Ingrid Newkirk's Open Letter To The World: "NEVER BE SILENT."
Thirty-seven years ago, when a small group of friends and I started People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), no one had heard of "animal rights" and people thought "vegan living" meant buying a house in Las Vegas. Today, anything can be vegan, including Ben & Jerry's ice cream, cheese, fish, eggs, wool, leather, fur—you name it. In class, computers have replaced the poor old frog on the slab.
But back in 1980, when PETA was founded, we had no idea that animal rights would become so mainstream. We just knew that animals were suffering horribly in the meat industry, on fur farms, in laboratories, and in circuses, and that we had to do something to stop it. We didn't dawdle. We just jumped right in.
PETA's first case—the precedent-setting 1981 Silver Spring monkeys case—resulted in the first arrest and criminal conviction of an animal experimenter in the U.S. on charges of cruelty to animals, the first confiscation of animals abused in a laboratory, and the first U.S. Supreme Court victory for animals in laboratories. And we haven't stopped fighting—and winning victories—for animals since.
It's no coincidence that after years of non-stop PETA pressure, SeaWorld has gotten out of the orca-breeding business and the curtain has come down on Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. When PETA was founded, the cosmetics industry insisted that animal tests were indispensable. Today, more than 2,500 companies refuse to test their products on animals, and many forward-thinking scientists are using only sophisticated non-animal methods to study diseases.
In 2015, the U.S. National Institutes of Health—a government body notorious for answering to no one, not even the U.S. Congress—announced that it was ending cruel psychological experiments on baby monkeys and their mothers. This couldn't have happened without an intensive year-long PETA campaign, which began when PETA released disturbing video footage showing infant monkeys being terrorized with loud sounds and fake snakes, intentionally intimidated by experimenters, and forced to live alone in tiny cages to worsen their psychological distress.
In 1980, fur was "what becomes a legend most"; today, people are more apt to agree with Amy Sedaris, who quipped that fur is what becomes a loser most. After learning from PETA that rabbits scream and writhe in pain as workers tear their fur out, Nearly 300 retailers, including H&M, Forever 21, Gap Inc., Anthropologie, and ASOS, stopped selling angora. "Leather" can be made from pineapple leaves and recycled plastic bottles, and UNIQLO won PETA's Innovator for Animals Award for its revolutionary new synthetic innerwear technology, HEATTECH, which wicks away moisture, retains heat, is warm, and—most importantly—is wool-free.
PETA's motto is, "Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way," and our guiding philosophy is that silence is a social cause's worst enemy. Whatever we have to do to break that silence and bring the animals' plight into the arena of public discussion, we will do, because despite all the progress we have made, there is no shortage of cruelty in the world—from the dog leather factories in China and factory farms where hens are kept in cages so tiny that they can't even turn around or spread their wings to the stinking crocodile farms where young crocodiles are killed with a rod jammed up their spines just to be turned into large, ugly bags for the likes of Kim Kardashian.
I'm not a Buddhist, but I like what my friend the late Norm Phelps had to say about samsara in his book The Great Compassion. He wrote that in the Buddhist tradition, it's considered good fortune to be born into the realm of human beings not because we're superior to animals—for "at the most profound and important level," he says, "Buddhism recognizes no hierarchy of sentient beings; all are equal"—but because we are less likely than animals to suffer. The cycle of birth, death…is a "hierarchy of suffering, not a hierarchy of beings."
Now if you share your home with a dog or a cat and treat him or her well, you may be skeptical, thinking instead that animals are "pampered." But please remember that right now, all over the world, billions of animals just like your dog or cat are living in pain and fear—and being cruelly killed—for no reason other than that we humans want their fur coats or enjoy the taste of their flesh.
I think that on this point, the Buddhists are right: We are all the same, but animals suffer so much more. Just as men are not superior to women, or whites to any other pigmentation or lack of it, human beings are not superior to other beings. We are different in some unimportant ways—such as the way we look or the language that we speak—but exactly the same in the only ways that count: in our feelings of pain, love, joy, grief, and loneliness, and in our shared desire to be free of suffering.
And this is why we must never be silent. If we see injustice, we must not turn a blind eye. Instead, we must do everything we can to stop the animals' unimaginable suffering. I say unimaginable because as much as we think we understand how awful things are for animals if we truly felt the enormity of it, we would surely go mad (just as many animals indeed do go mad on factory farms and in decrepit roadside zoos).
