The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

September 12, 2016

September 12, 1998

Henry Spira (June 19, 1927 to September 12, 1998) is one of the lesser known names in animal rights movements, but his lack of fame does not reflect his contribution.

Before a concluding summary of his ideas, let us glance at an interesting life. Henry Spira was born in Belgium, into a Jewish family of diamond merchants. The family escaped Europe in an orderly fashion, though I am not sure about all of his relatives.  He wound up in New York City and in the 1970s was inspired by Peter Singer's writings to take up the cause of animal protection. One source says "Spira led a crusade in 1976 to stop American Museum of Natural History researchers from studying the effects of castration and other mutilations on feline sexual behavior."

Below is a remembrance of Spira by his friend Karen Davis, who founded United Poultry Concerns in 1990.

.... Henry Spira, the founder and president of Animal Rights International and the Coalition for Nonviolent Food,... was a member of our board of advisors from the beginning. On October 20, 1989, Henry ran a full-page ad in The New York Times that showed Frank Perdue with a Pinocchio nose (for being a liar) with two chicks at the end of it. It said: "FRANK, ARE YOU TELLING THE TRUTH ABOUT YOUR CHICKENS? Is Frank Perdue's advertising just a pile of poultry puffery hiding the brutal realities of an inhumane industry?" The ad went on tartly to answer these questions.

Henry put the spotlight on chickens, the largest number of abused warm-blooded animals on earth. He put a face on the poultry industry by way of Frank Perdue. "The reason for focusing on Perdue is that the vast majority of factory farmed animals are birds, and because Frank Perdue has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on ads which deliberately deceive consumers about the brutal realities of poultry farming," he wrote. When I was teaching English at the University of Maryland, Frank Perdue was appointed to the University's Board of Regents in 1991. Henry joined our campaign to cancel the appointment. He ran feisty ads in UM student newspapers-- "The P. word. There's a word for someone who does bad stuff for money. Perdue." He took the train from New York City to UM campuses to speak at our student rallies against Perdue. Together with the students, we attended board of regents meetings around the state where we followed Perdue with our chant, "Cluck You, Frank Perdue!"
Factory-farmed animals and vegetarianism were Henry's focus in the 1990s. His full-page ads in The New York Times showing steers being branded on the face with red hot irons were decisive in putting an end to this USDA atrocity in 1994: "THIS IS WHAT USDA POLICY LOOKS LIKE. CAN YOU IMAGINE WHAT IT FEELS LIKE?" He placed an ad in
The Washington Times in 1996 showing a cat going through a meat grinder with the challenge:"Loving and petting one kind of animal while ignoring others who feel exactly the same pain is what's really irrational."

An interesting point regarding Spira's career is his creativity in achieving his goals. We see that above and Wayne Pacelle mentions another ploy Spiral deployed--

In 1994 the pioneering animal rights campaigner Henry Spira bought stock in McDonald’s so that he could move a resolution at the company’s annual meeting calling for them to require their suppliers to use the “least restrictive alternative” for housing animals. Some legal wrangling followed and Spira eventually withdrew his resolution in return for a public statement from the company that they would require their suppliers to take “all reasonable steps” to ensure that animals are treated humanely. Spira knew that this could easily be just words on paper, but he accepted the deal on the grounds that “if McDonald’s moves a millimeter, everyone else moves with them.” It was the first time that McDonald’s had accepted responsibility for how its suppliers treated animals.

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