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Raising awareness about animal cruelty in T.O.


By Concita Minutola
Tandem - Toronto
2008-12-14

“Gruesome images of animals being skinned alive. Just the eyelashes are left.” To make us aware of how inhumane the treatment of animals is, Ingrid Newkirk, founder of the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) – the largest animal protection association – invites us to view the video available on the association’s website. Turkeys massed together, beaten with kicks to the head, then with unparalleled violence thrown into cages like a sack of potatoes. The video is the result of an inquest conducted in a West Virginia breeding farm from September to November of this year, opposing the killing of thousands upon thousands of turkeys during the Thanksgiving period. And this is just one of the battles the association has been engaged in since the ’80s.

Along with PETA, there are now well-known people such as the Dalai Lama, Paul McCartney, country icon Willie Nelson, Moby, and Kevin Bacon — just to cite a few — who support the movement. Essays collected by Newkirk were published in a new book, One Can Make a Difference: How Simple Actions can Change the World. The collection contains at least 50 contributions from the famous and less famous, simple citizens, and animal rights activists.

Newkirk came to Toronto on Dec. 1 to meet with Canadian readers at the Indigo Bookstore on Bloor Street.

“It was a wonderful encounter with a warm and receptive crowd,” Newkirk tells Tandem/Corriere Canadese, “and they asked a lot of questions, which shows how well prepared and aware they are of activism and voluntary services.”

There were many questions about the Dalai Lama and her meeting with Paul McCartney. “I told the crowd,” the activist laughingly recalls, “that Paul wanted me to listen to the songs on his last album while it was in progress, while I wanted to talk about his essay for the book since we didn’t have much time.”

In addressing the devastating issue of the seal hunt, Newkirck explains: “In the book, there’s an essay by Peter Hammarstad, a Norwegian activist, who describes the massacre of the seals.” Many have asked what an average citizen can do, “and they have the impression of being powerless, but it’s not like that,” says Newkirk. So what then can the average citizen do to “make a difference?”

Following is some advice from the founder of PETA:

First of all, “The most important thing, I think, is to look at the devastation of the environment (i.e., the effects on our state of health and the suffering of animals caused by the meat industry). We need to try to choose vegetarian meals or become fully vegetarian.”

Secondly, “There’s a beautiful essay from a pensioner who started with cleaning his street, then his village, then a base camp on Mount Everest. Now he teaches students how to clean the environment by collecting milk cartons, plastic bottles, and plastic wrap. That’s one thing that can be done. Another fundamental thing is to not use plastic bags.”

And community involement is essential, according to the activist. “There’s another essay on the experience of a man who, during a trip to South America, discovered that children became ill because of their broken shoes, so he started a collection. He eventually managed to find shoes for all the children in an entire village, giving life to a shoe collection program. Everyone is waiting to be told what to do, but once you start, people will follow.”

What was the Dalai Lama’s advice in the book?

“His is a marvelous message. People don’t know how much he suffered in his childhood, taken from his family at age four to a foreign land, then forced to flee through the mountains to India. And in spite of everything he went through, there is no bitterness in his thoughts. He also says in his essay that it doesn’t matter what religion you belong to, or if you’re not religious. The most important religion for him is compassion. We have so much to share with others – it’s enough just to start somewhere.”

How can we protect animals?

“First of all, by becoming vegetarian or at least trying to, and secondly, by not wearing furs, because they aren’t given up voluntarily. There are pictures on our site of animals skinned alive. Just the eyelashes are left behind, as the animal’s eyelid flutters in front of the camera. Can you imagine the tremendous pain they feel? When you buy a product, always check the label to see if it was made from animals. There’s always a choice. All you have to know is that it’s there. Our site www.peta.org offers many starting points.”

Was it difficult creating such a large association?

“No, it was quite easy. As I was saying, when you begin, people will follow. I didn’t have the ambition to create a large organization – I just wanted to share my information with people who wanted to protect animals. Everyone is interested, and support is increasing. There are certainly obstacles, but they’re always surmountable.”

How strong are animal protection laws in Canada and Italy, and what problems still exist?

“The seal hunt is Canada’s shame. Many countries and many people in the world are asking themselves why it is still allowed. Then there’s a much more dramatic problem that involves all countries: global warming, the destruction of the environment and rampant industrialization. What each one of us can do is fight for a cleaner environment. As far as Italy is concerned, there is a very strong animal rights movement, and I think the first issue on their agenda involves the use of furs, as well as meat consumption. Unfortunately, there’s still too much of this and there is not enough awareness of the cruelty with which the products are prepared. Giorgio Armani still uses furs, which is something we’ve strongly protested. What the Italians have to think of before buying a fur is that if they love their dog or cat, and if they love non-violence, they can contribute to stopping the cruelty.”



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