A Bit Different Awareness Campaigns

The Problem With PETA: When Activism Does Harm

This is the fourth installment from guest contributor, Sara Franklin. We met in an online Facebook group and have clicked about a lot of things including how we treat our birds and our desire to see more science-based education available to small flock keepers. She and her husband, Jacob, have a Youtube channel Roovolution and a Facebook page Rooster Allies, dedicated to the humane care of roosters.

“Some of my earliest memories are of my animal companions. As a preschooler I loved to sit in our front yard, a handful of sugar paste outstretched for the flies to come and feast on. Within a few years I had developed an intense fondness for grasshoppers, which I would catch in the mint garden and ‘tame’ before moving them to a terrarium in the house. They all had names and would come out to visit regularly, peacefully sitting on my hand. Despite being intensely arachnophobic at the time, I would often rescue them from the tunnel spider webs in the garden.

By age 14, I was a prime candidate to become involved in purposeful activism and eagerly joined PETA’s ranks. I was over the moon to finally have resources, a support network, and plenty of ideas to speak up for my beloved, but silent, animal friends.

If you live outside of the United States, you may be unfamiliar with the organization, so here’s a bit of background. PETA, or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is an animal rights group founded in 1980. Their original aim centered around exposing laboratories conducting inhumane testing on animals, and pushing for welfare legislation for their test subjects. In addition, they hoped to educate and facilitate others who were interested in supporting cruelty-free products, or adopting a vegan lifestyle. All was well for a time, and they did a great deal of good in those early years. However, as time passed, their scope has become increasingly broad, and their methods increasingly extreme.

At the time I was involved with them, they had just started to show signs of becoming radicalized, but I was blinded by my youth and enthusiasm. They happily provided a wide array of print materials; all without charge, and my free time was spent distributing these in office waiting rooms, on store shelves and community bulletin boards.

Some of their tactics clearly pushed boundaries. One highly controversial campaign, that fortunately occurred after I left the group, involved handing out a booklet to children whose parents were seen wearing fur that was titled ‘Your Mommy Kills Animals’. The cartoon cover depicted a woman grinning maniacally while gripping a frightened rabbit by the ears. In her hand was a bloody butcher knife she had just plunged into the animal’s belly. The text below read, “Ask your mommy how many animals she killed to make her fur coat? The sooner she stops wearing fur, the sooner animals will be safe.” Inside were graphic photos of skinned animals and undercover photography taken at fur farms.

PETA themselves have appallingly referred to this as one of their ‘more inspired’ anti-fur pamphlets. A personal example that has always stuck with me was the free stickers I received with the bold letter caption ‘Meat is Murder’ and a graphic photo of a skinned and bloodied cow head hanging from a hook. As I stuck these on various beef packages at our local store, always careful to avoid the view of the security cameras, I felt like I was taking on the world.

I suppose the big idea was, and still is, to force people to see the uncomfortable truth in all its gory detail. The naiveté of youth led me to believe this was a strategy that would work. In truth, it was likely the most damaging approach possible. Instead of the amazing change I had hoped for, I found myself with no positive results and abandoned activism entirely for quite a long time.

My view of PETA today is unfavorable, to say the least. I have never stopped believing that animals need our help and protection, but my time with them resulted in me feeling incredibly discouraged. Nothing was improving on a large scale, and I was left feeling that activism itself was a lost cause. Looking back, I am certain that the activities that were encouraged only created additional animosity and division, and I would be shocked if they swayed public opinion. Instead of bringing about a better mindset, we were simply punishing people for lacking information. We should have realized that humans also deserve that compassionate treatment and understanding we so desperately wanted for animals. This was hypocrisy at its finest, shouting on one side about cruelty to other species, while at the same time engaging in cruelty towards our own.

