We chat with journalist and author Masha Gessen, whose newest book explores the complicated family history behind bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
They push vegetarianism with clever bumper stickers, feature scantily clad celebrities in their anti-fur ads, and want you to see graphic photos and videos of animal slaughter and tests on their many websites. Whatever you think of their often extreme, attention grabbing tactics, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has brought animal rights issues to the fore and effected change. Ingrid Newkirk, the President and co-founder of PETA, joins Kojo to discuss the organization’s history and future.
- Ingrid Newkirk co-founder and president, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Whether their members are flinging paint at fur, going undercover in labs or are celebrities showing a lot of skin in their ads, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, better known as PETA, has been grabbing people's attention for over three decades.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIngrid Newkirk, the woman behind the group, has been hailed as a leader with a Barnum-like genius for getting attention, which she may not consider a compliment since the Ringling Brothers Circus has long been one of her main targets. But while many know about PETA's headline-generating protests and lawsuits or may have become vegetarians after reading the group's literature, few know the woman who is the driving force behind the group.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIShe joins us now in studio. Ingrid Newkirk is animal rights activist and author. She's the co-founder and president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA. Ingrid Newkirk, thank you for joining us again.
MS. INGRID NEWKIRKMy pleasure, Kojo. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIGood to see you. You can join this conversation by calling us at 800-433-8850. Are you a member of PETA? If so, why do you support the organization? And if not, would you consider doing so? Why, or why not? 800-433-8850. You can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Send an email to email@example.com or a tweet, @kojoshow. Early on in your career, you were going to be a stockbroker. What set you on this decidedly different course?
NEWKIRKWell, I actually wanted to be a pure mathematician, but I found myself wandering in the direction of the stock market at my father's behest. But it wasn't for me, Kojo. I could not imagine calling up my family, friends and saying, look, I've got a hot ticket for you. Want to buy some of this stock? It's just not me. But what happened -- I was living in Poolesville, in Maryland.
NEWKIRKAnd a neighbor moved away and left many, many cats behind. I didn't have a clue what to do with them, so I looked up animal shelter in the phonebook, loaded them into my car and took them there. And it was a shock because the place at that time was such a dump. It was frightening for the animals. It was filthy. And I thought, oh, something has to be done. I've always cared about animals. So I asked for a job. They said, you're overqualified. I said there's no such thing, is there really?
NEWKIRKAnd so they were good enough to hire me. It was rather their downfall in the end because I blew the whistle on them.
NNAMDIWho hired you?
NEWKIRKThe manager of the shelter hired me to clean the kennels.
NNAMDIYou blew the whistle on them, and, at some point, you became a sheriff's deputy in Maryland who, it is my understanding, had the highest ever success rate at convicting animal rights abusers.
NEWKIRKThat's true. I wanted to know what the laws were. And so I wanted to study the laws, and I did. I went to the state's attorney's office and asked for copies of the cruelty to animals laws, and I apprenticed with somebody who was enforcing them. And I thought, how wonderful to get a real education in this, so I signed up for the sheriff's office, went to rookie school. And that gave me the ideas of how to serve a search warrant and do all those things when someone is abusing animals.
NNAMDIAnd for those of you who don't know it, Ingrid Newkirk also served as chief of the Animal and Disease Control for the Public Health Commission here in Washington, D.C. She helped pass legislation to create the first ever spay and neuter clinic here in the District of Columbia. But now, your headquarters are not here in Washington. They're not in New York. They're in Norfolk, Va. Why Norfolk?
NEWKIRKWell, it was an economic decision. We were here in the Washington area about 15 years ago. We had expanded so much, but the price of property was so high. And anything we could rent was in an area where, frankly, I would have been a little nervous to have young women in the evening coming in to volunteer, going home on the bus and so on. And so we cast about, and at the 11th hour, we found a lovely property, which was quite cheap, in Norfolk, Va.
NEWKIRKAnd I thought, well, there's the Internet. It's three-and-a-half hours down the street if you drive. It can't be so bad. And we went there. We've been very, very happy, but now, we have opened a little office on 16th Street as well.
NNAMDIIngrid Newkirk back in town, so to speak.
NNAMDIWalter Rave, who walked around Takoma Park swinging a bloody fox pelt in a steel trap from a long chain, he was a familiar sight for a lot of residents of this area. But while a lot of people knew of him, few people knew him, but you did.