Not too long ago, I was on a train to Scotland, and passengers were gazing out the window, besotted by lush green hillside meadows dotted, as if by snowflakes, with sheep and lambs. But it was raining, and these sheep had no shelter. So I knew that they must be constantly wet and that in winter, they are both freezing and wet. They are seldom comfortable or happy. Their lambs are taken away, they all get kicked and cut to shreds, and some will have their necks twisted and broken, as PETA has documented when they are sheared for a sweater. In the end, they will die in fear.
Mother pigs have no choice but to breathe in the ammonia from their own waste, as it collects in troughs beneath their pens, and they are kept in farrowing crates so small that they can never even turn around to nuzzle their young. Their lungs become blackened, and the open sores that form on their limbs as they lie on hard, filthy concrete become infected.
Foxes on fur farms go insane from stress and boredom and throw themselves repeatedly against the crude wire that encloses them. Or they cower pitifully at the backs of the cages, paralyzed with fear.
Dogs, cats, monkeys, rabbits, guinea pigs, fish, mice, and other animals are locked inside laboratories, burned, cut open, shocked, poisoned, socially isolated, starved, dehydrated, forcibly restrained, addicted to drugs, brain-damaged, and more in cruel and archaic experiments, even as astonishing non-animal research methods such as organs-on-chips supersede animal use.
Times change, but change happens only when enough people take a stand against cruelty and voice their opinion that living beings should not be treated as if they were nothing more than amusements or slaves or living test tubes. So how can everyone reading this make a difference right now? If you are not yet vegan, please take a pledge today to be one in what you wear, what you buy, what you eat, and how you entertain yourself. And if you are vegan in all those ways, please pledge from this moment on to be an active, vocal human being who is determined to change everyone else. Animals need all the allies they can get. Even the shyest person can send video links or leave vegan starter kits at the gym. We can take vegan dishes to our workplace potlucks, buy cruelty-free gifts for baby showers and birthdays, share PETA's exposés on Facebook and other social media sites, grab some friends and hand out leaflets at festivals, strike up conversations (especially when there's a captive audience in an elevator or grocery checkout line), and urge our favorite restaurants to offer vegan entrées and our favorite boutiques to stop selling angora and exotic skins. In short, we must never miss an opportunity to use our voices for animals.
I'll leave you with one last story. The Bible says, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter into the kingdom of God." Even if you are an atheist, the moral still applies. Every one of us is so rich compared to the other animals in this terribly cruel world. If we can pay for shelter, put clothes on our backs, buy healthful food, go for a walk whenever we please, or go to the doctor when we are ill, we are so rich compared to the neglected dog chained in the filthy dirt patch 24/7, the terrified elephant being hit with the bullhook, and the suffering hen inside the transport crate with her aching, broken wing. And we have an obligation to share our wealth and good fortune.
In India, many desperately poor people live on the street. Sometimes their home is a little piece of scavenged cardboard, and often, they haven't got even that. One day, a taxi that I'd taken stopped on a busy bridge in Gujarat. As the driver and I waited, I saw a woman sitting with her baby on a dirty piece of mat. Their belongings consisted of a tiny pile of things—less than you might put into a shopping cart. Suddenly, she stood up and looked down the bridge. Then she pulled out something she had kept wrapped in the hem of her long, grubby skirt. It was a small ball of rice wrapped in a piece of newspaper. She carefully spread the little piece of paper on the ground and put the rice on it. And this is what I saw next: Along the pavement, a thin mother dog was approaching. The woman waited for her, showed her the rice, and then stood and guarded her as she ate. I thought that if this woman could share the almost nothing that she had with a member of another species, how much more could the rest of us—who throw away more food in one day than she, her baby, and that dog would have in a week—be doing? We are so rich.
We are wealthy in other ways, too: We have our freedom, our voices, our talents, our time, and our energy. And if we share these, we will be far more powerful than the many industries in which animals suffer for food, clothing, experiments, and entertainment.
Animals are suffering right now. We can't afford to hesitate or be silent. I invite you to visit www.PETA.org today and join PETA in speaking out for them.
What Others Say About Ingrid E. Newkirk
"Ingrid Newkirk is not only a thoughtful animal rights and environmental activist. She is an inspirational leader. A heroine. A woman upon whom so many depend, around the world, for information and guidance. In a world where all animals, everywhere, are more threatened than ever, Ingrid Newkirk is their champion."
"If I were going to pay tribute to someone, it would be PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk and ordinary people who make a difference."