The modern organization has since taken quite a radical stance on the breeding of animals, and pet ownership in general, labeling it broadly exploitative and pushing for the abolition of the pet industry at large. In 2019, PETA became a Facebook shareholder, a move that granted them rights to sit in at meetings and guide company decision-making. Coincidentally in 2019, Facebook banned the sale of all animal rehoming or sales posts. Given PETA’s firm stance on doing away with breeding, there is no question that it was in line with their goals, as it reduced incentive for individuals to breed animals to sell. Of course, no mention is made of the countless additional unwanted roosters that have been killed simply because their keepers were denied a valuable outlet for finding safe and caring homes. Also ignored is the unintended side effect of forcing keepers to purchase from far less humane hatcheries, rather than a compassionate local breeder.

PETA’s euthanasia rate for animals in their own shelters is reported to be at least 75% of animals taken in, with 90% of that group euthanized within 24 hours of arrival. Their staff has also been prosecuted for the theft, and subsequent euthanasia, of companion animals taken from their keepers’ property more than once. Their aim seems to be to do away with the animals they feel should not be in human care to begin with, while simultaneously eliminating avenues for future acquisition.

There are a few critical factors here that are worth considering. First is the mistake of believing that outrage is an indicator of how deeply we care. This is something that is visible in virtually all of PETA’s campaigns, and many conducted by other similar organizations. There is always judgment and contempt at the root of them, a desire to hurt back rather than educate. It took me years to recognize that those radical stunts I participated in as a teen were exciting, not because of the change they would bring, but because of a subconscious desire to get even. This is the danger of allowing anger to drive action; it is all too easy to find ourselves losing sight of the goal and simply engaging in self-righteous battle instead.

Second is the failure to consider the negative impacts of these extreme demands and approach. For instance, the well-placed criticism of treatment of animals in the meat industry has unintentionally created numerous obstacles for backyard keepers who are caring for their flocks compassionately.

This leads to the final major issue with these organizations. Because they push for a total solution, rather than targeted progress, they often fail to recognize nuance and instead opt for sweeping change that winds up impacting everything in the category they have focused on. In attempting to shut down puppy mills, they have brought about changes that have made it incredibly difficult for those who are attempting to find a good home for an animal in need to do so. The puppy mills are still running of course. They have the leverage, finances and legal team to work around the roadblocks. It is the sincere and compassionate individual that has been hindered the most. This type of broad activism always winds up disproportionately impacting the innocent, with those negative impacts falling where they are needed the least.

As I said, my time with PETA proved to be so disheartening that I abandoned activism entirely for decades. That is until recently, when my newfound relationship with my incredible flocks catapulted me back into pushing for change, but this time with greater maturity and a far better strategy than I had when I was young.

I will leave you with a heartfelt petition. As compassionate keepers, I know we all want to see better practices and greater consideration for the animals we have grown to love. Groups like PETA have made it incredibly hard to speak up without being labeled an extremist and laughed out of the room. But the problem with PETA is not in the issues they speak about; indeed, many of those are serious problems and change is truly needed. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. PETA has made many harmful missteps along the way, but legitimate issues should not be dismissed simply because of a bad spokesperson. We can learn from their mistakes and be empowered to advocate without the collateral damage. Having spent time on both sides of this issue, I assure you that there are kind and effective ways to bring about change, and I will be discussing these in part two of this article.

So from one compassionate keeper to another, please don’t let the deserving issues be tainted by the bad approaches out there. Be empowered to speak up, continue sharing important information, and know that with the correct approach you can do a world of good. Together, we can create a new and respected face for the compassionate mindset.”

Sara Franklin is a mother of two and a lifelong animal lover. Since she was a child, she has been fascinated by behavioral psychology and its applications. In college, her studies were tailored around subjects such as child development, early education, philosophy, psychology and critical thinking. As a firm believer that understanding was key to navigating the challenges of parenthood, she often joked that she was studying to “be a mom.” When she set off on her chicken keeping journey, it was only natural to approach it from this same perspective. It quickly became clear how heavily simple tradition, rather than analysis, guided discussion. She has since developed a psychology rooted system for effectively and compassionately working through challenging behaviors in flocks, with a special focus on rooster care. An outspoken advocate, she now volunteers her time educating and coaching other keepers in order to foster healthier relationships between chickens and their guardians.  

Many thanks to Sara Franklin of Roovolution for sharing her sharing her insights into, and experience with PETA. All animal rights images credit to PETA.