NEWKIRKI did. Years ago, I met him, actually, just after the Reagan inauguration. We were down there. We had a big banner that said, take back your mink, take back your pearls, what makes you think, something, something. And Walt saw that sign and came over to us and said, I didn't know there was an animal protection group in town. And we said here we are, come and volunteer. And he did. He was a very imposing figure. He was very tall.
NNAMDIYep, 6'4", 6'5".
NEWKIRKSix-four, six-five, yes, big man. And he had very strong feelings because he'd been in the Vietnam War. He'd seen a lot of ugly things happen to human beings and to animals, had a huge sense of right and wrong, of injustice, justice and wanted to make a difference in his life. But he wasn't a good communicator.
NNAMDIWell, he could draw a pretty good T-shirt, it's my understanding.
NEWKIRKHe drew our first two T-shirts. One was our logo animal, which is the bunny, the rabbit, because rabbits, sadly, are used for everything. And anything you can think of that's done wrong to animals is done to the rabbit. And he was always there. He came...
NNAMDIBut wait a minute, he drew another one.
NNAMDITell us about that, please.
NEWKIRKHe drew the black fist, the raised sort of Black Panther fist next to a paw, so the two were together. It said animal liberation.
NNAMDINo wonder you went with the bunny.
NEWKIRKWe actually had both of them. But the bunny one sold better than the other one.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Ingrid Newkirk -- she is the co-founder and president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA -- and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Has information from PETA influenced personal decisions you make about what you eat, about what you wear? Call us, 800-433-8850, or go to our website, kojoshow.org. PETA's mission statement is short in length but broad in scope.
NNAMDIIt declares animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment or abuse in anyway. Taken to its logical extreme, it could be interpreted to include pet ownership. Is that an issue for you at all?
NEWKIRKIt isn't only because animals were domesticated so long ago. And now, they're so dependent on us. And the shelters are full of them. They were back when I was running the D.C. Animal Shelter. They are today despite best efforts. At PETA, we've spayed and neutered 76,000 animals for no cost to low-cost in the last maybe nine or 10 years. And, still, it's a drop in the bucket because people are still going to pet shops.
NEWKIRKThey're going to breeders instead of going to the pound, to the shelter, where some poor soul is sitting there just hoping that they won't have to be put down. So if -- in a perfect world, I would say don't start domesticating dogs and cats and bringing them in because this is going to be the result. But they're here. They need us. If you have the time, if you have the patience, the love, the understanding, get two, not one, so they can keep each other company when you're at work.
NNAMDIBut all strays do not end up in a loving home, something that you are pretty blunt about. And PETA euthanizes over 90 percent of the dogs and cats relinquished to its headquarters in Norfolk. Why?
NEWKIRKWe do. It's a sort of misleading statistic because, as I say, the majority of animals we come in touch with -- in contact with, the dogs and the cats, we sterilize and give back. So those statistics aren't counted. If they were, that euthanized number would go way down. We also actively counsel people. People call up all shelters, not just us, and they say, I don't want my dog or my cat is too much trouble.
NEWKIRKThey're doing this. They're doing that. They're inconvenient. I'm moving. I can't find an apartment which would allow them, and we counsel them actively to say here's what you can do. Here's how you can remedy such and such a behavioral problem. Have you tried this? So we try to keep animals in the home. So those numbers aren't counted.
NNAMDINot only in the home, but a number of your animal companions, it's my understand, hang out at the office.
NEWKIRKYes. That is indeed true. We don't encourage it, Kojo. It happens. Children and animals sometimes end up in the PETA office. I think we've raised as many children as we have animals. But the other facet, of course, is, if someone calls us about a highly adoptable animal -- and by that I mean a house-trained animal or a little fluffy dog or somebody who's no trouble, who's young and desirable -- we always refer them.
NEWKIRKWe don't take them in. We refer them to the big shelters with foot traffic, with families going through, where they're going to be seen because we want to concentrate on something else. But we take in the derelicts that the no-kill shelters will not touch.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones, please put your headphones on, so you can hear our callers when they talk. Here is June in College Park, Md. June, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JUNEHi. Thank you for taking my call. I've read some of PETA's literature, talking about feral cats and how they suffer because they live outside. But it seems like plenty of them live long and healthy lives. And why doesn't PETA support trap-neuter-return, which seems like a much more humane way of the cats being able to live rather than them being sent to a shelter where they would probably be killed?
NNAMDIWe had a similar email question from Rachel in D.C. Go ahead, please, Ingrid Newkirk.
