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From 24 August 2003 Issue

On Second Thought - PETA Counterpoint
By Kathy Guillermo

There is a popular view that employees and activists with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals do little but dress up in skimpy costumes and rant about cruelty to animals. The reason many people believe this is the same reason that PETA engages in this street theater campaigning: It's what the media likes to cover. If we have learned anything in 20 years of fighting to earn animals respect, it's that silence means continuation of suffering and misery.

Because we are determined to keep the abuse of animals in the news, we have had to think of clever ways to draw attention to the issues, even if it means wearing Las Vegas-style "feathers," as we did recently in the Fort Worth area to protest the dismal living and dying conditions of chickens used by Kentucky Fried Chicken. To be honest, marching through the streets wearing next to nothing isn't our idea of fun. But we have found that our efforts to reach the public through news coverage of more conventional events have not worked. Instead, we came up with costumes and props and celebrity campaigns that would attract the media so that the public could understand that, to the animals, these issues are a matter of life and death.

What you probably don't know about, because these activities are less "sexy" to the press, is the tremendous amount of work PETA does on behalf of animals every day. Last year alone, PETA received more than 10,000 reports of animal abuse. Our caseworkers worked with local authorities in communities across the country to rescue animals from deplorable conditions. We've ended pigeon poisonings, worked with district attorneys and sheriff's departments to ask that they charge offenders with cruelty, halted cruel medical training exercises on kittens, and more.

In our own community of Norfolk, Va., where PETA is headquartered, our mobile spay/neuter clinic has sterilized more than 5,000 dogs and cats at low or no cost. This has prevented the birth of approximately 72,000 unwanted puppies and kittens. We have distributed more than 650 doghouses with straw bedding, free of cost, to residents who will not allow their companion dogs inside.

Thanks to courageous whistleblowers, PETA has placed undercover investigators in facilities across the country, leading to exposure of abuse and criminal charges against the people who harm animals. For example, PETA's undercover investigation of the University of North Carolina (UNC) animal laboratories uncovered multiple violations of regulations -- cutting off the heads of live baby rats with scissors without anesthetics, leaving live animals in cages with dead ones, failure to euthanize wounded and sick animals, and leaving hemophiliac mice with their tails cut off to bleed to death overnight. Following our exposť, a supervisor resigned, scientists were disciplined, and employee training was strengthened. The U.S. National Institutes of Health's Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare has issued a new directive on euthanasia to all research institutions nationwide.

Even when issues fall out of the news, PETA has learned that we must never give up. It took many, many months of pressure from PETA before U.S. and Puerto Rican officials seized six thin, sick, depressed, and filthy polar bears from the traveling tropical Suarez Bros. Circus. PETA had rallied support from polar bear experts, the U.S. Congress, government officials in Germany and Canada, and celebrities including Ewan McGregor. Video footage showed the bears panting constantly while being hit, whipped, and forced to perform frightening tricks in sweltering temperatures. A seventh bear had been seized earlier, after PETA alerted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to fraudulent documentation of her origin.

As for our street-theater-style campaigns, they work too. Following more than 100 PETA protests at Safeway stores, the grocery chain became the first in U.S. history to improve conditions for factory-farmed animals. The $34 billion-a-year company pledged to increase space for laying chickens, to stop starving hens in order to force increased egg-laying, and to conduct unannounced inspections of slaughterhouses and suppliers. We also persuaded Albertson's and Kroger to pledge to follow Safeway's lead. McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's responded to our campaign to make similar improvements.

Not everyone agrees with our belief that animals do not belong to us to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment. But whatever your view on animal rights, PETA urges you to learn about what happens to animals in these industries so that your choices are fully informed. PETA will keep protesting, educating, and investigating to make sure that the animals have a voice.

www.peta-online.org 

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