Ingrid Newkirk is a prominent animal activist who co-founded the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)—the world’s largest animal rights organization. An outspoken woman, she is best known for creating awareness about various issues related to animal rights all over the world. Her organization has so far exposed the atrocities meted out on innocent animals in laboratories, forced the closure of the largest horse-slaughter operation in North America, and has helped to put a stop to all car-crash tests on animals among several other achievements. As a young girl she was not much interested in animals—she was not even a vegetarian and really loved to eat meat. It was when she began witnessing the horrible cruelties animals are often subjected to that her stance on animals began to change. During the 1970s she became the District of Columbia’s first female poundmaster and plunged in wholeheartedly into the animal rights movement. Her meeting with the animal rights activist Alex Pacheco was a turning point in her life. Alex made her realize the purpose of her existence—to protect animals from abuse and fight for their wellbeing. The pair launched the animal rights organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in the U.S. at a time when awareness about animal abuse was at its early stages.
Childhood & Early Life
She was born in Britain to a father who worked as a navigational engineer. The family moved to New Delhi, India when she was seven. Her mother used to volunteer for Mother Teresa at various charities.
She attended a convent boarding school in the Himalayas. Her experience in the school was very unpleasant as she was ill-treated by the nuns and brainwashed about the concept of god.
She helped her mother in her volunteering work which included packing bandages for people suffering from leprosy, stuffing toys for orphans and feeding stray animals.
One of her initial attempts at animal rescue was a heartbreaking incident: she tried to save a dog that was being tortured by some people, however, the dog died in her arms.
Her family moved back to the U.S. when her father joined the U.S. Air Force when she was 18 years old.
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In 1970 she was studying to be a stockbroker in Maryland—at that time she did not have any aspirations about building a career in animal welfare. She attempted to rescue some kittens abandoned by her neighbor and took them to a shelter where they were killed mercilessly. This motivated her to work on behalf of animals.
Her first job in the field of animal welfare was cleaning kennels and investigating animal cruelty cases. She found rampant animal abuse in the kennels and reported them to the animal authorities.
She went on to become an animal protection officer and served as a deputy sheriff in Maryland. She attained the highest success rate in convicting animal abusers during her stint. She also served as the chief of animal disease control for the Commission of Public Health in Washington, D.C.
She was the D.C.’s first female poundmaster and it was under her direction that the first ever spay and neuter clinic in Washington, D.C. was established. She also facilitated the setting up of veterinary services and adoption program. She played a key role in getting many organizations that engaged in animal cruelty and abuse closed.
She met animal activist Alex Pacheco in 1980. He gave her a copy of Peter Singer’s ‘Animal Liberation’, a book which explored the philosophical premises of the animal liberation movement. Reading this book made her realize her purpose in life.
Along with Pacheco, she founded the animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in March 1980 to educate the people about animal rights and sensitize them to the cruelties these animals were being subjected to in the name of research and entertainment.
Newkirk and Pacheco investigated the work of Edward Taub a psychologist who was conducting experiments on monkeys using electrical shocks and physical restraint. They documented the monkeys’ horrific living conditions and alerted the police. This controversy, known as the case of the Silver Spring monkeys led to an amendment to the 1985 Animal Welfare Act.
After this incident PETA became a prominent organization on the international animal rights scenario and Newkirk became its president. The organization has since then exposed animal abuse in laboratories, helped to close down slaughter houses, and convinced several major companies to stop using animal products like fur.
In spite of all the work it has accomplished, PETA and Newkirk have been accused of double standards. She is also criticized for the media stunts she employs for drawing attention to animal issues.
She is the co-founder and international president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) which is the world's largest animal rights organization. Its slogan is ‘animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment or abuse in any way’.
Awards & Achievements
She was presented with the Courage of Conscience award by the Peace Abbey in Sherborn in March, 1995.
Personal Life & Legacy
She was once married to Steve Newkirk whom she divorced in 1980. She did not want to have any children and had herself sterilized.