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They Go Whole Hog to Gain Attention

How do animal rights activists cut through the clutter to get their message across? It all starts with a pink pig suit.


Let's say you want to dump 4 tons of horse manure in the middle of downtown Los Angeles. Let's say further that you wanted to make sure people would notice.

For answers to this admittedly unusual problem we turn to Sean Diener, a 20-year-old Utah animal rights activist with some expertise on the subject.

Diener has been convicted in other venues of misdemeanor manure dumping, and was arrested by Los Angeles police on Saturday on suspicion of dumping manure in front of the Wilshire Grand Hotel.

Hypothetically, Diener says, if you wanted to make a statement about the humane treatment of animals, here's what you'd do:

First, to take care of the attention problem, you might decide to wear a 7-foot-tall pink pig costume. No problem. Costume shops will make anything.

If you've had the suit for a while, you ought to get it cleaned. It typically costs $25 a shot--dry cleaners tend not to have pig suits on their rate schedules, so err on the high side--but the cleaning is worth it, especially in this heat, Diener says.

It's hot in there. Diener's suit has a little battery-operated fan built into the head, but it doesn't work very well, so he doesn't use it.

Once you get the costume stuff straightened out, you need a dump truck. This, too, is easier than you might think. Dump trucks can be rented almost everywhere. You don't need a commercial driver's license, and the trucks cost less than $100 a day.

Then, of course, there's the manure.

Some places, this has proven difficult. Once, said Sean Gifford, a fellow activist, he was planning a manure dump and couldn't get his hands on manure anywhere. He had to go to a home improvement store and fill the truck with fertilizer. Usually, though, it's not that tough. This spring, in the District of Columbia for protests against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, Gifford says the manure was obtained from the D.C. Police Department horse stables.

Southern California has a great many stables that are almost always willing to give away manure to anybody who wants it. Otherwise, they have to pay to have it shipped off.

"Manure is everywhere. They're giving it away. They'll load it up for you and everything," Diener says.

"The best thing about that is it's fresh," says Gifford.

But doesn't it, ah, smell?

"Wow," says Gifford. "Wow. Wow. Wow. It stinks really awful. Makes you almost pass out."

If you're professional about this sort of thing, not some reckless amateur, then you'll probably want to get the manure the day before, so you don't run into any last-minute problems.

Diener did this at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia last month. Then he parked the truck outside his hotel overnight.

Big mistake.

He came out in the morning, ready for the dump run, and found his tires deflated. He suspects the Philadelphia police, but who knows; maybe they just leaked. In any event, he pumped up the tires and resumed his mission and was almost immediately surrounded by squad cars. Police confiscated the truck and arrested him on the novel charge of "transporting a material intended to be used to create a public nuisance."

End of mission.

So, again speaking hypothetically, Diener says, you probably ought to park the manure somewhere far away overnight, then come get it in the morning.

"It's very important, obviously, to be low-profile ahead of time. Then go in one time in blazing glory. You have to know the route very, very well. And make sure you know the mechanics of the dump very well. You only have one shot."

Saturday's dump was letter-perfect. The Wilshire Grand Hotel was chosen because it is the headquarters hotel of the convention and is a media hot spot.

Diener was cited for misdemeanor vandalism after police questioned him for two hours. Officers joked, as they invariably do, Diener says, that he's been arrested for impersonating an officer. They seemed interested in determining if he had accomplices in the manure dump, in which case he could be charged with a felony.

Was this a part of a larger conspiracy? they asked.

Diener, no doubt thinking of the 4 tons of fresh horse manure fouling the asphalt, told them, "Fellas, it looks like this has moved way past a conspiracy, doesn't it?"

Diener, out of his pig suit, is a strapping young man in a T-shirt and jeans, having a ball. He and Sean Gifford, a fellow activist, were basking Sunday in the glow of Saturday's success. Gifford bailed Diener out ($1,500, paid by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), and they plotted the rest of their week.

They're both committed activists and regard this week as a huge opportunity to sell their cause.

"Because I have a cause, I feel like I'd be nothing if I did nothing about it," Diener says.

"I believe humans to be good people. If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everybody would be a vegetarian. If we can show them our message, they'll believe."

Gifford and Diener have rented a red Chevy convertible and have planned drive-by "piggings" of a number of high-profile events. Diener's pig suit is in police custody as evidence, but the activists have two backups. They've enlisted other activists to don the suits, sit in the back of the convertible and ride around L.A. waving animal rights signs.

Rolling north toward Pasadena on the 110, big-band swing on the stereo, blond hair shining in the California sun, Gifford throws his head back and laughs.

"Here I am, a sunny day, driving a red convertible down the highway. 'Wow,' I think. 'This is my job.' "

He laughs again.

"I really love my job," he says.

For some reason, other people seem to love his job too. They cheer, laugh and smile when they see pigs riding down the road. They point, take pictures and shout.

"Look, the pigs are here."

"Right on, pigs."

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