organization, the National Broiler Council: "No matter what changes you institute, they'll never be satisfied until you reach their ultimate goal of not raising animals for food." Adds Frankie Trull, president of the Foundation for Biomedical Research: "PETA's philosophy is, 'I have my opinion, and you have my opinion.' "
But those are PETA's natural enemies. Within the splintered animal-rights movement, Newkirk and PETA also have their critics. Some former allies have come to believe that the organization has gone too far with pie-in-the-face stunts and a newspaper ad that equates humans eating meat with cannibalism. "PETA is trivializing the movement by following what I call the 'Three Stooges' theory of animal rights," says former PETA lawyer Gary Francione, a professor of law and director of the Rutgers University Animal Rights Law Clinic. "Their campaigns are selected more for media image than content."
TOKYO--Two Americans protested the fur business today by stripping down to their underwear and marching through a crowded shopping district carrying a banner reading "We'd Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur." Ignoring the nippy winter chill, the two members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals walked for an hour outside Sunshine 60, Japan's tallest building.
Associated Press, Feb. 18, 1991
Organized efforts to change the way humans treat animals go back to the 18th Century. But in the past 10 years, PETA's innovative high-concept, high-charged, high-profile crusade has shaken up the relatively musty movement the way strutting Professor Harold Hill ooom-pahed the daylights out of River City.
Although strikingly underfinanced compared with its giant industrial foes, PETA is still a multimedia Madison-Avenue-on-the-Potomac, bankrolled in 1991 by nearly $10.5 million, with more than $9 million coming from contributions. Sales of PETA merchandise accounted for most of the rest. (Because of the recession, PETA's 1992 budget fell to $8.5 million.)
Protests spew from PETA. From its two-story headquarters behind a strip shopping center in the Washington suburb of Rockville, Md., it conducts aggressive publicity campaigns with such slogans as "Meat Stinks" and "Fur Is Dead." It mails out slick books, magazines, pamphlets, TV public-service announcements and videos with such titles as "Exporting Cruelty," "Getting Away With Murder" and "Cheap Tricks," a grisly behind-the-scenes glimpse at animal acts narrated by actor Alec Baldwin. The group has developed a "We Serve Vegetarian Meals" sticker for restaurants (the Hard Rock Cafe in Washington posts one) and lobbies food manufacturers to use substitutes for animal fats.
Also available is PETA's "cruelty-free living" catalogue. Inside a glossy cover adorned by puppy-hugging actress Rue McClanahan are 31 pages of products ranging from detergent, cosmetics and vegetarian cookbooks to PETA-logo watches, T-shirts and postcards bearing "memorable and moving quotations by famous people." The authors: George Bernard Shaw, Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln and . . . Ingrid Newkirk. Her quote: "When it comes to feelings, like pain, hunger and thirst, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy."
PETA's most ambitious endeavors, though, are its investigations into alleged abuse of animals. "Our people take undercover jobs in industries and other facilities that use animals," Newkirk says. "They wear hidden cameras and Xerox documents. After nine or 11 months, they come out with meticulously documented evidence of wrongdoing that we show to our expert base--neurologists, forensic scientists and chemical engineers. Then we bring these cases to federal regulatory agencies or local law enforcement or the media or our members and tell them to get involved at the grass-roots level."
After being hounded by PETA, companies including Avon, Estee Lauder, Benetton and Tonka Toy Co. stopped testing products on rabbits, guinea pigs and other animals; a National Institutes of Health-funded clinic whose research involved crushing the skulls of baboons was closed; a Texas slaughterhouse was ordered shut, and the Pentagon halted wound tests in which pigs, goats and other animals were shot.
One of the strategies that has set PETA apart in the media-saturated '80s and '90s is its staggering array of publicity stunts. Newkirk doesn't apologize for these tactics, saying such mischief is necessary to capture the attention of a media captivated only by outrageousness. "Say something sensible without a gimmick, and it will be ignored," she says. "So you're reduced--and that's what it is--to doing something often absurd."
"We're living in the age of tabloid journalism," echoes Dan Mathews, PETA's revved-up special-projects director. "When we got this incredible footage from a Pennsylvania slaughterhouse last year, no one paid much attention. But when (country singer) k.d. lang did a 'Meat Stinks' ad for us, the media went crazy, and even Dan Rather did a story."