7 comments on “The Problem With PETA: When Activism Does Harm

  1. It was because of my folks’ chickens, as a kid, that I was a vegetarian for quite a few years. They’re such a loveable bird when you get to know them. Heavens know, I didn’t do other veggie heads any favours and was really a joyless prick about it. Age has tempered my views and attitude. At this point, I feel directing public awareness to the Dr. Moreau’s freakshow that is modern dietary science and culture will do more than my ever being mad about beakless KFC chickens ever will. But that’s just me.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Anonymous

    Beautifully written. As an animal lover and a farmer (yes, you can be both), I feel that PETA has done more to harm the progress of animal welfare than any other organization. Instead of teaching farmers how to take better care of their animals and encouraging change for the better, PETA (and several other radicalized groups) have created an “us against them” mentality between farmers and the entire “animal rights” movement. Many/most farmers now hear the term “animal welfare,” which is unfortunately considered interchangeable with “animal rights,” and immediately dismiss the whole concept as a laughing stock promoted by clueless crazies. It has become something that a farmer has to defend against, something on social media, sometimes literally with law enforcement or rifles. There is no inlet for education in that environment. PETA’s tactics have forced farmers to keep animals indoors, away from prying eyes and away from the enjoyment of sunshine and grass and space. They have forced humane family farms out of business by attacking farms and stealing animals. Yes, economics has been a big driver of the factory farms, but PETA has been the final nail in the coffin for many farms trying to offer consumers an alternative.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Lucy Post

    Regarding PETA’s shelter… many of the animals PETA takes in have been brought to them by desperate people who request euthanasia for their elderly, dying, suffering cat or dog because they can’t afford this service at a veterinarian’s office. Please visit PETA’s website to see some of the animals they’ve helped–including those for whom they’ve found excellent, lifelong homes. PETA is not a traditional shelter. They accept animals whom “no-kill” facilities often turn away because they aren’t adoptable, so of course their euthanasia rate will be higher. PETA operates a shelter of last resort for animals who need euthanasia to end their suffering (many of whom have been rejected by other facilities). This includes dogs who are aggressive and unadoptable because they have been kept chained their entire lives; feral cats dying of contagious diseases; animals who are wracked with cancer; elderly animals who have no quality of life; and the list goes on. 


    • Hi Lucy! Thank you for the reply. I am actually really glad you mentioned that because I came across that same explanation in my research for the article. I went on sort of a deep dive into the euthanasia rates because they struck me as so extreme, and I certainly didn’t want to include that if it was taken out of context or overblown. After all, smear campaigns can come from either side, and I certainly would agree that some of their work has been helpful. The numbers being over-inflated due to taking on the worst cases made a lot of sense. I was hopeful that there was nothing more to it, and was prepared to dismiss the claim. As I dug into it more though, there was quite a lot that isn’t addressed by that explanation. One issue was that the percentage euthanized at their shelters is remarkably higher than other shelters, even those with open admission policies such as the local humane societies, which also wind up with many neglected, feral, or very ill animals. Then there were the reports from inspectors that their holding facility is only equipped for 24 hours of housing, far too little time to even attempt to find suitable homes. But it got worse from there, and I started finding the records of fines issued for failing to allow the required 5 day wait period before euthanizing surrenders, and the incidents of theft and euthanasia of family pets, one of which was euthanized after only 2 hours. That incident was well documented due to subsequent court proceedings when the family sued for damages, which PETA surprisingly argued should not be paid as an unlicensed dog has “no value”. There have also been some alarming and verified instances of puppies and kittens they put down who were examined by vets post-mortem and found to be in perfect health. In one case the kittens were surrendered to them by a vet because they assured them they could find them a home, but they were euthanized the same day. For the sake of transparency I will link a website that details quite a bit of this if you are interested in browsing it. The journalist does a good job of linking to their sources and providing evidence to back up any claims made. I will also put in a plug for bestfriends.org, which is an organization that supports shelters in achieving “no-kill” designation, with 90% or more animals saved.

      Liked by 2 people

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