Meet the Founder
Alex Pacheco is often described as the
Father of the Modern Day Animal Rights Movement
in the United States.
As co-founder of both the world’s largest
animal rights organization (PETA) and the
world’s largest non-profit animal adoption
organization (Adopt-A-Pet), his 30-year track
record of victories for animals
is arguably unequaled.
He has received many awards, ranging from
induction into the Animal Rights Hall of Fame
to The Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award,
though his favorite is being voted
Crew Member of the Year by the Sea Shepherd.
From an early age, Pacheco was outraged by
social injustice, and very motivated to fight
against it. He grew up in the Midwest, watching the
Vietnam War on television and becoming passionate
about defending democracy against communism.
Too young to enlist and in high school,
he wrote to the CIA asking if he could become
an agent. They wrote back saying he was too
young and don’t call us, we’ll call you.
He then applied to the FBI and was accepted
to work at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Just days before leaving for Washington,
he was talked out of it by his two mentors,
Father Thomas and martial arts expert Steve Adams.
It was the year of The Concert for Bangladesh,
and they convinced him to instead pursue his other
passion: helping impoverished children.
Accordingly, he enrolled in the Scholastic Program
for Ecclesiastical Students and for the next year
studied to become a priest while living with
three priests and seven brothers.
After one year in the Ecclesiastical Program,
he took a behind-the-scenes tour of a large
slaughterhouse, where his passion for defending
animals was unleashed.
Witnessing the brutality firsthand, he dedicated himself
to defending the most helpless of all, and within days
he founded the activist organization The Ohio Animal
Rights Committee at Ohio State University,
and in the first month he received his first three
death threats from trappers and hunters.
Since then his commitment to defending animals
has incited violent opposition and death threats
in many shapes and sizes, from an angry man waving
a loaded .44 handgun and screaming for Pacheco while in
the PETA office, to anonymous packages mailed to
Pacheco, containing written death threats atop
the blood-soaked body parts of mutilated animals.
Over the years he has received so many death threats
in the line of duty that he stopped counting early on.
In 1979 Pacheco left college to work as a crew member
aboard the Sea Shepherd under Captain Paul Watson
on the Sea Shepherd’s first whale protection campaign.
Sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, their mission
was to ram the world’s most notorious pirate
whale-killing ship, the Sierra.
Before embarking on the voyage and
in anticipation of the ramming,
the bow of the Sea Shepherd was fortified
with tons of concrete.
In the end, both ships were sunk in Portuguese waters.
Prior to the sinking and while the crew was still in
Portugal, Portuguese authorities confiscated the passports
of Watson, Pacheco and a few others to prevent them
from leaving the country, pending possible prosecution.
To avoid capture by the Portuguese Border Patrol
and under the cover of night, Pacheco swam
across the border into Spain, hitchhiked to Madrid
and spent three days in an airport
waiting for a passport and a ticket to London,
where he then worked with Ronnie Lee,
founder of the underground Animal Liberation Front.
Pacheco was later named Sea Shepherd’s
Crew Member of the Year.
While in England, Pacheco also worked with the
British Hunt Saboteurs Association, disrupting hunts
and physically clashing with up to 40 hunters at a time,
who hunted from horseback and used whips
to strike the saboteurs; some saboteurs were
scarred for life with whip scars across their entire face.
When Pacheco’s visa expired, he returned to the U.S.
and moved to Washington, D.C. to become a lobbyist
for animals, where he also organized the first animal
rights civil disobedience training sessions in the U.S.
In 1980 he co-founded PETA and for 20 years
served as Chairman of the Board,
specializing in undercover investigations, litigation
and lobbying, before leaving in 2000.
During his tenure, the New York Times described PETA
as the mover and shaker of the Animal Rights Movement,
and the organization became a household name
to the point where an envelope with nothing more
than “PETA” written on it can be dropped into a mailbox
and it will still be successfully delivered
by the U.S. Postal Service.
