Ingrid Newkirk Turns 75—and Is as Inspiring as Ever

She’s driven, creative, fearless, and on a lifelong mission to make the world a better place for all animals. We’re talking about PETA’s founder and president, Ingrid Newkirk, who has led what’s now the world’s largest animal rights organization for more than 40 years. Her dedication to animal rights has inspired countless people—including all of us here at peta2—to do what we can to help animals. ❤️

Ingrid Newkirk IEN in park with birds

“When it comes to pain, love, joy, loneliness, and fear, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. Each one values his or her life and fights the knife.”

Ingrid Newkirk

As Ingrid celebrates her 75th birthday, we continue to be inspired by her actions. Here are nine of the boldest, most courageous things she’s done in the pursuit of stopping cruelty to animals:

1. She created Washington, D.C.’s first spay/neuter clinic and the city shelter’s first adoption program—and stopped the sale of animals from the municipal “dog pound” to laboratories.

It may not sound revolutionary now, but spay/neuter clinics and shelter adoption programs were uncharted territory back in the ’70s. As D.C.’s first female “poundmaster,” Ingrid secured public funding for these services. She also ended the sale of animals from a D.C.-based animal shelter to laboratories. For cleaning up the rundown facility—and for her other work—she was named a Washingtonian of the Year in 1980.

2. She set fire to a car outside a General Motors auto show.

At one time, General Motors (GM) was the last automaker to use primates, pigs, dogs, ferrets, mice, and rats in cruel car crash tests and had refused to implement the use of computerized mannequins and other humane test methods. So PETA members began demolishing donated GM vehicles with sledgehammers outside company events and handcuffing themselves to cars at auto shows. Celebrities refused to do GM commercials, and our members pledged never to buy the company’s cars. In any country in which GM held an event, PETA was there. During one protest, crowds gathered as Ingrid set fire to a car that members had donated to the cause. She repeated this action at two other auto shows. After 18 months of headline-making stunts exposing GM’s cruelty, the automaker ended its use of animals in crash tests.

© Patsy Lynch

3. She defiantly spent 15 days sitting in jail to cost a town money.

The town of Hegins, Pennsylvania, hosted a terrible annual pigeon shoot in which 5,000 birds were trapped and confined to tiny cages for two days without food or water. The sick, weak, and disoriented animals were then released so that participants could shoot at them. After crashing to the ground, the wounded animals who didn’t die instantly were stomped on by the shooters’ children—who would often twist off the birds’ heads as well. In 1992, about 2,000 animal rights activists protested the event. Ingrid led 40 of them onto the field to stop the shooting, grab boxes of birds before they could be released, and scoop up the wounded ones. When they were arrested, they refused to pay the fine and instead decided to sit in jail to force the town to pay the cost of keeping them there—all to make it too expensive for the city and state to pay for security and jail stints related to the pigeon shoot.

Ingrid was arrested after running in front of hunters to free pigeons before they were killed at the Hegins pigeon shoot.

4. She ripped up a leather jacket in a Gap store.

    After Ingrid investigated the leather industry in India and found that workers there break cows’ tails, rub chili peppers into their eyes, and harm the animals in many other ways, PETA presented the evidence to retailers and asked them not to obtain leather from either India or China. Gap Inc. refused, so PETA launched a full-scale campaign that included a takeover of the window display at the company’s flagship store in New York City by Ingrid and singer Chrissie Hynde. Ingrid pulled apart a leather jacket and pointed out to the crowd that had gathered outside that whip marks were still visible on the animal’s hide. Shortly afterward, Gap Inc. stopped purchasing leather from India and China—and J.Crew and Liz Claiborne followed suit.

    PETA’s Animal Times magazine announced the Gap Indian leather victory in the summer of 2000.

    5. She made “animal rights” a household term with the first-ever eyewitness investigation: the Silver Spring monkeys case.

      In the summer of 1981, Ingrid and another PETA founder set out to expose the horrors that animals endure in laboratories by coordinating the animal rights movement’s first-ever eyewitness investigation. Ingrid’s colleague took a job at the Institute for Behavioral Research, a federally funded laboratory in Silver Spring, Maryland, where monkeys’ spinal nerves were severed to render one or more of their limbs useless. The animals were then forced to try to regain the use of their impaired limbs through the experimenters’ use of electric shock, food deprivation, and other methods.

      As expert witnesses entered the laboratory at night, Ingrid kept watch from a cardboard box in the parking lot and kept a walkie-talkie in her hand to alert them if anyone approached. The subsequent release of photos and video footage of the Silver Spring monkeys ignited a media firestorm that thrust PETA, animal rights, and the cruelty of animal experimentation into a much-needed spotlight.

      This groundbreaking investigation led to the nation’s first arrest and criminal conviction of an animal experimenter for cruelty to animals, the first confiscation of abused animals from a laboratory, and the first U.S. Supreme Court victory for animals used in experiments. It even led to landmark additions to the federal Animal Welfare Act and public scrutiny of the abuse that animals endure in experimentation. It also proved the power of using eyewitness investigations to advocate for justice—a right that PETA’s legal team continues to defend against corporate interests that try to criminalize such activities.

      6. She slapped a “Meat Stinks” sticker on a police cruiser.

        As police officers were eating dinner in a diner, Ingrid saw an opportunity and slapped a “Meat Stinks” bumper sticker on the back of one of the police cruisers. Another officer drove up, caught her, and promptly hauled her off to jail. But beloved civil rights attorney Philip Hirschkop (of Loving v. Virginia fame) argued that she was simply exercising her right to freedom of speech, and the sympathetic judge dismissed the case just as promptly.

        7. She had herself strapped to a horse-drawn carriage and pulled it through the streets.

          Ingrid had herself hitched to a horse-drawn carriage with a bit in her mouth and let residents in Mumbai, India, watch her struggle to pull it through the streets in the hot sun—just as horses are forced to do. PETA campaigns led Mumbai and other cities around the world to ban horse-drawn carriages. The list of cities to follow suit continues to grow.

          8. She took over Vogue editor Anna Wintour’s office and answered her phone.

            Ingrid and PETA members— together with singer Kate Pierson of The B-52’s—finagled their way past security and crashed the magazine’s New York office to protest its promotion of fur. When Wintour ran away and barricaded herself in a back room, Ingrid took over the reception desk and began answering Vogue’s phone by saying, “We’re closed today due to cruelty.”

            Photo Credit: Ebet Roberts

            9. Upon her death, her body will be used for a human barbecue.

              Ingrid will still grab headlines and make waves for animals even after she’s gone. Her unique will directs that her various body parts be used to help draw attention to speciesism, including that her flesh be used for a human barbecue and her skin be made into purses and other leather products—all to show that no animal wants to be killed to become food or an accessory. Even after her demise, she will continue to help animals and honor her commitment that her “body be used in a manner that draws attention to needless animal suffering and exploitation.”


              Feeling inspired? Join peta2 Rewards to earn points for participating in easy actions that help animals. Exchange your points for prizes like T-shirts, stickers, laptop sleeves, joggers, and more. You’ll receive points just by signing up!

              Text peta2 to 30933 for ways to help animals, tips on compassionate living, and more!

              heart illustration

              Terms for automated texts/calls from peta2: Text STOP to end, HELP for more info. Msg/data rates may apply. U.S. only.