NEWKIRKA very common question. And thank you, June, for asking it. We do a lot of no cost and low-cost spay and neuter for ferals, but I have grave misgivings. I think that it's human's fear of what they're doing, of making that decision of euthanasia that allows a lot of suffering. And we mean well, but I call it trap, neuter and abandon because what you're doing is putting them back out, often in neighborhoods where they're despised, where someone will put down some poison for them or hurts them in some way or throws something at them.
NEWKIRKAnd I remember last year, when we had that hideous storm and there was ice on the roads and everywhere, feet of it, for many, many days, thinking about the 450, I think it is, feral cat colonies who have been spayed and put back out and how we were getting out of our cars and trying to get into our apartments in the quickest possible time. We didn't want that just few minutes outside. It was so bitter and biting. And yet they're out there, all day, all night, and everything is frozen. There's no water. I think they need more than food, and they need more than sterilization.
NEWKIRKThey need to be taken into someone's home, but it's no courtesy to them, I think, to have them just suffer, suffer. There's no good retirement for them. If you have -- I'm sorry to belabor this. But if you have a cat in your own home, it's highly unlikely that cat will go through their entire life without having to go to the vet, without having a kidney problem or a heart problem or something, even an abscessed tooth. And yet those cats outside, they're caught once, and they're fixed. And then there they are, and something bad invariably happens to them. They don't die of old age comfortably.
NNAMDIJoan, thank you very much for your call. While the organizations as large, with hundreds of staffers and a full board, you're very much it's driving force. You said PETA is -- quoting here -- "not a democratic organization," that you aren't sure it would go if it was and don't care to find out. Why keep such a tight rein on PETA?
NEWKIRKIt's my baby, Kojo.
NEWKIRKI gave birth to this organization. And what I had seen in the past with so many associations is they go on another track if you don't watch it. And so we keep a very tight rein. I do have confidants. I do have people who have been with us 25 years, 20 years, 28 years, 26 years.
NNAMDIAnd the people who work for you...
NNAMDI...do say you're flexible and open to suggestion.
NEWKIRKAnd it's not because I take yoga.
NNAMDIAs the head of PETA, you wield a lot of power, and you sometimes intimidate entire industries. But as profiles of you often point out, one-on-one, you're very pleasant, almost mild-mannered, except for kicking me under the table.
NNAMDIDoes that perception, that outsized, almost scary image bother at all?
NEWKIRKNo. I suppose, in a way, it's useful because it's not just me. But I -- anyone in our office who calls a company who is misbehaving, and when they hear, oh, it's PETA on the other end of the line, you just can almost hear the groan. And people now self-police. Corporations now self-police. They think, oh, we'd better not do that, or PETA will be after us. And we would be. But great, self-police then. That saves us the trouble. That's grand. And you'll get good public relations for it.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break now. Ouch, she did it again. We're talking with Ingrid Newkirk.
NNAMDIShe's an animal rights activist and author. She's the co-founder and president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA, taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Is there an animal rights issue you'd like to know more about? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Ingrid Newkirk. She's an animal rights activist and author. She's the co-founder and president of PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. If the phone lines are busy, you can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Ingrid Newkirk, the positions PETA takes on some issues can sometimes seem, well, counterintuitive, at least at first glance. Why is PETA backing Congress' decision to allow horse slaughter facilities to re-open in the U.S.?
NEWKIRKWell, it's actually a little bit more complicated. And, as you say, at first glance, at first blush, it seems a little incongruence. What we have actually said is that, for six years now, horse slaughter has been illegal in the United States. That's a great thing, marvelous if any animal who is spared slaughter. Slaughter conditions are vile. They're very frightening, and they're horrible. But what has happened in that six years is not even one less horse has been killed.
NEWKIRKWhat has happened is that the buyers are sending them to Canada and to Mexico to be killed there, where there is absolutely no oversight that we have from the U.S. and where they have to go, on average, about 230 extra miles in a transport truck to their deaths. And so we have added a problem for the horses themselves. Americans don't eat horse meat, and -- but other countries do, and so there's a market.
NEWKIRKAnd until we can stop the export along with the slaughter, I would prefer that animals were put down where they stand rather than go away. That doesn't mean I want people to build slaughterhouses. There is, in fact, a bill before Congress now which would do exactly what we want. It would, again, prevent slaughter of horses in the United States, but also prevent their export to overseas, to Canada, to Mexico for slaughter. It's S. 1176 and H.R. 2966, and it's on our website, peta.org, if anyone forgets those numbers.
NNAMDIAnd you'll find a link to PETA's website at our website, kojoshow.org. Back to the telephones, here is Eric in Washington, D.C., speaking of horses. Eric, go ahead, please.