The legacy of his leadership has contributed
to the continuing success of the organization,
which currently has over 6 million members
and annual revenues exceeding $55 million.
Within months of founding PETA,
Pacheco began working undercover in a
federally funded animal research facility in Silver Spring,
Maryland, less than 10 miles from the White House.
For four months he gathered evidence of cruelty
to animals and compelled the Montgomery County,
Maryland Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office
to take legal action, with Pacheco leading law enforcement agents
into the laboratory, carrying out the world’s first,
and to this day only, police raid on an animal laboratory.
Unprecedented, the raid was covered on the
front page of the Washington Post and
broadcast nationwide on ABC World News.
It was soon covered on the front pages of
every major newspaper in the U.S., often several times,
from the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times
to the Soviet Union’s largest newspaper Tass,
including coverage by every U.S. television network.
At one point, the front page of the Wall Street Journal
reported that the three topics the White House had
received the most calls and letters about during
that week were the war, unemployment, and
the Silver Spring Monkeys.
When photographs taken by Pacheco were broadcast,
showing severely mutilated laboratory primates,
the case sent shock waves through the biomedical
Known as The Silver Spring Monkeys Case,
it generated a political and social battle that was fought
in Congress, in the courts, in the national media and
in the streets, with Pacheco spearheading a 15-year
campaign against the laboratory’s funding agency,
the National Institutes of Health, over the fate of the
The Washington Post wrote: The case ignited widespread
public debate on the ethical issues of animal research.
It also turned Alex Pacheco into a public figure
and helped make PETA the largest, the most powerful --
and the most feared -- animal rights group in America.
The New York Times described it as the nation's
best-known animal rights case.
Filmmaker Oliver Stone, in the forward to the book
Monkey Business: the Disturbing Case
that Launched the Animal Rights Movement, wrote ...
Out of the sad saga of the Silver Spring Monkeys grew
one of the most important social movements
of our time.
The campaign brought to an end the era of
little old ladies in tennis shoes, transforming animal lovers
into activists and producing an explosion
in the birth of animal rights organizations.
The case also spawned the birth of anti-animal-protection
organizations such as the National Association for
Biomedical Research, which is comprised of major
drug companies, federal government agencies
and major universities, with membership fees
exceeding $100,000 annually.
The campaign also led to the American Medical Association
commissioning a study by Harvard University on
how to defeat the animal rights movement.
The study described Pacheco as “a national folk hero
to the animal rights movement.”
In 1989, a secret Animal Research Action Plan
by the American Medical Association
called for divide-and-conquer tactics
to counter PETA and other animal groups.
After the plan was leaked, the AMA publicly
acknowledged their plan and boasted
about budgeting $21 million to carry it out.
The Silver Spring Monkey campaign
fueled an unprecedented amount of activism
and a flood of national media, with activities
ranging from illegal break-ins into animal laboratories,
to peaceful protests and civil disobedience
which continued to rise for almost two decades.
In the process, Pacheco was arrested over 60 times.
Spearheaded by Pacheco, the campaign produced
numerous precedents, including:
The first and only laboratory animal case
to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
The first and only arrest of an animal experimenter
for cruelty to animals.
The first and only criminal prosecution and conviction
of an animal experimenter on charges of cruelty.
The first termination of a federal research grant
because of cruelty.
The first and only confiscation of animals from a laboratory.
Introduction of federal legislation, signed by over 100
members of Congress, to force the federal government
to terminate funding for the laboratory
and to release the Silver Spring Monkeys.
In addition, fifty-five U.S. senators, ranging from
Senator Jesse Helms and Senator Barry Goldwater
to Senator Ted Kennedy, signed a joint statement
calling on the government to terminate funding
for the laboratory, end the experiments
and free the Silver Spring Monkeys.
Pacheco was called to testify as the lead witness
before Congressional Hearings by the U.S. House
Subcommittee on Science, Research and Technology.