With those kinds of results, it's no wonder Newkirk, whose stunts have caused her to be arrested many times, rigidly stands by her oft-stated credo: "Any publicity is good publicity."
Such tabloid tactics have helped to render the animal-rights agenda more visible than ever. For instance, the Los Angeles-based Ark Trust's annual Genesis Awards, which honor media for discussing animal issues, drew 115 entries in 1991, compared with 20 in 1986. That year a radio host was given a Genesis Award "just for letting us talk about animals," says Ark Trust president Gretchen Wyler. Having celebrities on the bandwagon has helped. On the CBS hit comedy series "Murphy Brown," the continued display of a PETA mug by star Candice Bergen has so outraged some farm groups that they have demanded equal mug time.
Acceptance of the animal-rights agenda was demonstrated in a 1990 public-opinion poll commissioned by Parents magazine in which an overwhelming majority said they believed that animals have rights, and most said killing animals for fur coats and using animals for cosmetics testing should be illegal. In a Gallup poll the same year, 72% of the respondents professed at least "some" respect for animal-rights activists and their views. However, poll after poll has found that overwhelming numbers of Americans support medical research on animals if it benefits humans.
WASHINGTON--Members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals spent $240 today to buy seven live lobsters from a suburban Maryland restaurant and fly them to a new home off the coast of Maine.
Associated Press, Dec. 10, 1988
The woman whom Bobby Berosini brands "the devil" is pale, slender, smiles frequently and has the look of a fatigued pixie. Newkirk appears small behind her desk, and when she stands you're surprised that she is rather tall. On this morning she's wearing a worn-looking shirt, khaki pants and sneakers. Her short, stringy, reddish-blond hair hangs limply. Through her office window, crows can be seen congregating on a nearby rooftop, as if waiting for another of Newkirk's media performances.
Newkirk says the animal-rights movement is a natural outgrowth of other protest movements that have sprung up since the '60s. "I think what we're seeing is the cumulative effect of all the social movements," she says. "We've been forced to think about what is violence, what is exploitation, how we relate to others, whether we're being discriminating or prejudiced. The environmental movement was helpful because it got us into thinking about the universe as our home and about our interrelationships with other species. All the movements that have come along in the last 10 years, including animals' rights, are part of our newly awakened sense of fair play."
Although sometimes accused of hogging the spotlight at the expense of its allies in the movement, no animal-rights group has churned as loudly or aggressively in so many areas as PETA. "PETA on the whole has brought a refreshing level of excitement, honesty and even panache to animal rights," says Paul Obis, publisher of Vegetarian Times. "They have taken it from being a concern of the little old lady and her cats to a much higher level of awareness. They have broadened the issues substantially to encompass vegetarianism and bring it into the mainstream."
"They do a good job of manipulating public opinion based on the world according to PETA," laments lab-research spokesperson Frankie Trull. "Their greatest expertise is in public relations. They are very savvy about exploiting peoples' sensitivities about animals."
Newkirk is the organization's leader and ideological epicenter. Merritt Clifton, news editor for Animals' Agenda magazine, says, "She has other people who are figureheads, and in (PETA chairman and co-founder) Alex Pacheco, she has someone who does gutsy things on camera. But Ingrid is the one." Sometimes the abrasive one? "Frequently organizations have charismatic leaders who have a variety of personalities," Clifton says. "Ingrid can go places and charm people who were suspicious of her. But then, she can turn around and alienate people who are her strongest allies."
Newkirk is such a formidable, statistic-spitting, agile-thinking advocate--someone able to speak of cell cultures and quote Descartes in the same sentence--that TV talk shows that have her as a guest sometimes have difficulty recruiting opponents to debate her. "She can be very intimidating," admits Trull.
Just how intimidating was demonstrated last year on an episode of "The Ron Reagan Show," a short-lived TV talk series. There was Newkirk, smiling benignly, looking prim in a pastel-flowered dress, as Reagan started the show by saying: "We tried to get a lot of people from the food industry, the beef industry, the cosmetics industry, hunters. They didn't want to come on the show because they didn't want to tangle with you ."
Reagan, playing devil's advocate, went on to propose a scenario: "A man and a dog are lashed to the tracks and a train is coming. Which do you choose?"