ERICHi. Thanks for inviting Ingrid on the show, Kojo. Ingrid, I wonder does PETA have any campaign to get carriage horses off the streets in places like New York City.
NEWKIRKWe do. New York City, of course, is the most famous place where there are carriage horses, and there are many people involved in trying get them switched out for these antique cars, which would be environmentally friendly. And so they'd be rigged in such a way that they would just be eco-friendly cars, and they would be interesting to ride in. You could have your picture taken in them, and you could be married in them and all the things people do in horse-drawn carriages.
NEWKIRKBut what is happening on the streets is an abomination because, in the cold weather, you see -- it's absolutely freezing, and these horses are out within the traces, trudging along in all manner of weather. Storms last year, the horses were out. And in summer, they collapse from the heat. You can often go to their water troughs, and their water troughs are dry as a bone. I have no respect for these people who operates the horse-drawn carriages. I really think that that business needs to end. It's so not this century, and the horses suffer greatly.
NNAMDIEric, thank you for your call.
NNAMDICelebrities featured in your ads and protestors who back your cause often show a lot of skin. And it's my understanding that while many organizations recently bought up the .XXX versions of their Web domains to keep them from being used for pornography, PETA plans to use its websites. Could you, please, explain?
NEWKIRKI can, Kojo. It's not for pornography, but it is. We have bought a triple-X website, which is, of course, adult entertainment. And funny enough, like it or not, there are so many people cruising the Web looking for adult entertainment and visiting triple-X sites that we felt we would really be shortchanging our course if we didn't take advantage of that. We're great opportunists, and so we have seized a triple-X site, and we will be showing some of our -- they're called naked ads.
NEWKIRKThere is usually a tastefully placed ribbon or banner or something, and we will have some of our demonstrations that have featured naked people. But it's true. We have some stars in the adult entertainment industry who have a heart, and they have appeared in ads asking people to adopt animals, asking people not to wear fur, all sorts of things. And their commercials will be up on the site, too.
NEWKIRKThe site's pretty much a secret at the moment as to exactly what it will be. But it will be titillating, and it will be shocking, but perhaps not in the way that people think.
NNAMDIAdult entertainment stars like Ron Jeremy and Jenna Jameson have already starred in PETA campaigns, and they are likely to be featured on this site. However, here is this email we got from Katherine in Alexandria, "If provoking attention to its pro-animal message is PETA's purpose, why don't PETA posters feature stripped men?" Haven't been paying attention, Katherine? "The only thing that is shocking about PETA's tactics is its hypocritical use of animal protection as an excuse for promoting extreme disrespect for women."
NEWKIRKWell, to that, I say fiddlesticks. I am a woman, and I am 62 and a bit. I have appeared in the I'd Rather Go Naked ads. That may give you a shutter, but it's true. And we have ample examples of men who have appeared in them, too. They just don't get the same press. We pretty much do anything and everything. It's just that some things get press and some things don't. But I challenge you to talk to any of the women like the wonderful Taraji, who has appeared...
NNAMDITaraji Henson from Washington, D.C.
NEWKIRKYes, who has appeared on this. I think it's a spectacular ad where she's superimposed as appearing in the Metro, and she is talking about not wearing fur. And she is (word?), and I think she has the most beautiful body. But it doesn't really matter if -- that somebody doesn't like that. Ask her, and she'll say, I'm a powerful woman. I use my body as a political statement. I'm entitled to. We don't live in Afghanistan. Leave me alone.
NNAMDIOne of the early ways PETA grabbed people's attention was by throwing paint at people wearing fur. For a long time, fur seemed to be out of fashion, but, it's my understanding, it's back on the runways. Should fur wearers be watching out?
NEWKIRKFur wearers should always watch out, but I think it's for the harsh word more than anything else. We did a lot of street theatre in the early days, and we would put paint on our own hands. We would have people walking down the street who were wearing furs that we had decorated with paint and even with pictures and so on. But fur is on the runways. It's just not translating to the street.
NEWKIRKI think designers, these days, they get free fur from places like Saga Fur. They get free jaunts to the Netherlands and so on, although the laws that have recently passed are going to end fur farming in those countries, too. Norway will be phasing out its fur farms. England has already stopped and so on, so the tide is changing. Russia, of all places where you do see fur on the streets, they have recently said, no, they will not import Canadian seal fur. And in doing that, they've joined a host of other countries who've banned Canadian seal fur.
