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COVID-19 Lockdown: Ingrid Newkirk, PETA, USA

All of us are locked down somewhere in the world.

As the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic handcuffs nations and borders, I continue serving my sentence in Melbourne. All this while, I've been receiving and exchanging more stories of lockdown with friends from all over. I spoke previously with Jovan Jovanović, a Member of the Serbian Parliament in Serbia.

The COVID-19 Lockdown Series is a cumulation of stories shared with Affluent Society by its members and members of Platinum Circle.


Ingrid Newkirk is the President of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the world's largest animal rights organization. She abandoned her corporate life and became Washington's first female "pound master" and reformed that city’s animal shelter, establishing the first spay/neuter clinic in the US and ending its sale of animals to laboratories before going on to found PETA in 1980. Today, Newkirk's organization has grown to include affiliates around the world, including in China and in India, where they help laborers replace overworked bullocks with modern tractors, challenge live exports of animals used in the fur and wool industries, and much more. She started a movement that changed society’s attitudes toward animals, winning a tidal wave of landmark victories, including Prada, Gucci, Galliano, Chanel, Versace, Michael Kors, Ellery Anna Stretton, and virtually every major designer internationally enacting fur-free policies, and nearly 4,000 personal-care companies, including Procter & Gamble's Herbal Essences, Paul Mitchell Systems, Aveda, Unilever's St. Ives, Dove, and Urban Decay ending animal testing. Newkirk is also the author of a dozen books in seven languages, and her latest book, Animalkind, came out in January 2020.

Affluent Society (AS) spoke to her about PETA and her experience with the COVID-19 pandemic in USA.

AS: What does the lockdown mean for you and PETA in the US?

We can barely remember what it was like before lockdown, it’s been so long! But we never slowed down one bit. In fact. we have found even more opportunities to work, such as pointing out that the pandemic - and other most serious diseases like SARS, MERS, HIV, Avian ‘flu, swine ‘flu, and of course the “regular” killer diseases, like heart disease, cancers, stroke, diabetes, and high blood pressure - are all linked to a meat and dairy-based diet.

We have been filming in “wet markets” in Asia and even in New York, to show why they need to close down; appearing outside slaughterhouses dressed as the Grim Reaper to point out how workers and animals are dying and meat is not a “necessity,” and outside supermarkets dressed as dancing blocks of tofu, handing out recipes and free products. What we relish is that there are fewer traffic accidents involving animals; people have more time to walk their dogs without dragging them hurriedly along; and cruel events like the Running of the Bulls, the Texas Livestock show, the Calgary Stampede, and lots of horse races and rodeos have been canceled.

AS: What challenges did you and PETA face when the lockdown started?

We had to quickly convert our spay/neuter and medical care fleet of mobile clinics - which we operate for indigent families’ animals in lower Virginia and upper North Carolina – so that we could mask and gown our staff completely and accept animals as if we were a drive-in movie theatre, with no walk ups. That has eased since the number of COVID-19 cases has dropped here, but we still have to operate our emergency field services with caution, although never hesitation as people call from around the country, indeed from around the world looking for help for animals in deep trouble. We find people on a low income have even fewer resources for veterinary care, even for end of life euthanasia for cancer-stricken animals, and so we have stepped up those services, too. We collect dog and cat food to redistribute to needy families, and are glad of every donation of any kind to help us keep strong.

AS: How are you and PETA coping with the lockdown?

We ask people to remember that when they go back to work, the animals they leave behind will still be in lock-down, without stimulation, without companionship, staring at the walls. They will likely suffer from separation anxiety and extreme boredom, so arrangements should be made for walking services, visiting services, and, if possible, to seek permission from employers to bring dogs to work. We should also be careful not to run home after work, change and leave again when they are so excited to have us home; and we should be sure to walk dogs often and give them every opportunity to pause and use their heightened sense of smell to pick up all the news on the bushes. Never use a prong or choke collar, switch to a harness. In hot weather, touch the pavement with the palm of your hand to make sure it isn’t burning hot on a dog’s sensitive paw pads; never leave a dog or child in a car on a warm day as disaster strikes when a moment’s distraction inside a store or meeting a friend unexpectedly allow temperatures inside the car to soar.

AS: Anything positive came out of staying and working from home?

Our newly remote staff have found more hours to work in the day as they do not have to commute; and their animals are far happier, as they can take them to the park and continue to work from there, too, saving even more time. Expenses are down, stress has been reduced. We have been able to recruit local members to help with demonstrations because our own staff is not flying, and that has been a boost to volunteer recruitment and activism.

AS: What's happening to return to normalcy?

We are not hurrying this process as we believe the pandemic is far from over and we should each do our part to keep ourselves and others safe. Those of us who come to work have cough guards, observe physical distancing, disinfecting, masks, and so on, but also we space out shifts so that few people are in the office at the same time, where an office is open.

The COVID-19 Lockdown Series is brought to you by the Partners of Affluent Society including the E&O Hotel in George Town, Penang, Malaysia. For most of its history, its passageways and halls were the preserve of the rich and privileged from the Western world – intrepid travellers that included acclaimed writers and aspiring literati who arrived in steamships seeking to experience the exotic East. Even with the passage of time, this unique pearl at the heart of George Town continues to shine as a testament to the grand elegance of the British colonial era, the embodiment of both a special time and a special place.


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