The studio audience hooted. Reagan grinned. Obviously, he had her. But Newkirk immediately substituted her own hypothetical situation: "If there were a mass murderer and a dog that just saved a baby from a pond, which would you choose?"
Reagan decided not to choose. Later he introduced some guests who were willing to debate, including animal-research advocate Dr. Ed Remmers, vice president of the American Council on Science. The topic became groups that break into labs and "rescue" animals.
"What I'm concerned about is the terror that is taking place," Remmers said.
"In the labs," Newkirk snapped.
"Review committees" monitor conditions for lab animals, Remmers said.
"Rubber-stamp committees," Newkirk said.
"Review committees," Remmers insisted.
"Your rubber-stamp committees," Newkirk repeated.
"And they. . . ." Remmers tried once more.
"And they stamp it A-OK," Newkirk interrupted.
"Will you let me talk?" Remmers pleaded.
"We gotta go to a commercial," Reagan said. Newkirk had already given hers.
"The Ron Reagan Show" was eventually canceled, but the Ingrid show lives on. While most in the medical community credit animal research for the development of, among other things, various cardiovascular devices and immunizations against polio, mumps, measles, diphtheria, German measles and hepatitis, Newkirk rejects the notion that such research is crucial today. "It's desperation," she says. "Let's say you have a choice. You can take $400,000 and apply it to the technology we now have or to prevention or to hospice care. Either that or you can spend the money on the tiniest chance that we could get a cure for cancer or AIDS if we made a circle of all the cars in the parking lot and drew a big 'X' in the middle, and we all raised our hands and stayed there for three months. Well, a desperate person will say, yes, let's do this oddball thing. Yes, kill my next door neighbor if it will save me. But I say, whether you care about animals or not, that if you have only one amount of money, you look at what's most promising, and animal experimentation is out there in the parking lot with the circle."
She equates animals in labs with slaves: "What else can you call it when animals are in chains, they are shackled, they are hoisted, they are whipped, they are beaten, they are made to do things they don't want to do and aren't in their nature, when they are bred by artificial insemination, taken away to be slaughtered so that we can make a sandwich, key chain or a fun fur? Slavery is a mind-set that says these aren't important living beings. They are less than me, and therefore I can exploit them."
Therefore, she condones the law-breaking lab raids of the underground Animal Liberation Front, and in fact has written a soon-to-be-published paperback history of the organization. Says Newkirk: "When I hear of anyone walking into a lab and walking out with animals, my heart sings."
WASHINGTON--Eyeing a bed of succulent nasturtiums, eight politically active goats took to the streets in classic capital fashion yesterday, gathering in front of the home of Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger to demonstrate against the Pentagon.
The demonstration, organized by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, was meant to give Weinberger a chance to see how strongly some people feel about goats that, along with dogs and other animals, have been extensively used in military "wound labs."
--The Washington Post, Oct. 5, 1983
Born 42 years ago in Surrey, England, Newkirk spent her childhood as a convent schoolgirl in New Delhi, where her father was a navigational engineer and her mother was active in Mother Teresa charities. One of Newkirk's earliest memories is seeing people laugh at a dog struggling in a monsoon ditch. She rescued the animal, whose legs had been hobbled and mouth stuffed with mud and tied shut.
"I was surrounded by suffering," Newkirk recalls. "There were lepers in the streets, diseased people, dogs with maggots in their backs, bullocks pulling carts overloaded with bricks, and there were beggars everywhere, breathing exhaust fumes. I was very much influenced by the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, who believed there was a harmony of nature. One of his disciples came to our school and spoke to us well-off little girls. I didn't realize it then, but I think that his words, combined with what I saw every day, had a lasting impact."
Newkirk and her family later settled in Florida, where her father worked for the U.S. Air Force. She was 18 and later would marry race-car driver Steve Newkirk. They moved to Poolesville, Md., outside Washington, where she studied to become a stockbroker.
When a neighbor moved and left behind 19 cats, it changed Newkirk's life. Inquiring at the local shelter about bringing the cats there, she found the place "an absolute dump. It was horrible, filthy, with dogs all cowering in the back in their cages." The shelter had an opening for a kennel worker, and Newkirk applied and was hired. When the director was fired, Newkirk replaced him and began reforming the place.
