Types of Animal Rights Groups

I break animal rights groups into four categories:

The first category includes groups like the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and certain bird sanctuaries that have adopted some, if not all, of the animal rights paradigm. Such groups typically mean well and do provide some service to pet owners by promoting good care, but hold conflicting views about animal research, farming, hunting, etc. For instance, the ASPCA "was formed to promote animal welfare" and did at one time run a few animal shelters and clinics (Marquardt et al. 15). However, in 1994 it closed down its two animals shelters, one of which was the largest shelter operating in New York City (Oliver 144). In the following years it also "ceased operating 15 animal rescue ambulances and two mobile adoption vans in New York City," and "closed a Brooklyn animal clinic, reducing the number of its clinics from two to one" (Oliver 144). Now most of the ASPCA's funds go toward programs which promote "vegetarianism, the banning of fur, and the eventual end to all animal research, not just ‘cruel' animal research" (Marquardt et al. 15). All that really remains of the ASPCA's formerly welfarist views is its Animal Poison Control Center, and a link on its website to Petfinder.com, a network of adoption centers.

The second category includes groups like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Groups in the second category do not provide any services, and buy in completely to the animal rights paradigm, actively promoting it by running campaigns and creating new legislation. The dangerous thing about groups like the HSUS, is that they appear on the surface to be animal welfare groups. The HSUS in particular is often mistaken for a national version of your local animal shelter when, in fact, it "does not run a single shelter" (Marquardt et al. 15). People who support the HSUS are often naive pet owners who think their funds are going to help save stray animals; in actuality, "over 90 percent of the money raised annually by these groups was spent sending out requests for more money. Almost nothing was spent directly for the benefit of animals" (Marquardt et al. 16). In addition, one reporter "discovered that HSUS bought Hoyt's [HSUS president] $310,000 home for him in Maryland and allowed Irwin [HSUS treasurer] to write himself $85,000 in checks for a real estate venture, which the board renamed a ‘loan'" (Marquardt et al. 16). Meanwhile the HSUS is campaigning against pet ownership and animal agriculture, two things which most of their donors are certainly for.

The third category contains groups like PETA, though PETA is arguably in a class of its own. The good thing about this category, and PETA in particular, is that the general public is fully aware of their motives, and many consider them to be extremists. The bad thing about this category is that these groups actually condone and may even fund terrorism. PETA constantly issues "Action Alerts" with extremely inflammatory language like "Palmer Chiropractic Seeks $500,000 Grant to Kill More Cats," encouraging people to take action against the individuals and companies listed (PETA, Action). "Action" usually takes the form of harassment. Activists have been known to make death threats to individuals, congregate outside their homes and businesses while making noise all night long and passing out leaflets to neighbors which discuss the "murderer" next door, complete with images of slain animals. PETA claims no responsibility for the actions it incites, but fully supports those who take such actions. It also offers advice to activists planning on committing illegal acts, and has paid the legal fees for several ALF terrorists (Oliver 124).

PETA has close ties with the Animal Liberation Front (more on this group later). Kim Stallwood, one of the three board members of PETA, was formerly a member of the ALF. Alex Pacheco, another board member, calls PETA the "PR firm for ALF" (qtd. in Oliver 122). This is certainly true. Evidence suggests that PETA is aware of planned ALF raids. The typical scenario is that ALF will raid a facility, steal files and animals, tape footage and then burn/deface the property. The very next day PETA will make a press release for ALF that includes some of the footage and information from stolen documents (Oliver 123). While we are certainly living in an age of information, these scenarios have been occurring since the 1980s, and that seems like an awfully rapid response time for two organizations claiming to have no collaboration. Groups like PETA serve simply as a legal face for illegal ventures.

Animal rights activists believe they are fighting a war. Due to the very nature of their philosophies, which consider researchers and farmers the equivalent of Nazis, meat eaters the equivalent of cannibals, and the pet trade the equivalent of the slave trade, some groups believe that not only is violence justified, it is the only means to bring about a revolution for animal rights. That said, the fourth category contains terrorist groups.

The Animal Liberation Front is the most well-known and active animal rights terrorist group. Disorganization is one of the keys to its success:

[ALF] relies on relatively autonomous "cells"- regional groups that have little contact with one another and that are patterned after the Irish Republican Army- to carry out attacks. This makes the arrest of perpetrators more difficult. As a spokesman for the British Union for the Aboloition of Vivisection once said, "if [someone] . . . is interested in participating in an animal liberation action, [he] gets together with some close friends of like mind, or by [himself], undertakes the operation. That's it. That's the ALF." (Oliver 149).

