By Robert Cohen -
"I don't think one can articulate
a satisfaction with harming another
being whether it's human or nonhuman."
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
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
Lashly's mentor was William James, the father of
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
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