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Newsletter - Animal Writes © sm
6 September 2000 Issue

An Activist Moves On
by MicheleARivera@aol.com

A dragonfly lands on the ring finger of the man with whom I am having tea at a waterside table in sunny south Florida; and for a moment is the safest place the insect will ever be. The gentleman reacts with surprised delight. “Look at this,” he whispered, “look, it’s just a baby. Maybe he’ll come home with me and be my dragonfly.” After a moment, the fantasy ended and the bug flew off, and the man shrugged and said “or not.”

How many of us would stop in mid-sentence to regard a small, harmless insect alight on our fingers? Maybe most of us would slap it away before even seeing what it was. But not this man, not Alex Pacheco.

Alex is probably not too well known as a bug person, unless, of course you count a certain famous Beatle with whom he’s become somewhat friendly. But that’s another story. What Alex is famous for, of course, is being the co-founder of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, (PeTA). That and a whole lot of dangerous and daring animal rescues.

Alex Pacheco came from very humble beginnings. The son of a doctor and nurse, he was raised in Mexico along with his brother, now a globe-trotting college professor, and his sister, a nurse in Seattle. Animals were part of his daily existence. There were chickens on the roof, dogs and cats and horses everywhere. There were all manner of mammals, fowl and reptiles, even in the live markets, even in the streets. Alex came by his passion for animals quite honestly.

His first real “mission” was to put a stop to the unlawful hunting of whales. As a crewmember aboard a Sea Shepherd vessel, he sailed into international waters to stop Norwegian and Japanese hunters from slaughtering whales. He was just 18 at the time, and a long, long way from sunny Mexico. Alex would later be accused of being the “ringleader” many times after that, but this time, he was simply a crewmember. Still, he got an award for being the best crewmember on the ship. It was a hint of things to come.

He met Ingrid Newkirk some time after that, in the city shelter, in Washington D.C. It was the early seventies and he and Ingrid struck up a friendship based on their mutual passion for animals. Together they put together campaigns and launched ideas. According to Alex, Ingrid was responsible for taking the DC pound to new and wonderful heights. She was tireless in all her pursuits for the animals in her care and never stopped working for them. PeTA was not even a concept yet, and the use of the words “animal rights” was not quite the household word it is today, not in this country anyway. Living on Ingrid’s meager salary at the city shelter, the activists recruited volunteers, held demonstrations, and used the media to the best advantage for the animals, a controversial legacy PeTA continues today.

In 1981, about a year after the official founding of PeTA, their lives changed forever. Alex took a job as a volunteer researcher’s assistant in an animal laboratory in Silver Springs, Maryland. His duties enabled him access to records and areas the general public, including the funding agencies, were unable to view. He video-taped the animals in various degrees of discomfort and pain. Some animals died long before their date with death. The project was experimental stroke therapy. The chimpanzees had their nerves severed so that they were unable use their limbs. And then, they were forced to do so in order to simply survive. Of course, many didn’t survive. This was all in a vain effort to determine what, if any, therapy could be used for human stroke victims who have lost the use of a limb.

Alex videotaped all that he could, and then brought charges against the researchers and the laboratory. The case became known as the infamous Silver Springs Monkeys case, (the subject of a book entitled Monkey Business), and went on for over four years. It represented thousands of hours of court time, hundreds of appeals, and a lot of media attention. The case set several precedents including the first arrest and conviction of an animal experimenter in the United States on charges of cruelty to animals. It also was the first ever confiscation of laboratory animals. More importantly, it was also the first U.S. Supreme Court victory for animals in laboratories.

This was the first of many such cases for Alex. However the notoriety it brought him made it increasingly difficult working undercover at labs and slaughterhouses. His picture was circulated as a warning to other laboratories. Alex had body guards wherever necessary, and became a student of the martial arts. His stories of rescues and other battles are the subject of his many public appearances at animal-rights conferences and conventions. Having been arrested forty times, Alex has some extraordinary stories.

Alex left PeTA after twenty years in October 1999. When asked why he left what surely must have been the high point of his life, he gives only a generic “We had some differences.....” The more important question is whether Alex will continue his life’s work for animals.

The answer is a most emphatic yes! Living in South Florida, Alex is involved in two new ventures; All American Animals.Com. and Humane America. Alex serves as President of both of these organizations. Legendary artist Peter Max (Blue Dog) is his partner and Town & Country Magazine editor Frank Zacharay serves as celebrity liaison for AllAmericanAnimals.com.

