ENN Interviews PETA Co-Founder Ingrid Newkirk
Ingrid Newkirk is the co-founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the author of several books on the topic. Newkirk is the focus of a new HBO Documentary "I Am an Animal: The Story of Ingrid Newkirk". The production offers a candid, emotional and introspective look into the life, experiences and motivation of the founder of PETA, the world's largest animal-rights organization. ENN interviewed Newkirk from London, the global headquarters for her continuing to raise awareness of animals rights and abuses.
Questions from Paul Schaefer, Editor, ENN
The awareness of animal rights, issues, and the need overall to consider animals when we humans plan anything, has expanded globally to a level none of us thought possible a few years ago. What is responsible for this awakening? Or has there been no awakening?
Yes, people who didn’t know the term “Animal Rights’ in 1980 when PETA started, now know there is a growing, massive movement to stop exploitation of animals and that’s what it’s called. in part, large part, I believe, PETA’s media and public outreach work (colorful demos, stunts, gimmicks, undercover exposes, challenges to public figures), our trendy youth projects with skateboarders and musicians through peta2.com, our celeb ads on fur, veg, circuses, leather, testing, and more, and our approx 100 websites on everything from how to care for your dog to easy tips on going vegan, games, quizes, recipes, the works. Society is ready for animal rights!
What seem to be the most resonant themes in your work?
Most people are kind and most people will consider a compassionate choice if you show them that one way is causing suffering to animals and one way spares them that suffering – that strikes a chord, so… Giving kids and teachers computer alternatives to cutting up a cat or frog; showing footage of how animals are skinned alive for fur collars and cuffs and that there are fabulous, fashionable options; offering the supportive “30 day veg pledge” complete with information on cooking for kids, health issues, the benefit to the environment; promoting circuses like cirque du soleil, in which human performers are there because they want to be, get paid and go home at the end of the day vs. ringling, which has been cited by the usda for the deaths of animals who suffered without needed vet care.
PETA is a major force now. How do you envision the next ten years?
In 10 yrs, a new generation will have come up and they were raised with animal rights, so the future is ever brighten.
Have we reached a critical mass in animal rights?
Animal rights is still a sleeping giant.
Will the focus, strategically, of PETA change in the coming years?
Our focus has been constant since our inception: trying to open hearts and minds to the fact that all animals, not just the cute and big-eyed ones, feel pain and struggle to survive, want to be happy and deserve respect, understanding and to be left alone whenever possible.
What has been the biggest surprise for you personally in your work?
Misconceptions people have about a vegan diet being limited when it is far more interesting and diverse and tasty than a piece of meat and a glass of milk; how people do not make the connection that if they buy a dog from a pet shop or breeder, they have taken away the chance of a home from a shelter dog and paid to continue the overpopulation crisis which results in those shelters having to euthanise about 6-8 million dogs and cats every year in the us alone.
What is the biggest task you have yet to finish?
Because everyone eats, getting everyone to switch completely to vegan diets, although school cafeterias now have vegan meals; I’m sitting at la guardia airport and the kiosk opposite offers vegan bbq “chicken” and vegan tofu ravioli, and there’s silk in every supermarket in even small towns, so we’re on our way, inch by inch.
What should consumers know that they don't know around the issue of animal rights?
That it’s all about reducing violence, reducing needless suffering, being kind: who can argue with that, even if it means you have to stop doing something that you’ve got used to doing!
We admire your tenacity and vision and your love of animals - would you talk about your spirituality?
Kindness is my religoin. John Galsworthy said, “There are 3 things in life that are important. the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind, and the third is to be kind” – If you are kind, there go wars, famine, suffering of all kinds that is manmade.
Is this a source of vision, strength and motivation for you?
I know that each of us can do great good and I do not want to go to bed at night not having tried to do some today
Who do you admire in the world?
The dear child who refused to classify animals as “things” although he got a black mark in his class, the woman who stands at grand central station with a petition to stop the canadian seal hunt, the corporate chief who hands out tofurkeys at thanksgiving instead of turkeys to make it a celebration for all forms of life, everyone who does anything compassionate, uses their voice for good.
What have you read lately?
Women and Nature, by Susan Griffin
What is the next hot button PETA issue?
That would be telling! but we have to win switching kfc to knocking the birds unconscious first so they don’t feel their wings and legs snapping as they go into the shackles; we have to get versace and burberry to stop using bits of rabbits in their clothes.
Fondest memory in your PETA work?
Not the hate mail but the wonderul letters from people, e.g. “I came to your website to see Pam Anderson naked and now I have a whole different outlook on how animals should be treated.” Hearing how people have changed and the steps that they’ve taken to make kind choices in their lives, for their own dogs and cats as well as for all the animals they unwittingly had hurt through their purchasing power and choices.
Thank you for you work and willingness to do this interview
No Worries, thanks for doing this.