NEWKIRKSo the tide has changed. Designs, it's very hard these days to even tell if something's real or not. Drives me insane because they always have to go up and say, excuse me, and then...
NNAMDIIs that real fur you wear?
NEWKIRKAnd, invariably, it is not. Although you do see some older women who wear fur -- and I don't say anything to them because that's not trendsetting anyway, and we give away fur to the one constituency that really can't afford to make a choice for clothing. And that's the homeless. And so, I mean, that's not a fashion statement either, is it?
NEWKIRKBut we do give away all the furs that are given to refugees overseas and to the homeless here.
NNAMDIThere are so many people who'd like to talk to you. I will start with Louise in Mentor, Ohio. Louise, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LOUISEHi, Ingrid. Hi, Kojo. Ingrid, I was wondering what is -- what are PETA's goal for the coming year?
NNAMDIWe don't have that much time left, Louise. Short version.
NEWKIRKShort version is, please, go peta.org. The annual report is there, and that will tell you some of the things we've achieved, but also where we're going. And that does mean -- it's a wonderful question because we do need people's support in order to win this. We don't have the money of any of the big corporations who exploit animals, even one of them. We don't have the funds. So we do need manpower, woman power. We need it.
NEWKIRKSo Ringling Brothers has got to stop dragging these lame, old, arthritic elephants around town, from town to town, sticking them in boxcars and chaining them by the legs. That is just outrageous that anyone could find that amusing to do that to a wild animal. We'd like to get the orcas and dolphins out of places like SeaWorld. And, of course, we're after -- many of them, by the way, have been caught in the wild, even three decades ago and now live in a cement box.
NEWKIRKFoie gras, the force-feeding of ducks and geese -- even if you're not vegetarian, no excuse for extreme cruelty like that. Making more vegans in the world, please pick up one of our free vegan starter kits. And getting glue traps out of corporations, hardware stores, those sticky traps that mice get their faces caught in and suffocate. Bank of America just agreed to stop using them, too. And, of course, experimentation, the fur trade, the exotic skins trade, help us, please. Weigh in. Let your voice count.
NNAMDILouise, thank you very much for your call. Speaking of SeaWorld, over the past few years, it seems that PETA has thrown, well, less paint and filed more FOIA requests and lawsuits. Some say the group has become maybe less extreme and, dare I say, a bit more mainstream over the years. But I wanted to focus specifically on the SeaWorld lawsuit because it says that the five whales are being held in slavery or involuntary servitude, in violation of the 13th Amendment.
NNAMDIAnd at the website of The Atlantic, it points out that this brings up a profoundly important question: Does a non-human animal with obvious intelligence, emotional capacity, social skills and personal interests warrant protection under the U.S. Constitution? You obviously feel it does.
NEWKIRKI do, Kojo. And I know we're pushing the envelope a bit in being the first to raise this for non-humans or those who happened to have not been born human. But when it comes to their feelings, as you say -- I mean, they all feel fear and pain and joy and love. They enjoy family relationships, friendships. They all have places to go and things to do.
NEWKIRKAnd it seems that if we are to be civilized, we have to take that 13th Amendment and keep stretching it out to be fair and to be more encompassing, to open our -- not only hearts, but also our Constitution, so that we show that we are decent people who can understand that there are principles here. It wasn't just the few white men of wealth who that applied to and then it broadened and it broadened. And we have to keep broadening our considerations, too. So they should be in there.
NNAMDIOne constitutional scholar, Harvard's Laurence Tribe, says that we going to look back, maybe, on this lawsuit and see it in a -- in it a perceptive glimpse into a future of greater compassion for species other than our own. On to Elaine in Middleburg, Va. Elaine, your turn.
ELAINEOh, hello. Thank you, Kojo, for this, and thank you, Ingrid. I've been a supporter for years. Ever since I went to a laboratory and saw chimps being used for research without any enrichment, nothing, in cages, it was -- there's less of that now. And the other thing is the farms in Iowa, the pig farms where I've been, where you are actually -- they're protected by the police, so you don't go in because they're afraid that you might make all sorts of political comments on this.
ELAINESo you have brought attention to this. And thank you so much. And the other thing, I think, now, which really needs attention are the wolves because, in a sneaky rider, the wolves were moved from the Endangered Species Act. And this was without a murmur from the Democrats or Obama. Now, they're killed all over. Every state has hunters out, the ranches. And they're vilified, and there's not reason, really, for these killings. So I was hoping that perhaps PETA would take this on. Thank you.
