Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
From  Issue
15 September 2002
Henry & Me

By Robert Cohen - [email protected] 

"I don't think one can articulate
a satisfaction with harming another
being whether it's human or nonhuman."
Henry Spira

Henry Spira was a man who turned compassion into action. Many people honor Spira by referring to him as the founding father of the animal rights movement.

Spira was mentor and friend to many of the people who are at the forefront of today's AR movement. People like Alex Hershaft (FARM), Howard Lyman (Voice for A Viable Future), Ingrid Newkirk (PETA), and Peter Singer (author of Animal Liberation).

Henry died of cancer on September 12th, 1997 at the age of 71. He began fighting for animals in the mid-1970s by calling attention to surgical experiments being conducted on cats. Those lab experiments took place at the American Museum of Natural History between 78th and 81st Streets in New York City.

Many years later, Spira was to draw attention to Revlon's practice of testing cosmetics by blinding rabbits. Spira took out a full page ad in the April 15, 1980 issue of the New York Times. Without Spira's passion, the world would have known little of what goes on in research labs, and Spira's revelations awakened thousands more activists.

I never met Spira. We did, however, cross paths.

You see, I was inside the Museum of Natural History witnessing that cat surgery while Spira and others were outside protesting. At that time, Dr. Ethel Tobach was curator of the Primatology department at the museum. My friend (and mentor), Robert Orndoff, Ph.D., was invited to assist with the cat surgery. Orndoff's mentor, Frank Beach, was America's expert on the physiological aspects of hormones and sexual behavior in mammals.

Frank Beach is considered to be the founder and father of the field of psychoneuroendocrinology, the study of how hormones affect the brain and behavior.

Beach's mentor was Karl Lashly, the father of physiological psychology.

Lashly's mentor was William James, the father of experimental psychology.

So you see, what little I know about the physiological aspects of mammalian neuroanatomy and hormonal behavior was passed on and taught to me from a long line of great names in scientific annals. At the time, I believed that animal research was the most noble of academic pursuits. Photo of Robert Cohen, vivisector/researcher, 1972: 

Our Museum of Natural History cat had an electrode implanted in the medial forebrain bundle of her brain's hypothalamus.

Why would anybody protest that, I wondered? We were scientists, seeking to expand the horizons of mankind's understanding of brain mechanisms. In the long run, we would cure human diseases by experimenting on animals. The protesters did not understand.

I remember going outside to get a hot dog from a vendor in front of the museum, facing Central Park. I walked among the protesters to try and understand their position. I recall no individual faces, just a mindless passion that seemed at the time to be misplaced.

Nearly 30 years later, I am haunted by the fact that I was the clueless one. I do not remember Spira. I could not pick him out of a crowd. The man was a visionary. At that time, I lacked the vision to see the truths I now see.

Go on to Rosenberg Youth Award
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