Later, she spent 18 months as a deputy sheriff, helping prosecute animal-cruelty cases, before signing on in 1978 as a division chief for the county health department, with responsibility for overseeing the then-notoriously filthy and poorly managed Washington shelter. One of her first orders was to end the common practice of selling shelter animals to research labs.
In 1980, after Newkirk and her husband had ended their childless marriage, Pacheco entered her life. Then a political science major at George Washington University, Pacheco had once studied for the priesthood and had spent months as an animal-rights activist in England before returning to the United States and volunteering at the pound, where he met Newkirk. "She was very sharp, very bright, really unique and remarkable," says the boyishly handsome Pacheco, 33. "She was a fast learner who could see through things and get right to the point."
Newkirk credits Pacheco with lifting her to another level of consciousness, especially by introducing her to "Animal Liberation," by Australian Peter Singer, who argues that all creatures have equal title to the earth and that humans are not divinely anointed to govern the rest of nature. Singer's manifesto for militancy in behalf of animals transformed Newkirk from an animal welfarist into an animal rightist. She'd crossed a line that still divides activists today. "All of my life," she says, "I'd been thinking that we should treat animals as kindly as we can within the context of using them. It took someone else to say to me, 'Maybe they're not ours to use at all.' It doesn't matter if you love animals or think they're cute. It's about justice."
Singer's book was the spark that touched off the expansion of the animal-rights movement, according to James M. Jasper, co-author of "The Animal Rights Crusade: The Growth of a Moral Protest," published last year. Before Singer's book, Jasper says, "people might have had those sensibilities, but there wasn't a word for it. Singer's book gave the movement its language." In the early '80s, this awareness brought about the formation of a spate of groups championing the rights of animals just as earlier movements had championed those of women, minorities and gays. Because animal rights "really grabs" people emotionally, Jasper says, it has attracted people who otherwise are not politically active, along with the kind of liberal activists who are also drawn to environmentalism, feminism and the anti-nuclear movement. Today thousands of organizations in the United States look out for animals, but they split roughly between those that support animal welfare and those that support animal rights. To the former, justice means treating animals as humanely as possible while continuing to use them, whether in animal acts or scientific experimentation. Advocates of animals rights seek ultimately to end all use of animals.
PETA is now the largest of the animal-rights organizations. Among animal-welfare groups, the Washington-based Humane Society of the United States claims 1.5 million members; the New York-based American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), 400,000. The Humane Society opposes testing on animals for cosmetics but not for medical research deemed crucial to society, and it does not advocate vegetarianism. Herman Cohen, executive vice president of the ASPCA, says animal-rights organizations claim that animals have legal rights, "but the Constitution doesn't guarantee it. Under U.S law, animals are still property. We feel our role is to protect them."
Bobby Berosini alludes to the difference between rights and welfare when he charges that Newkirk and PETA "don't want cleaner cages; they want no cages." Although he's correct, it's also true that, faced with no alternative, PETA will accept the cleaner cage as a first step. Newkirk is often described as an extremist, but PETA is in the mainstream of animal-rights groups--al-Pacheco says PETA was Newkirk's idea. "It just didn't sound great to me. I had been active in Europe (among other things, sailing aboard the Sea Shepherd, which rammed whaling vessels in the Atlantic), and I thought there were just too many formalities. I thought we should just do things ourselves. But she made a convincing case that Washington needed a vehicle for animals because the current organizations were too conservative."
Even today, Pacheco sounds almost disbelieving about PETA's growth into a large, brawny operation with more than 80 employees after beginning as a scruffy squad of five volunteers working and sleeping on the floor in Newkirk's small Takoma Park, Md., apartment. "The funny thing," he says, "is we never looked to build it. We never did any fund raising. Our entire budget was Ingrid's salary (from her county job). We didn't think in terms of growing and going national."
To this day at PETA, "everyone works for low salaries," says Clifton, the Animals' Agenda editor. "They have this very dedicated, devoted, almost Franciscan approach to the cause." The executive director and membership-development director each make a little more than $40,000 a year. Pacheco is paid $19,000, lives in a rented room and says his mother buys his clothes. Newkirk gets no salary. "I live with a wonderful man who is very nice to me," she says, refusing to identify her housemate. She and Pacheco drive donated company cars--hers a 1986 Nissan Stanza, his a 7-year-old Pontiac that he says PETA is planning to publicly demolish to protest General Motors' use of live animals in crash tests.