NEWKIRKThank you, Elaine.
NEWKIRKWe usually don't get involved in endangered species issues because there are so many groups who do, and more power to them. And they can be found easily on the Web. And, of course, one should get in touch with one's representative, members of Congress, and so on and ask for help for any of these animal issues. There is -- in case you're not aware, there is the Great Ape Protection Act now before Congress that's really important.
NEWKIRKAnd it would protect all great apes. And I think it's just a -- this is a full species barrier there that needs to come down. Someone said it's just anthropological conceits that separates us from the other great apes, but, whatever you feel, they have been so sorely used. And the Great Ape Protection Act needs every member of Congress to say no more apes in experimentation.
NEWKIRKThe pig farms, there's a fantastic video. It's really -- it's done in an amusing way. I hope you see it. It's man who goes into a grocery store, and he has piglets. But you can't see them. And people are trying to taste the sausage. And they're enjoying the sausage on toothpicks. And he says, I'll show you, it's absolutely fresh made. And he turns around and he picks up this adorable piglet, beautifully clean little piglet, pops them in a box and starts to turn the handle. And everyone, without exception, screams, no, don't do that.
NEWKIRKAnd it shows how separated we are from the cruelties we fund unknowingly in that ham sandwich or that pork chop.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Elaine. Getting back to the barrier between, well, us and other species, there are those who say that you focus too much on the suffering of animals while horrific wars and human rights violations are being perpetrated every day. How do you answer those criticisms?
NEWKIRKWell, years ago somebody said -- criticized a man who was at the, I think, Massachusetts SPCA because he was going into classrooms in the inner city and in Boston and talking to children about being kind to animals. And he said, listen, I'm working at the roots. If you can teach someone to be kind to a mouse, then they're not going to have much trouble being kind to someone they can relate to even halfway. But, for example, without vegan education -- and we have recipes, we have every tip in the book to make this easy.
NEWKIRKI always say to people, please don't wait until someone in your household has a heart attack or has cancer. Like, Larry Hartman was in the paper yesterday. He's diagnosed with cancer. He's gone vegan. Don't wait for that moment to go vegan. Ward it off, fend it off, and look after yourself and your family. Raise your kids vegan. It's the nicest thing you could do for those little human beings.
NNAMDIIngrid Newkirk is our guest. She is the co-founder and president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, making the argument that a cruel world needs PETA. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. If you'd like to join the conversation, you can also send email to email@example.com. Join us at our website at kojoshow.org, or you can send a tweet to us, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Ingrid Newkirk. She is the co-founder and president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. She's an animal rights activist and an author. I say animal rights activist, but here is Nigel is Shepherdstown, W.Va., who wants to know, well, exactly what is PETA. Nigel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NIGELYeah, thank you and good afternoon to both of you. The terms animals rights and animal welfare are bantered about by various organizations. Which does PETA consider it is? Is there a difference between the two, and how would Ingrid define them?
NEWKIRKFair enough, Nigel. I think that animal rights incorporates animal welfare, at least in my book. Now, of course, as with all human beings, there are differing opinions as to what these means. I do believe that if you protect animals, the ultimate protection is to, in many cases, leave them alone, not to bring them into the sphere of human use, not to see them as hamburgers on the hoof or handbags or cheap burglar alarms or whatever use we may have for them.
NEWKIRKSo, for us, we do compromise all the time. We make concessions because if we can reduce the suffering, that's fantastic. And maybe we can't reach the abolitionist position all the time, but any concession that reduces suffering is good. And I think that's the animal welfare part that's incorporated in the animal rights part, which says they're not ours anyway. They're just other individuals like us, and it's only our prejudice that allows them to use them in the first place.
NNAMDINigel, thank you very much for your call. We got an email from Jeffrey in Washington. "Why hasn't PETA publicized the issue of physically altering dogs, like cutting tails off of certain species, cropping or pinning their ears and so on, of various species, including Dobermans and Boxers?"
NEWKIRKOh, Jeffrey, thank you. Yes, we have. We have indeed raised that. And, in fact, the cutting of animal's ears and docking of their tails for non-medical purposes, simply for cosmetic appearance purposes, should stop. And we have, in fact, been to the New York state attorney's office about the Westminster Dog Show because they're -- you're required to mutilate many of these dogs before you show them. And their natural appearance -- it's natural to them.