Alex’s goal now is to get vegetarian foods into all of the institutions. “They serve ten thousand meals a day at any given prison, university, hospital or other institutions. I am out to get them to realize that going vegetarian for at least half of these meals makes good sense economically,” says Alex “we tried persuading them by compassion, I say that economics is the way to get through to them, and that’s what I am going to try to do.”

Alex’s new venture, AllAmericanAnimals.com is a little different from his other undertakings. This one is a “for profit” company that will assist charities in getting started. Alex will be available as a consultant on all matters of fundraising and other details of starting a nonprofit. He has access to a lot of celebrities too, and much like an agent, he will get one to come to a fund-raiser or charity event to raise money and awareness of new organizations. “You never know where an animal-person may be hiding," he says when asked about some of his more unpopular senatorial acquaintances. As I find myself looking around the steakhouse restaurant that Alex has chosen as the site of our meeting, I wonder how it is that the people around us have no clue who Alex is, a scenario that plays out much differently at gatherings of animal-rights activists where his picture and autograph are much sought-after treasures. I have to admit that I have been guilty of such treasure hunting, and have pictures of myself and Alex throughout the years at various functions.

And just what do those in the animal-rights movement have to say about all this? We asked some of them:

"Although I have never met Alex in person from what I have seen from his
tireless efforts he is completely dedicated to ending abuse and oppression.
His heart and his head speak one language, that of the animals who do not
speak."
~Susan Roghair, President (aka EnglandGal@aol.com), Animal Rights Online

“I don't know him personally. When I first embraced the animal rights movement,
PeTA was my first point of entry and he was my mentor. PeTA is not the same
organization without him. Alex has taught me that this movement is not about
'loving animals' -- it is about fighting injustice. Because of him, I've learned that
as long as animals are treated as property and as commodities, they will never
have their JUST day in court. The ARA's are the TRUE humanitarians -- and
should NEVER let unjust laws take precedence over an animals right to be free.
Because of Alex's example, I have become determined NOT to get caught up
in apathy and inaction. What a shallow life I must have led before this single
human being made me open my window of compassion and hear the cries of
the enslaved animals and the tumult of the animal kingdom. I look forward to
meeting Alex Pacheco one day. He would be pleased to know that because
of him -- activism engulfs me. Activism is near. Activism is now."
~Melissa Waz, Activist, Tampa, Florida

"Alex had his ups and downs with the organization. We're very happy he's
settled on something and we definitely are rooting for him. We hope his new
group will be a success and that it will truly benefit animals."
~Ingrid Newkirk - cofounder of PeTA

“Alex Pacheco is a pioneer in the modern animal rights movement, having co-
founded PeTA and investigated an animal research laboratory leading to the
first conviction of an animal researcher under an animal cruelty statute. Since
PeTA's founding, it has helped to place the term "animal rights" in the modern
lexicon.”
~Wayne Pacelle, HSUS

“I'm presently in the midst of some travel but I can quickly say that I met Alex
in the late 1970s in England after he jumped from the Sea Shepherd after it
rammed a pirate whaler in a Portugal port."
~Kim Stallwood, President and Publisher, Animals Agenda

“Alex Pacheco was my hero long before I met him. When we did meet, I was
surprised to find a fun-loving, playful guy. He is absolutely charming but not
what I had expected from one of the founders of such a serious social move-
ment. I expected a personality brimming with commitment and passion. I'm
sure they are there, underneath a nice layer of levity”
~ Karen Dawn, President & Founder, DawnWatch.com.

It’s true. As I was chiding Alex for being so derelict in responding to his e-mail messages, he was sheepish in his apology and revelation that he really hasn’t gotten the hang of the computer thing. “I sometimes get jokes from my friends,” he explains. “I really like a good joke now and then, but I can’t always figure out how to open them.”

Speaking of joking, I simply can’t end this article without commenting on the running joke among women in the movement, and a common theme on which everyone who has seen Alex agree, he’s a heartbreaker! But that seems to be a prevailing theme among men in the movement. I don’t want to mention names (Wayne, Gene, Kim, even our own Greg......) but an unscientific poll (I asked most of you) proved that so many great-looking guys are drawn to our movement. The compassion and vegan lifestyle is dowright sexy.

And I would be derelict in my responsibility as a reporter if I didn’t report that, happily, there was NO RING on the finger on which the little dragonfly landed.

Go on to Two Victories from Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade
Return to 6 September 2000 Issue
Return to Newsletters

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