The Silver Spring, Md., monkeys expose in 1981 gave PETA its first broad national exposure. In that case, Pacheco's four months of undercover work at the federally funded Institute for Behavioral Research led to America's first police raid on a research laboratory because of alleged cruelty to animals.
In 1984, PETA caused another sensation when it publicized videotapes from a head-injury clinic at the University of Pennsylvania. Stolen and apparently supplied to PETA by the Animal Liberation Front, the videotapes showed, among other things, a steel cylinder driven by a pneumatic machine smashing into the head of a struggling, bound monkey.
"PETA gave a good kick-start to the movement in the '80s," says Bernard Unti, executive director of the 109-year-old American Anti-Vivisection Society. "The Silver Spring case demonstrated there was cruelty in the laboratory. And the head-injury case demonstrated that the cruelty was not an exception."
However, praise of PETA is increasingly mixed with criticism, much of it from within the movement, where some regard PETA as being a victim of its own swollen bigness and its continual media stunts. "They were nice people once, and I worked with them for a long time," says Francione of the Rutgers University Animal Rights Law Clinic. "But as they got bigger and got more money, the star-demigod syndrome took over, and Ingrid and Alex started believing they were the only voices of animal rights."
Implicit in criticism by Francione and others is the belief that PETA, despite its national network of supporters, has lost touch with the movement's true grass-roots soldiers. Newkirk acknowledges that PETA's size has made it more impersonal. "But we don't need to represent everybody," she says. Since PETA has no chapters, it maintains an informal network of 1,300 contacts around the country. And these grass-roots activists, she says, "are extremely happy with what we do." Along with its victories, PETA has also taken some big hits, the epic one being the Berosini verdict, which came after a five-week trial in Las Vegas, where Berosini was then a long-running superstar at the Stardust hotel-casino, leading orangutans in a series of gags and tricks. Berosini sued PETA and other activists after a secret videotape of him repeatedly hitting the orangutans across the back with a rod showed up on "Entertainment Tonight."
Berosini claimed that the animals had been provoked by outsiders into acting belligerently and that he was merely "correcting" them. PETA claimed its investigation found that the animals were terrified of Berosini and that he kept them in dark metal boxes to increase their emotional reliance on him.
The jury believed Berosini. In addition to the $1.5-million judgment--for defamation and misappropriation of name and likeness--against PETA, its chief investigator was ordered to pay $750,000, as was the ex-Stardust dancer who had secretly videotaped Berosini. Ordered to pay $50,000 each were the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and its president, who had also made a copy of the tape available to the media. Newkirk calls the verdict, which is being appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court, "the judgment from hell." It could cripple PETA and put a chill on animal-rights investigations.
DES MOINES--The publisher of the Des Moines Register apologized in print Wednesday to readers and advertisers offended by an ad that compared the meatpacking industry to mass killings in Milwaukee.
But the open letter from Charles Edwards continued to defend the decision to run the ad from the vegetarian activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. "Just because we don't agree with this organization does not mean we have the right to silence them," Edwards wrote.
The full-page ad appeared Aug. 9, shortly after the arrest of Jeffrey Dahmer for the mutilations and serial killings in Milwaukee.
Associated Press, Oct. 3, 1991
It was the pork-festival pie-throwing incident and the $11,200 Dahmer newspaper ad that were particularly galling not only to the meat industry but also to some inside the animal-rights movement.
"Don't they (PETA) see how cruel it is to prolong the agony of the families of Dahmer's victims?" Paul Obis editorialized in the Vegetarian Times. "If PETA is going to set itself out as a leader, it had better stop exploiting and humiliating people."
"What we are seeing in PETA's actions is a huge inconsistency," says Buzz Kemper, a PETA member and leader of the Wisconsin Alliance for Animals. "We're saying we have to treat lab animals with respect, but we're throwing pies in the faces of teen-age girls."