NEWKIRKThat's what we should be looking at, if anything at all. So, yes, we urge people, of course, not to breed for a specific breed, not to breed at all but to go to the pounds, go to the shelters, adopt. If you do really find yourself attracted to a particular breed, then, please, go to petfinders.com. Go on the website. Find the rescue groups who have all these animals stashed away here and there, who are looking for homes and fits the bill.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We got -- oh, I'm sorry. That was an email. We have another email from Rod in D.C., who says, "I know the state of Iowa passed a law making it illegal to shoot video in factory farms in that state. But I also recently heard that there is a federal law called something like the agriculture terrorism act that treats such activities as terrorism because the video footage terrorizes consumers so that they don't buy the meat." Can you tell us anything about this?
NEWKIRKYes, Rod, it's extremely shameful. Luckily, the bill in Iowa died. We went to Iowa and had a news conference on the steps of the legislature and showed undercover video shot in Iowa of crimes being committed by farm workers on Iowa factory farms. These are things like -- they're not savory. They're not gentle, little cruelties. They're men beating the pigs with metal gate posts, committing sexual crimes against them, spray painting the sows in the face with spray paint in their eyes, all sorts of absolutely gratuitous cruelty. And we said, this is really -- I'm sure Iowa doesn't want the world to see this.
NEWKIRKBut shouldn't the action be to crack down on the farms, not to make it illegal to show people what's going on? And the bill died. However, you are right. There are various attempts being made by farming interests to introduce legislation at the federal level and also, in Florida at the moment, to make it illegal to take any unauthorized photograph or video tape on a factory farm. And that's just -- flies in the face of everything America stands for about freedom of speech, the right to know, the sunshine laws, the works.
NNAMDIOn the other hand, 2011, you have said, was a better year for PETA. One victory you point to was a heavy fine levied on a long-time adversary, Ringling Brothers Circus. You mentioned elephants earlier on circuses.
NEWKIRKYes. Ringling got its comeuppance this -- in 2011 in high time. There were three incidents we had been to the United States government about, which were particularly appalling, setting aside the facts that there are arthritic and lame elephants in all these shows. But these three incidents involved a very severe beating of an old female elephant, completely unprovoked, and the death of a lion who was going across the country in a Ringling train. And they refused to stop the train to give this lion water as they went through the Mojave Desert.
NEWKIRKAnd they had not installed the required cooling system. And they actually tried to cover it up later and quickly installed a system that didn't work. But somebody blew the whistle on them. And the third incident was a little elephant who had been taken away from his mother very young, much too young. Elephant babies stay with their mothers for many years -- females, for life. And the Ringling people had lied about why he had been taken away.
NEWKIRKIt came out that he'd been taken away to be trained. He was just a year old. And he fell off the pedestal that they had pushed him onto and broke both his front legs, and he died. There were many, many incidences. But the USDA, which had never taken any strong action before -- we really pushed and pushed, and they did the right thing. They fined Ringling -- the largest fine in U.S. history -- $270,000, which, to them, is manicure money and wipes the slate clean.
NEWKIRKSo now we say, everybody, remember, the day after that fine, there were still tigers in cages. There were still elephants in shackles. The show should not go on.
NNAMDIAnd this Facebook comment from Terry, indicating PETA interfering with the harmless fun of a 12-year -- well, let me not characterize it. I'll read it. Terry says, "My first interaction with PETA was in 1982 when I was 12 and we visited D.C. We were walking through the mall, and I took a few steps at a flock of pigeons to make them take flight. A woman from a nearby PETA booth screamed at me for a good two minutes, then turned to the pigeons and gave them a loud apology on behalf of our race while shooting me a venomous look." Not at all extreme.
NEWKIRKWell, I think maybe memories fade since the time you're 12 to adulthood, and you might have added a little something to that -- perhaps not. I wasn't there. But I will tell you this. If I'm on the National Mall or anywhere where I see a child going after pigeons, I always say to the child, sweetie, those are your friends. They're your friends. And if the parents are nearby, I always go up to the parents and say, you know, you don't want to get a ticket for harassing wildlife, do you?
NNAMDIWell, on the other hand, we got an email from Daniel, who says, "I have a 12-year-old daughter who desperately wants to get involved in animal rights." How do you suggest she begin?
NEWKIRKOh, bless your heart and bless her heart. We do have PETAKiDs. That's for the up to the 13-year-olds, and they've got all sorts of exciting things on the PETAKiDs website, things that I can't possibly understand. And then there is the peta2, the figure two. Peta2 is for the 13- to 20-year-olds, and that's all sort of indie bands and skateboarders and who knows what. It's all very exciting, and we need children.