"Ingrid Newkirk writes as she lives—with integrity, conviction, courage, and humor. These qualities, along with her innate grace, allow her to operate successfully in a profession that would not only break my heart, but send me to the funny farm. Thank you, God, for this remarkable woman …."
"She is a hero for the animals; she is a cultural hero; she is my hero."
Ingrid E. Newkirk is the president and founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)—the largest animal rights organization in the world, with more than 6.5 million members and supporters—and all its affiliates around the world.
Newkirk was born in Surrey, England, and lived in Europe until she was 7 years old when she and her parents moved to India. Newkirk has always been drawn to animals and often rescued abused cattle and stray dogs during her childhood. After moving to the U.S., she served as a deputy sheriff and was a director of cruelty investigations for the Washington Humane Society/SPCA (the second-oldest humane society in the U.S.). She has also been a Maryland state law-enforcement officer for 40 years and currently serves in an advisory capacity on various animal-protection boards.
Newkirk's efforts led to the passage of legislation to create the first spay-and-neuter clinic in Washington, D.C. She coordinated the first arrest and conviction in U.S. history of a scientist on cruelty-to-animals charges and helped pass the first anti-cruelty law in Taiwan. Other firsts include the first felony charges of cruelty to animals involving a factory farm after PETA conducted an investigation of a pig farm in North Carolina as well as the first felony charges of cruelty to factory-farmed birds as a result of a PETA investigation of turkey farms in West Virginia.
Newkirk spearheaded the closure of the Department of Defense's underground "wound laboratory" and the closure of the largest horse slaughterhouse in North America, and she has initiated many other successful campaigns against animal abuse, including ending all crash tests on animals. Her investigation of the Indian leather trade was covered by BBC's Women's Hour, among other shows. As a result of PETA's campaign against cruelty in the Australian wool industry, during which Newkirk personally visited farms in Australia, the live flaying of lambs is on its way out. She has spoken on innumerable college campuses and at international symposia, and she addressed the international peace conference in the Middle East in 2005.
Newkirk is the author of more than a dozen books in several languages, including her latest, 'The PETA Practical Guide to Animal Rights, as well as One Can Make a Difference', which contains essays by His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Paul McCartney, Moby, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Helen Thomas, Sean Astin, and other people who have worked to effect positive changes. Her other books include 'The Compassionate Cook', 'Let's Have a Dog Party!', '50 Awesome Ways Kids Can Help Animals', 'Making Kind Choices', 'The PETA Celebrity Cookbook', 'Animal Rights Weekend Warrior', 'You Can Save the Animals', 'Free the Animals', 'Kids Can Save the Animals', and '250 Things You Can Do to Make Your Cat Adore You'.
Newkirk's campaigns to promote cruelty-free living have made the front pages of virtually every newspaper in the U.S. and the U.K. and have also been featured in The Times of India, The Washington Post, and countless magazines and other periodicals. She was named a top businessperson of the year by Fortune magazine and Washingtonian of the Year by The Washingtonian. She has been profiled in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Time, and twice in People, and she was also featured in Forbes magazine. She has appeared on The Colbert Report, The Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Larry King Live, Politically Incorrect, Crossfire, Nightline, 60 Minutes, Voice of America, and 20/20, among others, and she enjoys a lively debate and the opportunity to show how easy it is to make animal-friendly choices. She has been the subject of two documentaries: the BBC's Ingrid Newkirk: The Naked Revolutionary and HBO's award-winning I Am an Animal.
"Animals have all the enemies imaginable—people who think nothing of taking their lives, stealing their young, and denying them everything that is natural and important to them," says Newkirk. "They need all the friends they can get. Anyone with compassion for animals, with empathy, is their ambassador to the human world."
PETA focuses its attention on the four areas in which the largest numbers of animals suffer the most intensely for the longest periods of time: on factory farms, in laboratories, in the clothing trade, and in the entertainment industry. It also works on a variety of other issues, including the cruel killing of beavers, birds, and other "pests"; the overpopulation crisis involving cats, dogs, and other animals; and the abuse of "backyard dogs."
PETA works through public education, investigative work, research, animal rescue, legislation, special events, celebrity involvement, campaigns, congressional involvement, and international media coverage. PETA's animal protection work brings together members of the scientific, judicial, and legislative communities to stop abusive practices and achieve long-term changes that improve the quality of life for and prevent the deaths of countless animals.