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Fighting Tooth & Claw : Ingrid Newkirk's Combative Style And Headline-grabbing Stunts Have Shaken Up The Animal-rights Movement

March 22, 1992|HOWARD ROSENBERG | Howard Rosenberg is The Times' television critic.

"Review committees," Remmers insisted.

"Your rubber-stamp committees," Newkirk repeated.

"And they. . . ." Remmers tried once more.

"And they stamp it A-OK," Newkirk interrupted.

"Will you let me talk?" Remmers pleaded.

"We gotta go to a commercial," Reagan said. Newkirk had already given hers.

"The Ron Reagan Show" was eventually canceled, but the Ingrid show lives on. While most in the medical community credit animal research for the development of, among other things, various cardiovascular devices and immunizations against polio, mumps, measles, diphtheria, German measles and hepatitis, Newkirk rejects the notion that such research is crucial today. "It's desperation," she says. "Let's say you have a choice. You can take $400,000 and apply it to the technology we now have or to prevention or to hospice care. Either that or you can spend the money on the tiniest chance that we could get a cure for cancer or AIDS if we made a circle of all the cars in the parking lot and drew a big 'X' in the middle, and we all raised our hands and stayed there for three months. Well, a desperate person will say, yes, let's do this oddball thing. Yes, kill my next door neighbor if it will save me. But I say, whether you care about animals or not, that if you have only one amount of money, you look at what's most promising, and animal experimentation is out there in the parking lot with the circle."

She equates animals in labs with slaves: "What else can you call it when animals are in chains, they are shackled, they are hoisted, they are whipped, they are beaten, they are made to do things they don't want to do and aren't in their nature, when they are bred by artificial insemination, taken away to be slaughtered so that we can make a sandwich, key chain or a fun fur? Slavery is a mind-set that says these aren't important living beings. They are less than me, and therefore I can exploit them."

Therefore, she condones the law-breaking lab raids of the underground Animal Liberation Front, and in fact has written a soon-to-be-published paperback history of the organization. Says Newkirk: "When I hear of anyone walking into a lab and walking out with animals, my heart sings."

WASHINGTON--Eyeing a bed of succulent nasturtiums, eight politically active goats took to the streets in classic capital fashion yesterday, gathering in front of the home of Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger to demonstrate against the Pentagon.

The demonstration, organized by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, was meant to give Weinberger a chance to see how strongly some people feel about goats that, along with dogs and other animals, have been extensively used in military "wound labs."

--The Washington Post, Oct. 5, 1983

Born 42 years ago in Surrey, England, Newkirk spent her childhood as a convent schoolgirl in New Delhi, where her father was a navigational engineer and her mother was active in Mother Teresa charities. One of Newkirk's earliest memories is seeing people laugh at a dog struggling in a monsoon ditch. She rescued the animal, whose legs had been hobbled and mouth stuffed with mud and tied shut.

"I was surrounded by suffering," Newkirk recalls. "There were lepers in the streets, diseased people, dogs with maggots in their backs, bullocks pulling carts overloaded with bricks, and there were beggars everywhere, breathing exhaust fumes. I was very much influenced by the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, who believed there was a harmony of nature. One of his disciples came to our school and spoke to us well-off little girls. I didn't realize it then, but I think that his words, combined with what I saw every day, had a lasting impact."

Newkirk and her family later settled in Florida, where her father worked for the U.S. Air Force. She was 18 and later would marry race-car driver Steve Newkirk. They moved to Poolesville, Md., outside Washington, where she studied to become a stockbroker.

When a neighbor moved and left behind 19 cats, it changed Newkirk's life. Inquiring at the local shelter about bringing the cats there, she found the place "an absolute dump. It was horrible, filthy, with dogs all cowering in the back in their cages." The shelter had an opening for a kennel worker, and Newkirk applied and was hired. When the director was fired, Newkirk replaced him and began reforming the place.

Later, she spent 18 months as a deputy sheriff, helping prosecute animal-cruelty cases, before signing on in 1978 as a division chief for the county health department, with responsibility for overseeing the then-notoriously filthy and poorly managed Washington shelter. One of her first orders was to end the common practice of selling shelter animals to research labs.

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