Ex-PETA member Vicky Eide, director of the Iowa Alliance for Animals, concurs. "With the pie-throwing, they crossed over the line of nonviolence," she says. "Neither incident has done anything to help animals in the state of Iowa. Instead of thinking about animals, people were thinking about this teen-age girl who had been attacked. And while the Dahmer ad made the comparison between meat eating and cannibalism--which I think is valid--it was inappropriate in a primarily agricultural state."
PETA struck again March 1 when one of its activists threw a pie in the face of 71-year-old poultry magnate Frank Perdue at a meeting of the University of Maryland Board of Regents. The PETA member, dressed as a chicken, was led away in handcuffs.
Francione contends that PETA emphasizes animal rights over human rights. "Animal rights makes sense only if you accept a very broad notion of human rights." Francione says that in Brooklyn recently he encountered a youth handing out PETA literature. "I asked him what his position was on gay people. He said he didn't have one. I said, 'You don't have a position on rights for gays, and you have a position on rights for rats?' And he said, 'Yes.' "
There are times when Newkirk leaves herself open to the charge that she employs a double standard. Although disgusted by a Nike TV commercial showing a stuffed deer being hit by a cream pie ("It's not funny to put a pie in the face of an animal"), Newkirk defends PETA hitting a human with a pie. She labels the pie-throwing merely "a bit of vaudeville," finding it "curious that people would be more offended by someone getting a little whipped tofu in their face than the fact that the woman who received that cream was handing out coloring books that dramatized the tremendous slaughter of millions of animals."
Newkirk dismisses the protests against the Dahmer ad, moreover, as "mock outrage" from persons "drooling every night over the details" of the case while "doing nothing in their communities to make sure no one grew up to be another Jeffrey Dahmer."
PETA also was heavily criticized last year for euthanizing 18 rabbits and 14 roosters. PETA had removed the rabbits, with 58 others, from a school where the group said they were badly neglected in an animal-husbandry course. The roosters were confiscated by the Washington Humane Society from members of the animal-sacrificing Santeria sect.
Most of the rabbits were placed in homes or in an animal sanctuary in New York. The remaining rabbits and roosters were euthanized at Aspin Hill. Critics charged that killing these animals betrayed PETA's stated principles. However, Newkirk, whose duties as a Washington pound master required her to regularly euthanize animals, says the group has no anti-euthanasia policy.
Newkirk says the rabbits were euthanized because "they were either suffering with no end in sight or because we had exhausted all leads for homes," and there was no room for them at Aspin Hill. The roosters "were so aggressive we could not integrate them into our flocks."
Wouldn't housing the rabbits in small hutches have been more humane? No, insists Newkirk. "We believe euthanasia is superior to a largely substandard life in a box."
PASADENA--Four members of the animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals marched alongside the GM Rose Parade float for about 30 seconds Wednesday to protest the auto maker's use of animals in crash tests.
The protesters, who included the group's national director, Ingrid Newkirk of Rockville, Md., were dressed as a rabbit, pig and rat. They were quickly taken away by deputies.
-- Associated Press, Jan. 2, 1991
It's dangerous being Mother Nature. Newkirk gets hate mail. A hunter warned her to watch out for a stray bullet, cruel jokesters mail her the heads of animals, at Christmas a sicko sent her a brightly wrapped box containing a skinned cat. Her car has been shot at in the PETA parking lot, and she won't reveal where she lives for fear of placing herself and others in jeopardy.
Newkirk, who only recently began taking off one day a week, says she is weary. "I'm beginning to look haggard," she says. "I'll be fighting this battle, I do believe, until the day I leave the planet. It's just that I'm so inundated by these constant horror stories about animals, one after the other. I find it increasingly difficult to look at slaughterhouse footage, and I put it off until the last moment. It's just crushing, and you get so battle heavy. As I age, I find, well, there's so much suffering, and there's so much to do."
Clumped at the top of PETA's hit list for 1992 are the usual suspects, including the cosmetics, fur and meat industries and entertainers who abuse animals. Earlier this month, a squad of elite PETA commandos planned to head south to stage a camera-ready protest against condom manufacturers that test their products on rabbits. The plan, to be executed when many colleges were on spring break, called for PETA operatives to put on costumes and hold the demonstration in Daytona Beach, Fla., a favorite of partying collegians. Newkirk planned to join them.
Dressed as a condom.