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The PETA Principle

by D. Dowd Muska

ne morning last January, students arriving at Squires Elementary School in North Las Vegas were met by two strangers. One was a tall, thin, blonde woman.

The other was a carrot.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) had come to town, and when activists Karla Waples and "Chris P. Carrot" were told they could not address the entire school during an assembly, they took their message to the street. As she would later that day at Sunrise Acres Elementary School, Waples asked the children innocent-sounding questions about what they liked to eat. After hearing that they enjoyed meat, she then asked, "Why do you eat animals? Don’t you like them? Would you eat your friends?"

Waples and her vegetable friend were not locals—they were PETA professionals, on an admonish-the-kiddies junket. Their swing through the southwest took them a long way from PETA’s home base in Norfolk, Virginia. But animal rights activity in the Silver State is no longer limited to visits from out-of-state cranks.

It might be due to effective preaching by activists and Hollywood fadmongers. It might be the result of an influx of urbanites whose only experience with predators is watching programs on Animal Planet. But public discourse in Nevada—and to some extent, public policy—is increasingly influenced by the fashionable worldview that places the rights of animals side-by-side with those of man.

Whatever the reason, Nevada is now home to thousands of people who either support or sympathize with the animal rights agenda. PETA has about 3,500 members in the state, and the Humane Society of the United States—whose rhetoric is now virtually indistinguishable from PETA’s—has over 24,000 members.

Once, consciousness-raising about the condition of animals was benign, if not beneficial. Not so long ago, animal lovers brought attention to very real horrors, such as the brutality of puppy mills and the callous way many in dog racing dispose of greyhounds. But today, card-carrying animal rights activists are concerned with more than simply preventing cruelty. The orthodoxy of even "mainstream" activist groups now holds that animals should not be used for food, clothing, medical research or entertainment.

In other words, mankind’s relationship with the evolutionally-challenged needs to be radically restructured. And for those who aren’t willing to adopt such an enlightened view, look out. Terrorism is now a common tactic of animal rights zealots. The Justice Department and the FBI have started to track animal rights violence.

Although fur shops—and even fast-food restaurants—are often targets, the primary focus of animal rights terror continues to be medical facilities which use animals in experiments. Terrorists don’t let the value of animal-related research—such as the role it played in producing vaccines for smallpox, polio, measles, and hepatitis B—bother them. After all, if animals have the same rights as people, then blowing up an Alzheimer’s research lab is as noble as defying a segregated lunch counter.

Terrorists have driven the cost of animal-related research up 10 to 20 percent—and much of this work is subsidized by governments. Thus, taxpayers often foot the bill for animal rights militancy. Bilking taxpayers and delaying research on Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injuries and even AIDS doesn’t concern the leaders of terrorist groups, nor does it seem to cause the leaders of nonviolent groups to lose much sleep. In August Ingrid Newkirk, the president of PETA, told CNN that her organization does not engage in violence, but she refused to condemn terrorist acts "as long as no one is hurt."

It’s surprising that she offered even that disclaimer, since Newkirk makes no distinction between animals and people. In a 1983 interview with The Washington Post, Newkirk equated the Holocaust with the poultry industry. "Six million Jews died in concentration camps," she said, "but 6 billion broiler chickens will die this year in slaughterhouses."

In 1989 professor Tom Regan went even further, suggesting that some animals have more value than some humans. When asked what he would do if a dog and a baby were cast into the ocean, Regan replied, "If it were a retarded baby and a bright dog, I’d save the dog." The high priest of animal rights extremism, author Peter Singer, concurs. "Surely there will be some nonhuman animals whose lives, by any standards, are more valuable than the lives of some humans," he wrote in the second edition of his manifesto Animal Liberation.

"Those people among us who would give lower animals human rights do not do it because they love other animals," charges libertarian writer J. Neil Schulman. "They do it because they hate humankind." Strong words, but consider this gem from Newkirk’s interview with the Post: "I would rather see a blank space where I am. This will sound like fruitcake stuff again but at least I wouldn’t be harming anything."

o do any Nevadans actually agree with such drivel? Clearly, the state is not witnessing violent acts by animal rights terrorists. But there is abundant evidence that a soft-core version of animal rights extremism has been embraced by much of Nevada’s citizenry.

