Alex Pacheco, co-founder and chairman of People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals (PETA), a single horrifying event provided
the impetus to become an activist.
"Once, on a college break, I visited a slaughterhouse where my friend
was working. Among other horrors, I saw workers slit a live sow's
belly open, pull out her unborn piglets and play catch with them.
It turned my stomach and turned me vegetarian," wrote Pacheco in
a PETA newsletter.
After that incident, the theological student abandoned dreams of
the priesthood and has since pursued the protection of animals with
He launched his career as an activist with the Sea Shepherd Conservation
Society, a non-governmental watchdog group. Its members ride the
ocean on a renovated fishing boat called the Sea Shepherd, tracking
whale, seal and fishing operations to monitor their compliance with
international and domestic laws.
Pacheco was a member of the Sea Shepherd crew during its encounter
with the Sierra, an outlaw whaling ship that may have killed up
to 25,000 whales between 1968 and 1979, according to Society estimates.
In 1979, the Sea Shepherd caught up with the Sierra off of the coast
of Portugal. With its concrete-reinforced bow, the Sea Shepherd
charged the Sierra, colliding with it three times. Pacheco was later
named "Crew Member of the Year" for his efforts during that expedition.
His breakthrough occurred two years later with the first successful
prosecution in the United States of a scientist on charges of cruelty
to animals. Posing as an assistant in the Silver Springs laboratory
of Maryland researcher Edward Taub, Pacheco documented the substandard
treatment of several monkeys.
His report painted a picture of rodents and cockroaches running
freely through the laboratory as sick monkeys languished in their
cages. Taub had paralyzed one of the arms of half of the monkeys
in order to test their responses to cigarette lighter burns and
His role in Taub's conviction launched Pacheco into a high-profile
position that benefited PETA, the then-fledgling organization that
he launched in 1980 with activist Ingrid Newkirk.
Nineteen years later, PETA has grown into the largest animal rights
organization in the United States, with more than half a million
members. Pacheco is credited with successfully courting celebrities
to join the fight against PETA's targets: factory farms, laboratories,
the fur trade and the entertainment industry. Indeed, it was largely
through PETA's efforts that fur popularity declined in the early
PETA's critics range from mocking to deadly serious. There is the
web site entitled "People Eating Tasty Animals". There are also
the threats against Pacheco's life.
Even an article in the liberal magazine Utne Reader criticizes PETA's
stance on fur. "It's not hard to see that the attacks on fur-wearing
females (as opposed to leather-wearing men) play simultaneously
on cheap populism and cheaper sexism. You can scream at women in
mink coats emerging from ritzy department stores and be fairly certain
they're not going to physically retaliate...It would be more interesting
to watch zoophiles gathered in front of a biker bar, hollering slogans
at the leather-sporting clientele as they swagger up to their Harleys.
But we're not likely to see that anytime soon, are we?" wrote Richard
Through all of the criticism, Pacheco has remained constant in his
dedication to promoting the humane treatment of animals. "Every
action you take, every letter you write, every time you speak up
for animals, it gives them another chance to live in peace," wrote
Pacheco in a PETA newsletter. "Please never miss an opportunity
to make a difference."