Ingrid Newkirk (b 1949)
Ingrid Newkirk is an animal rights activist - sometimes militantly, arrested over 20 times - and co-founder and president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), said to be the world’s largest and most prominent animal rights organisation.
Born in Britain, Newkirk was schooled and brought up in India an only child and insatiable animal eater. By age 19 she owned her own fur coat (squirrel). Her adult life was spent in the eastern United States where she became aware of animal suffering after taking some cats to a shelter thinking they would be cared for. They were killed instead. A career change led her to become a deputy sheriff handling cases of animal cruelty. After sliding towards vegetarianism for some years she finally committed herself one day when (with a pork chop scheduled for supper) she saved a starving pig, the only survivor of animals abandoned at a farm. But Newkirk is no namby-pamby; she was also a poundmaster, which means she had to kill hundreds of stray animals.
Then she met Alex Pacheco, a volunteer at the animal shelter where Newkirk was working. Pacheco was a university student and already an established animal rights activist (see Undercover Investigator, Chapter 4). He gave her a copy of Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation
. Singer’s book and Newkirk’s work with animals coalesced and she and Pacheco founded PETA in 1980 working from her home in suburban Maryland. Dedicated to establishing and defending animal rights, their goal was to influence as many people they could about animal suffering. That is still PETA’s goal today, now based in Norfolk, Virginia, with over a million members, hundreds of staff and affiliates abroad. After many years of dedicated work, Pacheco left PETA to explore new areas of animal rights.
PETA and the personality of Newkirk become synonymous. As president of PETA, Newkirk speaks internationally on animal rights issues. She believes that animals are sentient, have intrinsic value and deserve equal consideration of interests with humans. Controversially, Newkirk compares humanity's treatment of animals with the Holocaust (see The Animal Holocaust, Chapter 1).
PETA focuses on a number of areas but primarily on factory farms, laboratory animals, animals in the clothing trade and in the entertainment industry, because, as Newkirk says, these areas have the greatest numbers of animals who suffer the most for the longest time. Newkirk herself is a board member or supporter of a number of animal rights organisations, such as EarthSave International and United Poultry Concerns. She also openly supports the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), often branded by detractors and news media reports as a ‘terrorist’ group (see Terrorism, Chapter 5). This and other activities have brought her to the attention of the FBI.
Newkirk's method is to outrage and repel people. She says PETA is the biggest animal rights group because it succeeds in getting attention by doing outrageous things. As an outrage directed to herself, and to remind us of what humanity is doing to animals, she directed in her will for some of her skin to be barbecued and eaten, other parts of her skin to be made into leather goods, and her feet should be scooped out and turned into umbrella stands (in the manner of elephants’ feet).
Critics of Newkirk claim she made PETA a lean radical abolitionist group but then let it degenerate into welfare. Newkirk responds by saying that PETA is abolitionist but on the way to abolition if you can ease the suffering of animals then you should not turn your back on them (see the entry New Welfarism, Chapter 2: Comparing Philosophies). Newkirk says:
"The opportunities for activism are all there and I believe every single part is vital, because all the spokes in the wheel are needed in order for the wheel to go around." (1)
Newkirk has written Kids Can Save the Animals: 101 easy things to do
(1991); You Can Save the Animals: 251 simple ways to stop thoughtless cruelty
(1999); 250 Things You Can Do to Make Your Cat Adore You
(1998) - the first animal rights cat-care book; Free the Animals: the story of the Animal Liberation Front
(2000); Making Kind Choices: everyday ways to enhance your life through earth and animal friendly living
Ingrid Newkirk interviewed by Catherine Clyne. Satya. 2000. (Accessed online February 2007.)
Sources for this page include:
PETA at 20 Years: Activism and Controversy
, Catherine Clyne, Satya. 2000. (Accessed online January 2007.)
Ingrid Newkirk - taking on the critics
, Animal Liberation NSW, 2001 (originally for Vegan Voice). (Accessed online January 2007.)
We're stunt queens. We have to be.
Gary Younge. Guardian. 24 February 2006. (Accessed online January 2007.)
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