Ingrid Newkirk PETA’s president and co-founder answers questions on our relationship with animals

Ingrid Newkirk
Ingrid Newkirk. Photo: Pinterest.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats
Intro: I asked if Ingrid Newkirk would answer some questions that I had formulated and she kindly agreed. The idea was to understand Ingrid a little more because she is so important to global animal welfare. I was also interested to hear her thoughts on feral cats.

Question: Did you have any personal experiences in the early part of your life which led to you to formulating the thoughts that you have presently with respect to our relationship with animals?

Ingrid’s answer: Many. I grew up with a dog, who was there when I was born and was like a brother to me. Later, I came across a pig who had been abandoned and was dying on a farm, and thinking about what he was enduring made me realise that perhaps the pig who died for the pork chops in my refrigerator must have suffered, too. I picked a lobster for my dinner in a fancy restaurant, and he waggled his antennae at me, making me realise that it was his only way of communicating and that no animal wants to be eaten. At 19, I found a squirrel who had died in a steel trap in the woods as well as a fox who was still alive in another, and I realised where my fur coat collar came from. Then I read Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation, and my philosophy gelled. I realised, as Henry Beston did, that all discrimination is wrong, whether based on skin colour, gender, species, or anything else, and that we must try to look out for others, not exploit them because we have the power to. We all feel pain and joy and want to live, so I decided to talk and write about that to others and to convince people that they could make kind choices (one of my books is called Making Kind Choices) in absolutely everything they do and with everything they buy. People are enormously powerful and can change so much for the better.

Question: What vision does PETA have of the perfect world with respect to our relationship with animals? (Please refer to both wild and domestic animals). If you can provide some detail that would be nice. What I am looking for is what your organisation would like to see with respect to our relationship with domestic cats, for example. Should there be no domestic cats and domestic dogs at all in the world? Or do you think that community cats (unowned cats cared for in the community) are acceptable?

Ingrid’s answer: Since 1980, PETA has campaigned to establish a global society in which humans consider the needs of those whom Henry Beston, the noted 20th century American writer and naturalist, so beautifully called “the other nations”. We uphold individual animals’ right to be respected. For most, particularly in the wild, that means simply leaving them alone.

In a perfect world, all animals would be free from human interference and able to live the way nature intended. Cats and dogs would be part of the ecological scheme, as they were before humans domesticated them. But the world we live in is not perfect, and domesticated cats and dogs are not capable of surviving on their own in our concrete jungle with our traffic and so on. Many are homeless and in need of help, so humans have a responsibility to take the best possible care of them. Our history of breeding animals for companionship, sport, and show, often to designer specifications, has left many with serious health conditions – including pugs with squashed faces that impair their breathing and bulging eyes that can pop out in an accident, dysplastic dogs with weak hips that cause joint pain, and pink-and-white cats with eye problems.

Breeding has also created a host of other issues, including a staggering homeless-animal crisis. Once domesticated, cats and dogs who aren’t spayed or neutered come into heat often and can each have many litters. As a result, millions of unwanted animals end up in rescue centres each year, and many are euthanised simply because there aren’t enough homes for them all. Countless others are abused, neglected, abandoned to fend for themselves, or kept in sheds and hutches – lonely, frustrated, and denied a real life. This abysmal situation will continue as long as people go on breeding animals. For this reason, PETA urges anyone who is willing to commit the considerable time, patience, love, and money required to care properly for an animal to steer clear of breeders and pet shops and instead adopt one or more of the dogs, cats, and other animals waiting at a local shelter – and always to have them spayed or neutered.

Question: I know PETA believes that all feral cats should be humanely killed but that seems to be an extreme concept. And how would you like to see wild cat species conservation changed?

Answer: That claim about PETA’s stance on feral cats is false. We approve of trap-neuter-vaccinate-return programmes when the cats are (1) isolated from roads as well as humans and other animals who could harm them, (2) regularly attended to by people who not only feed them but also take care of their medical needs, (3) provided with proper shelter from the elements, and (4) located in an area where the climate is temperate. However, simply abandoning cats to a daily struggle for survival in a hostile environment is cruel – people would never abandon their own cats to fend for themselves. I encourage anyone who thinks otherwise to do two things: when it is winter and bitterly cold, maybe during a blizzard, instead of running from the car into the house and complaining about the weather, try sitting under a shed for the night – in fact, for an entire week – and see if you still think cats can fend for themselves. Also, try never going to a doctor, dentist, or hospital and not taking any medicines – not even aspirin or eye drops – for the rest of your life, no matter what ailment befalls you, and see if that works for you. That, among other horrors, is what you are condemning cats to when you leave them outdoors. With regard to feral cats who are abandoned without further care, the question is not if they will suffer on the streets but when they will suffer and for how long before enduring a painful and likely terrifying death. You can read more about PETA’s stance on the issue here.

Regarding species conservation, we are opposed to all hunting of animals, regardless of whether it is purportedly done for “sport”, for amusement, or as a callous nuisance-abatement method.

Question: Do you see human population growth as the massive problem that it is?

Answer: It is indisputable that the limited supply of land, water, and other resources makes human overpopulation a serious issue for all species, including our own. But it also makes wastefulness – with meat consumption one of the main culprits – a pressing issue. So PETA, as an animal rights organisation, focuses on helping people embrace vegan food, clothing, other products, and entertainment in order to prevent animals from being caged, tormented, tested on, and killed.

My sincere thanks to Jennifer White of PETA for organising this and to Ingrid Newkirk for answering my questions. Her answer on feral cats indicates that I had misconstrued PETA’s objectives. PETA does polarise views because they take an uncompromising stance on animal welfare. I, for one, wholeheartedly support them. It’s the only way to fight back against those who wish to abuse animals for financial profit.

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