Editor’s Note: Today Is Ingrid Newkirk’s Birthday, and this special article written by her is being published to celebrate her birthday and accomplishments. Thank you for what you have done, Ingrid!
by Ingrid Newkirk
I’ve been handcuffed, jailed, and hung naked on a meat hook. I set fire to a donated car outside a General Motors auto show and slapped a “Meat Stinks” sticker on a police cruiser. I was bound and force-fed like a goose in front of a foie gras retailer. All these things were to draw attention to animal rights. I’m sure none of this is what my mother had in mind when she taught me how to minister to lepers, orphans, and stray animals while growing up in India. Still, she always said, “It’s not who suffers—it’s how they suffer.” And I’ve carried that principle with me my whole life. My early volunteer experiences are what led me to believe that anyone in need, including animals, is worthy of concern. I was 8 when I actually stopped a man from beating a bull who had collapsed in the street, exhausted from pulling a heavy cart in the hot sun.
The Beginning Of A Journey Into Animal Rights And Compassion
In 1970, I was studying to become a stockbroker. One of my neighbors abandoned some kittens, and I decided to take them to a local animal shelter. Seeing the workers there abuse and hurt the animals (including by stomping on the kittens!) was a life-changing experience for me. I started working to help animals, investigating cruelty cases and cleaning out kennels. I read and was deeply inspired by Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation. And after seeing wild animals caught in painful steel traps set in the woods, finding a pig left to starve to death on a farm, and inspecting laboratories and circus acts for the government—I realized that an organization like PETA was desperately needed.
We focus attention on the four areas in which the largest numbers of animals suffer the most intensely for the longest periods of time: in laboratories, in animal agriculture, in the clothing trade, and in the entertainment industry. We also work on a variety of other issues, including the cruel killing of rodents, birds, and other animals considered “pests”; the companion-animal overpopulation crisis; and the abuse of domesticated animals, including “backyard dogs.” We’ve taken on the deadly pastime of pigeon racing, conducted investigations into the sheep mutilations in Australia’s wool industry, and pretty much decimated China’s cruel angora industry.
Animals For Food And Pests – Rare Recipients of Compassion In Our Society
I feel particularly moved by the plight of chickens. Billions of chickens are eaten around the world, and it is painful to know that these dear little birds suffer from the moment they’re born until their throats are cut and they’re plunged into tanks of scalding-hot water. I am also drawn by the plight of rats, as so few people see them as the intelligent little mammals they are and the only reason they’re considered “pests” is because they try to take away what we discard in the streets. They have the same capacity to feel as humans, and cruelly exterminating them with poisons that destroy their internal organs is appalling.
PETA is known for making headlines with our more provocative actions. Our purpose is to stop animal suffering, and getting people to pause and pay attention is extremely important. At times, this requires tactics, such as street theater and colorful ad campaigns, that some people find outrageous or even rude, but part of our job is to spark interest and even shake things up a bit in order to initiate discussion, debate, questioning of the status quo, and, of course, action. The current situation is critical for billions of animals, and our goal is to make people think.
People Are Starting To Think, And Things Are Starting To Change For The Better
And think they have. Look what’s happened in just the past few years. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus went dark after 146 years. The Environmental Protection Agency plans to eliminate all animal testing. Top designers and retailers are going fur-free. Thousands of personal care companies are cruelty-free. “Vegan” has become a household word and is seen in every restaurant and grocery store. The foie gras store that I protested in front of stopped selling “torture in a tin.” General Motors stopped using pigs as crash-test dummies long ago.
While PETA works globally—and we have affiliates in Germany, India, the U.K., Australia, Asia, the Netherlands, and France—it also acts locally. Our cruelty caseworkers and fieldworkers respond to emergency calls for assistance 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We spend millions helping neglected and abused animals in impoverished areas surrounding our Virginia headquarters, providing animals with free food, flea and worm treatment, flystrike prevention, grooming services, emergency vet care, and more. We distribute hundreds of sturdy, weather-proof doghouses and straw bedding, free of charge, to low-income residents who refuse to allow their companion dogs to live indoors.
Our fleet of mobile spay/neuter clinics has sterilized nearly 200,000 dogs and cats at low to no cost, preventing the births of hundreds of thousands of unwanted puppies and kittens. We provide euthanasia services for sick, injured, elderly, and unsocialized animals free of charge. Our doors are open to every animal in need.
What Drives PETA And Their Members And Friends Around The World?
What drives us? Animals feel pain, hunger, thirst, fear, joy and love, just like us. They are individuals with wants, needs, and interests entirely separate from our own. It’s self-serving for humans to ignore their interests, and it’s not right. Animals are not things to be used for our own pleasures, pursuits, and purposes; they are our fellows. Even if we don’t understand their language, they have a voice. For all these reasons, PETA has set our sights in 2021 and beyond on ending the toxic mindset known as “speciesism”—a misguided belief that one species is more important than another. This attitude is deeply ingrained in our society, and it results in all kinds of negative consequences. We aim to upend that mentality.
Ways You Can Help
Animal rights is gaining awareness, and the movement will only continue to grow. PETA now has 6.5 million members and supporters. We are leading the way, but we need everyone to do their part, to find a way to help. If you haven’t already, go vegan. Use social media to get the word out about campaigns that matter to you. Hold a protest when the circus comes to town. Write a letter to the editor of a newspaper. Contact your elected officials to request that they ban the chaining of dogs. Go to PETA.org to sign up for our upcoming virtual animal rights conference. There are tons of ways to make a difference, both large and small, and we are here to help.
Ingrid Newkirk is the president and founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 1536 16th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20036; www.PETA.org.