NEWKIRKChildren are just so precious that they understand animals. They haven't been tainted by financial interests, and they really are the ones who led us into the environmental movement. And they are the ones who have led us so many good places, and now they are demanding vegan food in their cafeterias at school and making all sorts of good trouble.
NNAMDIWell, I want to take you back to PETA's early days because it would appear that this controversy isn't over. Those of us who remember, PETA came first to public attention in 1981 during the Silver Spring Monkeys' case. In case you forgot, that was a dispute about experiments conducted by researcher Edward Taub on 17 monkeys inside the Institute of Behavioral Research in Silver Spring.
NNAMDIThat case led to the first police raid in the U.S. on an animal laboratory, triggered an amendment in 1985 to the U.S. Animal Welfare Act and became the first animal testing case to be appealed to the United States Supreme Court. We got this email from Gregory: "PETA has often ignored the ethical treatment of humans in their advocacy, the most famous case probably being the illegal theft of the so-called Silver Spring monkeys.
NNAMDI"All charges against the researchers were overturned. And that research has led to major advances in rehabilitation of human stroke victims and other advances in neuroplasticity research. Such tactics revolt many would-be supporters, and many feel PETA should be more moderate in its tactics. Is PETA still breaking laws?"
NEWKIRKWell, there was nothing illegal about the Silver Spring Monkeys' case. It was on the front page of The Washington Post many times because it did break so many records of the first search-and-seizure warrant, the first Supreme Court case, the first cruelty to animals charges against a researcher. And let me say he was convicted the first time. He appealed. It went to the Maryland Appeals Court, and he was found not guilty on a technicality.
NEWKIRKAnd, in fact, the law then was amended, so I don't think you can find any fault there. The monkeys -- if you are going to support this or defend this, then I urge people to read Kathy Snow Guillermo's excellent book "The Silver Spring Monkeys" or learn about it or research the old Washington Post pages because those monkeys were kept in cages barely bigger than themselves.
NEWKIRKThey had broken wires. They had fecal matter covered in molds, never cleaned. They had a man with no medical credentials whatsoever, given a government grant to cut open their backs and render their arms unusable. And those monkeys died of gangrene in that lab. They were found floating in a barrel with auto parts in formaldehyde. I could go on. But if you want to defend that as the epitome of what we should stay away from because it represents animal research, more power to you.
NNAMDIIn 2008, PETA offered $1 million reward to the first group that creates a chicken meat product with a taste and texture indistinguishable from the real thing. Scientists are getting closer to meeting that challenge. If or when it hits the market, do you think vegetarians will embrace it?
NEWKIRKSome will, Kojo, and some won't and will let me know rather vociferously that they won't. It's a -- I can't say bone of contention. That would be a terrible pun. But I'm very hot for this research to bear fruit, so to speak. It's a very exciting area of science. It's been going on now for about 14 years. It was languishing. We have helped fuel it a bit.
NEWKIRKBut what happens is real animal cells are grown in culture using a mushroom base, and they turn into meat. You can grow this meat. You can grow layers of this meat. There's a long way to go. But it will be real meat, but it will be grown in the laboratory. No...
NNAMDIAnd people have all kinds of moral and ethical concerns about that.
NEWKIRKWell, you know, it's funny because if you serve a hotdog from a real pig, and they don't have any qualms. Many of them are eating that. And it's what? It's the nose of a pig. It's the rectal tissue. It's God knows what. But you say, this is grown in culture, in a laboratory. And they think, ooh, I'm not sure about that. But it will be clean. There won't be E. coli. There won't be salmonella, and there won't be slaughterhouses. There won't be transportation. There won't be mutilations.
NNAMDIWe don't have much time left, but vegetarians and vegans are a lot more mainstream today than they were a decade or two ago. And consumers are more informed about where their food comes from across the board. To what do you attribute that?
NEWKIRKAll sorts of things, Kojo. I think that we have learned so much about health and about diet. And being a selfish animal, I think we are very concerned -- and should be -- about our health. And so people now know that if you eat a diet that's heavy in meat and cheeses and dairy products, your arteries are going to be clogged. You're not going to, in all probability, live to a good healthy old age. And so people are concerned.
NEWKIRKThe -- Venus and Serena Williams just went vegan, and that's because of a health issue that Venus has. So you find this health push for veganism, but also people now are aware of what's happening to animals. And they don't like it and what's happening to the earth, and they want to save it.
NNAMDILet's see whether it helps or hurt their tennis game. Ingrid Newkirk is the co-founder and president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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