While ALF and PETA publish information on how to commit illegal acts with articles like "Arson Around with Auntie A.L.F.," both maintain that humans should not be harmed in the quest to "liberate." However, when humans are harmed by activists claiming affiliation with ALF, the group denies responsibility. In doing so, they "implicitly acknowledge that violence directed at people is a foreseeable result of the tactics they promote" (Beirich and Moser). A spin-off of ALF, calling itself the "Justice Department," has no such qualms about harming humans:

Graham Hall, award-winning TV filmmaker was tortured by animal rights extremists in a sadistic revenge ritual. Earlier this year Hall won the highest award British TV can bestow for his expose on the fanatics behind the Animal Liberation Front. Eleven months following airing of his expose he was kidnapped at gun point, blindfolded and driven to an unidentified house where he was bound and told he would be killed. After several hours his assailants surrounded him, forced his head between his legs and burned ALF into his bare back in 4" high letters using a branding iron. According to Hall, as they ended their branding ritual one of them made a comment about justice being done and another chuckled something about the justice department, which is the name given to the part of ALF that takes credit for criminal actions against people, as opposed to property. Before the ordeal ended animal extremists threatened to harm Hall's family, to torch his house and to kill him if he went to the police. Hall's back is permanently mutilated from the branding . . .

While denying any knowledge of the attack, Robin Webb, ALF's official spokesperson issued a chilling warning to Hall and any others who might try to get in the way of the Animal Liberation Front's crusade saying, "people who make a living in this way have to expect from time to time to take the consequences of their actions." (National Animal Interest Alliance).

Keep in mind that all this guy did was make a negative video about ALF.

Animal rights terrorists groups also object to the label of "terrorist," and even have the audacity to compare themselves to peace movement leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi. Dan Murphy was particularly enraged by such comments:

When the pro-violence folks quoted above arrogantly tried to claim King as a spiritual ancestor to the extremists responsible for blowing up trucks, bombing buildings and destroying the property of legitimate businesspeople, I glanced around at the SRO crowd packed into the room, and the mostly young, predominantly female and almost exclusively white audience members were all nodding their heads in earnest agreement. . .

To invoke the name of Martin Luther King on behalf of violent ALF types who are past even the fringe of legitimacy is a venal, bankrupt attempt at credibility that puts an Orwellian spin on a chapter of American social history about which I doubt more than a handful of the activist types at that Animal Rights meeting have more than an MTV-like video clip awareness of its significance.

Yet despite the vicious acts of the movement, Americans donate huge sums towards animal rights annually. The combined income of nine of the largest animal rights groups in the United States was $106.7 million (Oliver 141). Incomes listed were from either 1996 or 1997. The largest income by far belonged to the Humane Society of the United States, which received $46 million in 1996 (181). The reason for this is probably due to the misleading name. PETA, the largest and most publically known animal rights group, garnished only $13.8 the same year (193). This huge difference indicates that most people support humane treatment of animals and animal shelters, rather than the more extreme views of the animal rights movement. However, it also demonstrates the public's general ignorance regarding the stance and spending habits of HSUS.

The confusion between animal rights groups and legitimate animal welfare groups is common, and undermines the animal welfare movement by redirecting funds away from it towards animal rights (Oliver 117). It gets even more complicated when animal welfare groups are taken over by animal rights extremists or decide to adopt animal rights agendas. Donors should be extremely cautious and thoroughly investigate any organizations before offering support. Pamphlets can be misleading. In high school I frequently received brochures from the ASPCA and HSUS, which contained pictures of sad-eyed puppies and pleas to "help end his suffering." As stated above, neither of these groups own or operate any shelters. I am a firm believer in never donating to a cause unless I know how my donation is going to be spent. When donating to purported animal welfare groups, you need to be especially careful because many of them may be promoting legislation that conflicts with your lifestyle. HSUS believes that pets should be eliminated, and ASPCA, though it does run the Animal Poison Control Center (for a $45 consultation fee), is pro-vegan, anti-fur, anti-hunting, and anti-farming (Oliver 84, ASPCA). If any of these campaigns conflicts with your beliefs, you should not donate.

Previous Page Works Cited Next Page

Feisty Feathers
Go Back

Articles and images contained on this site are © 2003 by Karen Trinkaus unless otherwise noted and may not be reprinted or used in any way without the author's permission.