He was called to testify as the star witness
for the State of Maryland in the criminal trial
and prosecution of animal experimenter Dr. Taub,
in State of Maryland vs. Dr. Edward Taub.
The campaign paved the way for passage
of federal animal protection legislation
– the 1985 Amendments to the Federal
Animal Welfare Act.
In 1991 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against
the Silver Spring Monkeys, and in defiance of Congress
the NIH immediately killed half of the surviving monkeys
and the conflict continued.
Apart from the Silver Spring Monkey case,
while Chairman of PETA, some of Pacheco’s
most significant accomplishments came from
the wide range of roles he played in helping convince
many of the world’s largest corporations to
dramatically improve their policies concerning animals.
From leading a high-profile three-year successful campaign
against the world’s largest corporation at the time,
General Motors -- in which Pacheco destroyed his own GM car
by setting it afire in public during a press conference
in downtown D.C. -- to his undercover work in the
Texas oil fields owned by Exxon, his track record of
victories for animals is remarkable.
Successfully targeted companies include
multi-billion-dollar companies such as Phillips Petroleum,
Shell Oil, Gillette, L’Oreal, Revlon and Avon,
to smaller companies such as Benetton,
Tonka, Mattel, Hasbro, Amway, Kenner,
Mary Kay and others.
In 1983, Pacheco went to work armed and undercover
in Waco, Texas, closing down the largest horse slaughter
operation in the world, where over 30,000 horses suffered.
Working under dangerous conditions,
he was repeatedly threatened and shot at
by horse ranchers and publicly pursued
by the County Sheriff and sheriff’s deputies,
who attempted to arrest Pacheco on numerous occasions.
The threats against him by armed ranchers
reached the point where Pacheco’s supporters
hired bodyguards for him, with the first two sets
of bodyguards quitting, saying it wasn’t worth the risk.
In the resulting Waco, Texas, horse slaughter case,
a special prosecutor was appointed, who convened
a grand jury, which in turn subpoenaed Pacheco,
with the sheriff then arresting Pacheco,
charging him with felonies ranging from
horse-theft to impersonating a federal officer.
Legendary criminal defense attorney
Richard “Racehorse” Haynes came to Pacheco’s defense,
representing Pacheco before the grand jury
and successfully defending him against all criminal charges.
In the end, the world’s largest horse-slaughter company
was permanently closed.
Pacheco then began undercover work in a
Defense Department research facility,
which resulted in a direct order by U.S. Secretary of Defense
Caspar Weinberger, covered on the front page of the
Washington Post, permanently closing down
the Pentagon’s Wound Laboratory,
where dogs and other animals were being shot
in underground firing ranges to test new weapons and bullets.
Unsatisfied, Pacheco led continued protests
against the D.O.D. until Secretary Weinberger issued
a second order, ordering that no dogs or cats
are to ever be used again, in any military ballistics training
or research, by the U.S. Defense Department.
Soon afterwards, the underground Animal Liberation Front
raided the Head Injury Laboratory at the University
of Pennsylvania, removing 60 hours of videotape recordings
of severe brain damage experiments being
performed on live baboons and videotaped
by the experimenters themselves.
A copy of the videos ended up in Pacheco’s possession,
and from them he made the 30-minute documentary
Unnecessary Fuss, showing university doctors
committing violations of federal law
while violently scrambling the brains of live baboons.
A grand jury was convened to investigate the theft
of federal property (the videotapes), and while Pacheco
was holding a news conference to call attention
to violations at the university, he was subpoenaed
by undercover agents.
In return, Pacheco led over 100 activists
in an orchestrated occupation and surprise takeover
of 15 federal offices at the headquarters
of the National Institutes of Health, the federal agency
funding the university experiments.
The occupation lasted four days,
generating national media and substantial
involvement by members of Congress.