In February Nevada Division of Wildlife (NDOW) biologists approved the destruction of a female mountain lion and her two yearlings in the town of Verdi, west of Reno. The cougars were killed within 100 feet of homes and a mere quarter-mile from Verdi’s elementary school. A sad but necessary precautionary measure? Not to the more than 100 people who called NDOW to complain about the killings. And many disgruntled souls sent their objections to Nevada’s bulletin board for animal rights lunacy, the letters-to-the- editor section of the Reno Gazette-Journal. The cougars, according to Verdi resident Sandi Larson, "have as much right to live as we do!" Sun Valley’s Jeff Sumpter couldn’t resist injecting a little class warfare into the debate: "May I also point out that half the problem is due to the need of the more affluent ... to build their million-dollar homes farther into the forests and hills, ever encroaching on nature’s realm." Keith Richardville of Carson City inexplicably anthropomorphized the issue: "Look, there’s a dangerous-looking woman with her two children, let’s shoot and kill them before they hurt someone!"

It’s easy to defend a majestic predator, but in June Boulder City resident Sandra Shverha lent a hand to a less-impressive species. After taking testimony from county wildlife advisory boards about crows’ growing tendency to pester livestock and destroy crops, NDOW approved a limited hunting season for the bird. Although crow hunts are common in many states, NDOW employees opposed the adoption of a hunting season in Nevada—administrator Willie Molini stated the possibility of "public outcry" was one of the reasons for their opposition. Indeed, in 1996 commissioners had rejected a crow-hunting season due to public resistance, some of it from the Fund for Animals. Speaking with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Heidi Prescott, the group’s national director, predicted that since "anti-hunting sentiment" was getting stronger, NDOW would again deny a season for crows.

Commissioners proved Prescott wrong in March, but Shverha picked up the baton. Calling crows "sacred birds," she appealed NDOW’s decision, only to be rebuffed. A 1997 law requires that actual scientific evidence be provided in order to challenge the approval of a hunting season, and Shverha—who didn’t bother to show up for the commissioners’ meeting in Gardnerville—hadn’t any to offer. Sacred or not, Nevadans can legally open fire on crows in October.

Few reporters covered Shverha’s campaign, but the "running of the bulls" in Mesquite this summer generated a great deal of press for animal rights groups. The Humane Society opposed the event from the start, claiming that poking and prodding the bulls into action would violate Nevada’s anti-cruelty statutes. Reassurances that no whips or electric shocks would be employed helped convince the City of Mesquite to approve the event. However, the Humane Society’s campaign may have played a role in the Nevada Department of Transportation’s decision to deny the running of the bulls on Mesquite Boulevard, which is officially a state highway.

Governor Bob Miller agreed with the department’s decision, calling the running of the bulls a "spectacle." No proof exists to corroborate promoter Phil Immordino’s allegation that animal rights groups had "gotten to" the governor, but as a Review-Journal editorial noted, there was something odd about Miller’s pronouncement that the running of the bulls would tarnish the nation’s opinion about Nevada: "Harm the state’s image? Prostitution is legal in rural counties. The Strip was built by organized crime."

Then Agent Scully stepped in. In a letter to the Mesquite City Council, X-Files actress Gillian Anderson objected to the "exploitation" of the bulls. Anderson didn’t show up for the actual running, but a group of activists from three different animal rights organizations did. Unlike the vast majority of observers and participants, they didn’t have any fun. "It was absolutely ridiculous for the people, animals and spectators," grumbled PETA fusspot Jane Garrison.

ince the running of the bulls, all has been quiet on Nevada’s animal rights front. For now, activists will have to be content to use Reno’s largest newspaper as a conduit for their views—the Gazette-Journal appears willing to print almost any notion that enters an animal rightster’s head. A May pigeon shoot near the Nevada-California border elicited this comment from Reno citizen Lisa Lee: "When will they go after the homeless? Or the physically challenged? Or the smokers? If it bothers you—kill it. Is this the lesson our children should learn?" In June, D. Galven of Minden told readers: "We pass laws saying we can shoot just about any animal on four legs, we can cage pigeons to be shot upon release. We can bind horses and bulls for rodeo riding, and we can twist the necks of sheep and calves for roping. Yep, we are real humane, and we wonder why we have violent children—look at what wonderful examples we are setting."

But perhaps the most instructive letter to appear in the Gazette-Journal was penned by Alex Silviera of Fernley, a victim of the ugliest aspect of the animal rights movement. In April Alex had this to say: "I want people to stop killing animals. It’s because animals have rights. ... My plan would be to go the president and demand animal rights. I’ll keep on trying until I get it even if I have to go to jail."

Alex Silviera is a 9-year-old. u

Dowd Muska is a Nevada Journal contributing editor.

News to Use

National Animal Interest Alliance
http://naiaonline.org

Americans for Medical Progress Education Foundation
http://www.ampef.org

American Association for Laboratory Animal Science
http://www.aalas.org

D. Dowd Muska
ddm@npri.org


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