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May in animal news: Five questions with PETA president and co-founder Ingrid Newkirk

June 1, 2010 |  8:06 pm

We're asking prominent figures in the animal protection community to tell us what they think about the latest animal news and offer updates on their work in a new feature called Five Questions. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals co-founder and president Ingrid Newkirk took our questionnaire; here's her take on what mattered for animals in May and what's coming up for PETA in June. (Editor's Note: Newkirk's answers represent her own views and not necessarily ours.)

Newkirk Unleashed: What do you view as the most important development in animal news to happen in May?

Ingrid Newkirk: Last week's announcement by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that it will crack down on amusement parks -- or, as we call them, "abusement" parks -- like SeaWorld.

(Editor's note: Ed Michaels, U.S. Department of Labor assistant secretary for OSHA, told reporters, "We've seen several examples of employers in the entertainment industry that have not provided precautions adequate to protect workers. And we've seen fatalities as a result of that.... There's a tremendous amount of risky work in these facilities, and safety is often not considered the highest priority in these cases." He said he was putting such facilities "on notice" as a result of such incidents.)

Unleashed: What were PETA's biggest projects in May?

Newkirk: Keeping the pressure on SeaWorld to send all its whales and dolphins to seaside sanctuaries and pointing out that it's not good for children to watch someone who just a moment earlier was smiling at them being slammed to death by a killer whale.... Tilly, the captive wild orca who killed trainer Dawn Brancheau, had killed two other people, and there had been other close calls.... But what do you expect from a frustrated 12,000-pound wild animal who was taken from his family as a kid and is kept in a tank that to him is like a bathtub?

Unleashed: What will PETA be working on in June?

Newkirk: A million projects, from promoting spaying and neutering through demonstrations featuring dancing condoms to distributing our free vegetarian/vegan starter kits. But we'll also definitely be working hard to curb attendance at SeaWorld and at [Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's] shows. Indeed, we'll continue to expose Ringling by circulating video footage of elephants being routinely beaten as well as photos of the cruel methods that Ringling uses to train baby elephants.

Unleashed: How can interested animal lovers help in June?

Newkirk: We encourage people to open their hearts, eyes, and minds by visiting PETA.org and watching our videos, including Joaquin Phoenix's video featuring undercover footage of the exotic-skins industry. We also encourage everyone to show these videos to friends, family and coworkers or to use them as their auto-signature. And we will continue to urge people who are able to add a companion animal to their family to adopt from animal shelters instead of buying from pet stores or puppy mills. We also want to remind people to choose cruelty-free options when it comes to entertainment, food, clothing and products such as shampoo and oven cleaner.

Unleashed: What led you to become involved in the animal protection movement?

Newkirk: Growing up with my "brother" the dog, seeing abandoned animals who had been left to starve on a farm, seeing the inside of a slaughterhouse for the first time, and reading Peter Singer's wonderful book "Animal Liberation," which led me to write "Making Kind Choices, One Can Make a Difference" and PETA's "Practical Guide to Animal Rights," all of which are available at PETAMall.com.

Ingrid E. Newkirk is the president and co-founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Newkirk has been featured for her work with animals in the New Yorker, Time Magazine, People, Forbes, the Financial Times and other publications. She is the subject of a BBC special and the HBO documentary "I Am an Animal." She also tweets @IngridNewkirk.

Photo: Newkirk with Lady the dog. Credit: PETA

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