If you opted for Monday Night Football over last night’s HBO broadcast of I Am An Animal: The Story of Ingrid Newkirk and PETA, we don’t blame you. A pandering infomercial for animal-rights lunacy isn’t most people’s idea of a Monday night put to good use. How many times do we need to hear that Newkirk is supportive of the most violent radicals in her movement? (Once more, with feeling, from last night: “If I know people in the ALF [Animal Liberation Front], I’d never say. The last thing I’d want is for them to be caught. More power to them … far be it from me to criticize anything they’re doing.”
As expected, the film papered over (but largely ignored) the biggest story to come down the pike about PETA since the group’s storied 1980 launch. Newkirk tries to sidestep the “PETA Kills Animals” issue by hinting that the 14,419 dogs or cats PETA has put down were all simply out of options.
In the only actual episode of hands-on animal care in the film, Newkirk takes a dog from its owner after asking him if he’d like some free veterinary care. “Do you want us to take him in, and put him in [with] the vet?” Newkirk asks him. “It won’t be any cost to you. We have to sign him over for that. Let me get my clipboard.”
After later deciding — without the apparent help of an actual veterinarian — that the dog has three specific illnesses, PETA manager Daphna Nachminovitch calls the owner and tells him about only one of them: heartworm disease. “And so that requires some pretty aggressive treatment. You know, I want to talk to you about putting the dog to sleep.”
To which Newkirk quickly adds: “I think he should go down right away.”
The American Heartworm Society reports that “all but the most advanced cases of heartworm disease can be successfully treated in dogs.” Still, we don’t know (and the film doesn’t tell us) whether or not this particular dog could have been cured. We would understand the decision of an owner to take the easy way out in the face of a four-figure vet bill. But Ingrid Newkirk had already assured this particular owner, on camera, that veterinary care would be on the house. PETA, with a $30-million-plus budget, can certainly afford it.
Other than this ham-fisted episode, the most illuminating moments came when people other than Newkirk were on the screen. Here are a few memorable moments:
Priscilla Feral, president, Friends of Animals: “[Newkirk’s] intention is to get whatever attention they can by whatever means. Now, that makes you good at fundraising, perhaps, or good at being a media slut. Is it to be respected? Is that how you respect animals? Is that how you get a society to respect animals? I don’t think it does a thing for animals.”
Wayne Pacelle, president, Humane Society of the United States: “We can never win these battles by harassing an individual or threatening harm. Never! That retards our progress. It’s tactically idiotic because it hands a strategic opportunity to our opponents … Once you move into the domain of intimidation, or illegal conduct beyond civil disobedience, you’re going into a dangerous pile of quicksand.”
Abraham Foxman, president, Anti-Defamation League: “What surfaced all of a sudden in 2003, I believe, was a campaign by PETA comparing the slaughter of animals to the slaughter of the Jews. This was so hurtful. This was not only hurtful to survivors, but it was hurtful to, just decent people. It trivialized what the Holocaust was all about.”