The lobster tank
Ugh. I hate going in the mainstream grocery store I went to today, but there was one item that I needed for a family member, and it was 3 times more expensive online, so…I went. I hadn’t been to that store for years because they have a live lobster tank. You know the kind. Small. Cramped. Murky water. Lobsters piled on top of each other, with their claws rubber-banded together. It makes me sick. I’ve complained in the store. They looked at me as if I were from another planet. I took a photo. Ah, then they could tell I’m one of THOSE people. They told me to leave. I complain on their website, every so often, to customer service. They always give me the vague form-letter reply that politely explains that most customers like [whatever it is I’m complaining about]. It’s infuriating. So I boycott the store. My own personal little boycott. I know that the effect of that will be zero, and I know to have any chance of actual impact takes years of work, and I have to decide if THIS is my issue. And I’m very sorry, lobsters, I’m afraid I’m not up to the task. I’ve tried my best to be a leader for the sake of the animals when nobody else was stepping up, and unfortunately I wasn’t very good at it.
But fortunately, there are some people who are better at leading than following, and one of those is Alex Pacheco, current president of 600 Million Dogs. Before this, he was the cofounder of PETA, where he served as chairman for 20 years. It’s because of people like Pacheco that this grocery store recognized me as one of THOSE people when I started taking pictures. Uh-oh, those strange people who care about cows and pigs and chickens and lobsters—trouble. Starting with no money and no training, just a smart and extremely hard-working partner, Ingrid Newkirk, Pacheco figured out what needed to be done and mobilized people who care about animals into a force that DID have an effect—all over the world.
Lobsters look like alien creatures, and we don’t really know much about them, but we do know they feel pain, and they have eyes looking at you, and they’re animals living their lives in a particular habitat, so it’s safe to assume there’s more going on there than Red Lobster would want you to believe. People are always trying to attribute fewer emotions to animals than they actually have. It makes it easier to justify abusing them. OK, apparently lobsters don’t mate for life after all, but that’s what you get when you rely on Phoebe from “Friends” for information about animal behavior. Duh. Obviously Ross would have been a more reliable source. Whatever lobsters really do, it’s important to THEM, and they don’t deserve to be confined to cramped aquariums, immobilized, and boiled alive.
Out of sight, out of mind
Of course I know that all the other animals being sold for food in that same store were abused before they were killed. It was just behind closed doors, far away, not at the store itself. But when I see a store showing off their rubber-banded lobsters to their customers, who walk right by that disgusting tank and don’t give it a thought, and then there’s a sign announcing that the store employees will be happy to “steam” (kill) the lobsters if the customer wants—well, in my view that’s embracing and promoting animal abuse. That’s different from seeing the other dead animals wrapped in plastic or in cans or in the freezer, because I can still hold out hope that if only the customers KNEW the cruelty that these animals endured before they became hunks of meat, they would not buy these dead bodies. I have tried to convey that information to friends, family, and the public--again, not as successfully as I would like.
But when people see exactly how cruel the store is being toward animals and they walk right by or they say, “Yes, please kill that lobster for me,” then they know exactly what is going on, and there’s no excuse, except maybe that they don’t comprehend that they are causing suffering.
But thanks to people like Alex Pacheco, I know I’m not alone in my outrage about animal abuse, and I care about animals who some people still seem to think are actually plants, because when I say I’m vegan, they still ask if I eat fish. I know there are lots of people who agree with me that no animal should be tortured. Pacheco’s successful campaigns also showed me that you can have an impact on a massive problem like this, but it isn’t as simple as not shopping there or protesting outside a local store or sending a few angry emails. I really wish it were. Every now and then, if enough people sign a petition, a company will take notice because they’re worried about losing money. But usually it’s much more complicated and much more difficult than that.
Alex Pacheco was one of the people who figured out how a relatively small group of people could make a huge corporation change policies that were causing animals to suffer and die. On alexpacheco.org, he describes the different elements that these types of campaigns usually had to include, and he worked on all of them: “Undercover Investigators, to catch the targets abusing animals, on film and red-handed; The Scientific Community, to provide scientific evidence and ammunition for Congress to use against the targets; The Celebrity Community, To attract and bring in the Congress and the media; The national media to attract and bring in the celebrities, the Congress, and the public; Members of Congress, to bring critical pressure on the targets; Many loyal, dedicated members and protesters, to create and apply pressure on Congress; Civil Attorneys, to file high-profile law suits against the targets and to defend us against suits by the targets; Criminal Defense Attorneys, to fight off counter charges filed against our team as a result of pressure from our targets; Wealthy Donors, to donate the funds to pay for it all.”
Wow, just reading that makes my head hurt! But Pacheco never shied away from stressful, dangerous, tedious, long-term, complex work. After he led campaigns based on these requirements, General Motors stopped doing crash tests on animals, and all other car companies followed suit. Mobil, Exxon, Shell, and Phillips Petroleum changed their equipment to prevent the killing of wildlife. Revlon, Avon, Benetton, Gillette, and L’Oreal stopped testing on animals. Toy companies including Mattel, Hasbro, and Tonka stopped testing on animals.
600 Million Stray Dogs Need You
Due to his ability to start from nothing and develop strategic plans to attack huge problems, plus his leadership and willingness to stick with the plan despite years of obstacles, Pacheco has already had a positive, global impact on the treatment of animals, and that is something that very few people can say. It shouldn’t be too surprising that his current project, 600 Million Dogs, is also ambitious: it aims to end the worldwide overpopulation of stray dogs and cats by developing an inexpensive, oral, permanent birth control product for animals. It requires funding, scientists, legal help, and eventually government approval, but it doesn’t require undercover investigations and hopefully will not require protests, so that’s a plus. Once the product is developed, the media will find 600 Million Dogs, hopefully. I’m sure there will be many other challenges, but I’m counting on Pacheco to face them all, as he has so many times before.
Another advantage is that so many people love dogs and cats. Stray animals starving, spreading rabies, and getting hit by cars pretty much doesn’t benefit anyone except those hired to kill and dispose of these poor animals. Because people care, helping dogs and cats should be easier than helping animals used for food, like pigs and cows and chickens and sheep and lobsters. But while it’s been difficult to change people’s eating habits, there’s a technological fix that many people are excited about, including me: companies developing vegan foods that are similar in taste and texture to animal products. Even if few people ever care about lobsters, if these companies can make a product that tastes just like lobster but costs less, maybe THAT will finally be what frees these animals from those terrible tanks.
600 Million Dogs