On the fourth day of the occupation,
Pacheco met in secret in a stairwell
of the occupied offices with the Chief of Staff
for the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services,
Margaret Heckler, to broker a deal
in which Secretary Heckler publicly announced
the termination of the $14 million Head Injury Laboratory
at the University of Pennsylvania.
Of course there was retaliation for closing the laboratory,
and HHS Secretary Heckler paid the price with her job.
Angered leaders of the biomedical community
pressured President Reagan, who in turn unceremoniously
removed Secretary Heckler from her position as head of HHS
(an agency with the third-largest budget on earth)
and sent her to Ireland, demoting and appointing her
as the new U.S. Ambassador to Ireland.
In 2002, Pacheco continued to revolutionize
the world of animal rights by co-founding Adopt-A-Pet.
Free to over 17,000 humane societies, animal rescue
organizations and the public, its website hosts over
100,000 adoptable animals nationwide that are viewable
and searchable online, with over 48 million website
It is likely that Adopt-A-Pet is responsible for the adoption
of more animals than any other non-profit in the world.
In 2010, Pacheco founded 600 Million Stray Dogs Need You
with the mission to develop safe veterinary formulas
to permanently end the number one cause of suffering
and death for dogs and cats worldwide --
dog and cat overpopulation.
The first formulas in development are Spay and Neuter Cookies,
which are being designed to safely sterilize strays --
The objective is to end the cycle of suffering for the
tens of millions of stray cats in the U.S. and
end the cycle of suffering for the 600 million stray dogs
worldwide, who give birth to over one billion stray pups each year.
The organization is also dedicated to alleviating the plight
of the 15 million people who are treated for rabies each year,
and preventing the deaths of the 59,000 people who die
from rabies each year.
The World Health Organization reports that
over 95% of all people who die from rabies
receive their fatal infections from one source: stray dogs.
Though Pacheco co-founded PETA at the age of 21
with no money, no staff, no training, no college degree
and no business experience, he nonetheless played a central role
in raising over $128 million in donations for animal protection
while living a near possession-less life.
From the first five years of PETA when he worked without pay,
often sleeping under his desk in a sleeping bag,
Pacheco’s commitment has not wavered.
His work has often been dangerous,
he has come to live with threats against his life
by the abusers he exposes, and he's been
shot at many times and arrested over sixty.
He's been subpoenaed many times by the FBI
and federal grand juries, while animal experimenters
have put warning posters on their laboratory walls
with his photograph, saying ...
If you see this man call security.
Described by those close to him as a modern-day Spartan
because of his Franciscan, non-materialistic philosophy,
Pacheco remains an innovator and, above all,
perhaps the world’s preeminent defender of animal rights.
** Much was written regarding the Silver Spring Monkey
campaign, including ...
“Pacheco shocked the nation into awareness of animal abuse
in the realm of science … with the first laboratory animal case
argued before the U.S. Supreme Court”
– Publishers Weekly.
“The modern anti-vivisection movement began in 1980
with the Silver Spring Monkey case.”
– Dr. Murry Cohen.
“Pacheco is widely considered the founder
of the modern Animal Rights Movement.”
– Dr. Andrew Kirschner.
"Until 1981, it didn't occur to most folks that animals --
from mice to dogs to chimps -- might be abused
in scientific laboratories. Then came Alex Pacheco ... "
- Philadelphia Inquirer.
“This landmark case … filled a newly discovered void
in the American conscience."
“The most famous laboratory animals in history.”
– Author Kathy Snow Guillermo.
“The ensuing battle over the monkeys’ custody
saw celebrities and politicians campaign for the monkeys’ release,
an amendment in 1985 to the Animal Welfare Act,
the transformation of PETA from a group of friends
into a national movement, the creation of the first
North American Animal Liberation Front cell
and the first animal research case to
reach the United States Supreme Court.”
Thank you for caring.
600 Million Stray Dogs Need You
Animal Rights Hall of Fame
Adopt A Pet
Crew Member of the Year
Courage of Conscience Award