Possible peace prize for PETA prez On tour to promote her latest book, Making Kind Choices, PETA co-founder and President Ingrid Newkirk stopped at Bookmamas to read a selection, answer questions and sign copies of her book for an enthusiastic crowd. Tailoring her opening remarks to suit the location, Newkirk began with accounts of involvement by the racing community — specifically, Michael Schumacher’s signature on a petition against a monkey lab, and his wife Corinna’s participation in a program to rescue work horses in Turkey. She related how a simple letter, accompanied by a video report on the foie gras industry, convinced F1 driver Jenson Button to alter his lifestyle, and she applauded Emerson Fittipaldi for declining the traditional drink of milk after winning the Indianapolis 500 for the second time in 1993. Ingrid NewkirkThe famous racing circuit where Fittipaldi drank orange juice was one stop Newkirk couldn’t fit into her busy schedule on her first trip to Indianapolis. An avid and informed race fan, Newkirk’s disappointment was visible.
But Newkirk is accustomed to making personal sacrifices to promote her message about making informed, humane choices every day. “There’s a finite amount of time in life. Seize opportunities to live by your principles. If you miss an opportunity, it’s gone,” she says, urging others to align their principles with their actions by patronizing companies and charities that shun animal testing. “It’s the responsibility of every kind person to speak for those who can’t. We can move the marketplace by moving the charities.”
Citing technology that can re-create any flavor artificially, Newkirk advocates a vegan lifestyle, adding, “There’s no excuse to eat animals any more. There’s a substitute for everything. We’re not survivalists; we can eat non-violently.”
Use of violence is a frequent accusation lobbed by PETA’s enemies against the world’s largest animal rights organization.
“We have active enemies because we’re successful,” Newkirk theorizes. “If they can’t attack the message, they attack the messenger.”
She states emphatically that PETA is a non-violent organization that does not advocate or support violence in any form. “Our whole job is to counter violence,” she says. “Never in 25 years have we thrown paint at anyone.”
That’s a mythical accusation she says that arose out of a misstatement made on TV by Joan Rivers, who erroneously blamed PETA when her fur coat was splashed with paint. Rivers, by the way, is now a PETA convert and ally.
PETA has also come under fire for allegedly financially supporting the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), two groups that resort to “terrorist” tactics such as threats, bombs, arson and poisoning to convey their anti-meat message. Newkirk denies any collusion, noting that the IRS concluded several weeks of going through PETA’s books “with a fine tooth comb” and was unable to find any evidence to support these claims.
Contrary to some news reports, PETA was present in the Gulf Coast in the wake of Katrina, going from house to house, rescuing abandoned animals. “We picked up thousands of animals, many of whom suffered from inadequate health care prior to the hurricane,” explains Newkirk, who says that several were brought back to PETA headquarters. To prevent similar situations, Newkirk would like to see strict rules imposed for animal guardianship, including a ban on chaining animals, spay-neuter requirements and the end of pet store animal sales.
When denounced for the nearly 85 percent of animals euthanized after being taken into its shelter, Newkirk responds that PETA’s is a licensed shelter of last resort that accepts aggressive, sick and aged animals, which are euthanized for free. “We have to euthanize,” she insists. “The idea of a no-kill nation is bogus. What we need is a no-birth nation. For the same cost as an adoption fee, you can pay for a spay/neuter.”
Relying on horrifying undercover videos of appalling animal abuse and celebrity endorsements to attract attention to her campaign to effect change in the human-animal relationship, Newkirk considers her life’s mission one of education as she shrugs off the animosity directed toward PETA. “We’re not here to be popular. Our job is to remind people, to make them think. Things will change if people fight hard.”
Walfredo de Freitas, ISPCA director and Newkirk’s host during her brief sojourn in Indianapolis, believes that “making noise” about the cause will eventually translate into success. He intends to make noise by launching a campaign to nominate Newkirk for a Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of the changes she has effected, including achieving the first anti-cruelty law in Taiwan, and eliminating animals from the space program and from General Motors’ crash tests.