PETA’s History: Compassion in Action

Before PETA existed, there were two important things that you could do if you wanted to help animals. You could volunteer at a local animal shelter, or you could donate money to a humane society. While many of these organizations did useful work to bring comfort to animals who are used by humans, they didn’t question why we kill animals for their flesh or their skins or why we use them for tests of new product ingredients or for our entertainment.

PETA’s founders sought to give caring people something more that they could do and to provide them ways to actively change society. They wanted to promote a healthy vegan diet and show how easy it is to shop cruelty-free. They wanted to protest, loudly and publicly, against cruelty to animals in all its forms, and they wanted to expose what really went on behind the very thick, soundproof walls of animal laboratories.

Aided by thorough investigative work, consumer protests, and international media coverage, PETA brings together members of the scientific, corporate, and legislative communities to achieve large-scale, long-term changes that improve animals’ quality of life and prevent their deaths.

PETA’s first case—the precedent-setting 1981 Silver Spring monkeys case—resulted in the first arrest and criminal conviction of an animal experimenter in the U.S. on charges of cruelty to animals, the first confiscation of abused laboratory animals, and the first U.S. Supreme Court victory for animals in laboratories. And we haven’t stopped fighting—and winning—in our efforts for animals since.

PETA’s Historic Cases

Every year, with the help of generous supporters, PETA is able to secure victories for animals. And every victory is important and celebrated, from the smallest mouse spared a horrific death in a glue trap to the thousands of cows, pigs, chickens, and fish whose lives are saved every time someone goes vegetarian.

The following are just a few of PETA’s major accomplishments for animals:

  • PETA persuaded more than a dozen companies, including Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, to make the abusive and pointless forced swim test a thing of the past. Laboratories conduct these experiments by dosing mice, rats, guinea pigs, gerbils, or hamsters with a test substance, dropping them into inescapable containers of water, and watching as the petrified animals frantically look for an escape. See other victories for animals who are used in experiments.
  • After two years of negotiations with—and more than 400 demonstrations against—the company worldwide, McDonald’s became the first fast-food chain to agree to make basic welfare improvements for farmed animals. Burger King and Wendy’s followed suit within a year’s time, and within two years, Safeway, Kroger, and Albertsons had also agreed to adopt stricter guidelines in order to improve the lives of billions of animals who are slaughtered for food.
  • Undercover investigations of pig-breeding factory farms in North Carolina and Oklahoma revealed horrific conditions and daily abuse of pigs, including the fact that one pig was skinned alive, leading to the first-ever felony indictments of farm workers. See other victories for animals who are used for food.
  • After persistent campaigning by PETA, our international affiliates, and our supporters around the world—including protests, celebrity actions, pressure in the boardroom, and bold ads on billboards, buses, and bike racks—Canada Goose finally agreed to stop using the fur of coyotes who were trapped and violently killed. See other victories for animals who are exploited for fashion.
  • After 36 years of protests from PETA members and supporters against 146-year-old Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus—in which animals were beaten and otherwise abused—attendance dropped to the point of no return. Ringling’s final show took place roughly a year after it stopped dragging exploited elephants across the country. With the combined efforts of demonstrations, ad campaigns, agency meetings and complaints, eyewitness investigations, school talks, celebrity support, legislation, and corporate pressure, PETA won this landmark victory.
  • There are no tigers left at Tiger King Park (aka “Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park”) after PETA provided some of the key evidence cited in the government’s warrant and 69 big cats were seized. In a separate landmark case, our Endangered Species Act lawsuit against Tiger King villain Tim Stark and Indiana roadside zoo Wildlife in Need succeeded—setting a precedent that premature separation of big-cat cubs and mothers, declawing, and cub-petting events can violate the law. Stark was ordered to pay a total of $753,232.10 in legal fees and costs to PETA. See other victories for animals who are used for entertainment.
  • PETA persuaded Mobil, Texaco, Pennzoil, Shell, and other oil companies to cover their exhaust stacks after showing how millions of birds and bats had become trapped in the shafts and been burned to death. See other victories for wildlife. 
  • Thanks to PETA’s lengthy campaign to push PETCO to take more responsibility for the animals in its stores, the company agreed to stop selling large birds and to make provisions for the millions of rats and mice in its care. See other victories for abused companion animals.

See more precedent-setting victories and PETA’s milestones for animals.

PETA’s Success Stories

PETA has made groundbreaking advances for animals who are abused by corporations, governments, and individuals throughout the world, and these successes have led to dramatic improvements in the lives of millions of individual animals.

Whether by working with universities and government institutions to implement non-animal test methods, sparking a boom of “cruelty-free” product marketing and a nosedive for the U.S. fur industry, or promoting the mass availability of meat alternatives at grocery stores and gourmet restaurants, PETA has been the driving force behind many of the largest successes for animals. Read more about PETA’s success stories.

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind